Butler to be challenged – at both ends of play – in league opener

Butler guard Sean McDermott, right, shoots over Portland State guard Holland Woods during the first half of a game earlier this season in Portland, Ore. (By The Associated Press)
Butler University men's basketball coach LaVall Jordan points during the second half of a game earlier this season against Portland State in the Phil Knight Invitational tournament in Portland, Ore. (By The Associated Press)
Butler center Tyler Wideman, left, dunks over Portland State guard Michael Mayhew during the second half of a game earlier this season in the Phil Knight Invitational tournament in Portland, Ore. (By The Associated Press)

A quick glance at the offensive statistics for the Butler men’s basketball squad this season and nothing really jumps out that is too alarming, as the Bulldogs prepare for their Big East opening game Wednesday at Georgetown (6:30 p.m., FS1).

Butler (10-3) is shooting 47.5 percent overall and 34.5 percent from 3-point range, the latter of which you’d like to be somewhat more accurate, but it isn’t necessarily abysmal.

In terms of taking care of the ball, Butler has dished out 183 assists, yet turned it over just 161 times, which again, isn’t overly impressive, but nothing that is shameful.

However, a deeper look into those numbers and what becomes clear is that Butler has essentially been two different programs this season – at both ends of the court.

When the Bulldogs play a Power 6 opponent, they struggle mightily, particularly at the offensive end, and particularly away from Hinkle Fieldhouse. But when they play the likes of Western Illinois and/or Youngstown State, for example, not so much, and unfortunately for Butler, with league play getting underway, it is strictly big-boy basketball from here on out.

“We’ve been up and down offensively,” first-year Bulldog coach LaVall Jordan said Tuesday. “But we’ve had some areas where we’ve seen great improvement, and defensively, we’ve been pretty solid, for the most part.”

Actually, even at the defensive end of the floor, the “pretty solid” description is a bit of a stretch if you just look at the Power 6 opponents (Maryland, Texas, Ohio State, Utah, and Purdue) that Butler has played. In those games (Butler went 2-3), the Bulldogs allowed their opponents to shoot over 47 percent from the field, while making just 41.9 percent themselves.

“If you look at Georgetown,” Jordan said, “they are a tough opponent and have length and size at every position. That will be a tough match-up for us.”

In addition, if you take out the Utah game (which was played at Hinkle Fieldhouse) the numbers become even more worrisome.

The Bulldogs are connecting on just 29.9 percent of their 3-point shots in those aforementioned five games, and their carelessness should be of great concern, as they have passed for just 47 assists, while turning it over 63 times.

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Butler will face four top 25 teams (Villanova, at Xavier, Seton Hall and at Creighton) in the next two weeks, but Jordan said that his players are embracing the challenge of the Big East, not fearing it.

“Everybody, right now, is excited to start Big East play,” Jordan said. “There is an excitement being the first game of Big East play. On the road will be a tough task, (but) that is always something that you can prove a lot to yourselves in the locker room.”

The fact that Jordan has one of his best players back in the lineup will surely help.

A big reason as to why the Bulldogs struggled this season, at both ends, was due to the fact that redshirt sophomore wing Sean McDermott was out of the lineup after suffering an ankle injury. However, he’s played in three straight games, and though Jordan wouldn’t call him “100 percent,” he is healthy enough to make a significant impact.

“He was playing so well up until the injury,” Jordan said of McDermott. “He was shooting the ball well from 3 and really helping facilitate the offense for us with his IQ, his skill and his passing.”

“That was certainly missed while he was out.”

The 6-foot-6 shooter has made almost half of his shots from the field and over 45 percent from 3 in nine games.

In the Bulldogs’ most recent win (over Western Illinois), McDermott made 4 of 6 shots, including 3 of 4 from long range.

“With him on the floor offensively,” Jordan said, “and defensively, because of his IQ and his length, is something that we’re happy to have back.”

WIDEMAN READY

Not only does Jordan have a healthier McDermott with each passing day, he will also have senior center Tyler Wideman available against the bigger Georgetown front line.

Wideman missed the game against Western Illinois after having his wisdom teeth removed. However, Jordan said Tuesday that Wideman has returned and practiced and will play Wednesday.

“We’re all back (from Christmas),” Jordan said, “and everybody is available for the game, knock on wood.”

For more on college basketball, follow Tom Davis on Twitter at Tom101010 and on Facebook at Thomas Davis.

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