Butler basketball is in a new era. After becoming one of America’s darlings with their back-to-back runs to the national championship game in 2010-11, the Bulldogs said goodbye to head coach Brad Stevens, who signed a lucrative five-year deal to rebuild the Boston Celtics. The post-Stevens era has not gone well. In spite of seeming to have enough talent on hand to compete, Butler is struggling along at 12-9, and 2-7 in the newly revised Big East Conference. Let’s look at why…
The Bulldogs were hit with an injury in early November, losing forward Roosevelt Jones for the season. I don’t mean to minimize the impact—Jones averaged 10 ppg—but it shouldn’t have been enough to turn a potential conference championship contender into a league also-ran.
Kellen Dunham averages 18 ppg, and the 6’6” sophomore hits a respectable 38 percent from behind the arc. His problem has been inside the three-point line, where 39 percent doesn’t cut it. Dunham has the ability to be as good as any player in the Big East, save Creighton’s Doug McDermott, and Butler needs to hope that Dunham can play more efficiently. Khyle is similar to Dunham—he goes 6’6” and averages 16 ppg. The Dunham-Marshall duo is where the Bulldogs go for points.
There’s not lot of offense beyond these two, though Kameron Woods does get nine boards a game. The player that needs to step up inside is 6’8” senior Erik Fromm, averaging 7 points/4 rebounds a game. At the very least, if Fromm is only going to shoot 28 percent from trey range, he needs to stay inside the arc.
Three-point shooting is a problem in general, something underscored by the fact that Elijah Brown’s primary role on this team is to shoot the trey, and he’s only at 32 percent. The lack of the three-ball hurts you in close games and Butler has had more than their share—the Bulldogs have already played four overtime games, going 1-3.
Before you think that’s just a case of bad luck, keep in mind that all four games were at home and one of them was against DePaul, the only Big East team that’s truly hopeless. Butler allowed the Blue Demons to shoot 58 percent from the floor, an almost incomprehensible display of bad defense.
Maybe going on the road is what the Bulldogs needs, and they started a three-game road swing with an ugly win at Seton Hall. Up next is a game at Marquette tomorrow night, and then a trip to Georgetown. Let’s say Butler splits those two and then comes home and gets wins over Xavier and Creighton. The latter is leading the pack in the Big East, so it’s a tall order, but that also makes Creighton exactly the kind of team that Butler has to be hungry to beat and build their NCAA Tournament resume.
I’ll be on hand for the Butler-Marquette game in Milwaukee tomorrow night, as we take my godson out to see his beloved Bulldogs (he rode Butler to success in our NCAA Tournament pool at the age of six. We start them young in this social circle). He better be the good luck charm before it’s too late.