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Butler’s Last Chance Path to the NCAA Tournament

This is how the Bulldogs can sneak their way back into the March Madness conversation.

Jimmy Lafakis - Butler Collegian

Nine up, nine down in for the Bulldogs who find themselves in the cellar of the Big East with a conference record of 3-6. To make matters worse, during their current three-game skid the team has lost by an average of over 13 PPG. To put that subpar record in perspective, the Bulldogs were 5-4 at this time last season. The year before that? 7-2 with a national ranking of 11.A lot has changed since that time in 2017, including a massive coaching staff overhaul and vital roster departures (see Andrew Chrabascz two years ago and Kelan Martin last season). And while LaVall Jordan and company showed some glimpses during their brief NCAA Tournament run last March, the memory of that fact fades with every head scratching loss.

But there is hope. With half of conference play still to come, Butler has more than enough chances to regain confidence in themselves and earn back the trust of fans. Here is the path for the Bulldogs to return to the madness next month:

February 2nd vs. Seton Hall – WIN (Record: 13-10)

 While Butler lost key players to graduation last year, Seton Hall lost almost everything, including three of their four top scorers. The only one left is Myles Powell, who scored 31 for the Pirates in there 76-75 win against the Bulldogs earlier this season. The obvious advantage for Butler this time around is home-court, which typically serves as an X-factor. In addition, Seton Hall was aided by shooting 51% from the field and getting 37 chances at the free throw line. Their next closest number of free throws attempted in Big East play? 24 against DePaul. 37 won’t happen again and Butler gets the win.

February 9th @ Georgetown – WIN (14-10)

Yes, Butler already lost at home to Georgetown, but they did last year too. Oh, and the year before that as well. It seems like the Bulldogs and Hoyas have some sort of agreement: give each other a quality road win in return for a home loss. Repeating history aside, Georgetown is dead last in points allowed in the Big East (78.1 PPG). If there is anything Butler needs to win, it’s a team that struggles to defend. The Bulldogs take full advantage of the Hoyas defensive limitations and bring a key victory back to Indianapolis.

February 12th @ St. Johns – WIN (15-10)

 Butler has had St. John’s number in recent years, winning five of the last seven contests. And if it weren’t for an inexplicable in-bounds play last season, it easily could be six out of the last seven. Don’t be fooled by the Red Storm’s 16-5 record. They have the 82nd highest strength of schedule, which is only behind DePaul for weakest schedule in the Big East. Now, they did beat Marquette by 20 at home, but St. John’s shot an unconscious 54% from the field and made 11 three-pointers. Expect more of what we saw in January, with Kamar Baldwin leading the way once again.

February 16th vs. DePaul – WIN (16-10)

Come on now. The Bulldogs haven’t stooped that low.

February 20th @ Marquette – LOSS (16-11)

If Butler got diced up by Markus Howard and Sam Hauser at home, just imagine the score of a game up in Milwaukee. Marquette is easily the most intriguing tournament team in the conference and unfortunately for the Bulldogs, they are undefeated at home this season. Can Butler, who scored a mere 58 points in an 18-point loss last week, be the team to break that streak? Don’t bet on it. The Bulldogs miss an opportunity for a statement win against the Golden Eagles, but that will come later in the year.

February 26th vs. Providence – WIN (17-11)

 Much like Seton Hall, Providence lost its best two players in Rodney Bullock and Kyron Cartwright to graduation; and it shows. The only team below them in terms of scoring offense in the Big East is the Butler Bulldogs by 0.1 PPG. Expect a low-scoring, ugly game that features lots of missed shots and turnovers. With just Alpha Diallo has a true scoring threat for the Friars, the Bulldogs can zero in on him and let other players try to beat them. The strategy proves affective and get the win.

March 2nd @ Villanova – WIN (18-11)

 Butler still needs their signature win, and they get it with a road victory against a Villanova that isn’t what it once was. Sure, Eric Paschall might be the most complete player in the conference and Phil Booth has picked up right where Jalen Brunson left off. But the depth just isn’t there. The Wildcats were bailed out with 18 free throw attempts (compared to five for the Bulldogs) when they won 80-72. And despite the praise for Paschall, his five three pointers were the most since knocking down six against Oklahoma State in late-November. If Butler gets more production from complimentary pieces like Jordan Tucker and Paul Jorgensen, their superior depth will prove vital in this victory.

March 5th vs. Xavier – WIN (19-11)

 Yet another team that was depleted by departures on both the roster and coaching staff, the Musketeers might have the worst roster in the conference. With that said, they had one of their better wins of the season when they overcame a double-digit deficit in the final minutes against Butler a few weeks ago. That will not happen again. Now that Jordan Tucker has supplanted Henry Baddley (1-6 shooting against Xavier last game) in the starting lineup, Butler has a much more balanced attack that can cause more trouble against the Paul Scruggs led Xavier defensive unit. If all of that fails, it is as simple as this: It is at Hinkle and Trevon Bluiett is no longer enrolled at the university.

March 9th @ Providence – LOSS (19-12)

Playing Providence twice in almost two weeks will prove to be valuable for Ed Cooley and his staff. Last season, Butler took a lead into halftime at the Dunkin Donuts Center, and ended up losing by double digits. In fact, the last time the Bulldogs beat the Friars on the road was in 2016 when the leading scorer in the game was Chicago Bulls guard Kris Dunn. Butler will have to wait another year to get back in the win column in Rhode Island.

Big East Tournament  

At 19-12, the Bulldogs find themselves in the same spot as last year: on the bubble with a Big East Tournament win all but sealing their ticket to March Madness. If Butler can avoid being a bottom-two-seed (who would have to play Marquette and Villanova), a win is certainly in the cards.

Final Resume Evaluation

 Quality wins: vs. Ole Miss, vs. Florida*, @ St. John’s, @ Villanova, @ Big East Tourney Opp.

Bad Losses: @ St. Louis, @ Florida, vs. Georgetown

To create a resume worthy of March Madness consideration, Butler will have to go 7-2 for the rest of conference play and snag a win in the Big East Tournament. It is daunting and won’t happen if the Bulldogs continue to run their vanilla and sluggishly designed offense. But if LaVall Jordan makes the necessary changes and gets this team to believe again, Butler is not out of it. That’s just not the Butler Way.