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NCAA Basketball Atlantic 10 BasketballButler Bulldogs

Atlantic 10 Basketball: How Charlotte Exposed A Very Vulnerable Butler

Brian Spurlock-US Presswire

The Butler Bulldogs may be in bigger trouble than anyone could have possibly fathomed.

Without Andrew Smith, their 6’11 senior center, the Bulldogs have a lot of holes on offense and defense that directly correlate to the void their big man has left after an abdominal injury at George Washington last Saturday.

On Wednesday night the Bulldogs hosted Atlantic 10 Conference opponent Charlotte in what should have been an easy win especially considering the 49ers’ senior F JT Thompson was out with a season ending ACL injury while Charlotte’s second leading scorer, Demario Mayfield was suspended indefinitely due to an arrest for possession of marijuana.

Somehow, Charlotte managed to beat Butler 71-67.

I was covering the game in person and I would just like to make one thing clear; Charlotte won by more than the numbers on the scoreboard. In fact, Butler made them look like the ’96 Chicago Bulls at times.

I’m not kidding. Without Smith the Bulldogs are in big trouble against top tier conference opponents let alone NCAA Tournament opponents they may face.

As for my article on the possibility of Butler grabbing a one or two seed; forget about it.

It wasn’t just rebounding and points in the paint, both of which the Bulldogs lacked tremendously, it was a lot—and I mean a lot—of ill-advised shots that Butler settled for at times that were soon followed by a Charlotte rebound or a failed attempt at second chance points. Butler made 10/29 three point attempts; hit or miss 29 three point attempts is quite a bit.

Head coach Brad Stevens didn’t seem to agree.

“I think it is a direct correlation to who we are,” Stevens said. “We have some guys that can really shoot the ball and on most nights, out of 29 or so more we usually hit a lot more. So, I don’t mind three point shots.”

Cliché, honest and just a little bit hard to believe all at the same time, coach.

Butler may very well be a better three point shooting team than Wednesday night proved, but, that doesn’t mean the Bulldogs should rely on the three-ball when they can’t go inside. Relying on the three point shot seemed to be plan B through Z Wednesday night.

Butler was down seven with under a minute to go after trailing by as much as 10. With a few missed free throws by Charlotte and two of the five three’s Rotnei Clark hit all night the Bulldogs were down two with the ball off of a rebound from a missed free throw. With 6.9 seconds to play, Butler guard Alex Barlow starting pushing it down court when a time out was called by Butler with 3.1 left to play. On the ensuing inbound play Butler tried passing the ball directly into the paint hoping to catch Charlotte of guard as they double teamed the hot handed Clark but the pass was stolen and it was over.

“If the rebound would have landed in Rotnei’s hands I probably would have just let it play out. I don’t like to call time outs I like situations where their defense isn’t set,” Stevens said. “(The Inbound) was going to Rotnei, it just didn’t get to a point where we could make a nice pass.”

The underlying issue in Wednesday night’s loss goes back to the absence of Smith and the absence of Butler’s bench. Butler’s bench didn’t score at all while Charlotte’s 38 points in the paint would have probably been cut in half had Smith played for Butler. This Saturday’s game against Fordham will be a big test for Butler (as silly as that sounds) because if the Bulldogs could hardly hang with a semi-depleted Charlotte team Wednesday night it wouldn’t surprise me if Fordham causes the ‘Dogs some fits Saturday.

Plain and simple, when Butler gets Smith back in the line-up and I’m sure the rest will follow. For now, they had better focus on better shooting if they are going to live and die by the three. And it probably wouldn’t hurt if the bench showed up as well.