Dirkus Callahan, of ButlerHoops.com reached out to me early Friday morning, and we traded questions and answers regarding the round of 32 match-up between The University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Butler University Bulldogs. In addition to our own Alstein's excellent primer, get a little inside insight on how Butler followers are looking at this 3/6 showdown in the Midwest Region.
You'll find my responses to Dirkus's questions here. Thanks again to him for putting this together.
In some ways, these teams mirror each other. Much like ND, Butler suffered a pretty rough run last year. Much like ND, Butler turned it around in their second year in their new league. What was the key for Chris Holtman turning it around and going 12-6 off of last year's 4-14 struggles?
One big reason for the turnaround that I'm sure will be spoken about ad nauseam tomorrow is the return of Roosevelt Jones. He means so much to this team, just in terms of his defense and his all-around toughness. If you look at all his stats, he himself isn't an impressive player, but just seems to make everyone else around him better. More on that below. Another key was Chris Holtmann moving over to the head coaching chair to replace Brandon Miller. Holtmann's experience as a head coach at Gardner-Webb has been instrumental to their success this year, especially as it relates to X's and O's coming out of timeouts. He was also smart enough to not try to reinvent the wheel with this team even after the difficulties of their first year in the Big East. Butler, much like Notre Dame, has a certain style they play and has been able to sustain success for the most part by sticking with it.
Butler has the 8th best adjusted defensive efficiency in Ken Pomeroy's ratings. How does a team with such an undersized front line defend so effectively?
It's cliché, but they defend as a unit. In terms of first shot defense, Butler is good (75th in EFG%), but not great, and they're only 139th in 2 point fg % because of their obvious lack of size. However, if that shot happens to miss, they're one of the best in the country at tracking it down, and that's due to them knowing their assignments and sticking to them. It also helps that they have 3 guys who take a ton of pride on the defensive end and are willing to guard anyone on the floor in Jones, Woods and Barlow.
Roosevelt Jones plays a pretty unique role for the Bulldogs. What are the keys to his game, and how concerned are you with the leg issues he suffered vs. Texas?
I won't take credit for this, but one IU blogger called him the "Tim Tebow of college basketball". He literally has no jumpshot, isn't a great leaper, drives Butler fans bonkers with some of the drives that he takes, is below average on offense no matter what metric you look at, has just about the ugliest looking game on the planet, but somehow he helps the team win. Outside of being a versatile defender, it's tough to really know what the keys to his game are. He will drive at Notre Dame all night though with a mixture of floaters, scoop shots and crazy slop normally reserved for middle aged men at the Y. There is a lot of concern for the brace that got put on his knee in the 2nd half of the Texas game because he will be needed to defend Grant and Jackson mostly, but probably every other Irish player on the floor at different points, so if he's not healthy, there could be a lot of open lanes for Notre Dame's back court.
Jerian Grant gets most of the headlines for the Irish, but give us the off-the-radar Notre Dame guy who could give Butler problems.
It really depends on the matchups and Jones' health, but I could see a Steve Vasturia or V.J. Beachem giving the Bulldogs problems. The way Notre Dame runs their offense, specifically with how well they pass and spread the floor, can out maneuver Butler's defensive rotations, so there will be 3's available for the taking if Notre Dame can hit them, so guys who are able to knock down 3's when they're open (and both of these guys can), could really spell trouble for Butler.
How do you see this game playing out? What are the keys when Butler has the ball and when they have to defend?
It's going to depend on a couple of things. The health of Roosevelt Jones, and whether or not Notre Dame can hit open looks when they get them. If Jones isn't able to go at 100%, I see it being a long day for Butler because of the driving ability of Jackson and Grant, and if they don't finish themselves and Butler's post players have to help off, those guys could simply dump the ball off to Auguste or Colson for an easy lay-in, or kick out to really anyone not named Auguste or Colson and bury a 3. If he is able to go at 100%, then the driving lanes should be more difficult to come by, and then it's just a matter of whether or not Notre Dame can their open jumpers when they do get them. In terms of when Butler's on offense, the keys for them will be finishing in the lane and hitting the offensive glass with Woods and maybe one other guy. If they go at them with too many though, that will open up the fast break for the Irish, and with the way they pass the ball, they can get up the floor in a hurry.
Thanks again to Dirkus, and be sure to tune in to catch the Irish vs. Butler in the second session from Pittsburgh Saturday night.