Butler Off to a Rough Start in its Inaugural Big East SeasonPosted by Walker Carey on January 10th, 2014
Walker Carey is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Thursday evening’s tilt between DePaul and Butler in Indianapolis.
Butler‘s meteoric rise from the Horizon League to the Big East in just two years has been well-documented. While it is great to discuss how the little school from Indianapolis was able to conquer some of the country’s national powers and sustain the success that predicated the conference ascension, Butler is now in the Big East and it is now appropriate to discuss what the Bulldogs have to do in their new league to carry on the past success. After last night’s loss to DePaul in a double-overtime game where the Bulldogs gave up an 11-point lead in the final minutes of regulation, Butler sits at 0-3 in conference play and is wondering what has gone wrong.
In the preseason, Butler was viewed as an unknown commodity and was subsequently picked ninth in the Big East preseason poll. It had a new head coach in Brandon Miller and its top returnee – Roosevelt Jones – was lost for the season with a wrist injury suffered over the summer. Once the season began, the Bulldogs appeared to be better than advertised during the non-conference slate. Despite finishing 1-2 at the Old Spice Classic in late November, the Bulldogs played well in all three games – including a two-point loss to preseason top 10 Oklahoma State, and a two-point overtime loss to an LSU squad that entered the season with high expectations. If you removed the three games in Orlando, the Bulldogs went a perfect 10-0 in non-conference play. Along the way, sophomore guard Kellen Dunham and senior forward Khyle Marshall began to emerge as a legitimate high-low combination with standout potential.
If things went better than expected for Butler in November and December, then it is fair to say things have gone worse than expected in Big East play. On New Year’s Eve, the Bulldogs played their first-ever conference game against Villanova at Hinkle Fieldhouse. While Butler gave the Wildcats everything they could handle that night, Villanova emerged victorious with a 76-73 overtime win. This past Saturday, the Bulldogs traveled to Cincinnati to take on a familiar foe in Xavier. Butler led by five at the half, but 15 turnovers and allowing Xavier to shoot 50.9 percent from the field ultimately did in the Bulldogs in a 79-68 defeat. Coming back to Indianapolis, Butler was searching for a much-needed victory on Thursday night when it hosted DePaul. Disaster struck late in the second half when they were unable to hold onto a good second half lead and allowed an 11-0 run by the Blue Demons to end regulation and force overtime. While the Bulldogs ended the first overtime period with a miraculous 6-0 run in the last 28 seconds of its own – highlighted by a Jackson Aldridge put-back at the buzzer to force a second overtime – DePaul ultimately left Hinkle Fieldhouse with the 99-94 victory. There’s certainly no shame in falling to a ranked Villanova team or a tenacious Xavier squad, but DePaul entered Thursday’s game with an 0-3 conference record and had only won seven games in Big East play over the past five-plus seasons.
Some missteps were definitely expected of Butler in its first season in the new Big East, but sitting at 0-3 with its next three games — at home against Georgetown, at Creighton, and at home against Marquette — means that the Bulldogs are definitely in a precarious spot. If Butler is unable to quickly find an answer to some of its turnover and defensive issues, the Bulldogs’ first year in Big East play may ultimately prove quite unkind.