Butler’s rough start about to get even bumpier

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When Butler lost an exhibition game to D-II school Northern State in early November, coach Brad Stevens figured his team had “nowhere to go but up.”

Nine games in, the Bulldogs are still working out the kinks. And it’s not getting any easier anytime soon.

A 73-61 home loss to No. 8 Xavier dropped the Bulldogs to 4-5. They’ve lost back-to-back games for the first time in the Stevens era. They haven’t been under .500 this late in the season since 2004-05 when they went 13-14.

It won’t get any easier anytime soon, either. Saturday’s trip to Ball State is a coin-flip game, which is followed by matchups against Purdue, Gonzaga and Stanford. By the time Horizon League play resumes in late December, Butler could be 4-9.

There are some bright spots.

Butler spotted Xavier a huge lead, but cut an 18-point halftime deficit into four-point game in just seven minutes. The defense was reminiscent of the last two seasons (Syracuse, Pitt and other programs are wincing) and they managed to hit some shots, mostly by junior Chase Stigall and freshman Roosevelt Jones.

That was about it, though. Stigall went cold, Jones caught some bumps and bruises and the Bulldogs’ guards were too loose with the ball, something they didn’t do the last two seasons. Going just 2 of 21 from beyond the arc doesn’t help, either.

It was a decent home showing against a Final Four contender and showed Butler will continue to be a tough out no matter the opponent.

But it’s becoming apparent that even a coach of Stevens’ caliber can only do so much when he doesn’t have the same mix of talent and experience on the roster. (Not yet, at least. Butler’s young players, Jones, Chrishawn Hopkins and Khyle Marshall, are very good and Rotnei Clarke will play next season.)

This season, a deep run in the Horizon League tournament might be the best March moment Butler can muster.

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