Well, it seems that my prediction of UCLA’s undefeated regular season was proven wrong just shortly after I wrote that article. In my defense, I did say their toughest game left on the schedule was that Oregon road game which they lost. But that is why these are called “hot takes”, they don’t always end up being correct.
Now, in this edition of Hot Take City, I’m here to tell you why I think a team other than Villanova will win the Big East this year. Creighton has a dynamic backcourt in Marcus Foster and Maurice Watson, with rising star Justin Patton up front. The team who took ‘Nova down to the wire in Omaha. So it’s the Blue Jays, right? Nope. What about Xavier and their explosive backcourt with Bluiett, Sumner, and Macura? Wrong again.
I think some people may be sleeping on the Butler Bulldogs as being perhaps the second-best team behind Villanova in the Big East conference. They sure were being overlooked in the regular season when they were picked to finish in the bottom half of the Big East by several experts. Heck, I didn’t even think Butler would be that good after losing Dunham and Roosevelt Jones to graduation.
If there is one thing I’ve learned as an Indiana basketball fan, following Butler pretty close from year to year, is that you can NEVER count out a Butler Bulldogs basketball team. They may not be the most exciting team to watch, or have top-rated recruits coming in each year, but this is a special type of program. Togetherness. Execution. Discipline. Three words that I believe perfectly describe the culture of basketball that Brad Stevens built, and the one Chris Holtmann now builds on at Butler. I love the way the Bulldogs play basketball. Plain and simple, they get the job done. Which is why, at the end of the day, Butler will be crowned regular season champions of the Big East conference.
If you haven’t taken notice to this basketball team yet, I suggest you start opening your eyes. They currently have four wins against teams in the top-25: Villanova, Indiana, Arizona, and Cincinnati. With other quality wins against Northwestern and Vanderbilt. They were battle tested early in the season, boasting the 35th toughest non-conference schedule per Kenpom.com. This experience against solid teams will be extremely important as the conference season progresses. Moving forward, I see a few reasons why I absolutely believe Butler can steal the Big East crown.
The Dawgs value the basketball. Butler is 8th best in the nation at possessing the basketball, averaging only 10.3 turnovers per game. This is astounding to me. They won’t beat themselves, they just won’t. When the Bulldogs beat Indiana in Indy on December 17th, they turned it over 6 times. Their primary ball handlers (Lewis, Baldwin) combined for zero. You won’t lose many games turning it over only 6 times.
Defending Hinkle. Last year, Butler was 13-3 when playing at Hinkle Fieldhouse. This year, they are an unbeaten 9-0 at home this year. 22-3 in their last 25 at home is extremely impressive. Winning nearly all your home games during the conference season is extremely important. That’s exactly what the Dawgs do. It takes some pressure off to win on the road. Butler’s next three games are @Georgetown, @Creighton, vs. Xavier. If they pick up one out of two against G’town and Creighton, and defend the home court like they now how to, they will be in great shape. Although they have to go on the road to Villanova and Xavier later on in the season, winning the home games will allow them some slack.
Kelan Martin. I saw the potential Martin has when he absolutely torched my Hoosiers at Banker’s Life. He is another reason Butler has a chance to be great this season. Often, when you look at teams like Butler, there is a balanced attack on offense. There isn’t that one guy who can go out and get 15-20 every night. Butler, however, has that in Kelan Martin. He is easily one of the best players in the conference; a microwave that could heat up at any time.
Butler can beat any given team, on any given night. The way they execute on offense, get after it on the defensive end, and play like a family is truly something special that people need to respect. The Butler Way, as it is called by Butler folks, is a formula that other programs should be following. It is by no means the most exciting brand of basketball, but it is a beautiful thing to watch, let me tell ya. All I’m saying is don’t be surprised if Butler is hanging a Big East Champs banner in March.