When the 2013-14 season began it was clear that the Butler Bulldogs would have some major adjustments to make. A program that reached consecutive Final Fours had completed its conference “climb,” landing in the Big East after spending time in the Horizon League and Atlantic 10. With a change in conference, head coach, and the loss of Roosevelt Jones to injury, Butler’s first run through the Big East was (and still is) going to be an interesting one.
But it’s difficult to think that many expected the Bulldogs to start conference play with an 0-4 record, with three of the defeats coming in overtime. The latest heartbreaker was a 70-67 home loss to Georgetown, with the Hoyas playing without both Jabril Trawick and Joshua Smith. D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera scored 18 points and Markel Starks, whose three-pointer with 16 seconds remaining sent the game into overtime, added 15 to lead the shorthanded Hoyas.
The difference for Butler on Saturday night? Three-point shooting. After going 8-for-14 from beyond the arc in their double overtime loss to DePaul the Bulldogs shot 2-for-21 from distance against Georgetown, and while the Hoyas (4-for-20) weren’t much better they made up for it by making 56.8% of their two-point attempts. By comparison Butler shot 48.7% from two, and while that wouldn’t qualify as a “bad” percentage in close games that can make the difference when struggling from deep as the Bulldogs did.
Kellen Dunham scored 21 points but Georgetown made him work for every look, as he shot 6-for-19 from the field and 1-for-11 from beyond the arc with Khyle Marshall adding 18 and freshman Andrew Chrabascz 14 for the Bulldogs. Close games can be determined by a possession or two at any point in the game, not just in the climatic final minutes that most tend to focus on.
Given the personnel losses from last season (Jones, who will return next season, Rotnei Clark and Andrew Smith), Butler’s margin for error has shrunk. And in three of their four Big East games the Bulldogs have fallen in overtime with the DePaul defeat requiring a second extra session. The key now is to not allow those close defeats to weigh down the players, but given the way in which Butler competes that shouldn’t be an issue.
However the schedule could be. And with Butler’s next game being a trip to Omaha to take on Creighton, 0-5 in Big East play is a real possibility.
Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.
After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.
Video credit: Wyoming Athletics
Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.
Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.
Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.
Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.
Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.
But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.