Dirkus Callahan from ButlerHoops.com took some time out to answer some questions for me regarding the Mocs upcoming game against the Bulldogs, and about Butler in general. Consider this the first bit of a Butler preview.
1) Butler shot nearly 72% from the floor against Maine. Are the Bulldogs really that good of a shooting team or were they unusually hot on Saturday night?
A lot of it was taking advantage of a Maine team that didn't have a lot of size to begin with and had a couple of their bigger guys get hurt during the week of practice leading up to the game. Thirty four of Butler's 55 field goal attempts (62%) were within five feet of the basket and they made 30 of them (88%). I definitely don't expect anywhere near those numbers going forward, but at least initially this year they look like a better passing team than last year's group. Though without seeing them against tougher competition, it's tough to say.
2) Roosevelt Jones is back. How much does he mean to Butler?
While I think some of it is the rest of the team making itself better and some upgrades in their personnel in a couple of spots over last season, there is no doubt that Jones will have a bigger impact on how many games this team wins than anyone else on the roster. He's essentially a shorter version of Z Mason with no jump shot and better ball handling. He improves their defense significantly because of his versatility and offensively if he can avoid turning the ball over, he helps collapse the defense to space the floor for Barlow and Dunham to get open jumpers.
3) How do you think the Mocs can keep it close or pull an upset on Tuesday night?
Chattanooga can pull the upset or keep it close by generating turnovers on their press. Wade was an assistant at VCU when they absolutely destroyed Butler 2012-13, and the primary ball handlers (Jones and Barlow) from that team will still be the primary ball handlers this game. Rebounding-wise I don't anticipate that Butler will dominate the glass the way that Wisconsin did against the Mocs. Even in their DIII exhibitions, their offensive rebounding rate was only in the neighborhood of 30-34%, which would just place them slightly above average for all D1 teams in games played so far. Butler also doesn't have much in the way of guard depth, and will likely have even less after Jackson Aldridge sprained his ankle in the Maine game, so if Chattanooga can push the pace up, come the second half, Butler's guards may start to run low on gas.
4) After back-to-back championship game appearances, Butler has made the tournament just once in the last three seasons and were knocked out in the third round (round of 32) the other time. How did the two championship game appearances change expectations for Bulldog fans and how difficult have the last three years been after those magical runs?
Obviously after the National Championship game appearances, the rise in expectations from Bulldog fans was steeper than the train that goes up Lookout Mountain. The area of the program that had the biggest rise in those expectations was in recruiting, where some fans figured that Butler would all of a sudden start getting 4-5 star players because of the runs and the success would go on in perpetuity. That didn't happen, and now three years and two coaches later, some feel like it was nothing more than an opportunity wasted. Additionally, some now feel that Butler is in danger of falling to the other end of the spectrum of success in the Big East, so more than the disappointment of 2011-12 and 2013-14 campaigns (I think the majority of fans consider the 2012-13 team that was a whisker away from the Sweet Sixteen a successful year with a disappointing ending), there is concern for this team and this program.
5) What do you think is the best case scenario for Butler this year? What do you think the floor is?
I'd say their best case scenario is a finish in the top half of the Big East and a berth in the NCAA Tournament, but a lot of things will have to go right for that to happen in my opinion. Their floor would be a similar finish to what Butler fans saw last season, but I'd expect somewhere in the neighborhood of a 6th or 7th place finish in the league and an NIT tourney appearance, which honestly, after what happened last year, I think would be pretty successful, given their depth issues and no true big man on their roster.