Up & Adam: Butler Wearing Down

His performance has bordered on heroic this season, but the one-man show Jamar Butler has been putting on might be starting to catch up to him. Still, that has not affected his attitude toward the season nor his desire to make the Buckeyes the best team they can be, as BSB staffer Adam Jardy writes in this column.

With the Buckeyes headed into their final seven Big Ten games, all the evidence is starting to add up to one thing.

Namely, that Jamar Butler is tired. Plain and simple, Ohio State's senior point guard is running out of gas regardless of what he or his head coach will tell you.

Butler has been Superman for this young Buckeye squad, but even the Man of Steel himself would be weary if he stood in Butler's shoes. Through 24 games, Butler is averaging 36.0 minutes per game while, at times, willing his team to victory.

In the offseason, Butler dropped 20 pounds while working out in his hometown of Lima, Ohio, in preparation for an increased role during his final go-round in the Scarlet and Gray. No stranger to a heavy workload, Butler has averaged 33.3 and 31.5 minutes per game during his sophomore and junior years, respectively.

But during those seasons, Butler was not the primary cog for the offense. This season, all that is OSU basketball is channeled through the 6-1, 185-pound Butler. On offense, he directs the team as the point guard and also serves as the primary shooting threat from beyond the arc. Defensively, he mans the top spot in OSU's 3-2 zone and is responsible for funneling the ball to one of the wings and applying pressure at the top of the circle.

Of course, that does not factor in when the Buckeyes utilize their full-court press, forcing Butler to chase opponents up and down the court before settling back into the zone.

But in between OSU's games with Michigan and Indiana, he was asked how he was feeling physically. His answer was exactly what one would expect from a senior co-captain who would rather die than come out of a game.

"I feel fine," he said. "I think the weight loss helped me a lot. It feels like the beginning of the season right now."

But at the beginning of the season, Butler spoke of trying to warn his freshmen teammates of the stresses of playing Big Ten basketball. It's a grueling process, he said, one that takes a toll on a player's body regardless of how well-conditioned they are when they enter the season.

When the Buckeyes dropped a 59-53 decision to Indiana in Value City Arena on Feb. 10, Butler played all 40 minutes of the contest. Nine times this season, he has not come out of a game – a figure that includes what is now a streak of four consecutive games in which Butler has not seen a single second of rest.

It's probably not a coincidence that his statistics have taken a hit during that stretch. Against Penn State on Jan. 29, Butler was 4 of 9 from beyond the arc. In the three games since then, he is just 3 for 17 (17.6 percent) from deep.

Prior to that four-game stretch, Butler was connecting at a 43.1 percent clip.

As a sophomore during the 2005-06 season, Butler was one member of a four-guard starting lineup that lived and died by the three pointer. Through the first 24 games of that season, Butler was shooting 46.3 percent (37 of 80) from beyond the arc. In his final eight games, he was just 11 of 36 (30.1 percent).

But during the course of a grueling Big Ten season, all players will break down to a certain extent. Production will decline as the physical grind takes a greater toll on players deeper into the season.

Head coach Thad Matta has said that as the season goes on, he adjusts reps in practices so certain players – presumably players like Butler – can save their legs. And although Matta has denied it, the fact that the Buckeyes have almost exclusively utilized a zone defense this season has helped prevent some wear and tear from accumulating in the case of Butler.

Asked if he could play as many minutes as he has this season with all the responsibilities he has on the court, Butler said, "I think I would be dead already right now."

Still, though, the OSU coaches personally challenged Butler to be more active guarding the ball as Big Ten play got underway. Fourteen of his 36 steals this season came in a five-game stretch leading up to the Indiana game.

Butler admitted that the zone has allowed him to catch his breath at times but that it is still taxing on his body.

Of course, it does not help that the Buckeyes have no heir apparent for Butler. Sophomore guard P.J. Hill, in his first year with the program, has proven himself an eager understudy but not one capable of playing many – if any – important minutes in a meaningful game.

The hope now is that Butler will regain his shooting touch and help the Buckeyes put together a late-season run toward the NCAA Tournament. As he has shown this season, he can be deadly and capable of taking over a game when at his best.

Following the loss to Indiana, Matta was asked if he is seeing signs that all the minutes are adding up for Butler.

"I honestly haven't seen them," was the coach's response. "I really haven't. I gauge that by how he's guarding the ball or how he's pushing it in transition."

Either Matta was telling the honest truth or he was looking at the situation with scarlet-colored lenses. Regardless of where the truth lies, Butler has all the appearances on the court of a player who simply looks tired. Still he soldiers on, sacrificing his body for the good of his teammates in the hopes of making one last run toward collegiate glory.

If he makes it to the finish line intact, he deserves a medal – a medal delivered by Mike Conley.

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