Our buddy and the new Manager of Big East Coast Bias, Matt LaFortune, has been kind enough to answer some questions about Butler basketball for us and, of course, deal with some heckling.
The first part of our Behind Enemy Lines segment can be found here
Q: Do you think Butler will win a game before the season is over and if not, about what time in the season do you think they packed it up?
A: I think they'll beat DePaul, but that's it. The maddening thing about this Butler team is that they haven't packed it up for the season, its more of a first half-second half thing. They Bulldogs played potentially their best ball of the season against Creighton two weeks ago and gave Providence a fight on Sunday but most of their games have included a complete collapse after halftime. I blame Brandon Miller's coaching a bit for that, but there's a lot of criticism to go around.
Q: What have been the problems with Butler this season?
A: Lack of an identity on offense and a short bench. Xavier and Creighton have made the jump to the Big East look easy but you can see a talent deficit on this Butler squad. Losing Roosevelt Jones in the offseason and having a couple transfers mid-year impacted their depth, but Miller doesn't have enough confidence in his reserves to expand beyond a seven-man rotation. That's been a factor as tired legs lead to scoring droughts in the second half.
Kellen Dunham was supposed to be an All-Big East performer after a great nonconference run, but defenses have figured out how to shut him down. He scored 25 against Providence so the shot is clearly still there, but he misses a lot of shots when you get a hand in his face (don't we all?). Once teams shut down Dunham, Butler haven't been able to score reliably. Sometimes Khyle Marshall carries the load, sometimes its freshman Andrew Chrabascz underneath, but more often than not a scoring drought will put the game out of reach.
Q: Who's a better dresser? Jay Wright, Brandon Miller or Jay Wright?
A: There's no better dresser in the college game than Jay Wright. Villanova-Louisville games used to be worth watching just for the coaches' wardrobes.
Q: What is one attribute that Butler brings to the table that should scare Villanova fans about a possible upset?
A: I don't know, scrappiness? They played Creighton tough by just being a fundamentally sound team. That's Butler basketball, but its been missing in just about every other Big East contest. This could be ugly.
Q: Kellen Dunham vs. JayVaughn Pinkston, who comes out on top and why?
A: Pinkston, though Dunham could have a better game than anyone expects. He just played well on Sunday and Villanova's one weakness is defending the three. If he gets hot, Butler could stick around. Of course, Pinkston has 15 pounds on a Butler frontcourt that is really suspect on defense (290th in two point percentage allowed).
Q: How could you break down Coach Miller's first season with Butler and in the Big East?
A: He walked into a tough situation and was going to get the benefit of the doubt no matter what happened this year. The timing of Brad Stevens' departure eliminated most coaching candidates and they went with the best available option with Butler connections. That hasn't worked out. Losing in their first Big East season with the best returning player out for the season and a lot of other turnover in the program is completely acceptable. They way they've lost, giving up on games in the second half with turmoil all around the program (four players suspended over the course of the year), is not. He might learn from a really tough first year, but Butler needed a coach who was ready for primetime. Clearly Miller is not.
Q: Is Hinkle now considered less of an impenetrable fortress and more of a seven-year old's playpen after all the losses this season?
A: Three home overtime losses in a row in January really killed that vibe. The Butler Way has always been about more than an individual, but Stevens' departure does seem to have killed the Hinkle mystique.
Q: Is there hope for a turnaround next year for Butler?
A: The freshmen have shown some flashes of being able to contribute. Andrew Chrabascz is the team's most efficient offensive player and Elijah Brown has all the talent necessary to be a big time scorer in the Big East. But both have looked out of sorts at times--Brown more so--and a couple other young guys have either transferred (Rene Castro) or gotten stuck at the end of the bench (Nolan Berry). If they can figure out how to take the scoring load off of Dunham, he will be more effective as well, but that hasn't happened this year yet.
The Butler program will definitely have to do some soul-searching after this year. The hope was that recruiting would take a step up with the move to the Big East, but this season hurt that and the national championship runs will soon fade in the rearview mirror. Another bad campaign could keep the Bulldogs stuck in the basement with DePaul for the immediate future.
Q: Who's been better this season for Butler? Khyle Marshall or Dunham?
A: Dunham. He's one of the best pure shooters in the country but has been asked to do too much and defenses have completely taken him out of the picture in Big East play. When he gets open looks, he's still deadly and could be a part of a good team with the right help.
Marshall has been frustrating to watch in that he's got the talent to take over games but has never shown the kind of senior leadership this program needs. He only drives with to his left, doesn't pass, and seems uninterested in blocking out on defense. His stats are a lot better than Dunham's and maybe I'm biased by what I think he should be doing, but I've been underwhelmed.
Q: Does it please the Bulldogs that they are DePaul's equal this season in the Big East
A: Hey, misery loves company. Just don't ask me this question if the Blue Demons knock off Butler on March 6th (DePaul won the first matchup in January).