TOM DAVIS: Butler is offensive with its inability to score
INDIANAPOLIS – First-year Butler men’s basketball coach LaVall Jordan used the phrases “big lesson to learn,” and “you get exposed,” and “(Purdue) played at a rate maybe we haven’t seen before” following his team getting routed 82-67 by the Boilermakers in the Crossroads Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse Saturday.
The 17th-ranked Boilers (11-2) did teach the Bulldogs a lesson and they certainly exposed Butler for what it is, which is an undersized and offensively-challenged team that is going to get a lot of bad stuff handed to it if the Bulldogs don’t get better quickly, particularly at the offensive end.
Purdue is a really, really good team, while Butler, clearly, is not.
On Friday, I made a reference to the Boilers being a Final Four-caliber team IF they had forward Caleb Swanigan back for this season to Butler assistant coach Emerson Kampen and he argued that point.
“I think they are THIS season,” Kampen said.
And he may be right.
But for the Bulldog fans, what Purdue was on Saturday was a measuring stick as to where the Butler program is today and where that is isn’t a very desirable position.
Yes, Butler is 8-3, and yes, the Bulldogs fought back in the second half to cut the deficit to nine points at one juncture. But let’s call a spade a spade here, that late run was in large part because Purdue had lost interest at that point.
The Boilermakers were bigger, better, more athletic, and much more skilled than Butler was, and if you throw in the fact that the Bulldog recruiting efforts over the past seven months have been poor (and that is being kind), there has to be a some level of angst resonating along 46th and Sunset Avenue tonight.
“When you are playing good opponents,” Jordan said following the loss, “you can’t afford to take a possession off.”
True, but it wasn’t so much that Butler took possessions off, for effort won’t be an issue for this group. It was the fact that the Bulldogs didn’t have the ability to make plays, and THAT is a much bigger concern moving forward.
The Bulldogs’ supposed two best offensive players (senior forward Kelan Martin and sophomore guard Kamar Baldwin) not only couldn’t make shots against the physical Purdue defense, they couldn’t even get shots.
Ignore the box score which showed that those two players finished with 30 combined points, many of those baskets came after the Boiler players had mentally checked out.
Baldwin scored 11 of his 13 points in the final 5:33 after starting the game by missing 11 of his first 12 shots.
For Martin, he missed 7 of his initial 9 shots, as Purdue senior Dakota Mathias shut him down.
Butler spent a lot of time tossing the ball around in hopes that somebody would eventually make a play, only to have to throw up a heavily-contested garbage shot as the shot clock wound down.
That was the Butler offense in a nutshell.
“Their pressure really affected us,” Jordan said of the Purdue defense, “especially early. We didn’t execute.”
Didn’t execute? Or couldn’t execute?
And Butler Nation, think about this: What if the Bulldogs didn’t have an offensive revelation in Paul Jorgensen? How bad would this team struggle to score if a guy who averaged four points per game at George Washington the last time he played hadn’t become the Bulldogs NEW best offensive player?
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The Bulldogs have offensive concerns all over the court.
They aren’t going to get any bigger or more skilled in the post (you can’t make a trade). Tyler Wideman is a hard-working and active player, but he gives up a lot of length against most Big East post players. And his back-up (junior Nate Fowler) has done almost nothing offensively this season (and no, 12 points against Youngstown State doesn’t count).
Baldwin has been terrible from the perimeter (he is shooting 40 percent overall and 28 percent from 3-point range) and freshman Aaron Thompson has been, as well, though he did make a pair of jumpers against Purdue.
Sophomore wing Henry Baddley is of little threat at that end of the floor and freshman Christian David is just that, a freshman.
Redshirt freshman Joey Brunk showed flashes of potential Saturday, as he scored three points and grabbed a couple of rebounds in six first-half minutes, but Jordan rewarded him for that effort by benching him for the entire second half.
“Joe brings great energy,” Jordan said. “It was just a coach’s decision with match-ups.”
With all due respect to Jordan, and I do respect him greatly, but Butler was losing by 26 at one point in the second half, how much more damage could’ve Brunk caused?
So far this season, Butler has played hard and defended fairly well (though Purdue often scored at will). However, this team doesn’t share the ball well, doesn’t take care of the ball well (the Bulldogs have as many turnovers, 139, as they do assists), doesn’t get to the free throw line much (opponents have shot 28 more free throws), and certainly can’t shoot well (Butler is connecting on just 31 percent of its 3-pointers).
“I’ve just got to require more,” Jordan said. “I have to grow and our staff has to grow. That’s the commitment all of these guys have is to improve individually.”
They better or this is going to be a long season.
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.