After Wednesday’s win at Villanova, Butler Men’s basketball is a projected 3 seed heading into the NCAA tourney. Butler is currently ranked #22 in the AP poll and sit at a comfortable 22-6. They have proven that they can topple the giants, but also can lose to the likes of St. Johns, and Indiana State. This has truly been a Jekyll and Hyde type of season and it is nice to see Jekyll come out in time for March. The win over Nova on Wednesday marked Nova’s first home loss in their last 49 games!!! There is reason for legitimate optimism Bulldawg fans. Here are a few reasons why I think Butler has a shot this year.
Butler has the 12th LEAST turnovers in Division 1 with only 289 on the year. Chris Holtmann’s deliberate and assured coaching style greatly attributes to this part of their game. Holtmann uses the slow, methodical offensive play style, which truly helps to lower turnovers and get quality chances. Hell, he even benched their best player, Kelan Martin, because of an “internal matter” (but we all know it was because he was shooting 36% in Big East play at the time). Holtmann sticks to his guns and is a large (if not the biggest) reason for Butler’s success.
2. Grizzled Vets and Young Studs
Seniors, Andrew Chrabascz, Tyler Lewis, Avery Woodson, and Kethan Savage have proven time and time again this year that they are the heart and soul of this Butler team. Whether it’s the signature Chrabascz post spin and flip, Lewis dropping a dime, or Savage/Woodson burying a three, the senior class has been really, really good. As good as our seniors are, the young bloods have some game as well. Kamar Baldwin (Fr.) and Nate Fowler (So.) have both stepped up in the clutch multiple times this year. Fowler has proven to be a welcome back up to Wideman down-low and Baldwin has done just about everything right – the late game steal and layup against Nova is the signature play that stands out to me. Butler’s tremendous depth is one of the main reasons for their success.
3. The Dawgs are absolutely rolling right now
Before the 77-66 win over Villanova, Butler beat St. Johns and Depaul by about 20 points a piece. This is significant because prior to that Butler went through a bit of a rough stretch in which they lost to both Georgetown and Creighton at home, and against a lowly Providence team. Butler shot 51% at Villanova, 57% vs. Depaul, and 57% vs. St. Johns so they certainly seem to be back on track. They’re defense, which has been torrid at times this year, improved as well as they limited the three teams to about 45% shooting and caused several turnovers.
4. They play “up” to the competition
Butler’s win against Villanova on Wednesday marks their 6th win against a top 25 team. Some of their feature wins are obviously the two Nova games, Northwestern, Arizona, IU (not really a feature win anymore LOL), Utah (on the road), Cincinnati, and Xavier. Butler matches up well with just about any team in the country because of their adaptable playing style. If they can get the 3 seed I think they have a legitimate chance at making the Elite 8.
5. The Kelan Martin factor
Kelan Martin has had an up and down year. He put up extremely good numbers in non-conference play, averaging 18.8 points, with about 5 rebounds and an assist or two, but absolutely tanked in conference play. His FG% dove down to roughly 37% over that stretch as he just never seemed to find his rhythm. Regardless, he is Butler’s most athletic and explosive player and is their go-to-guy down the stretch. Butler is the type of team that centers their offense around smart passing and ball movement, which is why Kelan’s ISO playing style hasn’t meshed throughout the whole season. At any rate, if Butler wants any shot at making a deep NCAA tourney run they are going to need Martin at his finest.
Here’s to a Dawgs victory Sunday at Xavier and a deep run in the tourney. Check out this short clip documenting Butler’s near historic upset of Duke back in 2010.