Kamar Baldwin controls the ball during a game against Georgetown on Feb. 15. Baldwin led the Bulldogs with 17 points in the loss. Photo by Donald Crocker / Collegian file photo.
JOSH MULLENIX | SPORTS EDITOR | firstname.lastname@example.org
After another home loss to Georgetown on Saturday, Butler men’s basketball hits the road for two road games against top 25 opponents. The Seton Hall Pirates are up first.
Despite two top 25 rankings in the most recent AP Poll, neither Butler or Seton Hall are playing their best basketball of the season. Both teams are 2-3 in their last five games including multiple home losses. The Bulldogs fell to Georgetown and Providence inside Hinkle Fieldhouse over that stretch, and the Pirates lost to Creighton and Xavier at the Prudential Center.
Righting the ship will be tougher for the Bulldogs who haven’t won a road Big East game since beating Georgetown in Washington on Jan. 28. However, as of now, it looks like Aaron Thompson is no longer under concussion protocol and will be available for the Bulldogs as they try to beat a top 25 team on the road for the first time this season.
Here’s what you need to know.
Who: No. 21 Butler (19-7, 7-6 Big East) vs. No. 16 Seton Hall (18-7, 10-3 Big East)
When: Feb. 19, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Prudential Center, Newark, New Jersey
How to watch/listen: FS1, 93.5FM/107.5FM/1070AM
1. “The bench is going to get shortened.”
Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard was not happy with his team after Seton Hall’s 74-71 loss to Providence on Feb. 15. In a postgame radio interview, Willard said he had players with attitude issues and said they needed to either show up and play or they were going to sit on the bench.
“I’m really disappointed in a few guys who, either they regain their focus or I’ll just play six,” Willard said.
So, don’t be surprised if Willard only deploys one guy off the bench unless he absolutely must bring in a second and third reserve. In their second straight loss to the Friars, only two players played more than seven minutes off the bench for the Pirates, and they only got nine points on 2-of-10 shooting from the five bench players who saw the floor.
So, what does that mean for the Bulldogs? Attack, put pressure on the Seton Hall defense and get guys in foul trouble to force Willard to play players he isn’t comfortable playing at this moment and force those guys to be productive. The Pirates only got eight points from bench scorers in the first matchup between these two teams. If the Bulldogs can force bench players to make a substantial impact, it will put them in a much better position to steal one on the road.
2. Find a way to stop Romaro Gill, somehow.
In the second half of the first game between these teams on Jan. 15, Romaro Gill made Butler look silly on the defensive end, specifically in the pick-and-roll. Bryce Golden and Bryce Nze weren’t able to stick with Gill because of his height, and Derrik Smits’ defense wasn’t good enough. Basically, the Bulldogs got exposed by the high-energy big man who has quick feet and good hands.
Now, Butler’s defense has to find a way to slow down the pick-and-roll with Gill and either Quincy McKnight or Myles Powell. Whether it’s better on-ball defense, not allowing such easy entry passes or help side defense or double-teaming Gill on the roll, something needs to be done differently. Smits probably won’t be available — currently listed as day-to-day with a knee injury — to be a body the same size as Gill. In January, Gill and the Seton Hall offense took the Bryces out of the game because of the pick-and-roll. That can’t happen on Wednesday because there is nobody else to go to on Butler’s bench other than John Michael Mulloy — who isn’t ready for high level Division I basketball.
Nze and Golden are at the center of Butler’s rebounding effort and add another dimension to the Butler offense. They need to be on the floor and be effective against Gill on both ends.
3. Both teams need to get out of a slump from deep, the team to do it will probably win.
The Bulldogs and the Pirates have both struggled from distance in the last week or so. Over their last two games — both losses — the Pirates are 16-of-59, 27%, from beyond the arc. They are now eighth in the conference shooting just 30.5% as a team from deep in their 13 Big East games.
Likewise, Butler is 21-of-73 from beyond the arc, shooting just slightly better than the Pirates over their last three games, but 29% from beyond the arc is not good enough. The Bulldogs are also the worst 3-point defensive team in conference play this season. If Butler is going to win at the Prudential Center, they’ve got to do a better job both defending and taking advantage of the 3-point line. Whichever team wins the battle of the trifecta and pulls themselves out of a shooting slump will probably win the game.