Butler comes to Chicago for a two-game set this weekend against Loyola and UIC. The Bulldogs and Ramblers play tonight and then the Bulldogs and Flames square off in the Horizon League game of the week on Saturday afternoon. Butler is the class of the Horizon League by any metric you use, but maybe there is a way that Loyola or UIC could pull a big upset. The Ramblers have a history of big wins against the Bulldogs. I saw Butler (and their unbelievably youthful looking coach Brad Stevens, left) once when they came to Welsh-Ryan Arena to play Northwestern, but I wanted an inside take on the team. I've enlisted to the help of Butler Fans to get some answers.
1) CCB: Be honest, playing the Horizon League part of the schedule has to be
the most frustrating part of the season for Butler fans. Is it
nerve-wracking trying to avoid bad losses? Is it fun to be the
conference "villain"? What's the experience like for people at and
around the school?
BF: I don't know if frustrating is the right word, it is just the reality of the situation. The NCAA committee, more or less, demands perfection from that part of the schedule, so you just have to do your best to do it. A bit like football and the whole playoff issue, it is up to other people to determine if that is a reasonable standard.
As far as being the conference villain, like Dusty Baker used to always say, "It is what it is." I really can only speak for myself, but I really don't pay it any mind. People, regardless of the situation, are going to be envious of the person (thing) with the most. It doesn't matter if you are talking BMWs, nice houses, or NCAA Tournament wins.
2) CCB: Matt Howard (left) has been in a season-long slump. And while I think most people wish they were in a "slump" like his, have there been any signs that he's going to break out of it?
BF: Matt Howard's case, I think, can be directly tied back to the issues that he was having with fouls at the beginning on the season. In order to avoid getting into foul trouble, he tried to reign in the aggressiveness that was contributing to picking up the handful of pointless reaching calls he was getting every game. I think his tentativeness (loss of confidence?) just found it's way to the offensive-side of the floor as well.
Over the last several games, most notably YSU, you could see the Matt Howard we all expected to see just starting to come into focus. If Howard is being strong and decisive when he gets touches, there is not much you can do to stop him from scoring. He just has too good of an array of "crafty" post moves that get him angles, and he shoots free throws if you foul him.
3) CCB: How can a team like Loyola or UIC that doesn't have the talent of a Butler knock off the Bulldogs? Are there any weaknesses you've seen pop up during the season?
BF: As far as knocking off Butler, the two "Achilles' Heels" of the team are a dominant low-post scoring center, which Butler just doesn't have the personnel to defense AND heavy full court pressure. If you watched Georgetown and the problems with Greg Monroe or the game Butler frittered away against Clemson, after leading 39+ minutes, you know that to be the case. That said, even if a given team doesn't exactly have the people to do those things, there are always cold shooting nights, lack of focus, officiating, and countless other things. It sort of goes back to the "fairness" of requiring perfection; there are a lot of ways to lose a game.
4) CCB: The Bulldogs are obviously led by Howard and Gordon Hayward. Who else has stepped up this season?
BF: Everyone talks about Hayward and Howard, and rightly so, but I think the MVP of the team, thus far, has been Shelvin Mack (right). Shelvin is there every game with consistent production, it doesn't matter if it is Ball State or North Carolina, you can expect a quality game. I think Mack has the chance to play at the next level.
5) CCB: Loyola's game on offense is the three-ball, but Butler defends the perimeter very well. How do the Bulldogs take away that part of an opponent's game plan?
BF: Butler has success defending the parameter, because Ronald Nored, Shawn Vanzant, and Willie Veasley are some of the best non-post defenders that you are going to find as a group. I would put Nored up against anyone as a "shut down" parameter defender. Ron is a good athlete, but even more than that, he judges angles well to allows himself to be in good position and he understands what the offense is trying to accomplish.
Prediction from Butler Fans: Butler 72, Loyola 57