"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Butler Preview

Butler Bulldogs
January 24, Hinkle Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, IN; February 9, fiserv.forum
Coach: LaVall Jordan (37-31 at Butler, 48-55 overall)
3-Year NCAA Rank Average: 40.0
3-Year kenpom Average: 39.0
2019-20 T-Rank Projection: 60

Projected Starters: PG Aaron Thompson (6'2" Jr), SG Kamar Baldwin (6'1" Sr), SF Sean McDermott (6'6" Sr), PF Jordan Tucker (6'7" Jr), C Derrik Smits (7'1" Sr)

Butler started last year 3-0. They never again strung three straight wins together on the season and never won two straight against top-100 opposition, which is problematic when you play in the Big East. That led to their first losing season since the ill-fated 2013-14 season under Brandon Miller. It was a significant step back after Jordan's initial success with Chris Holtmann's leftovers.The real struggles came in road games as the Bulldogs were just 2-10 in away games, and both wins came over teams ranked 100 or lower in Pomeroy. And as above, that is problematic when you play in the Big East.

Butler returns most of that team that still managed to make the NIT. Baldwin, Thompson, and McDermott started every game for the Bulldogs and Tucker became a spot starter once he became eligible. Baldwin has established himself as the ball-dominant leader, but he is a low-efficiency, high-usage player who has seen his offensive rating decline every year since he arrived at Hinkle. One of Butler's main problems is that their highest efficiency returning starters, McDermott and Thompson, are sub-20% usage players. The only other returning player above 20% usage was Tucker, who was even less efficient than Baldwin. Smits joins as a grad transfer from Valpo, but his usage and efficiency last season was more similar to Baldwin than McDermott. This is a team that seems to prioritize who dominates the ball in an inverse fashion to how they should. They do have the makings of a good bench, with Henry Baddley and Christian David returning and joined by Milwaukee transfer Bryce Nze and four-star freshman Khalif Battle.

On offense, LaVall Jordan claims to prioritize transition and efficiency, but the Butler way has long been slow-down, methodical offense that tries to get shots close to the basket. He hasn't changed that formula. At their best, they want to run pick-and-roll constantly and create options out of that. Defensively, Jordan cited their struggles last year as being due to a lack of versatility. They couldn't handle the physicality of Big East play and often got caught in rotation. The hope is that this year's roster is better equipped for that.

Butler was generally a tough out last year, but they still were out more often than not. In a normal year, the experience gained would be enough to move them up the standings, but virtually everyone ahead of them returns as much or more. Further, I'm of the opinion that Kamar Baldwin is the worst best player on any team in the Big East. He's ball dominant and inefficient. Consider this, in games when Baldwin had a 100+ offensive rating, Butler went 15-4. In games where he was sub-100, they went just 1-13. Butler went as Baldwin went, and if he's not playing well, they are virtually assured of losing. I think they will be better than last year, but expect that simply won't be enough to do any better than another NIT berth.

Marquette Memory: Marquette hadn't won at Hinkle Fieldhouse since 1990 when they came in to face the 13th ranked Bulldogs for a matinee on January 16, 2017. In the first half, everything was coming up Blue and Gold. A 14-3 run to end the half saw Marquette to a 16-point lead at the break and it looked certain the 27-year drought would end. The lead got up to 18 before Butler mounted their comeback, and once it started, it came like a freight train. It took just over 10 minutes and a 35-16 run for Butler to take the lead. Marquette did battle back to take another lead with 5:29 to go, but the Bulldogs finished on a 23-12 tear en route to an 88-80 Butler win and extended Marquette's Hinkle losing streak that wouldn't be broken until earlier this year.

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