Butler’s recent ‘tailspin’ (it’s been 16 days since their last victory after losses to Saint Louis and VCU) has fans harkening back to a downturn in Horizon League play two seasons ago. In that year, the ‘Dogs lost a trifecta of games to Milwaukee at home, and then at Valpo and Youngstown State. They wouldn’t lose again for two months, falling to UConn in their second straight national championship game appearance.
Andrew Smith, Chase Stigall, and Khyle Marshall played in all 38 games that season. They combined to start 48 games. Now seniors Stigall and Smith both started in the title game.
So drawing on past experience, Smith and fellow senior Emerson Kampen called a players-only meeting on the team’s off day on Monday.
“It was all about defining roles,” stated Smith.
“There wasn’t an airing of dirty laundry, or anything like that,” added Roosevelt Jones.
It’s a place this team and program have been in before, which is why it doesn’t seem to be an earth-shattering concern to head coach Brad Stevens.
“Every Butler team I’ve been a part of has hit the depths at some point and time, and most have responded to it in the right way,” said Stevens.
A loss tonight at UMass would extend Butler’s only losing streak of the season. The Bulldogs have now left the discussion of seeing in the four/five range, to dropping down to the six/seven/eight discussion.
Of course, that’s familiar territory for this group. To again reference the 2011 run to the finals, Butler’s seeding that year was an eight. And in a year where the top teams seem anything but invincible, where a team is seeded could mean less than any other NCAA tournament before.
So if seed line isn’t a major concern, simply finding a rhythm and solid footing before A-10 and NCAA tournament play is what the focus can turn to for the Bulldogs.
They’ll face their final ‘road Super Bowl’ of the season in Amherst. The Mullins Center will likely end the streak of road sellouts for Butler. However, this game will be important to the home folks simply because whatever flickering chances the Minutemen have of making the NCAAs depends on beating the Bulldogs. It’ll also be their senior night and final home game. But the atmosphere will be nowhere near the ‘Havoc’ Butler experienced on Saturday.
Speaking of havoc, the ‘Dogs won’t be facing a level of defense anywhere near what they’ve seen from Saint Louis and VCU tonight. The Minutemen are 14th in the league in points allowed, giving up just under 72 per game.
That changes when the ‘Dogs make the quick turnaround to play Xavier on Saturday. The Musketeers don’t turn teams over in the same fashion the Billikens and Rams have on the season, but they allow just over 62 points per contest. That’s second only to Saint Louis in the A10. Butler should know that, considering the 47 points scored at the Cintas Center nearly four months ago is their lowest total of the season.
Butler will enter next week’s A10 tournament not needing the safety blanket of winning the tourney or at least getting to the finals as has been the case in years past. Anyone suggesting otherwise, as if Butler is somehow now on the bubble, would be sorely mistaken. They’re in.
But to live up to the lofty standards set in recent memory, they need to get some momentum rolling before the brackets are released.