Butler basketball reset: Following another weekend loss, the Bulldogs face their toughest road test of season

Jordan Tucker looks for an open move during a game this season. Tucker and the Butler men’s basketball team take on Seton Hall and Creighton on the road this week. Xan Korman / Collegian file photo.

CHRIS BROWN | SPORTS EDITOR | cbbrown@butler.edu

For the third week in a row, the Butler men’s basketball team started its week off with a victory only to fall in its weekend matchup. After starting Big East play on a three-game winning streak, the Bulldogs have gone 4-6 and haven’t won a single Saturday/Sunday contest.

The Bulldogs have had multiple opportunities for wins to push them toward the top of the conference standings. Instead, the team finds itself in a two-way tie for fifth place with five regular season games remaining. Injuries are plaguing the Bulldogs once again as the team faces its toughest road stretch of the season this week.

On a more positive note, the Bulldogs are still inside the top 25 in the two major polls and are still widely projected as a top-five seed for the NCAA Tournament.

In this week’s Butler basketball rest, let’s take a close look back at the past week, the recent trends, where things stand now and what lies ahead:

A look back

The Bulldogs started the week looking to rebound from their most lopsided loss of a season, a 19-point road defeat at the hands of Marquette. Butler took on the Xavier Musketeers at Hinkle Fieldhouse on Feb. 17, and the Bulldogs outscored their rival 32-23 in the first half behind nine points from Henry Baddley and eight from Sean McDermott.

Butler battled injuries to Aaron Thompson – who took an elbow to the head/neck – and Derrik Smits – who tweaked his left knee – as well as foul trouble for Bryce Golden and Bryce Nze throughout the second half. In large part due to 10 second-half points from Jordan Tucker, Butler held off multiple runs from the Musketeers down the stretch to win 66-61.

Butler then remained at home to complete its first set of consecutive home games in a week during Big East play. The Bulldogs hosted the Georgetown Hoyas, who were looking for their fourth straight victory at Hinkle. Both teams played without pieces of their regular rotation. For Butler it was Thompson and Smits, while for the Hoyas, it was their two leading scorers, Mac McClung and Omer Yurtseven.

Georgetown did the better job of adjusting in this game, knocking down 10 of its 15 3-point attempts and finishing with four players in double figures. The Hoyas shot 58% from the field in the second half and defeated the Bulldogs 69-64. Georgetown improved to 6-1 on Butler’s home court since the Bulldogs joined the Big East in 2013.

Standings, polls and rankings

  • Butler in the Big East standings:
    1. Seton Hall (10-3, 18-7)
    2. Creighton (9-4, 20-6)
    3. Villanova (8-4, 19-6)
    4. Marquette (7-5, 17-7)
    5. Butler (7-6, 19-7)
    6. Providence (7-6, 14-12)
  • AP Top 25 Poll: 21st
  • USA Today Sports Coaches Poll: 23rd
  • NET rankings: 20th
  • KenPom: 27th (29th AdjO, 55th AdjD)
  • Sagarin: 41st

Despite a loss to a Georgetown team which was outside the top 50 at KenPom, Butler dropped just two spots in the AP poll and three spots in the coaches poll from a week ago. The Bulldogs have dropped off more in the major statistical rankings in the last seven days, falling four spots at KenPom and six positions in the NET rankings.

The Bulldogs also find themselves in the exact same spot in the conference standings – tied for fifth – as they were a week ago. While catching up to the top of the pack is a massive longshot, Butler needs to take care of business moving forward to ensure a first-round bye in the Big East Tournament.

Bracketology breakdown

In their Feb. 17 updates, CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm and NBC Sports’ Dave Ommen have the Bulldogs as a five seed in the NCAA Tournament. That’s the same spot Palm had the Bulldogs last week. In his most recent update on Feb. 14, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi still has Butler as a four seed. It’s important to note, though, that that update was before the Bulldogs’ loss to Georgetown.

Other key storylines

Injuries piling up: It’s already been discussed in-depth that the Bulldogs are a very different team without Aaron Thompson. Coaches from all around the Big East have stressed the importance the junior guard has for the team on both ends of the court. But it’s simply not an excuse for what happened against the Hoyas, who were without their only double-digit scorers.

Not to get lost in the shuffle is the impact that the absences of Christian David and Derrik Smits is having as well. The spark off the bench that David currently was capable of bringing has been missing in many of Butler’s recent games. And with Smits sidelined and Bryce Golden and Bryce Nze battling foul trouble, John-Michael Mulloy was pressed into his most action since early November against Georgetown. The freshman picked up three fouls and turned the ball over twice in nine minutes versus the Hoyas.

Defensive struggles continue: Not too long ago, Butler was in the top five at KenPom in defensive efficiency. As of Feb. 17, the Bulldogs rank 55th in that metric after falling 25 spots in the past week.

In three of its last four contests, Butler has surrendered 70 or more points, something it didn’t do in any of its first 16 games this season. Three of the Bulldogs’ last four opponents have also knocked down nine or more 3-pointers – more on 3-point defense in a moment.

Trending up: 

Jordan Tucker: This time last week the junior forward was in the trending down section after a week in which he scored nine total points between two games. But in the Bulldogs’ last two games, Tucker scored 10 and 16 points, respectively. Against Xavier, Tucker helped fend off the Musketeers’ runs with 10 second half points. Versus Georgetown, he finished second on the team with 16 points. While his scoring was a little sporadic in those games, the double-digit performances were certainly encouraging.

Trending down:

Three-point defense: In Butler’s last four games, opponents are shooting exactly 50% from beyond the arc. While the first two opponents during that stretch – Villanova and Marquette – are both among the top three 3-point shooting teams in the Big East, the other two – Xavier and Georgetown – have both had their fair share of struggles from deep. The Bulldogs now rank last in the Big East in 3-point field goal defense during conference play. Big East opponents are knocking down nearly 37% of their shots from the perimeter.

A look ahead

To avoid a three-game losing streak going into next week, the Bulldogs will have to do something this week that they haven’t done all season: defeat a team widely projected to make the NCAA Tournament on the road. The closest Butler has come to doing that was their 69-64 road win over Georgetown on Jan. 28. The Hoyas, not long ago considered down and out, are now on the bubble and 43rd in the NET rankings.

The Bulldogs will first travel to New Jersey for a Feb. 19 matchup against a Seton Hall team coming off of two straight losses for the first time in conference play. After falling by five points at home to then-23rd ranked Creighton on Feb. 12, the Pirates lost to Providence by three points on the road on Feb. 15. Following the losses, Seton Hall fell six spots from 10th to 16th in this week’s AP poll. The Pirates now sit just one game ahead of Creighton in the Big East standings. Butler lost its 10-point halftime lead and fell 78-70 to Seton Hall on Jan. 15 for its first Big East loss this year.

Butler will then head to Omaha looking to sweep the season series against Creighton. The Bulldogs defeated the Bluejays 71-57 on Jan. 4 in their conference home opener. Butler limited Creighton to just 24 first half points and 18% from beyond the arc, while Kamar Baldwin scored 20 points in the second half and McDermott scored 18 in the game. The Bluejays have won three games in a row to improve to 9-4 in Big East action, and are 15th in this week’s AP poll.


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One Comment;

  1. Tim said:

    Dawgs are my team…always will be! But without Aaron Thompson as the court general, they can’t win in the Big East. Too many athletes. Butler has to play smart to compete and they need Thompson to choreograph the game plan.