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It’s time for Butler’s Kelan Martin to shine in the spotlight

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Kelan Martin is a ‘Butler Guy’.

Through and through.

He’s spent the majority of his playing career somewhere between underrated and overlooked. His work ethic is what has gotten him to where he is right now, an NBC Sports midseason second team all-american averaging 17.4 points for a top 15 basketball team. He fell in love with the program and the campus and Hinkle Fieldhouse on his visit, and stayed with the program despite seeing Brad Stevens leave for the NBA his senior year of high school and Brandon Miller take a leave of absence and never return when he finally made it to campus.

And if it wasn’t for Martin being lazy for his first three seasons of high school ball, we may never have known that Butler and Martin were a match made in heaven.

You see, Martin is from Louisville. He grew up a Louisville fan playing on one of Louisville’s powerhouse high school programs alongside Louisville’s starting point guard, Quentin Snider. There was every reason in the world for Martin to end up a Cardinal as well.

Except, you know, Louisville didn’t think he was good enough. Kentucky didn’t, either. Neither did Indiana. None of those programs recruited him. He didn’t even get a call from the in-state schools.

“It doesn’t rattle me or anything,” Martin says, and it didn’t rattle him at the time, either. His motivation for getting in shape and changing his body and improving his game wasn’t to prove John Calipari wrong or to make Rick Pitino regret recruiting his high school teammate and not him.

He did it because, quite frankly, he had to.

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“I didn’t know what was coming [at the next level] until colleges started to come and recruit me,” Martin, who stands 6-foot-6, said. Once he realized that, at a chubby and out of shape 235 pounds, he was never going to be able to be a guard in college like he wanted to be. He knew “I had to change my body, change my diet.”

As a senior in high school is when Martin started to put in the work. As a freshman in college is when he really started to see the results.

“We were on him about his body composition and becoming a fitter, better athlete,” head coach Chris Holtmann said. “Our first year as interim staff we really challenged him with that and he did a great job before his sophomore year, he was leaner than he is now. He does a good job taking care of his body, eats right, I’ve been really pleased with how much of a priority he’s made that.”

Martin has dropped 15 pounds in total, but the change has been about more than just the weight. His body fat is down to seven percent. He can run a mile in under 5:30. According to Holtmann, Martin pays as much attention to his diet as any kid he’s coached. It ruined Martin’s wardrobe.

“I gave those clothes to a bigger friend back at school,” Martin said with a chuckle.

While having to shell out the money to buy pants that fit isn’t ideal, the on-court results are what matter, and Martin has been terrific leading a team that was predicted to finish in the bottom half of the Big East to a position to earn a top four seed in the NCAA tournament.

And while it’s easy to look at his stat line and say that this is happening because the Big East’s leading returning scorer has put a team on his back, the reality is much more nuanced.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 17:   Kelan Martin #30 of the Butler Bulldogs celebrates during the 83-78 win over the Indiana Hoosiers during the Crossroads Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on December 17, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Kelan Martin (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Martin has always been able to put up points. As Holtmann put it, “he can roll out of bed and score.” In the fourth game of his college career, Martin scored 17 points in 17 minutes in an upset win over No. 5 North Carolina. He scored eight points in 51 seconds in the NCAA tournament as a sophomore to put away Texas Tech. This year, he popped off for 28 points in a win over Indiana despite going scoreless for the first 15 minutes. Ask Holtmann, and he’ll be able to give you a dozen more examples of where letting a bucket-getter be a bucket-getter won Butler a game.

“I think he can score at the very highest level, and I’ve had to learn how much freedom to give him because I haven’t coached a guy that needs that level of freedom,” Holtmann said. “So it’s been an adjustment for me, and something that I’ve had to learn is sometimes you just have to be like, ‘Ok, I’m going to shut my eyes on that shot.'”

“We have about one of those a game,” Holtmann added, chuckling.

What makes this season different is that this is the first time in Martin’s career that he’s been ‘the guy’. In high school, he was always Snider’s sidekick. As a freshman, he played 14 minutes a night on a team that was a No. 6 seed in the NCAA tournament, a bit player asked to provide instant offense in limited minutes. Even as a sophomore, a year where Martin averaging 15.7 points and was named second team all-Big East, he spent most of the season coming off the bench while playing sidekick to Kellen Dunham and Roosevelt Jones.

This year, everyone is keyed in on him.

“He knew the attention he got last year is completely different than what he’s going to get this year,” Holtmann said. “We talked about it. There’s going to be some difficult moments for him and you have to respond the right way.”

And the results have been mixed. Through four Big East games, Martin is averaging just 13.3 points while shooting just 32.7 percent from the floor and 22.7 (5-22) percent from three. But the Bulldogs have managed to post a 3-1 starting in league play, losing a road game to St. John’s but managing to hand Villanova their only loss of the season.

How?

Part of it is that Butler is a team with a number of different pieces that can win them a game. Backup big man Nate Fowler did it on Saturday at Georgetown. Backup point guard Kethan Savage did it last week against Villanova. Freshman Kamar Baldwin has been terrific. Andrew Chrabacz is one of the most unique weapons in the Big East. Butler is anything but a one-man team.

But the other part of it is that Martin isn’t just a scorer anymore.

“He’s impacting the game in other ways and committing himself to impacting the game in other ways,” Holtmann said, specifically mentioning the overtime road win against Georgetown, when Martin got to the free throw line nine times and grabbed 10 defensive rebounds.

“He always had the reputation of being a scorer who could be streaky, and the other parts of his game are growing,” Holtmann added. “It’s fun to see.”

And it’s fun to watch, even if most people outside of Indianapolis don’t know they need to look.

“I do feel like people don’t know who I am, but I just continue to compete,” Martin said. “I’m trying to lead my team out there, get the [Butler] name out there for us. I don’t really care about the national attention as long as we win.”

Smiling, Martin added: “But that brings it anyway.”

RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA - MARCH 17:  Kelan Martin #30 of the Butler Bulldogs reacts in the second half against the Texas Tech Red Raiders in the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at PNC Arena on March 17, 2016 in Raleigh, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
Kelan Martin (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Saturday’s Three Things To Know: No. 8 Villanova loses again, Michigan coasts

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Saturday was a quiet day on the college hoops front, but there were still some notable results that we are going to need to talk about.

Here are the three things to know:

1. NO. 8 VILLANOVA LOST THEIR SECOND STRAIGHT GAME

For the second time in as many games, Villanova lost a game in the new Finneran Pavilion. On Saturday afternoon, the No. 8 Wildcats were taking on a Furman team that had already won at Loyola-Chicago this season. After blowing a 10-point first half lead, Villanova trailed by s many as seven points late in the second half before rallying and forcing overtime. Furman would scored 11 of the first 14 points in the extra frame, and the Wildcats would go on to lose their second straight game, 76-68.

There is a lot to discuss here, but perhaps the most relevant point is that Jay Wright has opted to shorten his bench. He did not play Jahvon Quinerly on Saturday night. Cole Swider played seven minutes. Saddiq Bey only played 10 minutes. Phil Booth, Eric Paschall and Colin Gillespie all played more than 40 minutes. This is going to be a decision that will draw some scrutiny, but it is worth pointing out that Villanova used a deep bench in their blowout home loss to Michigan on Tuesday night.

2. NO. 18 MICHIGAN CONTINUES TO ROLL

There really is not all that much to say here. The Wolverines, fresh off of a dominating win over No. 8 Villanova on the road, smacked around a bad George Washington team in the opener of the Air Force Reserve Tip-Off tournament. I am not quite sure just how good Michigan is going to be this season, but it is pretty clear that right now, they deserve a spot someone in or around the top ten.

3. NO. 24 MARQUETTE HOLDS OFF PRESBYTERIAN

It was almost a disastrous night for the Golden Eagles, as they trailed Presbyterian by one heading into the break. Marquette was able to pull away from the Blue Hose down the stretch, but it was not the easiest nor the prettiest win for a Marquette team that was beating by Indiana in Bloomington during the week. Markus Howard finished with as many turnovers as field goals attempted — seven — while Joseph Chartouny and Sam Hauser combined for 35 points.

No. 18 Michigan, Providence win in Tip-Off tournament semis

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UNCASVILLE, Conn. (AP) — Michigan coach John Beilein was concerned his Wolverines might suffer a letdown against George Washington after a blowout victory over No. 8 Villanova on the road.

There was still a tinge of worry during the first half of Saturday’s semifinal of the Air Force Reserve Tip-Off tournament when GW (0-4) cut an 18-point Wolverine lead to six.

But No. 18 Michigan (4-0), which led by nine points at halftime, went on a 13-2 run to open the second half and finished with an easy 84-61 victory over the Colonials.

“A lot of the message after the Villanova game was handling success,” Beilein said. “Some kids struggle with that. It’s very natural. Michigan is not going to fall into that trap.”

Charles Matthews led the Wolverines with 25 points and Jordan Poole made five of his eight 3-point shots to add a career-high 22. Zavier Simpson finished two assists shy of a triple-double with 14 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists.

Poole had made just one 3-pointer on 10 attempts coming into the game and was shooting just over 23 percent from the field. He hit his first three shots and finished 7 of 12 from the floor. The sophomore guard insisted that nothing had changed with his shot, but Simpson said he noticed a difference.

“Me and Jordan were having a little contest before the game,” Simpson said. “We were basically bragging with each other how our shot was feeling good today. So I’m not sure what he was talking about feeling normal. Then he knocked the first one down. That was kind of like, ‘I told you so.'”

Michigan, which gave up just 46 points in its 27-point victory at Villanova on Wednesday, held the Colonials to 39 percent shooting and outscored GW 17-2 on the fast break.

D.J. Williams had 16 points to lead George Washington, which lost its second straight game to a ranked opponent after falling by 19 points at No. 4 Virginia last Sunday.

“We’re a work in progress,” GW coach Maurice Joseph said. “The last two games, playing quality opponents, is something we can look back to in conference play and I think we’ll be more battled tested. It’s never fun taking these losses. But I believe our guys will grow from these opportunities.”

The Wolverines play Providence in Sunday’s championship game.

PROVIDENCE-SOUTH CAROLINA

David Duke scored 20 points to rally Providence to a 76-65 win over South Carolina.

Alpha Diallo added 17 points, nine rebounds and seven assists for the Friars (3-1), who trailed by eight points at halftime and nine early in the second half.

A.J. Reeves scored eight of his 10 points during a 10-0 Friars’ run that put Providence on top 44-43.

The teams went back and forth before Jimmy Nichols followed a missed shot with the first of the three straight Providence dunks. That gave the Friars a 54-49 lead, led coach Ed Cooley to toss aside his suit jacket and brought the pro-Providence crowd to its feet.

The game was played 60 miles from the Friars’ campus across the state line.

“We get a lot of fan support when we come down here, so it’s definitely worth it to come,” Cooley said. “My jacket comes off and sometimes I don’t even feel it. I don’t. It’s just a matter of getting into the game and getting excited.”

Consecutive 3-pointers from Duke and Isaiah Jackson made it 65-54 and put the game out of reach.

“I struggled a little bit before shooting the ball, but I came in today with a stay-positive attitude,” Duke said. “I know what I’m capable of and Coach put his trust in me. Once I got one, I started feeling it.”

Hassani Gravett scored 14 points to lead four players in double figures for South Carolina (2-2).

The Gamecocks committed 38 fouls and made just six of 25 shots from 3-point range.

Martin said he’ll be looking for one thing on Sunday when the Gamecocks face George Washington in the consolation game.

“Growth,” he said. “At the end of the day, that’s why you play these events. You line up and play Providence in Providence, even though we’re just across the state line. You’ve got to challenge your team to force them to grow. We’re privileged we get to play in the SEC, just like Providence in the Big East. Those are elite basketball conferences. It’s our job as coaches, out duties, to prepare our teams to play in conference play.”

UConn coach Dan Hurley tossed for first time since HS days

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NEW YORK — Just 24 hours removed from an upset win over No. 15 Syracuse in Madison Square Garden, UConn head coach Danny Hurley was ejected from Friday night’s loss to Iowa in the finals of the 2K Classic.

It was the first time that he was ejected as a college coach.

UConn fans in the Garden gave Hurley a standing ovation and chanted his name as he walked off the court.

Hurley appeared to be caught off guard on the second technical. He was talking to Jalen Adams, who was unhappy with the officiating as well, and Hurley told his player, “I’ll handle it in the press conference.”

Bo Boroski, a Big Ten referee, overheard the statement and hit Hurley with his second technical foul.

“I don’t want to put myself inside the mind of that crew, but it was what it was,” Hurley said. “Bo obviously overheard a conversation I was having with a player on my team and thought that was the appropriate decision. I have a hard job. Players have a hard job. Referees all have a hard job. We all have to be accountable for our performances.”

Hurley went on to lament the job that he did coaching his team on Friday, that he wasn’t as prepared as Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery was. There are going to be frustrations for the young Huskies, and he knows that.

“This isn’t some Disney movie,” Hurley said. “It’s not the Mighty Ducks or whatever. It’s going to take some time.”

What Hurley wasn’t mad about, however, was a last-second dunk by an Iowa player after UConn had stopped trying to play defense. Iowa apologized for it to the remaining UConn staff on the floor. They apologized again in the press conference. Hurley, when asked about it, was clueless.

“I didn’t see it,” Hurley said, a smile breaking. “I was long gone by then, man.”

Friday’s Three Things To Know: Iowa wins, Cuse struggles

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Friday featured a full day of college hoops action, as tip-off in Charleston happened before noon ET while the final games didn’t end until well after midnight. 

The most important results, however, happened in New York City:

1. IOWA WINS THE 2K CLASSIC

The Hawkeyes look like they are going to be legit this season. A day after they put together an impressive win over No. 13 Oregon, Fran McCaffery’s club easily handled a UConn team that themselves had impressed with a win over a ranked team on Thursday night.

Part of this clearly had to do with matchup. Iowa is big. UConn is not. Luka Garza absolutely torched the Huskies in the first half, scoring 18 of his 22 points before halftime, while Tyler Cook took over down the stretch; he finished with 26 points and eight boards. UConn always plays three, and often four, guards, and the size was very clearly a problem for the smaller Huskies.

But that size is going to be an issue for a lot of teams. Garza is not overly skilled but he plays harder than just about anyone in the sport. Cook is skilled — far more skilled that I realized — and he matches Garza’s intensity. Throw in a good crop of guards, headlined by McCaffery’s, and this looks like an Iowa team that will make some noise in a very, very good Big Ten.

2. SYRACUSE HAS SOME SERIOUS PROBLEMS OFFENSIVELY

All the talk from the most high-profile matchup from the 2K Classic on Friday night will be about Bol Bol, Oregon’s dominant 7-foot-2 center who looked as good as I have ever seen him against the Orange.

The real story, however, is that Syracuse is a total mess offensively. The Orange are currently 204th nationally is points-per-possession, according to KenPom, and 342nd in the country in three-point shooting. They’re making just 20.5 percent of their threes, a problem when more than a third of their field goal attempts are from beyond the arc.

“After looking at [the stat sheet],” Boeheim said, of Oshae Brissett, his star forward that has looked anything-but a star this year, “if I could go back in time I’d say ‘Don’t take any 3s tonight.’ But I can’t do that. He’s been shooting it good in practice. He is a good shooter. He shot 32 percent last year, but he’s noticeably better in drills and practice this year than he was last year.”

“He’s just not there,” Boeheim said. “He’s not playing at the level we need him to be playing. We need him and Tyus [Battle] to play at a very high level and they’re not.”

The question is whether or not these struggles are the result of Syracuse being bad offensively — remember, they were 135th in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency metric last season — or if the answer is that there isn’t a point guard on the floor. Battle is not a point guard. Elijah Hughes isn’t, either. Jalen Carey can score but, again, he’s not a point guard.

Franklin Howard is, and he could be back as soon as the next game.

We’ll see if that makes a difference.

3. WEST VIRGINIA, GEORGETOWN TAKE UPSETS

The Mountaineers just don’t appear to be all that good this season, and while that is a stark contrast to what the program has been in recent years, it shouldn’t be all that unexpected. Remember, this group lost Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles, the two senior guards that set the tone for the entirety of the Press Virginia era to date.

So hearing that WVU lost to Western Kentucky after losing to Buffalo — both of who could end up being NCAA tournament teams — shouldn’t be that surprising.

Georgetown’s loss, however, is more worrisome.

The Hoyas, fresh off of a win at Illinois that got quite a few people excited about the program, loss their opener in head coach Patrick Ewing’s return to his native Jamaica. They lost by 13. To Loyola Marymount.

Not good for the Hoyas, and certainly not good for the Big East, which has struggled mightily through the first two weeks of the season.

Bol Bol scores 26 as No. 13 Oregon cruises past struggling No. 13 Syracuse

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NEW YORK — Oregon fans in Madison Square Garden for the last two nights were witness to the full Bol Bol experience.

A night after he finished with 14 points, nine boards and five blocks in an uneven performance that was not as impressive as the highlight videos floating around twitter made it seem, Oregon’s top five prospect and a potential top five pick in the 2019 NBA Draft was as active and engaged as he could be for 40 minutes, finishing with 26 points, nine boards and four blocks as No. 13 Oregon beat No. 15 Syracuse, 80-65, to get out of the 2K Classic with a win.

“At times we played hard but we didn’t really compete,” Oregon head coach Dana Altman said of his team’s performance in a loss to Iowa on Thursday night. “There’s a difference.”

“We were really disappointed in them,” he added, “and our coaching staff expressed that. The way they turned that around, a young team, I was really pleased with them. Freshmen you gotta be patient with. I was more disappointed with the older guys than the younger guys. The freshmen, it was their first time on the road, and it looked like it. We’ll keep pushing them and moving them along and see how well they respond.

“I didn’t know what to expect today, and I’m really pleased with how they responded.”

Bol was the star of the show.

A 7-foot-2 center, Bol has a skill set that is unique in the world of basketball, regardless of level. He has all the size and length you can ask for, but he’s mobile on the perimeter and skilled enough to be able to handle the ball. He has range out to the three-point line, but as he showed on Friday night, he can be an impact presence in the high-post as well. He made three or four little floaters from about eight feet, and while he was only credited with one assists, he made some nice passes to Kenny Wooten on the baseline.

And then, of course, there is the impact that he can have defensively. He is a world-class rim protector, but his mobility and athleticism allows him to have an impact on the perimeter as well. He can run people off the three-point line by taking two steps out of the paint.

“We have to take advantage of his uniqueness,” Altman said, adding that the key centers around Bol’s ability to handle the physicality of the college level as well as battling through the fatigue that comes with playing 30-plus minutes at this level.

It helped that Syracuse, as big as they are, just doesn’t have the strength inside to create problems for Bol. That’s the way to get him off his game — get up under him, push him around — and, as Jim Boeheim put it with his trademark, sarcastic grin, “it doesn’t appear that we can do that right now.”

Boeheim was not happy after this loss.

He knows his team is struggling offensively, and he knows that it puts a level of stress and pressure on his defense that they are not ready to handle.

Specifically, he called out Oshae Brissett and Tyus Battle. Brissett was 2-for-12 from the floor and 1-for-9 from three on Friday. Battle finished just 4-for-10 from the floor and missed all four of his threes. As a team, Syracuse was 5-for-28 from beyond the arc after entering the night shooting just 21.8 percent from three.

“I’d say he’s missing shots,” Boeheim said of Brissett’s struggles. “Hes been shooting them good in practice. He’s a good shooter. He’s just not there. He’s not playing at the level we need him to play.

“We need him and Tyus to play at a high level, and they’re not.”