Kamar Baldwin brings the ball down the court during a game this season. Baldwin and the Butler men’s basketball team host DePaul on Feb. 29. Chandler Hart / Collegian file photo.
CHRIS BROWN | SPORTS EDITOR | firstname.lastname@example.org
In the midst of a three-game skid, the Butler men’s basketball team will look to finish what’s been a highly disappointing month of February on a high note as the team hosts DePaul at Hinkle Fieldhouse on Feb. 29.
The Bulldogs have fallen out of the AP Top 25 poll for the first time since late November, and will need to win at least two of their final three regular season contests to avoid finishing under .500 in Big East play for the second straight season.
Here’s everything you need to know as Butler looks to bounce back against the Blue Demons:
Who: Butler (19-9, 7-8 Big East) vs. DePaul (14-14, 2-13 Big East)
When: Saturday, Feb. 29, 6:30 p.m. ET
Where: Hinkle Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Indiana
How to watch/listen: FS1, 1430AM
- It’s not difficult to understand why DePaul sits at the bottom of the Big East standings.
The Blue Demons have lost nine of their last 10 contests and are coming off a 78-67 loss to Xavier on Feb. 25 on the road, where DePaul has yet to win a Big East game this season. In Big East play, DePaul’s scoring offense is second-worst – trailing only Butler – and its scoring defense is at the bottom of the league. The Blue Demons have the second-worst marks in conference action in free throw percentage, 3-point field goal percentage, and 3-point field goal defense.
DePaul does have some strong scorers, highlighted by junior guard Charlie Moore, whose 15.2 points per game in conference play is eighth in the Big East. Junior forward Paul Reed is one of the best rebounders in the conference, averaging 10.6 boards per contest in addition to nearly 15 points per game this season. Add in senior guard Jalen Coleman-Lands and junior forward Jaylen Butz, who are both averaging between nine and 12 points per contest in conference play, and DePaul has a decent top group of scorers. But there isn’t a ton of scoring depth beyond those players, and without a top-tier scorer and the Blue Demons’ defensive issues, it’s not difficult to see why DePaul’s scoring margin of -7.5 in conference play is easily the worst.
Butler’s tempo in conference play is the slowest in the league, while DePaul’s is the second-fastest. For the Blue Demons, that’s to compensate for the 140th-ranked offensive in terms of adjusted efficiency at KenPom. The team’s two starting guards, Moore and Coleman-Lands, are both shooting worse than 37% from the field and worse than 30% from beyond the arc.
- But the Blue Demons have defeated the Bulldogs once before this season, and Butler cannot afford to mess around.
A 2-5 record in February thus far has taken the Bulldogs out of the competition atop the Big East standings, and although Butler remains a virtual lock for the NCAA Tournament, there’s still plenty at stake over the next few weeks. With their 7-8 conference record, the Bulldogs are currently tied with Xavier for sixth in the Big East standings. The top six teams in the conference receive a bye to the quarterfinals in the Big East Tournament, meaning the Bulldogs are playing to avoid a first round appearance.
While DePaul is decidedly among the bottom teams in the conference this season, the Bulldogs have already seen that they cannot take the Blue Demons for granted. DePaul snapped Butler’s 11-game winning streak against the Blue Demons with a 79-66 victory over the Bulldogs in Chicago on Jan. 18. In the first six minutes of the game, Butler was 2-of-12 from the field – including 0-of-6 from beyond the arc – and had turned the ball over six times, helping the Blue Demons jump up out to a 22-6 lead. Butler turned the ball over 17 times, sent DePaul to the charity stripe for 32 free throws and never led in the contest.
It will be important for Butler to set the tone early and get off to a better start than the last time against DePaul. It will also be important for the Bulldogs to do a better job of limiting Reed. The 6-foot-9-inch junior finished with 23 points on 8-of-9 from the field and 5-of-5 from the free-throw line on Jan. 18. Additionally, improved perimeter defense could also be crucial. In the Bulldogs’ last six games, opponents are shooting 50% on 3-point shots. While DePaul is one of the worst teams in the league from deep, the Blue Demons finished 10-of-17 from beyond the arc in the previous matchup between these two teams.
- Kamar Baldwin and Aaron Thompson appear likely to play after exiting the Bulldogs’ last game due to injury.
Butler’s starting guards both exited the Bulldogs’ loss at Creighton due to injury. Baldwin injured his ankle on a play near the end of the first half and didn’t return in the second half, leaving the Bulldogs looking completely lost offensively. Then, with just under three minutes remaining in the game, Thompson departed after reinjuring his left wrist. The junior guard previously missed three games with an injury to the wrist and has had it taped up in games ever since.
On Feb. 27, Butler head coach LaVall Jordan said that both will be available for the Bulldogs’ game against DePaul, barring any setbacks. The significance of their presence for Butler should go without saying, as the two form one of the better guard duos in the conference. Baldwin is one of 10 candidates for the Jerry West Award, which recognizes the country’s top shooting guard, while on Feb. 27 Thompson was named as one of 10 semifinalists for the 2020 Naismith Defensive Player of the Year award.
Even if Baldwin and Thompson do take the court against DePaul, Butler still won’t feature as much depth as it did versus the Blue Demons the last time. 12 Bulldogs saw game action on Jan. 18, and 28 minutes came from players not expected to be available this time around – Derrik Smits and Christian David. After fouling out after just 13 minutes of action in the teams’ last meeting, Bryce Nze, for one, will have to do a better job of staying on the court.