Saint Louis beats Butler for third time, looks like Final Four contender in the process

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NEW YORK — After their 72-55 win over Charlotte on Friday, I explained why the Saint Louis Billikens have the look and feel of a team that can make the Final Four.

The Billikens’ 67-56 win over the Butler Bulldogs on Saturday in the Atlantic 10 semifinals only reinforced my beliefs.

Butler has wins this season over the likes of Indiana, Gonzaga and North Carolina. Now consider this: Saint Louis beat Butler not once, not twice, but three times.

Saint Louis has a deep, experience-laden roster. They have guys who excel in a multitude of different areas. They are poised and do not make mistakes. Their season has been driven by and motivated by extenuating circumstances out of their control.

Sure, they will struggle against elite athleticism and physical frontcourts, but that appears to be their only real weaknesses.

“I think St. Louis is one of the best teams in the country,” said Butler coach Brad Stevens prior to the contest. “I don’t care where they’re ranked or where they’ll be seeded. Somebody who hasn’t played against them next week, they’re going to say uh‑oh.”

Stevens offered even more praise for the top-seed following his team’s tough loss.

“I’ve said all year to the people who have listened, and some that don’t, how good they are. They are a legitimate contender to win the whole thing.”

That is high praise from a coach who went to back-to-back National Championship games within his first five seasons as a Division I head coach.

Saint Louis will be a difficult match-up for teams who have not faced them before. They don’t make mistakes, play extremely physical, and run simple yet effective sets designed to control the flow of the game.

“Sometimes, when you don’t know you’re doing, if you don’t make mistakes and don’t turn the ball over, the opponent won’t know what we’re doing either.” Saint Louis head coach Jim Crews quipped following his team’s 14th win in their past 15 games.

Dwayne Evans led the Billikens in scoring for the second consecutive game, finishing with 24 points, 11 rebounds and 3 steals.

Butler’s Roosevelt Jones spent much of the game guarding Evans. “He’s probably the most physical player that I have ever played against in my life. I thought that he should have been Player of the Year in the conference.”

But Evans was not the Billikens’ only source of offense. Saint Louis got 13 points from Cody Ellis and nine from both Mike McCall Jr. and Jordair Jett.

Brad Stevens continued in his praise of the Billikens.”The thing I go back to, is Cody Ellis and Jordair Jett are two of their best players. They’re not in the starting lineup. Their starting lineup is really good. So they have depth. They have physicality. They have toughness”

The Billikens trailed by as many as six points in the first half, but took the lead heading into the break on a buzzer-beating lay-up from Rob Loe. The experienced Billikens never trailed in the final 20 minutes.

“We’ve got eight guys that are juniors or seniors, and they’ve invested a lot into the program and invested in each other”, said Crews.

It would be fitting for Saint Louis to make a Final Four run with both VCU and Butler in the Atlantic 10 for the first time. But unlike both VCU and Butler’s Final Four appearances, Saint Louis’ would not come as a surprise.

You can contact Troy Machir on Twitter at @TroyMachir

Late Rotnei Clarke push comes up short, No. 11 Butler upset by Charlotte

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Butler superhero transfer Rotnei Clarke showed up a little too late to save the Bulldogs Wednesday night.

Despite scoring 15 points in the final 3:24 of regulation, the Bulldogs couldn’t stop a physical interior-minded Charlotte team and fell, 71-67, at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Ind.

This isn’t a Butler team we’re used to seeing, though. The Bulldogs were without center Andrew Smith, a rock in the paint that had been averaging 11.4 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. Whereas the Bulldogs were able to use Smith to try to negate a disadvantage inside previously, his absence made for a long night of Butler defense.

Charlotte wanted to work the ball to the rim the entire night and was never really stopped, on its way to 52 percent shooting on the night.

But even considering that, Butler was within one possession late and had a chance to tie the game, trailing by only two when coach Brad Stevens called a timeout to draw up a play with three seconds to play. A pass toward the rim was intercepted and that was the game.

Luckily for Brad Stevens’ team, Smith is only slated to miss one more game and that comes against Fordham, a team that is 2-7 in conference play and 6-18 overall.

Another positive takeaway is this: How long can one reasonably keep Rotnei Clarke in a slump? The answer is usually “not long.” He found his groove in the final three minutes and came about as close as anyone could imagine to single-handedly bringing a team back from a double-digit deficit.

Clarke has only been held without a double-digit scoring night three times this season when he has been able to play full minutes and Butler is still 2-1 in those games.

This loss will sting in the short term, but Butler should be back on track when Smith returns.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Pregame Shootaround 1.26.13: Rotnei Clarke returns for Butler to highlight Saturday’s action

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Game of the Day: No. 9 Butler vs. Temple (6:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

Rotnei Clarke has been cleared to return to the Butler lineup after spraining his neck vs. Dayton on Jan. 12. With him back in the lineup, it sets the table for a high-level matchup between the Arkansas transfer and Temple guard Khalif Wyatt, who has carried the Owls for much of the season.

Both are capable of taking over a game in different ways. Clarke’s scrappy, free-shooting style contrasts with Wyatt’s persistent, smooth, “old school” repertoire of skills.

On the interior, Andrew Smith carries much of the load for Butler, but the Bulldogs should be aware of Temple forward Anthony Lee. In Temple’s big win over Syracuse at Madison Square Garden earlier this season, Lee fought on the inside and outmuscled Syracuse in the paint for 21 points and nine rebounds.

Who’s Getting Upset?: UCLA (-2.5) vs. Arizona State

I took Arizona State in an upset over Arizona last weekend and that didn’t work out, but the Sun Devils get another shot at a signature win this Saturday. It is already tough for the Bruins to go on the road, but news came down yesterday that they would be without forward Travis Wear due to a concussion.

Wear has been a major spark for UCLA in its recent resurgence and without him in the lineup, it puts more of the scoring burden on Shabazz Muhammad and Jordan Adams.

Arizona State point guard Jahii Carson will be a handful for Larry Drew II, but the biggest advantage for the Sun Devils will be on the interior. With Wear out, it makes an already thin front line even thinner. UCLA will need to find a matchup for Jordan Bachynski, one of the nation’s best shot blockers and a true seven-footer around the rim. That likely means more minutes for freshman Tony Parker and David Wear.

Mid-Major Matchup of the Day: No. 15 New Mexico vs. San Diego State (4:00 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network)

Guard Tony Snell carried New Mexico in its win over Colorado State on Wednesday, due in part because an ill Alex Kirk was neutralized by the strong interior presence of Colton Iverson for the Rams. If Kirk is in the lineup and healthy Saturday, expect him to bounce back against San Diego State. If he can work in concert with Snell and Kendall Williams, the Lobos will be in business.

Defensively, New Mexico will key in, as every team does, on San Diego State’s Jamaal Franklin. His versatility and ability to score from different spots on the floor makes him dangerous. If San Diego State shoots as it did in a loss to Wyoming (29 percent), the Aztecs are going to have trouble against the Lobos.

Five Things to Watch For

1) No. 1 Duke is still without Ryan Kelly, but they’ll have something to prove after getting trounced by No. 25 Miami earlier this week. This one features a great matchup on the interior between Duke’s Mason Plumlee and Maryland’s Alex Len.

2) No. 8 Florida has been absolutely dominant in SEC play so far this season Expect that to continue Saturday, as the Gators are a 20.5-point favorite over Mississippi State.

3) After a big win over No. 1 Duke, NC State has lost two of its last three, including a two-point defeat at the hands of Wake Forest after the Wolfpack blew a 12-point halftime lead. They face tough in-state rivals North Carolina on Saturday.

4) Coach Shaka Smart did not foul when his team led by three in the closing seconds of VCU’s OT loss to Richmond on Thursday. They face a team Saturday that is hot off a big upset win, La Salle, on Saturday at home.

5) No. 5 Louisville was sloppy in its loss to Villanova this week. If they continue to miss shots and turn the ball over, Saturday vs. Georgetown will be ugly. Need we mention Georgetown’s history with messy, low-scoring games?

The Top 25

No. 1 Duke vs. Maryland (1:00 p.m. ET, CBS)

No. 3 Syracuse vs. Villanova (11:0 a.m. ET, ESPNU)

No. 4 Kansas vs. Oklahoma (4:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

No. 5 Louisville  vs. Georgetown (12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

No. 6 Arizona vs. USC (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

No. 8 Florida vs. Mississippi State (8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

No. 9 Butler vs. Temple (6:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

No. 10 Gonzaga vs. San Francisco (8:00 p.m. ET, ROOT SPORTS)

No. 11 Kansas State vs. Iowa State (1:45 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

No. 12 Minnesota vs. Wisconsin (2:00 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network)

No. 14 Ohio State vs. Penn State (12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

No. 15 New Mexico vs. San Diego State (4:00 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network)

No. 16 Oregon vs. Washington (7:00 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Networks)

No. 18 North Carolina State vs. North Carolina (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

No. 19 Virginia Commonwealth vs. La Salle (8:00 p.m. ET)

No. 20 Wichita State vs. Bradley (8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

No. 22 Missouri vs. Vanderbilt (5:00 p.m. ET, ESPU)

No. 23 Ole Miss vs. Auburn (8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

No. 24 Notre Dame vs. South Florida (12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

Other Notable Games

West Virginia vs. Oklahoma State (1:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

Dartmouth vs. Harvard (2:00 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network)

Providence vs. Marquette (2:00 p.m.ET, ESPN3)

UCLA vs. Arizona State (4:00 p.m. ET, Fox Sports Net National)

LSU vs. Kentucky (4:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

Xavier vs. St. Joseph’s (6:00 p.m. ET)

Pepperdine vs. St. Mary’s (6:00 p.m. ET)

Colorado State vs. Fresno State (10:00 p.m. ET)

BYU vs. Portland (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Butler guard Rotnei Clarke reportedly aiming for return from injury Jan. 26 vs. Temple

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Butler guard Rotnei Clarke, who injured his neck when he crashed into the base support of the backboard Jan. 12 against Dayton, is looking to return to the Bulldog lineup Jan. 26 against Temple, Jeff Goodman of CBSSports.com is reporting.

Clarke is Butler’s leading scorer, averaging 16.3 points per game. Without Clarke in the lineup, Butler has continued its now 13-game winning streak, which includes a thrilling last-second victory over Gonzaga Saturday night.

For as bad as Clarke’s injury looked initially, this two-week timeline is optimistic. Tests found that he suffered a sprained neck but had no spinal damage. At the time of the collision, Clarke temporarily lost feeling in his extremities and was taken off the court on a stretcher.

Butler takes on La Salle on Jan. 23, a game Clarke will miss, before heading to Temple on Jan. 26.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Rotnei Clarke taken off on stretcher during first half of Butler-Dayton after neck injury

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Star Butler guard Rotnei Clarke was taken off on a stretcher with 8:13 to play in the first half of the Bulldogs’ matchup with Dayton Saturday afternoon.

Clarke was fouled hard by Dayton forward Matt Derenbecker on a drive to the basket, causing him to lose his balance in mid-air. He fell awkwardly and his head speared the base of the backboard support. He was in immediate visible pain and was tended to by team doctors who attempted to keep him from moving as a precaution.

While being attended to, microphones picked up Clarke’s dialogue with those attending to him, insisting that he return to the game, but he was taken off on a stretcher. Doctors were also heard talking about what the injury could be, suggesting perhaps it was a stinger.

Clarke had full movement of his arms and legs when he was taken to the locker room on a stretcher. He gave the crowd a “thumbs up” gesture as he was taken into the tunnel. He was taken to a local hospital.

UPDATE 12 January 2013, 4:58 p.m. ET

According to David Woods of the Indianapolis Star, Clarke has been evaluated and tests show he does not have spinal damage after the fall. Woods cites the Butler trainer in saying that Clarke is being released from the hospital and will travel on the team bus with the Bulldogs.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Freshman Chris Harrison-Docks leaving Butler program

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Chris, Butler hardly knew ‘ye.

Freshman Chris Harrison-Docks is leaving the Butler program just one day before the Bulldogs open their season against Elon.

“Chris notified us of his intention to transfer from Butler,” Butler coach Brad Stevens said in a release. “Certainly, I’m disappointed, but I want to thank him for his effort the last couple of months and wish him nothing but the best from the entire Butler basketball program.”

Harrison-Docks is a Michigan native who played sparingly in Butler’s two exhibition games. He scored two points in the Bulldogs’ win over Indianapolis on Nov. 3, coming on two free throws.

“I believe that another school would better compliment me both personally and athletically,” Harrison-Docks said in the release. “I want to thank everyone who has supported me during my time here at Butler and may find disappointment in my decision. I wish my teammates and coaches the best of luck.”

During his senior season at Okemos High School (Mich.), Harrison-Docks averaged 23 points, seven assists, six rebounds, and 3.5 steal per game. He was selected All-State first team three times.

In September, Butler lost another piece of its backcourt when Chrishawn Hopkins was dismissed from the team.

Butler tips off against Elon in the EA Sports Maui Invitational at 2 p.m. Saturday.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_