A Butler team built from the inside out?
By John Dedman / Contributing Writer
Each October, an NAIA or Division III school arrives at Hinkle Fieldhouse to open the exhibition portion of Butler’s schedule. Even with just two weeks of official practices in the books, it’s typically fairly easy to say, “This team looks a lot like last year’s squad.”
But that’s not the case with the 2012-13 Bulldogs.
Don’t get me wrong; some aspects of this team look familiar. There’s the guy who seems to have been on the team for the better part of a decade. And he happens to be from New Castle. There’s a transfer that the Bulldogs will rely on heavily to handle the ball. There’s a highly-touted freshman from Indiana. And another from Florida. There are young returners who showed flashes of brilliance last season who will have to develop consistency. Speaking of consistency, like most years, the coaching staff returns in its entirety.
And there are a lot of differences.
The road to the NCAA Tournament goes through Brooklyn instead of Valparaiso or Cleveland. And I could throw in about 5,000 words on new opponents, a new conference and the East Coast here. But I won’t. Because my goal is to remain the only person within I-465 not to break down the competition, travel and media markets of the Atlantic 10 to the Horizon League. There’s a trip to the Maui Invitational, arguably the most notable of all the Thanksgiving tournaments. And Butler has had more success recently than at least half the field.
But the biggest difference in this Butler team compared to those of the past 10-15 years is what we know. What we know can be found in the paint. The experience and the weapons returning can be found in the post. This isn’t a team that will be able to rely on the returning experience of its backcourt. From the pairings of Thomas Jackson and LaVall Jordan to Brandon Miller and Darnell Archey to Mike Green and A.J. Graves to Ronald Nored and Shelvin Mack, most years the experience is going to have the ball in their hands. They are the ones who determine the flow of the game and become the extension of the coaching staff.
This year, that’s not the case. Andrew Smith and Khyle Marshall lead the group of returners. All 6-11 and 6-6 of them. All 21 points and 9.5 rebounds per game of them. These two have to continue to improve to take the Bulldogs from the College Basketball Invitational presented by Zebra Pen to the NCAA Tournament. Butler shot 28 percent from 3-point range last season. And while Rotnei Clarke and Kellen Dunham should have something to say about that percentage, Butler’s looks will continue to be extremely contested unless Smith and Marshall’s 21 and 9 becomes 30 and 15.
And Butler needs that 30 and 15 regardless of playing in the Horizon League or Atlantic 10, regardless of playing Pittsburgh in the CBI or the NCAA Tournament.
Not since Butler returned Mike Marshall and Rylan Hainje in the late 1990s have the Bulldogs truly been built from the inside out in terms of experience and expectations in October. Some might reference Brandon Polk or Matt Howard, but I think their supporting casts returned more on the perimeter. Don’t get me wrong; Clarke and Dunham should put up big numbers.
But what could make this Butler team really special is the combination of inside and outside. That’s clichéd in basketball analysis. Butler has always had guards who developed quickly, even if they are freshmen or transfers new to the system. Less often do they have two weapons returning on the interior to make the looks a little better and the penetration lanes a little wider.
With what the Bulldogs return inside the 3-point line, this team has a lot more potential to look like the teams from 2000 or 2010 than most people think.