The Butler Bulldogs are one of the top teams in the Atlantic-10 Conference in just their first year of play. From a coaching standpoint, this is truly amazing. With new opponents come new personnel to scout, new venues and fans to experience and new locations to travel to.
Nevertheless, Butler is right there atop the A-10 standings. However, there are some concerns for Butler as they look to win the conference in their inaugural season.
First, Andrew Smith, the 6-foot-11 senior who is second in scoring (11.4 points) and rebounding (5.4) for the Bulldogs will be out two games with an abdominal strain he suffered in their win Saturday against the George Washington Colonials. Smith has started 91 of Butler’s past 93 games. He provides stability in the paint on both ends of the court.
Second, the Bulldogs have a brutal regular season schedule left. They have to face both Virginia Commonwealth Rams and the St. Louis Billikens, who are tied with them for first place in the conference with a 7-2 record. All in all, Butler has to face five of the league’s top six teams.
The only good news in the schedule are that they play both the Fordham Rams and Duquesne Dukes, which are the closest things to guarantee wins as it comes in college basketball. In addition, they have already lost to both the Xavier Musketeers and Billikens this season.
However, the third and most important concern is the VCU Rams.
The Rams rank first in the A-10 in a multitude of categories: scoring offense (77.5), scoring margin (+14.6), assists (15.5), steals (12.0), turnover margin (+8.0), offensive rebounds (14.8) and offensive rebounding percentage (39.2%). Butler, on the other hand, is just first two categories: rebounding margin (+7.8) and rebounding defense (28.8).
What does this mean for Butler? It means that they better take care of the ball and play the game at their pace because if it is an up-tempo game then the A-10 champ will be a team in its inaugural season in the league.
It just won’t be Butler, it will be VCU.
Follow Bert DeSalvo on Twitter @CoachDeSalvo