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Game Preview: Butler Bulldogs

We explore the game and debunk the myths and lies of "THE BUTLER WAY."

Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports


Who? Butler Bulldogs (8-2, #36 KenPom) v. Indiana Hoosiers (8-2, #52 KenPom)

When? 2:30 PM, Fox Sports 1

Vegas? INDIANA +3

Pomeroy? BUTLER by 2, 43% chance of Indiana victory


The ____________ Way

How does Butler do it? Witchcraft? A deal with the devil?


Like any underdog that rises to the top without being fueled by obvious star power, it's attributed to that team's name or mascot's "way." All of Butler's success can be attributed to "The Butler Way," and nothing else. Future NBA first round pick / max contract signee Gordon Hayward and consensus top coaching mind Brad Stevens are merely window dressing on the rock solid foundation of basketball mythology that guided Butler to back-to-back National Championship losses and then taking half a decade off, I guess.

But what is "The Butler Way" exactly? I was going to make up a definition but oh my god in heaven there's actually a Wikipedia article about it so here it is:

  1. Humility - know who we are, strengths AND weaknesses. It's no problem that Roosevelt Jones takes 21.1% of available shots and pairs it with an eFG% of 41.5% because he KNOWS that's horrendous.
  2. Passion - do not be lukewarm, commit to excellence. Which, incidentally, is the same standard I hold my soup to.
  3. Unity - do not divide our house, team first. If I didn't know any better, I'd say this sounded a lot like-
  4. Servanthood - make teammates better, lead by giving. Nope, yeah, this is just socialism. We all know that Butler's success was built on offensive possessions in which the team passed it to all five players until the shot clock expired. That kind of selflessness WINS GAMES, Y'ALL.
  5. Thankfulness - learn from every circumstance. Well this obviously isn't a part of The Butler Way because they got back to the National Championship after losing it the previous year and then lost it again.
THE DIRTY LITTLE SECRET IS: Butler wins the same way every team wins, they execute their offensive strategy and, in turn, disrupt their opponent's. The fact they're from a small school that doesn't attract big name talent doesn't change the rules or give them some divine mandate to carry them to success.

So what does Butler do well?


Four Factors
eFG% TO% OR% FT Rate
INDIANA (Offense) 58.6% (9th) 17.0% (39th) 37.7% (35th) 40.0% (128th)
BUTLER (Defense) 44.0% (51st) 24.6% (17th) 27.2% (50th) 35.2% (139th)
eFG% TO% OR% FT Rate
INDIANA (Defense) 48.1% (156th) 18.1% (266th) 35.0% (277th) 24.9% (13th)
BUTLER (Offense) 51.1% (97th) 17.7% (67th) 35.2% (70th) 44.3% (59th)

As it turns out, Butler is good at everything without excelling at anything. They are great at turning their opponents over but otherwise are above-average-to-good at everything else on offense and defense. It's actually remarkable to see a team without some sort of glaring weakness, even top-ranked Kentucky is miserable at preventing offensive boards. Much like Indiana, the Bulldogs have not played a very tough schedule to date but have a couple good wins over UNC and Georgetown that they collected down in the Battle-4-Atlantis.

They're not very big (206th in effective height) and not very deep (306th in bench minutes) which should only help Indiana, who also struggles with size but offers more in the way of depth (137th). Butler prefers to play slow but had no issue dispatching of UNC in a high-tempo game, so they certainly have the versatility to play well in any style of game they find themselves in. They're jumpshot-oriented, as over 55% of the team's attempts come away from the rim, and probably for good reason, as they're hitting their point blank shots at only a 59% clip. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, they're also lousy at hitting free throws, hitting just 65.6% (259th) of their freebies.

As a team, they love both wing perimeter spots and the right corner, but 6'6" sharpshooter Kellen Dunham can kill you from anywhere out there. I would expect Tom Crean to use Yogi Ferrell on Dunham in a similar fashion to how he used him to shut down Nik Stauskas when Michigan came to Bloomington last year. Yogi has shown the ability to harass him up and down the floor while using his quickness to negate any size advantage and deny him the catch. It'll be a tough assignment, for sure, but I think Yogi is up to the challenge and could really get Butler out of sorts by jamming up a key cog in their point-scoring plan.

Roosevelt Jones has a drunken boxing type of offensive game, as he bulldozes towards the rim and then throws the ball towards the hoop without much regard for technique. It hasn't been as effective this year as in the past but he is dishing out assists at a rate of 30.7%, which is almost top-100 in the country. I would imagine he'll see a lot of Robert Johnson or James Blackmon Jr., with the other taking on the diminutive hero from the 2012 game, ALEX BARLOW. Barlow isn't much of an offensive threat, with a 96.2 rating through the first ten games of the year, but he can hit a three-pointer if you ignore him too long.

Overall, Butler is very much more about the sum of their parts than the individuals themselves. They make you work on both ends of the floor and capitalize when errors get made. Indiana has more than enough talent and athleticism to beat Butler, but they can't get lazy and careless or the Bulldogs will cause things to unravel quickly. It should be a helluva game, in this author's honest opinion.

Three Things to Watch For

  • What's the crowd going to look like? At last check, plenty of good seats remained for those wishing to buy a ticket to the event. Interest in the Crossroads Classic has waned since its inception and Indiana's slide from tournament-lock to bubble-bound, coupled with their poor performances in the game itself for two straight seasons made for a pretty mundane turnout last year. It's also no secret that the state of the program has many Hoosier fans grumbling, so I don't expect a big, raucous turnout on Saturday, but I would love to be wrong. Many have cited opponent quality as a reason for poor crowds in Assembly Hall to begin the year, but a Top-25 maybe-rival is on the floor Saturday afternoon in the university's closest metropolitan area and there isn't even a sellout? Yikes.
  • Guard defense. I touched on Yogi giving Kellen Dunham the Stauskas treatment, but will he and the other guards be able to stop the Butler backcourt enough to win? Grand Canyon showed some ability to beat these guys off the dribble last weekend, was that opponent-adjusted finals malaise or something more terrifying? I'm interested to see, in particular, how they respond to Roosevelt Jones' style, as he's one of the most physical players in the country.
  • Rivalry-esque shenanigans. If this is to be a real, modern rivalry, we probably need some bad blood to develop. Yogi and Hanner are the only guys who were playing for Indiana in the 2012 game that are still playing for Indiana now, but does Austin Etherington's transfer to Butler give us a catalyst? I very much doubt anything happens, but a small part of me would like to see a little chippiness on Saturday. Nothing that gets anyone ejected or hurt, just something to stoke the fire and get us some hot takes about classiness and respect on Twitter.