Some of you younger folks will not remember this, what with your Juuls and handjob parties, but at one point Butler University was a member of the mighty Atlantic Ten Conference. The Bulldogs were part of the A10 family for one glorious season, 2012-13, finishing with a 11-5 league record. Butler defeated Dayton in the first round of the conference tournament and at the Sweater Centre™ earlier that year. I remember that early January game distinctly because I was pretty sure Butler’s guard Rotnei Clarke broke his neck on a breakaway lay-up attempt.
Former UD player Matt Derenbecker, likely aggrieved after having his pocket picked, chased Clarke down from behind and delivered a karate chop to the back of the Butler guard’s head. Clarke remained down on the ground for an extended period, eventually carted off the court and taken to the hospital. Fortunately, Clarke’s injury ended up being less serious than assumed, a severely sprained neck, and the Arkansas-transfer only missed three games. Nevertheless, it was an unforgettable moment in UD history as those watching thought there was a good chance Clarke would never walk again.
Now that we got the unpleasantness out of the way, let’s move on to this season’s first round game in the BAD BOY MOWERS BATTLE 4 ATLANTIS. (Bad Boy Mowers, for those of you wondering, are “high-end zero turn mowers” for only the most passionate landscaping buffs. These aren’t the type of mowers you turn over to Pedro after you picked him up at the Home Depot. No sir, these are the grass cutting machines you buy when your marriage is on its last legs and you are too fat to golf. The name is apropos too because the first thing that comes to mind when I see a man in his twilight years mowing grass is “what a bad boy.”)
OK, on to the business. Butler comes into their game against Dayton with an identical 3-0 record. Although the Bulldogs’ wins have, like the Flyers, come against less than stellar competition, they do have a decent win against a solid and athletic Ole Miss team. Whereas UD fans are treating this game as a barometer to measure just how good this year’s Flyer squad is, you’d have to think Butler fans are waiting until later in the tournament for potential matchups against the likes of UVA, Stanford, Florida, Oklahoma and Wisconsin as a measuring stick. We take no offense, Butler, I promise.
Kelan Martin is finally gone, graduated and probably living in a country where he has trouble ordering food. In his place as Butler’s target man this season is junior guard Kamar Baldwin. Baldwin (23.3 ppg/6.7 rpg/5.7 apg) is a do-it-all guard, a sexy lefty, a man with spider monkey arms. A streaky perimeter shooter, Baldwin is essentially tasked with stepping up in every conceivable way to lead Butler back to the NCAA tournament for the fifth year in a row.
Dedicated A10 patrons will recognize the name Paul Jorgensen. A former George Washington player during the Lonergan era, which means he was likely masturbatory fuel for Patrick Nero, left Foggy Bottom after the 2015-16 season. “The Prince Harry of Harlem” (I’m serious, Google it) had a solid campaign a year ago and has already proven to be an excellent running mate for Baldwin. Jorgensen (18.7 ppg/39% 3fg) has a bit of an “urban” flair to his game which probably makes some of the crowd in Hinkle Fieldhouse awfully nervous. (Sidenote: I was fascinated by Jorgensen when he came to GW and was anxious to see what he would bring to the table in DC. He literally grew up in the most Jewish county in the country and plays like a kid with a 35 year-old grandmother. Nurture over nature, I guess.) Jorgensen was the key factor in Butler’s win over Ole Miss, leading the team with 27 points on 6-of-10 shooting from three.
If there was a third prong to Butler’s attack, a trident if you will, it’s 6’11” sophomore center Joey Brunk. The aptly named Brunk is having a breakout season thus far, averaging fifteen points and five rebounds per contest — shooting 94% from the field. Brunk draws contact and gets to the line with great frequency, the Butler big man is currently shooting 77% from the charity stripe. Brunk will be the first low post player a pulse that Dayton has faced thus far. His ability to bang around the basket will challenge Cunningham and Toppin all damn night.
You guys are smart, sophisticated basketball fans, it’s what obviously draws you to this site. As a result, you know what to expect from Horseshoe U. While the coaching turnover has been constant over the past seven years — Brad Stevens to Brandon Miller (whatever happened with Miller? Did we ever get an honest account?) to Chris Holtmann to LaVall Jordan — the Bulldog playing style has remained the same. Simply put, Butler will not beat itself. They will protect the ball, crash the boards on both ends of the court and take good shots. Dayton is going to have to play a disciplined game in order to pull this one out.
So, who wins the game? Well, the smart money obviously says Butler and who am I to argue? Although it’s difficult to parse a fully informed opinion based on the competition UD has faced thus far, one thing is certain — the defense needs a lot of work. The Bulldogs present issues the Flyers haven’t seen yet this season. An elite playmaker in Baldwin, a big man with a presence in Brunk and most importantly, a team that has a pulse. No one is expecting UD to go into the Bahamas and come home with a trophy, the focus should be on how the team competes and, in particular, how Toppin, Mikesell, Cohill and Jordan Davis perform.
Bottom line, the Flyers could easily take three L’s this week and come home with a .500 record. Nevertheless let’s keep in mind that this season’s A10 is an affront to decency. While it would be nice to be in the same tier as teams like Virginia, Wisconsin, Oklahoma and Florida, UD still butters its bread against programs like VCU, Duquesne and RIchmond. Keep perspective, people! Dayton doesn’t need to rack up Top 25 wins to ultimately have a successful season. Consistency, development and hydration are the essential aspects to focus on until Dayton opens up league play.
Prediction: Butler 67, Gem City 60.