For the Hoosiers, Saturday was a chance to get back on the right track. And while the offense was a struggle throughout, their defensive intensity and physicality were much improved from Tuesday’s loss against Minnesota.
For Butler, there was no such bright side. Not one positive emerged from the Bulldogs most lopsided loss in a league game since the ’85-’86 season, when Butler and Oral Roberts shared the same conference affiliation.
There’s also now an element that no longer with be a shared experience between these two teams: the top 25. Expect Butler to fall out of the rankings for the first time since beating the Hoosiers on December 15th. While Indiana may no longer possess the number one ranking come Monday, they’re still atop the Big Ten, which means they control their destiny for the Midwest Regional at Lucas Oil Stadium.
BUTLER DIDN’T JUST LAY AN EGG, THEY DROPPED AN ENTIRE CARTON
The first possession looked nice, establishing Khyle Marshall on the low block, and getting a solid post move from the lefty. Butler would lead 2-0. It would be their only lead of the game.
With the hashtag of Havoc ever-present in the background at VCU’s Siegel Center, the Rams unleashed holy terror on the Bulldogs. Butler would match their season-high in turnovers, and put up their second lowest point total of the year.
Butler’s early season success put a preseason concern on the back burner. As the year has progressed, that issue has come much more to the forefront. And that’s the lack of a quality point-guard.
Remember Crishawn Hopkins? Butler could have used his services against VCU’s 94 feet of defense on Saturday. Butler has used a combination of Rotnei Clarke, Alex Barlow, and Roosevelt Jones to run their offensive sets and handle ball pressure during the year.
That’s largely worked against teams that haven’t offered full-court resistance against the Bulldogs. But in the two most embarrassing and befuddling losses of the year for Butler (at Saint Louis and VCU), the lack of that floor general and ability to take care of the basketball has been obvious for BU.
What was also obvious on Saturday was Brad Stevens’ disdain for how his senior leaders in Rotnei Clarke and Andrew Smith were playing. They sat for the majority of the second half. Clarke has had at least three turnovers in each of the last five games, and has had more turnovers than assists in four of those contests. His five points were the fewest points he’s scored in a league game in which he’s been available for the full 40 minutes.
Not many teams can match the defensive ability that VCU has to play in the full court. But expect the Bulldogs to see teams extend that pressure going forward, until Butler can prove that pressure to be less bothersome.
The end result of Saturday’s loss will likely be a loss of a seed line or two in the tournament. There’s never a good time for a 32-point loss, but to do so two weeks prior to Selection Sunday can be catastrophic. The Bulldogs are going dancing, there’s no doubt about that. But right now, the dance steps are all wrong.
INDIANA BROUGHT THEIR LUNCH PAIL, JUST NOT THEIR JUMP SHOT
Shooting struggles were a big part of Indiana’s loss at Minnesota on Tuesday. It wasn’t their only issue, or even their biggest problem. That would have been the utter lack of boardwork in allowing Minnesota to enjoy a 44-30 advantage on the glass in the loss.
But the Hoosiers weren’t their normal selves from the floor, with Cody Zeller and Christian Watford both scoring in single digits, and Yogi Ferrell going 2-10 from the field.
Those struggles carried over to the first half against Iowa, making just 8-28 shots. The Hoosiers found more familiar territory from the floor in half number two, connecting on 13 of 26 shots. But what lasted for the entire game was their effort defensively.
Iowa would improve their offensive numbers after an even uglier first half for the Hawkeyes. After putting up 14 first half points, Iowa would make a late run powered by Roy Devyn Marble. They would finish under 40 percent from the floor on the night, and Indiana would force 19 Iowa turnovers.
The Hoosiers key win on the stat sheet was at the free throw line. A stat made popular during the Bob Knight days was to make more free throws than your opponent attempts. Indiana accomplished that, making 29 of 42, while Iowa went 17-24. If the shots aren’t falling from the floor, then win with defense and get to the basket. And that was the recipe for success for Indiana Saturday night.
It wasn’t a thing of beauty, but the win at Iowa City wasn’t either. Credit Iowa and head coach Fran McCaffery, the Hawkeyes are much improved. They’ve still got an outside shot at the NCAA tournament, and Indiana could easily see the Hawkeyes again in Chicago in two weeks.
But the time for judging wins during the season are over. As the calendar has now flipped to March, it’s all about the end result. And the end game is in sight for the Hoosiers. One win this week gives the Hoosiers a share of the Big Ten title. Two wins wraps up the number one seed that routes through Lucas Oil Stadium.
And then the focus becomes hanging banner number six.