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COLUMN

Can the questions surrounding Butler simply cease now?

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For more on college basketball, follow Tom Davis via Twitter at www.twitter.com/Tom101010.

Bulldogs continue to answer skeptics with success

Saturday, December 14, 2013 - 10:44 pm

INDIANAPOLIS – Shame on the media for ever doubting the Butler men’s basketball program.

Shame on them for picking the latest group of Bulldogs to finish ninth in the Big East Conference pre-season poll.

Shame on anyone that thought things such as losing its off-the-court leader (Brad Stevens) and three most significant on-the-court leaders (Andrew Smith, Rotnei Clarke, and Roosevet Jones) could ramshackle this program.

“I knew from day one that we would be a team that could compete in this conference,” Butler senior forward Khyle Marshall said. “Today just assured that.”

What happened “today” was the Bulldogs used multiple massive runs to hold off a rallying Purdue squad 76-70 in front of 18,165 fans at the Crossroads Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

“When you think of Purdue,” Butler coach Brandon Miller said, “you think of a tough, physical, big, defensive-minded team that plays extremely hard. They had guys (A.J. Hammons and Jay Simpson) that they could throw the ball into the post to that were bigger than we were. It is a team, a high-major team, a type of team that we’ll see in Big East play.”

Purdue is the type of team that Butler isn’t. A year ago, the Bulldogs could throw 6-foot-11 Andrew Smith against other teams’ huge posts. This year? The best that Miller can utilize is 6-foot-6 Marshall, 6-foot-8 Erik Fromm, and 200-pound Kameron Woods.

And the Butler (8-2) way – in the post – has worked.

“From a basketball standpoint, Butler is as good as any team that we’ve played,” Boilermaker coach Matt Painter said. “In terms of being efficient and playing the game the right way.

“They have good pieces. They play with roles.”

Painter has seen the Butler act before, unfortunately for him. The Bulldogs have now beaten Purdue four consecutive times, and Butler is the only team to remain unbeaten after three Crossroads Classics. In fact, Purdue is now the only imperfect team to take part in the annual event, as the Boilers have lost to Butler twice and Notre Dame a year ago.

Butler’s skeptics have pointed to the Bulldogs’ lack of size as Miller’s biggest area of concern, and Painter comprehends that.

“They’re not going to overpower you,” Painter said. “We wanted to jam the basketball inside… we thought that was an advantage where we could go after them.

“I think some of the (Big East) teams that have size will really try to expose that (disadvantage). But Fromm and Marshall, they battled. You have to give them credit, those two battled.”

It isn’t just “those two” that fight like – well, bulldogs – it’s this entire program. Why are we still surprised when Butler uses runs of 23-7 (in the first half) and 23-6 (second half) to eventually take a 16-point lead on Purdue with 91 seconds remaining?

Why is anyone taken aback at the Bulldogs being a pair of missed free throws away from beating fifth-ranked Oklahoma State last month?

Why do we still question how Butler has remained to be the best college basketball program in this state year after year after year after year?

Marshall doesn’t get the skepticism either; he just knows what he knows about his teammates and coaches.

“We know what we have here,” Marshall said. “We know what type of guys that we have. We know that we can compete in (the Big East).”

Miller is proving to be quite the follow-up act to the legendary Stevens. He’s already led Butler to wins over Princeton (ask Penn State how difficult that can be), Vanderbilt, Washington State, Purdue and were just three points shy of beating fifth-ranked Oklahoma State and LSU.

He’s got gritty guys underneath, a tough kid running the offense (Alex Barlow), and the best shooter and scorer in this state (Kellen Dunham). This group is capable of competing with anyone in the Big East. It’s not to say the Bulldogs will win the conference, they probably won’t (there creeps in the disbelief again), but they’ll be competitive in it.

“They are a very, very efficient basketball team,” Painter said. “It’s a long season and you’ve got to make some hay in conference play, but they have a pretty good resume right now.”

No one can question that.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Tom Davis at tdavis@news-sentinel.com.