EVANSTON, Ill. – It'll take a “big” effort from Butler if it hopes to go 8-2 on this young basketball season. But fortunately for the Bulldogs, their two “big” players are playing, well, really “big right now.
Butler (7-2) will play No. 1-ranked Indiana (9-0) at 2 p.m. Saturday (CBS) in the Crossroads Classic in Indianapolis.
“Indiana is obviously the No. 1 team in the country,” Butler coach Brad Stevens said. “If it's not unanimous, I don't know how the voting goes, but I haven't seen anybody better.”
The Bulldogs are coming off a 74-65 win at Northwestern last weekend, and that victory was one in which two of its frontcourt players played “very good” according to Stevens.
Indiana has the best post player in the country in 7-foot sophomore Cody Zeller. Against the Wildcats' 7-foot post, Bulldogs senior Andrew Smith (6-foot-11) and junior Erik Fromm (6-foot-8) took turns banging for boards.
“Andrew came up with huge rebounds,” Stevens said. “He was pretty forceful in going after the ball.”
Smith finished with 24 points and 10 rebounds, and Stevens said afterward that “he played his best game of the year.” Just as solid, if not quite as productive, was Fromm, who backed Smith up for 15 minutes.
“I think Erik is playing at a high level,” Stevens said. “He would've played more than 15 minutes, but Andrew was rolling late.”
Fromm gave up 4 inches and 50 pounds to Wildcat center Alex Olah, who outweighs Zeller by 35 pounds, so perhaps the Bloomington native will be able – to a degree – to help Smith contain Zeller.
“When Erik finally settled into defending Olah on the block,” Stevens said, “you could kind of see the game change in our direction.”
Stevens has relied on Fromm for double-digit minutes every game this season, and the junior is shooting better (42.5 percent) and rebounding better (3.7 per game) than he ever has.
Another valuable asset to Fromm's game is the fact that Stevens can also play him and Smith together, with Fromm being a so-called “stretch four,” who plays on the perimeter.
“Against Ball State, he and Andrew played together for 10 straight minutes,” Stevens said. “So they're both exceptionally well-conditioned for guys that play the five mostly.”
Those two, plus junior Khyle Marshall (6-foot-6) and Kameron Woods (6-foot-9) will have to deal with not just Zeller, but Christian Watford as well. The two Hoosiers combine for 28 points and 16 rebounds each outing.
But Stevens likes his frontcourt players, too.
“I feel very comfortable with either (Smith or Fromm) on the floor,” he said.