Back around Christmas, we talked about how drastically Butler’s offense had transformed this season, in large part due to faster pace and an improved individual efficiency for some key players. This offense was predicated on a balanced attack that featured reliable shooters and a handful of players who could score in the paint. As his team headed into Big East play, it appeared that Butler head coach Chris Holtmann had everything figured out. His Bulldogs had collected wins over Cincinnati and Purdue and were a weekly member of the Top 25. The offense that was propelling the Bulldogs was ranked among the nation’s top five in terms of points per game and averaging a whopping 123 points per 100 possessions. The most impressive part wasn’t the above-average rebounding rates for an undersized team or Butler’s remarkable ability to take care of the ball; what separated this year’s Bulldogs from past editions was its ability to score inside. Through its non-conference slate, Butler was shooting over 57 percent from two-point range, its best mark in 15 years. Curiously though, all of it – truly, all of it – has come undone in the last few weeks.
Many are pointing fingers at Butler’s stark lack of depth across essentially every position on the roster, and while it’s true that the bench lacks the ability to consistently contribute, the starting lineup still provides plenty of firepower. Senior Kellen Dunham has been remarkably consistent this season, shedding the up-and-down shooting woes of his former self. Roosevelt Jones has shown no signs of slowing down when it comes to attacking the rim. Budding sophomore Kelan Martin has established himself as a do-it-all scorer and one of the team’s most efficient shooters. None of these three have suffered any slowdown in conference play and none are the reason why Butler has been unable to win close league games. Instead, the tragic downturn has coincided with both an injury to point guard Tyler Lewis, and more importantly, the disappearance of 6’7″ post man Andrew Chrabascz, a player who has struggled mightily with his shooting touch. The Bulldogs do not need 20 points per game out of Chrabascz, but any reasonable consistency from him will open up the floor. When he shoots the ball well, defenders are forced to respect his outside shooting as he rolls off screens, a nice addition to the help defense he normally draws in the low post. Butler excels when it uses Chrabascz to set ball screens to free Dunham or Jones and set up a two-on-one situation with Chrabascz either rolling to the rim or floating out for an open jump shot. His shooting ability forces post players to leave the paint in order to contest his shots, which is part of the reason Jones and Martin have had so many lanes on their drives to the basket.