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A Conversation with Butler University

45ac6e5221e823390a3550b3272f80e6The Flyers went into Thunderdome looking to come out like William Wallace and instead came out looking like Nick Marshall. God that was a terrible movie analogy. Anyway, the Flyers quickly gave the police their story, told the sketch artist what the assailant looked like, and a rape kit was submitted for DNA testing. Unfortunately, the Flyers could not stick around Richmond because they had to leave for what will surely be another gang bang on Saturday vs. the Butler Bulldogs. Holy hell, this is a brutal stretch that will either see the Flyers pull out (pun) a victory and go to 1-1 in league play or take it on the chin (PUN!!!) and go to 0-2. Are you not entertained??? To help us preview the Bulldogs, the fellas over at Victory Firelight participated in a roundtable discussion about all things Dayton/Butler. Read below to see if Dayton has a chance this weekend. SPOILER ALERT!!! No, they don’t.

Don: For starters, I’d like to apologize for Blackburn on Monday night and his 300+ tweets about the SEC and the National Championship. Despite that night, we ARE a basketball site still. Anyway, let’s start off the conversation with Butler in their new league this year…and maybe their new league next year. What do you predict will be the final product of the “Basketball Only” league? 10 teams? 12 teams?


VFL: It’s pretty crazy to think of Butler making two leaps away from the Horizon League in a year’s time. It’s arguable that from basketball standpoint, the Bulldogs could very well be the “winners” of the conference realignment race. The move to the A-10 was already a huge win, but if these TV stations create a bidding war for rights to the new league as it now appears, the residuals of that could put the Butler program into a new stratosphere (i.e. money for a real practice facility, money to help with the Hinkle restoration, etc.). My gut tells me Catholic 7 will get three more teams to start a 10-horse race, but a few years down the road, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if it’s extended to a 12-team league.

What are the rumors over there in Flyer country? Would Dayton like to be a part of that, and do you think it has a shot?

Don: Would Dayton like to be part of this new league? How does one say “yes” so vehemently that it doesn’t come off as sounding annoying/a huge dick? Let’s put it this way, each of the scribes at the Blackburn Review would run around the University of Dayton campus completely naked if Dayton gets an invite. I, like you, think they will go to 10 teams at first. Xavier and Butler are surer locks than Daniel Day Lewis winning his 3rd best actor award in a month. As for the 10th team, the homer inside me can’t see how Dayton is possibly left out. They have the fan base, they have the TV viewers, and they have somewhat of a solid basketball history. The only way I can see them being left out is if they want to get the St. Louis market since they already have one southern Ohio school. We’ll see.

So I heard Butler has a decent history too. Someone told me that you once made an NCAA Tournament Sweet 16. What’s that like? All joking aside, this school is everything Dayton strives to be. As an insider, let’s us in on the secret. How have Lickliter, Matta, and now Stevens done it? Part of me wants to say some luck is involved, but that would be disrespectful to you guys. Now if this was Blackburn doing this email chain, he would take this time to talk about how Brad Stevens is the luckiest coach in America. What say you? Is Butler now a destination job?


VFL: Alright, that was a dumb question. Dayton would do just about anything to make its way in, but if it happens, please refrain from the naked runs. Unless you invite Katherine Webb. In that case, I’ll be front and center.

As a Butler fan/alum/writer, it’s sometimes hard to fully comprehend what the program has done over the past 12 or so years. You just can’t make this shit up. Believe me, I’ve read Blackburn’s sentiments about Stevens being the luckiest coach in America. If good fortune happened once, twice – heck, even six times – then that argument would hold a few more pints of bourbon. As we all know now, Stevens is more than a proven commodity and sometimes his brilliance is taken for granted around here. With all due respect to Barry Collier, Thad Matta and Todd Lickliter, Stevens is in another galaxy with where he has taken his team. There isn’t one coach in America who gets more out of his players and system than the Wonderboy himself. What’s the secret? It’s no different from any successful business plan: Know your product, have specific goals, and find the right people to make it happen. It takes a fairly unique kind of kid to come to Butler and buy in to the message, and it takes a unique style of recruiting to make it all work.

Is Butler a destination job? Well, Stevens has made it one. With the current coaching landscape, I personally don’t see him going anywhere anytime soon, but the one thing that scares me is the eventual retirement of Coach K. By most accounts, Krzyzewski has a strong respect/admiration for Stevens and if one of his former players doesn’t get that job when he goes, I think Duke will come after him.

Anyway, what’s the story with the Flyers right now? Played pretty well in the first half against VCU and then havoc was wreaked. Pretty tough start to the A-10 schedule for Dayton with the Rams and Butler leading it off, no doubt. What are your sentiments about the two new kids on the block coming into the A-10 and swiping the limelight? Tough pill to swallow for teams like Dayton? A breath of fresh air?

Don: Dayton played a better game than I thought against VCU. That Rams team is damn good and I will be stunned if they lose any games at home this year. They are DEEP, they create turnovers, and they know how to score. That’s a great combination to have come March.

As for the Rams and Butler joining the league, it’s definitely a breath of fresh air. This league has been stuck in neutral for a few years. Yes, they will have years when they get 3-4 teams in the tournament, but mostly it was just Xavier and maybe another team. It’s nice to have two teams that will could get at large bids without winning the league tournament. Sure, Dayton didn’t like going from the 3rd best to 5th best, but they are definitely glad that it is a boost to the SOS. The Fordham’s, St Bonaventure’s (not last year), and George Washington’s of the world were hurting Dayton’s chances of getting an at large bid. When Dayton won those games (90% of the time) it was not a good win but when they lost a game (which always happens every year) it was considered a terrible loss. It’s a tough first two games of the schedule for the Flyers, but it also helps they only play each team once.

Butler comes into Dayton with a 13-2 record with huge wins over Indiana and UNC and with their two losses coming to Xavier (strange) and a solid Illinois team. In other words, Butler doesn’t fuck around. You gotta be extremely happy with a 13-2 record, no? I can’t imagine you had them winning BOTH of those UNC/Indiana games, right?


VFL: Happy with a 13-2 record? Ya think? Sure, the wins over Indiana and UNC have been the ones that stand out and for good reason. But even aside from that, what has been almost as impressive were strong performances at Northwestern and at Vanderbilt. Neither of those teams are world beaters, but to go on the road and take care of business (especially after what happened at Xavier to start the year) against those teams said something about Butler’s ability to beat the teams it should on paper. The funny thing is about the win over North Carolina, it took a Blackburn-like stroke of luck to even get that game on the schedule – after Rotnei Clarke had that running prayer at the buzzer against Marquette. Had that shot not gone in, the Bulldogs would have had a second-round game in Maui against an awful Mississippi State team and then USC. Instead, they got the Tar Heels and Illinois. Big (huge) difference, resume wise. The Carolina game kind of let Butler fans know this team had some potential, but the Indiana win was so damn satisfying on so many levels. You can imagine all the chirping from Hoosier backers heading into that one.

Don: Sub-question…what has shocked you most about this team this year?

VFL: Sub answer…Andrew Smith. He has easily been the most scrutinized performer at Butler over the past 2-3 years and that’s what happens when you’re 6-11 and expected to be a difference maker. Smith had played soft for most of his career. He played about 6 inches shorter than what he is listed at. There was a lot of pressure on him last year without any shooters on the floor, but this year, he has figured out how to be an energy type of guy and how to turn that into scoring opportunities and overall effectiveness. Like you saw against St. Joe’s on Wednesday night, when he is rolling, it gives Butler an inside-outside combo that is very tough to defend. Smith has more confidence now than he ever has before and he’s playing to his size.

Seems like Dayton has been a little bit up and down this season, some pretty quality wins but unable to get any big time traction to this point. What’s the biggest issue with consistency, in your eyes? And is there too much pressure on Dillard on a game-to-game basis? What should Butler fans be concerned about heading into Saturday?

Don: If Dillard goes, this team goes. Plain and simple. It was reported a few weeks ago that he was going to miss an “undetermined amount of time” due to a back injury. He didn’t miss any time and in fact played his best game in a win vs Murray State (18 points, 10 dimes). Since that game, he has been dreadful. He played well against VCU but his shooting percentage of 38% is a head scratcher.

Butler fans need to be concerned about him of course, but they also need to be concerned about Vee Sanford (also inconsistent) and Josh Benson (even more inconsistent). There are times when this team puts it together and 5 players score in double figures but unfortunately those games are outliers. If Dillard is shut down, Sanford is the next option for scoring. If he is shut down, it’s Benson. That’s bad news jeans for the Flyers.

ncb_u_andrewsmith_cmg_600Rotnei Clarke, Andrew Smith, Kellen Dunham, etc. This team is going to score, we know that. If there is one weakness for the Bulldogs, it would be rebounding. Granted this could be contributed to them playing small ball, but I gotta imagine this is the teams biggest weakness, right? Or would that be Andrew Smith always being in foul trouble (4 foul outs this year)?

VPL: If it basically comes down to Dillard and then the inconsistencies of Sanford and Benson, that should worry Dayton fans about Saturday. Although I’m sure it worries them just about every game. Stevens and the Butler staff have an uncanny ability to take a scouting report and choose what they want to take away from the opponent, and that’s easily the cornerstone of the defense. They were able to do it Wednesday at St. Joe’s by virtually taking away Tay Jones and Langston Galloway with the defense of Alex Barlow and Rose Jones.

In all honesty, rebounding is probably one of the biggest strengths of this Butler team. If you look at the rebounding percentages rather than just the total rebounding numbers overall, the Bulldogs are better than most. Their offensive rebounding percentage is 25th in the country and on the defensive end, Butler is 23rd in the land – both of those are currently tops in the A-10. In short, as a team, Butler is very good at crashing the offensive glass and also keeping opponents away from too many second-chance opportunities on the other end. It’s one of the biggest reasons for success.

Don: Best Indiana sports movie? Breaking Away, Hoosiers, or Rudy?

VPL: You will never, ever hear me say that Rudy is on any list for best sports movies. I’m a Domer hater. And for me to say anything but Hoosiers is the best sports movie of all time would be blasphemy around these parts.

I haven’t watched a whole lot of the Flyers this year, but looking at the numbers, they seem to be pretty good at getting to the free throw line. Would you consider that a strength? Foul trouble (as you referenced with Smith’s foul trouble at times this year) could be a formula for Dayton to keep things in check on Saturday if they can get some driving lanes. Also, Butler’s style of defense typically doesn’t force a ton of turnovers, but is it safe to assume those are an Achilles’ heel for the Flyers? Also, what is the biggest shock for you about Dayton this season?

Don: Dayton’s Achille’s heel is definitely their turnovers. They committed 26 against VCU and are averaging 15 a game. Not terrible, but not good either. Dayton doesn’t force too many turnovers either, but like you said, they get to the line. Dillard does a great job slicing into the lane and either scoring or dishing it out to an open shooter. Fortunately for Butler, our open shooters have only made 36% from beyond the arc.

Another weakness/surprise would be consistency. Take our favorite punching bag Matt Derenbecker’s scoring totals from the past 10 games: 0, 6, 3, 6, 15, 7, 14, 0, 2, 6. For a guy who was expected to be a big time contributor this year, it has been frustrating to watch. On the positive surprise side, Vee Sanford has been fantastic this year. He will have a head scratcher here and there (like against VCU), but for the most part he is better than I thought he would be.

Let’s wrap this up with some predictions. First, who do you think will come out on top in this game? Second, since Dayton doesn’t play Butler again this season, where do you think the Bulldogs will finish in the A10 standings? Lastly, how do you see this Butler team doing in the long run? It’s gotta be Sweet 16 or bust, correct?

VPL: I’ll stick with the homer pick in this one and go with the Bulldogs. Coming into this week, on the road against the Hawks and Dayton, I would have been pretty happy with a split. This group seems to like being on the road and thriving in hostile environments, and that’s one reason why I think Butler is perhaps the favorite in the league. That being said, the Flyers will be jacked up for this one and desperate to not start 0-2 in the league. If those inconsistent performers come together and secondary options produce on offense, an upset is certainly not out of the question. I like the Bulldogs in kind of an ugly, close one.

Butler Saint Josephs Basketball 2

If Butler finishes outside the top 3 in the league, I’ll be really surprised. Stevens’ teams tend to only get better with time and seeing how far they’ve come this year already, that’s a dangerous proposition for the rest of the A-10. It will come down to being able to win close games for anyone who wants to compete for the title. Beyond that, considering this is Clarke’s only season and Smith is a senior, no doubt it’s Sweet 16 or bust. We’ll know in 3 weeks just how good this team is with the schedule that lies ahead.

What do you see tomorrow? What are your forecasts for Dayton and the A-10 when Selection Sunday rolls around? A strong middle of the pack in the league is going to make for a damn fine conference season with a laundry list of swing games.

Don: This game? Pain. And not the good kind. Season as a whole? More pain. Enjoy the NCAA Tournament, Butler. We envy you. Thanks Victory Firelight for all their help.


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