Butler fans will not see Rotnei Clarke this week when Butler returns home for their A-10 home debut against Richmond, followed by the appearance on the national stage when Gonzaga and ESPN’s College Gameday visits on Saturday. Clarke was officially ruled out last night for the week by the Butler medical staff. The good news is that multiple medical exams have revealed no fracture, but Clarke has yet to be cleared for a return to contact.
Clarke’s long term health is obviously the main concern. It’ll be disappointing for Bulldog fans not to see him at home this week, and hopefully he can return to action when Butler takes to the road for yet another challenge next Wednesday, taking on a very good LaSalle team in Philly. But in the short term, what has to happen for Butler to maintain their A-10 lead? Here’s a player-by-player look at who will need to what to fill-in for Butler’s focal point offensively.
The senior drained a couple of big threes in extended minutes against Dayton on Saturday. The win at UD Arena was truly a collective effort, with no player scoring more than 16 points after Clarke left the game with eight minutes to play in the first half. Stigall won’t be asked to be Clarke from a standpoint of handling all of the scoring load, or even being the main cog offensively. He is the guy whose minutes will likely increase the most. He played a combined total of 20 minutes in the three previous games before Saturday. His two made threes against Dayton came in 12 minutes of play.
The senior has not had the sendoff season he would have hoped for. Before Saturday, the last time he had SCORED in a game was the win against Indiana. He made two threes in that game as well, including one in overtime. He also made a pair of shots from distance against North Carolina in the win in Maui. In other words, he’s saved his offensive contributions for the main stage this season. Well, he’s on the main stage for as long as Clarke is absent.
If Brad Stevens likes the idea of Kellen Dunham coming off the bench, don’t be surprised is Stigall is in the starting lineup tomorrow night. He won’t play Clarke’s minutes, but he’ll at least keep Dunham in the rhythm that has the freshman averaging over 10 points per game.
The offensive game has been ‘in-case needed’ at times this season. The best example of that was in Philly against St. Joe’s last week. Jones scored just four points, his fewest in over a month. He took just seven shots, and only went to the line twice in the win. In large part, that was because the ball didn’t need to get to him to get a good shot. It was either Clarke getting open from outside, or driving by a defender to get to the basket. If it wasn’t Clarke, then it was Andrew Smith scoring on the low block. The senior duo combined for 52 of Butler’s 72 that night.
Jones and Clarke are each bail out guys when Butler’s offense breaks down, or the shot clock gets in single digits. Both can create good looks. Now that responsibility falls squarely on Jones. He plays a good deal of ‘point forward’ in Butler’s offensive sets even with Clarke on the floor, and now the ball will run through him in the majority of half court sets. He’s had at least three assists in each of his last five games. That number might go down tomorrow night, simply because he’ll be asked to finish more. Then again, a great deal of his dishes go to Khyle Marshall, Kam Woods, and Smith for dunks, and that half of the equation will not change.
The Australian sophomore went from not playing against St. Joe’s to picking up nine minutes and making his first field goal of the season against D1 competition. His minutes, nor his offensive contribution will be huge, but he’ll be needed for at least 10-12 minutes to take some of the wear and tear off of Alex Barlow. When Barlow wasn’t on the floor, Clarke would slide over to the point guard position. Aldridge will be asked just to keep Butler on solid ground with his time on the floor.
Butler will need contributions like Saturday from everyone on the roster. Andrew Smith can’t afford to have an off night. Khyle Marshall will have to be a terror on the glass. Kellen Dunham will now draw a lot more attention from opposing defenses. Brad Stevens will have time to game plan and prepare for Clarke’s absence, but so will two other really good coaches, in Richmond’s Chris Mooney and Gonzaga’s Mark Few. The fact that the ‘Dogs get to play these two games at home is a major boost. A loud sixth man and a louder bark from Butler II & III can’t hurt.
Richmond enters tomorrow night’s game at 11-6, but with defeats at the hand of many quality opponents. Two of their losses are to top 10 teams in Kansas and Minnesota, and LaSalle won by 12 against the Spiders on Saturday. This is a stretch of the schedule Brad Stevens described as “Big Ten-ish.” Richmond is a very good three-point shooting team, but not a good rebounding team. Butler will not be affected nearly as much on defense as they will on offense with Clarke’s absence. If they can dominate with their low block game, that bodes well for the Bulldogs.
Gonzaga might be another story without Clarke in the lineup. Their length and athleticism just might be too much for Butler to overcome without Rotnei. However, if they can get through this week still undefeated in A-10 play, I think that’s a trade the Bulldogs will take. Especially if they can get their best player back on the floor next week. Hopefully.