Before Cincinnati gets set for a major test against the Butler Bulldogs, we took some time to talk with Mike Murtaugh of Big East Coast Bias to get a feel for the Bulldogs.
Butler has been a pretty impressive offensive team, ranking among the top ten nationally in scoring (95 PPG) and field goal percentage (.526). Even if you take out the 144-point explosion it had against The Citadel, it is still putting up more than 80 per game. What makes the Bulldogs so effective offensively?
MM: Their offensive hot streak the team has enjoyed to start the season has been an exciting change of pace for the Bulldogs, who struggled a bit with offensive versatility over the last few seasons. It sounds simple, but the biggest reason for their success has been their ability to set everyone up for good shots and spread the floor. Butler can put five legitimate offensive threats on the floor at once, and when bigs like Andrew Chrabascz can continue shooting three’s (he’s hitting 40 percent of his attempts this season) while the team’s guards are finding easy lanes to the hoop, they can be really tough to defend. They’re also getting out and running far more aggressively in transition, so their typically strong defense can immediately lead to points down at the other end.
Kellen Dunham is the major scoring threat for Butler, averaging 21.2 PPG. Cincinnati will clearly need to key in on him. What's the best way to keep him off balance?
MM: Dunham has been on a tear through these first five games, on pace to shoot his career high from the field (46 percent) while shooting 41 percent from three and 95 percent from the line. Sure, some of this is due to the fact that the Bulldogs have had a relatively friendly schedule so far, save for the showdown with Miami (FL) in Puerto Rico, but it’s no secret that Dunham might be one of the most talented scorers in the entire country right now. In previous seasons, the best way to contain Dunham was to double-team him on the perimeter, forcing him off balance while needing to get the shot off before the end of the shot clock. This year, it’s a little bit different since guys like Roosevelt Jones, Tyler Lewis, Chrabascz and Kelan Martin will need defensive attention too. It might sound like a cop-out answer, but the best bet is probably to throw a lengthy perimeter on him that can fight over screens in the high pick-and-roll. If you can keep pressure on him without opening things up for someone else, you’re good. If not, your best bet may be to just contain everyone else and hope for the guy to have an off night.
Transfer Tyler Lewis and sophomore Kelan Martin have been major contributors early on. What has impressed you the most about each of them?
MM: With Lewis, it’s his in-game awareness and ability to execute. He’s cognizant of where all four of his teammates are at all times, and is easily the most talented passer this team has had in years. At N.C. State (Lewis transferred to Butler after the 2013-14 season), he wasn’t necessarily a dynamite scoring option, but it’s clear he worked on his perimeter shooting while he sat out due to transfer rules. The only knock against the guy is his limitations due to size, but he’s been terrific thus far.
Martin was a guy that everyone knew would be a talented scorer from watching him in practice his freshman year, but it just never translated on a consistent basis. However, in his sophomore season, he’s made his presence felt very early, increasing his field goal percentage by 14 percent (56 percent) and his three point percentage by 12 percent (36 percent). At 6’6", 235 pounds, he has the size to slide over to the four in smaller lineups, and it’s clear that he’s far more comfortable this year in an expanded role coming off the bench. He’s cooled off a bit after kicking off the year with back-to-back double-digit scoring performances, but Bulldogs fans are very excited about what this kid can do after Dunham and Jones graduate.
This is Butler's first true road game of the season. Last year the Bulldogs went 7-4 away from Hinkle Fieldhouse. Do you think this year's team is better equipped to win in a hostile environment? Why or why not?
MM: Yes, because if nothing else, they appear to be far more poised this year in pressure situations. After falling behind big to Miami, they rallied in the final minutes to bring the game within single digits before the Hurricanes eventually pulled away for good. Last week, against a surprisingly scrappy SIU-Edwardsville team, they battled sloppy play the whole first half, adjusted and calmed down during the break, and dominated the rest of the way as was originally expected. They’re extremely well coached, their two best players are seniors who have seen just about every different situation possible at this point, and they’re very mature and poised when it matters. They’re obviously terrific at home in Hinkle Fieldhouse, but I wouldn’t write them off on the road either.
Alright. Now it’s time for the question we all want the answer to. Who wins Wednesday night and why?
MM: Much like it was before the Miami game, I can honestly see this one going either way. This is, however, a pretty nice matchup for Butler in terms of size and position battles, despite an obvious athletic disadvantage. It’s still taking some time getting used to the Bulldogs’ new pace-and-space offense, but if their defense can hold, I think Butler should win this one. I’ll say the Bulldogs take it, 68-63. (Editor's note: We see how it is, Mike.)