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Indiana Hoosiers v. Butler Bulldogs: IU faces toughest test to date (preview).

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Butler Bulldogs
Current record: 3-2
2010-11 record: 28-10 (13-5), lost to Connecticut in NCAA Championship
2010-11 RPI: 34
2010-11 Sagarin: 22
2010-11 Pomeroy: 41
Pomeroy scouting report  
Series:  IU leads 36-13
TV: 7 p.m. Sunday, BTN

After a 5-0 start against overmatched opponents, IU faces its most seasoned opponent so far, the two-time NCAA runner-up Butler Bulldogs.  This is the final game of the "Hoosier Invitational," an exempt event (but not a Tournament) that included three other games.  Because of that event and the coincidence that both teams played at Evansville, this creates a strange situation in which four of each team's five games have been played against common opponents.  Only IU's opener against Stony Brook and Butler's home game against Louisville are exceptions.   For what it is worth, Butler is 3-1 and +25 against the four common opponents (Evansville, Chattanooga, Gardner-Webb, and Savannah State), while IU is 4-0 and +89.  The Bulldogs struggled Wednesday night against Gardner-Webb at Hinkle Fieldhouse, overcoming a 15 point halftime deficit to win by 2.  It's easy to forget that last year's Butler team spent most of last year on the wrong side of the bubble.  On February 3, after a loss to a horrid Youngstown State team, Butler was 14-9 and 6-5 in the Horizon League.  After that, however, the Bulldogs ran off 14 wins in a row, and didn't lose again until the NCAA championship game.  In any event, the Bulldogs, who lost Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard to the NBA/graduation, seem to be in a similar situation this year.  They are starting slowly, but would anyone be surprised by another deep tournament run?  IU probably is catching Butler at the right time.

Butler has been one of IU's most frequent non-conference opponents, literally from the beginning.  IU's first game ever was a road trip to Butler, and Notre Dame and Kentucky are the only non-Big Ten opponents IU has played more often.  Most of the meetings have been in Indianapolis, where Butler has held its own, but IU has won 16 in a row in Bloomington, where Butler last won in 1902.  


FG 3PT FT Rebounds Misc
G M M A Pct M A Pct M A Pct Off Def Tot Ast TO Stl Blk PF PPG
Andrew Smith 5 27.2 3.4 6.6 51.5 0.8 2.2 36.4 5.0 8.0 62.5 2.4 4.0 6.4 0.8 2.0 1.0 1.2 2.6 12.6
Chrishawn Hopkins 5 30.0 4.0 12.0 33.3 1.6 5.4 29.6 2.4 2.8 85.7 0.2 2.4 2.6 2.4 2.6 1.0 0.2 1.8 12.0
Chase Stigall 5 32.8 3.0 8.2 36.6 2.0 6.2 32.3 1.2 1.8 66.7 0.4 2.4 2.8 0.8 0.8 0.2 0.0 3.0 9.2
Khyle Marshall 5 22.6 3.6 5.4 66.7 0.0 0.0 0.0 1.6 2.6 61.5 0.8 2.2 3.0 0.2 0.8 0.4 0.4 2.2 8.8
Ronald Nored 5 31.2 1.2 4.4 27.3 0.4 1.4 28.6 2.4 3.2 75.0 1.0 2.0 3.0 5.6 2.2 3.0 0.0 3.4 5.2
Jackson Aldridge 5 16.4 1.4 3.8 36.8 0.2 1.4 14.3 1.8 2.6 69.2 0.0 1.2 1.2 1.4 1.2 0.4 0.0 0.6 4.8
Kameron Woods 4 16.8 1.8 3.8 46.7 0.0 1.3 0.0 0.5 2.0 25.0 1.8 2.8 4.5 0.5 1.8 0.5 0.8 2.5 4.0
Roosevelt Jones 4 17.3 1.5 3.5 42.9 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.3 1.3 20.0 2.3 1.8 4.0 1.3 0.5 1.3 0.0 1.3 3.3
Garrett Butcher 5 8.6 0.8 1.6 50.0 0.2 0.6 33.3 0.4 0.6 66.7 0.2 0.6 0.8 0.0 0.2 0.2 0.0 1.8 2.2
Erik Fromm 5 4.8 0.4 1.2 33.3 0.2 0.4 50.0 0.2 0.4 50.0 0.0 0.2 0.2 0.0 0.2 0.2 0.2 1.0 1.2
Andy Smeathers 4 4.5 0.3 1.0 25.0 0.3 1.0 25.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.3 0.3 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.8
Elliott Kampen 1 1.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 1.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
Emerson Kampen 3 0.3 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
Alex Barlow 2 0.5 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0

Surprising as it was that Butler managed to return to the Final Four after losing its best player ever, Gordon Hayward, following the 2010 season, the loss of Mack and Howard may be too much for the Bulldogs to overcome offensively.  Butler has been shooting poorly.  Despite a less than overwhelming schedule, the Bulldogs are shooting only 28 percent from three point range and aren't heating it up from inside or from the line either.  Still, Butler is staying afloat with its usual areas of competency: taking care of the ball, getting to the line, and defensive rebounding.  Also, they are doing something that isn't characteristic for Butler,  forcing turnovers on 25 percent of their opponents' possessions.

While Butler is always disciplined and well-coached at both ends of the court,  unlike last season, they are now leaning on players who never have been asked to carry the load offensively.  Mack and Howard combined for nearly half of Butler's 71 points per game last season.  Andrew Smith shot nearly 60 percent from the field last season while playing 23 minutes and averaging 8 points per game.  Now that he is the focus of the offense, he is shooting only 51 percent.  Still, he is 6-11 and is the best big man IU has faced to date.  Chrishawn Hopkins, Chase Stigall, and Khyle Marshall also are facing dramatically more important roles with mixed results.  Marshall, in particular is standing out, shooting 67 percent from the field and averaging 8.8 points per game.  Finally, the steady point guard, Ronald Nored, is back, and is having his best season in general, averaging 5.6 assists and 3 steals per game.  On the down side, he is shooting only 27 percent from the field.  

This is a big game for IU.  Currently, if Pomeroy ratings are to be believed, this game has moved into tomato can territory, showing the Hoosiers with an 83 percent chance of victory.  In reality, this is a game that IU certainly could lose, and the tournament-tested Butler team, not to mention coach Brad Stevens, should not be underestimated.  Also, it is a game that has importance beyond its impact on IU's roster.  We all know that plenty of hair-pulling journalists and bloggers will be pushing the "fire Crean, hire Stevens" line if the Bulldogs win.  Also, Butler's recent tournament and recruiting success force IU to regard Butler as a peer, not as an adorable little brother.  Butler was, along with IU and North Carolina, one of three finalists for the services of Cody Zeller, and beat out IU for Matt Howard a few years ago.  Butler is a nice story, but enough is enough.  It's time to restore some order to the universe, and IU is an an excellent position to begin that process Sunday night.  All of IU's goals will be within reach no matter what happens against the Bulldogs, but a win would be very satisfying.  And while I don't want to wish away a long holiday weekend, I'm as amped about this game as I have been for any IU game in a long, long time.  It should be fun.