While we are all consumed with Cincinnati’s search for its next football coach, the basketball team is quietly No. 22 in the country and about to take on No. 16 Butler in a battle of top 25 teams at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
In order to get the inside scoop on Butler we turned to some folks who don’t have any interest in football whatsoever, the staff at Big East Coast Bias, specifically co-managing editor Robert O’Neill. We asked him about Kelan Martin, Chris Holtmann and a few other things.
DTD: I’d like to start by talking about your coach. How would you grade the job Chris Holtmann has done at Butler in his two plus seasons? Where does he rank among Big East coaches?
RO: Holtmann has been nothing short of phenomenal in his two plus years with the Bulldogs, as shown by his 53-23 record coming into this game. People forget that he was thrust into this role pretty late in the offseason in 2014 when Brandon Miller had to step away from the Bulldogs, and Holtmann has absolutely thrived. A lot of people were concerned this year how Holtmann and the Bulldogs would fare with the departures of Roosevelt Jones and Kellen Dunham, but they’ve been great. Holtmann’s recruiting may be the best thing about him, as Butler’s classes this season and next season are two of the best in school history. If you were to rank Big East coaches, it would be just like ranking Big East teams. Jay Wright is in a class of his own, and then Holtmann is right there on the next tier with Chris Mack and Greg McDermott, in my opinion.
DTD: Kelan Martin looks like a bona fide superstar. What has been the key to his accession and what are the best parts of his game?
RO: The best part of Kelan Martin’s game is that he gets buckets. He’s one of the best scorers in the entire Big East, and once he gets in a rhythm he can be deadly. I think he’s always had the scoring ability, but it really flourished the past two seasons with a rise in playing time. If you look at Martin’s freshman year compared to last year, his minutes per game doubled last season and his points per game did as well. You don’t always see that. He takes smart shots and plays with a high level of confidence.
DTD: As you mentioned, this team no longer has stalwarts Roosevelt Jones and Kellen Dunham, who really killed UC last season. Even without them, Butler hasn’t missed a step offensively, ranking 20th in adjusted offensive efficiency according to KenPom. What are the hallmarks of the offensive game plan and how can a team slow or stop the Bulldogs?
RO: It’s been a team effort. And I know everyone says that and that’s a cliche, but it’s true. Going into the year, Butler knew they didn’t have a single player to replace a guy who did it all like Jones or a sharpshooter like Dunham (though he’s easier to replace, more on that in a second), so they were gonna have to have all hands on deck. Memphis transfer Avery Woodson has done a fine job replacing Dunham, as he’s shooting 43% from beyond the arc this year. Woodson went 6-11 from long range against Butler’s two best opponents, Utah and Arizona, this year. As for Jones, it’s really been everyone. The Bulldogs are 88th in the nation in bench minutes this season. They finished 315th and 345th (of 351 teams) in Jones’ final two seasons. Coming into the year, everyone knew they were going to have to step up and help carry the load. So far, they have.
DTD: As a UC follower, I can respect Butler’s defensive greatness as well (28th in adjusted defense). What kind of scheme does Holtmann employ and who are some of the better defenders on the roster?
RO: Butler’s defense took a bit of a hit in the 72-71 defeat at Indiana State (winning on the road in college basketball is tough. Who knew?), but their defense still remains in the top 30 in the nation. I’m not sure you can point to a single player being the driving force, though freshman Kamar Baldwin is a gifted defender who is averaging 2.1 steals per game so far. Butler just plays good, hard-nosed defense. Again, not to use cliches, but that’s the Butler Way.
DTD: With eight wins in nine contests, what would you say is the biggest victory of the year for the Bulldogs so far?
RO: I think Butler’s biggest win has to be either of their Pac-12 victories mentioned above. They took down the Arizona Wildcats to win the Las Vegas Invitational and beat the Utah Utes. Both Arizona and Utah look like NCAA Tournament teams, and they really helped boost Butler’s resume. Honorable mention to the Bulldogs home victory over the Northwestern Wildcats.
DTD: Last year’s matchup between these teams came down to the last shot. First, do you see this one playing out in similar fashion? Second, who gets the ball with the game on the line if not Martin?
RO: I think Butler’s going to pull this one out if only because they simply don’t lose home nonconference games at Hinkle Fieldhouse (33 in a row dating back to 2012). If it comes down to a final shot situation, you obviously would look to Kelan Martin first and foremost, but I think Andrew Chrabascz or Tyler Wideman, who both registered double-digit scoring performances last year against Cincy, would be in play. Kamar Baldwin also, because he had the game-winner against Northwestern and has ice in his veins. I think it’ll be a close and hard fought game though.