No need for Butler to panic despite ‘atrocious’ play Bulldogs in defensive slump in recent games.
There is zero chance that the Butler men’s basketball program is going to get me this time.
Fool me once? It can happen.
Fool me twice? That is starting a trend.
But fool me a third time? Now that is just pure ignorance on my part.
Six years ago, Butler closed the month of January with four losses in a five-game stretch, capped by a road loss at Youngstown State. I then wrote a column carrying the headline: After dream year, Butler now average.
Bulldog fans may remember following that defeat to the Penguins; Butler did not lose another game until the National Championship game against UConn.
Last year, Butler fell on the road to mediocre (at least by Big East standards) Marquette on Jan. 30, which caused the Bulldogs to reside in eighth place in the league with a 3-6 record. Upon that loss, I wrote another column, this time with the headline: History won’t repeat itself with Butler this season.
Butler ignored my criticism and did indeed bounce back by winning seven of its next nine league games. That great mojo carried the Bulldogs into a solid showing in the NCAA Tourney.
“Everybody was panicking because we were 3-6,” third-year Butler coach Chris Holtmann recalled. “I never panicked because I knew that we had Kellen Dunham, Roosevelt Jones, and Austin Etherington, who all they cared about, was winning. And I knew that we were going to improve and get better every day. In February and March, that really shows itself.”
So after watching Butler play an “atrocious” game, which was how Holtmann described his team’s 76-67 loss to Creighton at Hinkle Fieldhouse Tuesday, I’m not going to fall into the “Butler is terrible and its season is spiraling downward” opinion as I have before.
My positivity towards this team isn’t solely based on the aforementioned turnarounds by this program, though those do lend credence to my case. I have faith that the last two games are a bit of an anomaly because playing “atrocious” defense hasn’t been typical of this team.
“We’ve got great kids,” Holtmann said, “and they’ve got it in them.”
After allowing Georgetown to shoot 63.8 percent (50 percent from 3-point range) in a home loss Saturday, Creighton made nearly 56 percent of its shots, including 62 percent from long range.
“How can you not have concern,” Holtmann asked, “given the numbers.”
Those numbers certainly are “atrocious,” but they’re also rare.
Through 11 Big East games, Butler has given up just 46 percent shooting from its opponents overall and 35 percent from long range. So what transpired over the past four days isn’t really normal for these guys.
“We’ve had great moments of leadership this year,” Holtmann said. “From our seniors, we need more out of that group.”
This isn’t to say that I believe Butler is poised for another 15-game win streak or set up for a 7-2 finish; neither of those things is likely to occur. However, neither has to.
The work that Butler (18-5, 7-4) has done to this point doesn’t necessitate a phenomenal finish.
“We’ve got two really challenging road games ahead of us,” Holtmann said of looming tests at Marquette and Providence. “We’re in a good league. We signed up for it. We’re glad that we’re in it. We’ve done a helluva job up to this point in positioning ourselves, but we have to get a heckuva lot better.”
The next six days will be critical for the Bulldogs to correct the “significant issues” that plague it, according to Holtmann.
Butler is off until next Tuesday when it travels to offensive juggernaut Marquette, a team that had Butler down 18 at Hinkle Fieldhouse in the second half before allowing Butler to rally for a win.
The Marquette game, in addition to the last two losses, as well as the overtime win at DePaul, a game in which Butler fell behind 25-5 at the start, are real reasons for concern for Butler. However, this is the same coaching staff and the same group of players that have won countless challenging games and shown defensive toughness on multiple occasions in this surprisingly good season.
“Right now,” Holtmann said, “we’re not good enough to play without grit and purpose defensively, and beat anybody in our league. Anybody. We’re just not.”
True, but Butler has played with “grit and purpose defensively” this seasons and it will again. So there is no need to panic on the part of Holtmann, the Bulldog players, the Butler fan base, or myself. <br>