Basketball Scouting Report: Butler
Clarity is typically elusive in the middle of November… when college basketball and not football is the topic being discussed. Many football teams find an identity at this time of year, but basketball teams are just beginning to learn what they have… and how far they need to go in order to reach the postseason. Vanderbilt took a few introductory courses on basketball against Georgia State and Lipscomb. Now come the advanced placement courses against Butler, Providence and Texas. December will be filled with some pop quizzes against small-conference teams, but it will end with a major term paper against Saint Louis on the next-to-last day of 2013. January will bring the graduate school curriculum known as the SEC schedule.
It's time for this team to be tested on the road for the first time this season. It's time for coach Kevin Stallings to gather more information about the ways in which his players respond to in-game adversity. It's time for the coaching staff to gain a fuller sense of what its personnel can and can't achieve on the floor. Various questions won't be definitively answered – not all at once – but this team's identity will begin to come into focus.
This game against Butler will feature a team that isn't as good as the one that spanked the Commodores, 68-49, in Memorial Gym last December. Brad Stevens also won't be opposing Stallings. New Butler coach Brandon Miler will be calling the shots for the Bulldogs, who are opening their first season in the new and realigned Big East. Yet, while Butler might be a diminished team compared to the version that very nearly made the Sweet 16 this past March, the Bulldogs will be intent on sustaining their reputation in a transitional year.
This season was going to represent something new for Butler even before Brad Stevens left for the NBA and the Boston Celtics. The Bulldogs, once the standard-bearers for the Horizon League, were set to move from their new digs in the Atlantic 10 to the newer Big East, joining the so-called "Catholic Seven" that peeled off from the schools now residing in a freshly-created conference called The American. Stevens was supposed to lead Butler into this brave new world, but a coach with his gifts generally wants to test himself at the highest level of competition, so he landed in Boston for a rebuilding project, meaning that he could be the architect of the Celtics from the sideline, not the inheritor of an aging Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Stevens will get to spend half a decade (if not longer) immersing himself in the world of professional basketball. Regardless of whether he succeeds of fails in this venture, he has set himself up to learn a lot more about basketball.
That's the 2013-2014 Butler team in a nutshell: It should learn a lot more about basketball as well, because it's a young team that will lack many of the players who carried the Bulldogs to the round of 32 (and almost past Elite Eight-bound Marquette) in the NCAA tournament.
Roosevelt Jones – who averaged 10 points and almost six rebounds per game and played terrific defense for Butler last season – is gone. So is shooting guard Rotnei Clarke, who was always a threat to score from any spot within 35 feet of the basket and therefore commanded the attention of each and every opposing defense. Andrew Smith's 11 points and six rebounds are no longer available as well. Chase Stigall's defense and hustle cannot be accessed anymore, either. This team is starting over, and that's why Vanderbilt could win tonight in Hinkle Fieldhouse. Brandon Miller, the coach who has been asked to follow Brad Stevens, will have his work cut out for him.
Forward-Center – Erik Fromm – Senior, 6-8, 223; 2012-13: 3.4 points per game, 2.5 rebounds per game
Vanderbilt and Stallings must be aware that Butler's starting five is comprised of two anchors and three supporting players. Fromm is one of the supporting players, which is made clear by his 2012-2013 statistical averages. Fromm averaged just over 11 minutes per game last season. Of the three "new" Butler starters – those who averaged fewer than 20 minutes per game last season – Fromm spent the smallest amount of time on court. Kameron Woods averaged 17 minutes per game, and Alex Barlow averaged 19. Being aggressive against Fromm – testing him in the first eight minutes of the game before the under-12 media timeout – is recommended.
Forward – Khyle Marshall – Senior, 6-6, 216 2012-13:
9.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg
Marshall is one of the two aforementioned "anchors" for Butler, alongside Kellen Dunham. Marshall logged almost 22 minutes a game last season. He's a ferocious rebounder and defender. If Vanderbilt can merely draw even with Marshall in the paint and not suffer a deficit in terms of defensive rebounding, the Commodores will have done well. Marshall has a nose for the ball and has been an integral part of the program the past three seasons. He represents the "Butler Blueprint" more than any other player on this team. That detail alone should tell you about his prowess.
Forward – Kameron Woods – Junior, 6-9, 200; 2012-13: 4.5 ppg, 4.9 rpg
Woods – as a member of the "supporting cast" portion of the starting five – didn't look for his offense last season. He took just 117 shots over the course of the 2012-2013 campaign. His other less-credentialed teammates in this season's starting five, Barlow (58 shots) and Fromm (105), took even fewer shots last year. Woods fits into the mold of a typical Butler player in that he rests his game based on his defense and his energy level.
Guard – Alex Barlow – Junior, 5-11, 187; 2012-13: 2.3 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 1.9 apg
This is a player Vanderbilt can't take for granted. Barlow's statistical footprint is small, and his physical stature is hardly imposing, but Barlow loves big moments. He hit a game-winning shot against No. 1 Indiana last December, one of Butler's best achievements of the 2012-2013 season. Barlow will not take just 58 shots over the course of this season. He will need to be a competent scorer in order for the Bulldogs to contend for an NCAA tournament berth.
Guard – Kellen Dunham – Sophomore, 6-6, 185; 2012-13: 9.5 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 1.1 apg
This is the meal-ticket scorer for the Bulldogs. Dunham scored 26 points in Butler's 70-67 win over Princeton this past Saturday on 7-of-14 field goal shooting (4-of-8 from three-point range) and 8-of-11 foul shooting. If no clear second option emerges for Butler in the first 10 to 15 minutes of play, the Commodores need to make sure Dunham doesn't get comfortable behind the three-point line. This is also not a player Vanderbilt should foul. Handsy defense – vulnerable to the new hand-checking rules – is not advised when Dunham has the ball.
Butler's lack of star power in its starting five is accompanied by an unproven bench with names that are unfamiliar. Devontae Morgan and Jackson Aldridge received a few minutes of playing time last season and nothing more. Three other reserves, Elijah Brown, Andrew Chrabascz, and Rene Castro, are all freshmen. Of these players, only Brown made an impact against Princeton, scoring 13 points (nine of them from three-point range) in 25 minutes. Chrabascz and Aldridge didn't play more than 10 minutes apiece in that contest. The bench is a mystery for Butler, and Vanderbilt must be ready to adjust if one of the Bulldogs' reserves (especially one other than Brown) does something significant in this game.
Keys to the Game
1) Match Butler's effort. If any team can make as many effort plays as Butler and not be outclassed by the Bulldogs in terms of deflections and winning "50-50 balls," that team stands a good chance of winning. Vanderbilt has to show Butler that it is ready for a street fight in this game. Sending an early message about its willingness to compete will go a long way toward keeping VU in the hunt for 40 minutes.
2) Put the burden on the supporting cast. Vanderbilt can't allow Dunham or Marshall to win this game, and they can't let Brown get too comfortable as a scorer-shooter off the bench. The Dores must make Barlow, Fromm, Woods, and the non-Brown reserves beat them when Butler has the ball.
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