Butler vs. Villanova: Beyond the box score

Kelan Martin sets up on defense. Martin’s 13 points led Butler in the loss to Villanova. Collegian file photo.

JOSHUA DOERING | ASST. SPORTS EDITOR | jdoering@butler.edu

The Butler men’s basketball team was eliminated by Villanova in the semifinals of the Big East Tournament. The Wildcats rode a scorching hot start to a comfortable 87-68 victory. The combination of a very poor performance from Butler and an excellent one from Villanova led to a Wildcat demolition. While it was certainly a disappointing ending to their conference tournament, Butler has a chance to respond in the NCAA Tournament. Here are three takeaways.

1. The game was over in a flash.

There are bad starts and then there’s what happened in this game. Villanova scored the first 19 points and the Bulldogs never recovered. Butler played the Wildcats even from that point on, but the damage was already done. This team has had a tough time getting going at times. When you’re playing a team as good as Villanova in the Big East Tournament, you better show up for all 40 minutes. The Bulldogs didn’t.

Now that Butler’s season ends with their next loss, they need to learn from what happened. It will be incredibly difficult to dig out of a hole against the quality of opposition the Bulldogs will face in the NCAA Tournament. Over their last four games, Butler has lacked energy for long stretches, especially early. If it continues to happen, it will cost them their season.

2. Butler needs both Kelan Martin and Kamar Baldwin playing well.

Baldwin bailed the Bulldogs out in the quarterfinals but couldn’t replicate his performance in the semifinals. Martin failed to make his presence felt for a second straight game, scoring only 13 points, nine of which came after halftime. Baldwin went for 12 points, nowhere near enough to keep Butler in the game. When the Bulldogs’ two leading scorers fail to crack 10 points combined in the first half, Butler is in trouble.

As Villanova was building their lead at the start of the game, Martin and Baldwin were nowhere to be found. The duo was held scoreless for the opening 12:57 of the game. Butler really needed at least one of them to step up and score some points to stop the bleeding. Martin has been really good this season about sensing when the Bulldogs are in trouble and making plays to help stabilize things. That didn’t happen in either tournament game, which is incredibly troubling.

3. The Bulldogs get a clean slate now.

Just about everything that could have gone wrong in this game did. Baldwin and Tyler Wideman each picked up two fouls in the first eight minutes. Nobody produced at a high level offensively. Villanova scored 16 points off of Butler’s 12 turnovers. In fairness to the Bulldogs, they probably would not have won this game even if they had played well. The Wildcats are nearly impossible to beat when they go 14-for-34 from three. Butler would’ve needed to play even better than they did when they knocked off Villanova at Hinkle to win this game.

The good news is that the NCAA Tournament is a brand new start. Once you make the field of 68, nothing you’ve done, good or bad, up to that point matters. Countless teams, including previous Butler squads, have proven regular season and conference tournament performance are not always good indicators of March Madness success. This team has real potential and that fact hasn’t changed. The Bulldogs need to take a breath, regroup, and get ready to see where the selection committee places them.

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