Butler-Indiana St. Preview
Butler has moved on from the disappointment it experienced last season and has already overcome some adversity to open this one.
Rewarded with a No. 23 ranking, the visiting Bulldogs look to continue their strong start Wednesday night against Indiana State.
After eight consecutive postseason tournament appearances, including back-to-back trips to the national title game in 2010 and ’11, Butler (5-1) went 14-17 in its first season in the new-look Big East in 2013-14. Things didn’t get any better in early October when second-year coach Brandon Miller announced he was taking an indefinite leave of absence.
Second-year assistant Chris Holtmann, though, took over the team and has the Bulldogs off to a promising start.
“This is a proud program with tremendous heritage, and we’re trying to do the very best with what’s in front of us,” Holtmann said.
Butler returned to the Top 25 for the first time since it was ranked 20th the week of Feb. 25, 2013, after going 2-1 and finishing third at the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas last week.
The Bulldogs opened the event Wednesday by shooting 30.6 percent and committing 19 turnovers, but held then-No. 5 North Carolina to 38.6 percent from the field, forced 19 turnovers and outrebounded the Tar Heels 57-40 to win 74-66.
After making 14 of 59 shots in a 59-46 loss to Oklahoma on Thursday, Butler bounced back to shoot 44.0 percent and beat Georgetown 64-58 in Friday’s third-place contest.
Butler was able to talk control of that game by hitting nine of 11 shots during a second-half stretch.
“The law of averages will even out,” said guard Alex Barlow, who scored 11 points against the Hoyas. “We knew at some point shots were going to fall, and fortunately for us it was at a crucial point in this game.”
The Bulldogs have been consistently good defensively, allowing opponents to shoot 37.9 percent on the season and no better than 45.5 percent in a game. The Tar Heels are the only opponent to score at least 60 against Butler.
“Early in the year, I’ve always been a big believer that it’s so much about you and your system and trying to make improvements,” Holtmann said.
After going 4-7 on the road in 2013-14, the Bulldogs prepare themselves for their first true road game of the season.
Butler earned a 75-54 home victory over Indiana State on Feb. 18, 2012, in the most recent meeting. The Bulldogs have lost two straight and four of five at Indiana State, last playing there in December 2006.
The Sycamores (3-3) have dropped three straight against ranked opponents. They shot 34.3 percent combined while losing to Illinois — which entered the rankings this week at 24th — and Memphis at the Las Vegas Invitational last week.
Junior swingman Khristian Smith averages a team-leading 13.3 points, but he’s totaled 23 and shot 6 of 28 while missing all 14 3-point attempts in the last three games.