Butler basketball reset: Bulldogs pick up much-needed win going into final week of regular season

Aaron Thompson directs the Butler offense during the Bulldogs’ 60-42 win over DePaul on Feb. 29. The Bulldogs take on St. John’s and Xavier in the final week of the regular season. Photo by Kelly Hallinan.

CHRIS BROWN | SPORTS EDITOR | cbbrown@butler.edu

With just two regular season games remaining, the Butler men’s basketball team is not battling for a spot amongst the top teams in the Big East standings – but that doesn’t mean there isn’t something on the line.

After a three-game skid dropped them below .500 in conference play for the first time this season, the Bulldogs were able to end February on a positive note, soundly defeating DePaul at home on Feb. 29. Now, with an 8-8 Big East mark, Butler is tied with Xavier and Marquette for fifth in the conference standings. And one of Butler’s remaining games is at Xavier on March 7.

With the final week of Big East regular season action about to get underway, let’s take a look back at the past week, the recent trends, where things stand now and what lies ahead in this week’s Butler basketball reset:

A look back

After five days off from game action, the Bulldogs came out strong against the Blue Demons on Feb. 29, going on a 13-0 run early and jumping out to a 16-4 lead less than eight minutes into play. Kamar Baldwin and Aaron Thompson, who both exited the team’s previous game due to injury, started and each played 34 minutes. Baldwin tallied nine points, eight rebounds, five assists, three blocks and six steals while Thompson helped to limit the Blue Demons’ leading scorer, Charlie Moore, to eight points on 3-of-12 from the field.

The Bulldogs shot 39% from the field in both halves, but held DePaul to just 42 points, the lowest total of any Big East opponent this season, and hit a few key shots in the second half to build up a comfortable lead. In the second half, Jordan Tucker scored all of his 13 points, which tied him for the team lead with Sean McDermott.

Butler defeated DePaul 60-42, with the 18-point margin of victory being the Bulldogs’ largest since Jan. 10, when Butler defeated Providence 70-58 on the road. In between those two games, Butler lost by double digits four times.

Standings, polls and rankings

  • Butler in the Big East standings:
    1. No. 8 Seton Hall (13-3, 21-7)
    2. No. 11 Creighton (11-5, 22-7)
    3. No. 14 Villanova (11-5, 22-7)
    4. Providence (10-6, 17-12)
    5. Butler (8-8, 20-9)
    6. Xavier (8-8, 19-10)
    7. Marquette (8-8, 18-10)
  • AP Top 25 Poll: Receiving votes (first team out)
  • USA Today Sports Coaches Poll: 25th
  • NET rankings: 20th
  • KenPom: 27th (33rd AdjO, 43rd AdjD)
  • Sagarin: 39th

Unsurprisingly, a home victory over a team with just two conference wins was not enough to get the Bulldogs back into the AP Top 25, but they did come close, receiving 68 points in voting as the first team out – 25th-ranked Michigan had 94 points. Butler did rejoin the coaches poll as the last team in, and also moved up three spots both in the NET rankings and at KenPom from one week ago.

Bracketology breakdown

Butler’s win over DePaul also didn’t have a huge impact on its projected seeding for the NCAA Tournament. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has the Bulldogs as a seven seed, while CBS Sports’ Jerry Palm and NBC Sports’ Dave Ommen have Butler as a six seed. All of those positions are exactly the same as they were one week ago. Fox Sports’ Mike DeCourcy has the Bulldogs the highest, as a five seed, one spot higher than last week.

Other key storylines

3-point defense: Heading into the Bulldogs’ most recent game against DePaul, Butler opponents were shooting 50% from beyond the arc in the last six games. After knocking down 10 threes in 17 attempts against Butler in Chicago, the Blue Demons didn’t convert a 3-point shot at Hinkle until there was 19 seconds left in the game.

Butler limited DePaul to just 1-of-12 from beyond the arc in the game, and while that type of a performance from an opponent is rare, the Bulldogs need to continue to contest shots and limit open threes at a higher level than in previous weeks.

Improved health: As mentioned, Baldwin and Thompson both played against DePaul after exiting the team’s last game due to injury. Neither appeared limited in any way, a positive sign moving forward for a Butler team that has battled injuries to key pieces throughout Big East play.

While Christian David won’t be returning until next season after suffering a torn ACL, the Bulldogs could see another bench piece back in action in the coming days or weeks. Derrik Smits, who re-injured his knee against Xavier on Feb. 12, practiced last week and was seen getting some shots up on the court at Hinkle prior to the team’s game against DePaul. While his status isn’t completely clear, those developments seem to indicate Smits could see game action in the coming weeks.

Trending up

Jordan Tucker: At halftime against DePaul, Jordan Tucker had not scored, and he had only scored nine points in Butler’s last six halves on 3-of-18 shooting from the field. After the game, Tucker said he knew he had to just keep shooting, and it certainly paid off in the second half against the Blue Demons. In the final 20 minutes, Tucker took seven shots, all threes, and made four of them, in addition to knocking down a free throw.

The junior forward finished with, as previously mentioned, a team-high 13 points. While it’s premature to say for sure that Tucker has broken out of his recent shooting slump, it’s undeniable that Saturday’s second half was a significant step in the right direction.

Trending down

Kamar Baldwin’s 3-point shooting, and an increased percentage of threes: The senior guard hasn’t knocked down more than one shot from beyond the arc in six games and is 4-of-18 – 22% – from distance over the Bulldogs’ last five games. Butler doesn’t need Baldwin to knock down a ton of threes, but Baldwin’s struggles are indicative of the team’s struggles from beyond the arc in recent weeks. Butler converted just eight of 31 3-point attempts against DePaul and is shooting roughly 29% from beyond the arc in its last six games.

The Bulldogs have also been taking a higher percentage of threes in recent weeks. Through Feb. 5, roughly one third of Butler’s field goal attempts were 3-pointers. Since then, roughly 42% of the Bulldogs shots have been from beyond the arc. It’s worth noting that four of Butler’s games in this recent span have been against some of the worst 3-point defensive teams in the Big East. For the season, Butler’s next opponent, St. John’s, is in the middle of the pack. Xavier, the Bulldogs’ final opponent, has limited threes more than any other team in the conference.

A look ahead

The Bulldogs start the week with their regular season home finale, hosting St. John’s March 4 on Senior Night. Butler is undoubtedly hoping for a much less chaotic contest against the Red Storm this time around.

Butler started Big East play with a wild 60-58 win over St. John’s on New Year’s Eve. Butler went on a 23-2 run to end the first half, built up their lead to as high as 23 points, blew that lead in spectacular fashion and then Christian David hit a game winning 3-pointer to cap a 7-0 Bulldogs run to end the contest. The Red Storm sit near the bottom of the Big East with a 4-14 conference mark, but are coming off a 20-point home victory over Creighton on March 1.

Butler will then travel to take on Xavier in its regular season finale. As mentioned, the Musketeers enter the week with an identical 8-8 Big East record to the Bulldogs, and face Providence on the road before returning home to host Butler. Xavier has won six of its last eight games – including against Seton Hall and Providence – and is coming off a three-point road win over Georgetown.

Behind double digit points from McDermott, Baldwin and Tucker, Butler defeated Xavier 66-61 at Hinkle Fieldhouse on Feb. 12, despite multiple significant challenges in the second half. Thompson and Smits both exited with injuries in the second half, while Bryce Golden and Bryce Nze both battled foul trouble. The Musketeers went on multiple runs late in that game but Butler was able to knock down big shots to halt those efforts.

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