Saint Louis Provides Blueprint For Rattling Brad Stevens and CompanyPosted by dnspewak on February 1st, 2013
Danny Spewak (@dspewak) is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this from Chaifetz Arena following Saint Louis’ 75-58 victory over Butler.
The world’s leading scientists have two theories on Butler coach Brad Stevens. The first is simple. He is a robot. The second is a bit more complicated — that Stevens is technically a human being, but he intentionally bottles up his emotions on the sidelines and plays up his poker face to keep his basketball team under control in all situations. Not even Einstein’s quite sure how the 36-year-old coaching prodigy’s brain works, but every hypothesis concludes with the same result. Brad Stevens is a mastermind. He is a genius with an unshakeable demeanor, a fierce general who leads with his actions not his words. He never screams, never yells, never loses his cool, never argues with the officials, never lashes out at reporters and does not even offer a fist-pump when his team wins on the most improbable of buzzer-beaters. Nothing rattles Brad Stevens.
Except for the Saint Louis defense. Oh, those Billikens defenders could send General Patton running for the hills. As he watched his team turn the ball over time after time after time after time during a humbling 75-58 loss at Chaifetz Arena on Thursday night, Stevens showed his human side on more than one occasion. When Khyle Marshall threw the ball away under his own basket in the first half and gave Saint Louis two free points – one of 16 turnovers before the break – Stevens called a timeout and lit into his junior forward. Freshman Devontae Morgan was the next victim of verbal abuse after some sort of indiscretion on the defensive end. Stevens chased around official Ted Valentine at times, and in the postgame press conference, he fully admitted his ninth ranked team looked like a disaster for 40 minutes. “It was an absolute joy to watch one team play,” Stevens said. “Problem was, it wasn’t the team I was coaching.” It wasn’t as though Stevens put on a show with his antics on Thursday night. Compared to the rest of the hooligans roaming the sidelines in Division I basketball, he looked like Mother Theresa. Still, Stevens showed noticeable frustration as his team suffered through a 26-4 Billiken run in the first half. The Bulldogs had difficulty getting the ball up the court and running even a single set in the halfcourt.
It was oddly reminiscent of another vintage performance by Saint Louis back in December, when the Billikens held New Mexico to fewer points (13) in the first half than turnovers (16). They punish teams with picture-perfect help defense, and they have quick forwards who may not block a ton of shots but certainly disrupt opponents with their foot speed. Wing Dwayne Evans’ hands are all over the place. Cory Remuken is the shot-blocker and hustle player in the frontcourt. Jordair Jett is like the Tasmanian devil in the backcourt. They are fast, tough, smart and almost impossible to score against when they are at their best, but Saint Louis stepped it up a notch against the Atlantic 10 newcomers. “We’re just getting stop after stop, just converting on offense, but it started on the defensive end,” Jett said. “We’re just thinking, ‘Step on it. Make the lead bigger.’”
The numbers were impressive. Butler finished with 23 total turnovers, and the Billikens held Rotnei Clarke to a modest 5-of-12 performance from the floor. Clarke scored a team-high 17 points, but he took a lot of contested shots and could not rally his team in the second half. “They played great defense. They were very active. They were on to the next play on almost every play. They were terrific,” Stevens said. They made Butler look like chumps. “They were clearly the better basketball team,” Stevens said. That tune will likely change when the two teams meet at Hinkle Fieldhouse later this month, but maybe it’d be unfair to simply chalk this loss up to the ever-popular “it’s-hard-to-win-on-the-road” theory. Maybe there’s a flaw with this Butler team. “Coach [Jim Crews] was telling us before that no team has really pressured them,” Jett said. Saint Louis certainly did, and the high-intensity defense gave Clarke issues all night long. As the primary ball-handler for much of the game, he coughed the ball up six times. When Alex Barlow ran the point, he did not fare much better. This team isn’t built around a traditional, dish-it-out kind of point guard. Instead, it’s built around Clarke, the gunner who’ll shoot (and usually make) H-O-R-S-E shots on a nightly basis. It’s built around unselfish offensive play, great ball movement and the efficient Andrew Smith, Khyle Marshall, and Roosevelt Jones. It’s the Butler Way, but there’s just one problem.
The Butler Way needs a Ronald Nored. It needs a Mike Green. Like every program, the Bulldogs seem to desperately need that point guard capable of completely controlling a basketball game. Butler doesn’t have it right now, and it’s why it has now lost two straight Atlantic 10 road games. “We’ve gotta bounce back from this,” Stevens said. “They made us play not well.” That’s a good way to sum things up. Butler’s offensive problems aside, Stevens’ team still has a rock-solid resume and three wins against opponents ranked in the top 10. This is an elite team who stumbled into a roadblock on this particular evening. For the Billikens, it’s a season-defining victory that puts them on track for a second straight NCAA Tournament berth and led to a ferocious RTC at the end of the game (captured by yours truly, playing the role of embedded journalist). Plus, in the wild A-10, it places St. Louis in the conversation for a regular season title. “It’s a fun league,” Crews said. “It gets you closer to what you want to do. We’re trying to win a championship.” The scary thing is, Saint Louis dominated this basketball game without much production from star point guard Kwamain Mitchell, who has played inconsistently since returning from an injury in December. He scored only four points and dished out a lone assist in 32 minutes of action, but it didn’t change the fact that this team won by relying on its defense and taking care of the basketball.
That’s normally how Butler wins. On Thursday night, though, it was Saint Louis’ blueprint, stolen right from the playbook of the Butler Way. Maybe that’s why Stevens looked so frustrated on the sidelines — even robots don’t approve of theft.