Men’s basketball: Sun setting on the Horizon?

The Butler men’s basketball team dropped two in a row last weekend to fall to 12-11 on the season.

At this point, basketball fans may be wondering what has happened to the squad that took part in the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship each of the last two seasons.

The two-time defending Horizon League champion Bulldogs are currently tied for fifth in the conference standings at 6-5.

“We’ve been in some games that we’ve had a chance to win and we didn’t,” coach Brad Stevens said. “We’ve won some games that could’ve gone either way. So 6-5 is about what’s right.”

This team is far different from the one that was runner-up in the national championship game last season.

“There is a lot of room for improvement,” senior guard Ronald Nored said. “It’s tough with us adding so many new people.”

Following the 2010-11 season, the Bulldogs lost three of their top five players in scoring, free throw shooting and rebounding as well as four of their top five players in 3-point shooting.

Offense has been especially hard to come by for the Bulldogs, who are currently ranked eighth of 10 Horizon League teams in shooting from the field.

In addition, Butler is last in the league shooting from 3-point land and eighth in the conference shooting from the free throw line.

“I don’t think that there is any doubt that we need to be able to figure out different ways to score,” Stevens said. ”Everyone needs to get better.”

The Bulldogs’ top shooter in terms of field goal percentage is junior center Andrew Smith.

However, Smith only attempted four shots in the team’s 80-68 loss to Green Bay last weekend.

“Our goal is always [to pass from] inside [to] out[side] and regardless of who’s in the middle, that’s always how we’re going to play,” Smith said. “If I have open looks, I’ll take them.”

Through 23 games, Butler is ranked 270th of 338 Division I teams in points per game.

By comparison, league opponent Detroit is currently ranked 75th through 23 games in the same category.

“We’ve played really well in some games but have not been able to close it out,” Nored said.

Nored said the team’s biggest weakness is maintaining resiliency in difficult situations.

“We need to accept a challenge,” Nored said. “Whether we’re up or it’s a close game, we need to fight through and [be] mentally tougher.”

Luckily for the Bulldogs, their situation is not all doom and gloom thanks to their play on defense.

“We can definitely show that we are going to be the nastiest defensive team on the floor,” sophomore forward Khyle Marshall said. “Nothing can keep us from that.”

The Bulldogs rank fifth in the league in points allowed per game, less than three points behind league-leading Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Butler is also third in the league in both rebound margin—rebounds recorded versus rebounds allowed—and steals.

Another bright spot for Butler is that it will get to play four of its last seven games—not including the ESPN BracketBusters game—in Hinkle Fieldhouse, where the team holds a 7-4 record.

In addition, the Bulldogs were 6-4 in conference play at this time last season before going on to win 14 consecutive games, including a victory in the Horizon League championship game.

“I believe in this team a lot, and I show it through the way I play,” Nored said. “If we can continue to fight and toughen up mentally, we can do great things.”

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