BLOOMINGTON –- In the end, it's the screens. Butler will set them. Indiana must overcome them.
“We have to figure out how to navigate all those different angles they come from,” Hoosiers associate head coach Steve McClain said.
He's watched the tape. He's analyzed all nine of Butler's games. He understands, as well as anyone, that Saturday's Crossroads Classic showdown at Indianapolis' Bankers Life Fieldhouse will not be the patsy-of-the-week blowout the top-ranked Hoosiers (9-0) have enjoyed lately. Butler is 7-2 with a four-game winning streak. It thrives with tough-minded grit and discipline.
And, oh yet, it sets nasty screens.
“What we've spent a lot of time on the last couple days is figuring out how to get through the screens they set –- the good ones and the moving ones,” McClain said with the hint of a smile.
Butler screens are part of a physical approach more reminiscent of Big Ten teams.
“There's no question they're a physical team,” McClain said. “They use their hands. They use their legs in the post. It will have a Big Ten feel to it.”
The Bulldogs have done something Indiana hasn't this season –- beat a Big Ten team. They won at Northwestern last weekend behind center Andrew Smith's 24 points and 10 rebounds (including a career-high eight offensive boards). They also got 4-for-6 three-point shooting from guard Rotnei Clark.
Clark averages a team-leading 17.3 points. His sharp-shooting is matched by fellow guard Kellen Dunham, who ranks second in the nation in free throw shooting (31-for-32, 96.9 percent, 25 straight).
“They have two great perimeter players,” McClain said.
Clark, Dunham and Smith are among the reasons why Butler is starting to look like the Bulldogs giant killer that reached consecutive national championship games in 2010 and 2011. It lost at Xavier and to Illinois in the finals of the Maui Invitational after upsetting North Carolina in the semifinals.
“They're off to a great start,” McClain said. “The two losses they've had have been tough games. They've had some big wins along the way. This reminds me of the teams they had three to four years ago.”
Butler also gets plenty of inside production from forward Khyle Marshall (12.1 points, 5.6 rebounds) along with Smith (10.4 points, 4.4 rebounds).
“They've got a good team,” McClain said. “Marshall has been a monster for them lately. Smith is coming off his career high at Northwestern with eight offensive rebounds. This is a team that has a good feel for itself.”
The Hoosiers will get a boost from having wrapped up finals on Friday.
“As hard as our guys work in the classroom, this is a good feeling,” McClain said. “They accomplished what they wanted academically. Now they can just focus on basketball for a little while.”
IU will play at near full strength now that freshman forwards Hanner Perea and Peter Jurkin are eligible. They missed the first nine games because of NCAA-mandated suspensions for receiving impermissible benefits during the recruiting process.
How much will they play? McClain couldn't say.
“It will be a game feel. Coach (Tom Crean) has in his mind how they can be used. A lot of guys can have their first game be Coppin State, not Butler.”
The 6-8 Perea and the 7-foot Jurkin will bring instant depth and athleticism to a frontcourt led by veterans Cody Zeller and Christian Watford, with freshman Jeremy Hollowell in reserve. Still to come is senior forward Derek Elston, who is recovering from knee surgery and should be back around Christmas.
“Peter and Hanner are two separate guys in the sense that Peter brings length and a shot blocker,” McClain said. Hanner brings a shot blocker who can guard a perimeter player. He brings that length to the perimeter. Both can rebound at a high level on both ends of the court. They're very skilled. Now it comes back to a feel for how much they can play in this game.”
Can the Hoosiers get a feel for the new rotation from practice?
“I can't say there's a way to simulate it,” McClain said. “Hopefully in another week or so we'll have Derek back and then we have another frontline guy. For Derek it's a little different because he's familiar with everything we do.
“Every game will have a different flow. You need a game where you can get them in the flow. It might take a little time.”