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Butler Non-Conference Wrap-Up

Butler’s non-conference schedule has officially wrapped up, with the Bulldogs going 8-2 (1-0 vs non-D1 opponent not included), with wins over Texas Tech, California, Penn State and Boise State. 

The Bulldogs have been a surprise team in the Big East, looking very efficient and surging up analytical rankings as a result. There are a lot of things this team has done well, but some things they have struggled with as of late, so here’s what I have seen from this Butler squad across the non-conference.

What We Learned

Offensively, this Butler team has been absolutely excellent. Butler didn’t have any real slashers last season, which certainly changed entering this one. The Bulldogs are an effective team at all three levels, and are very unselfish, making plays for both themselves and each other.

One thing I noted is how well this team does at keeping the ball in the middle of the floor when attacking. I included a lot of clips from the Texas Tech game here because Texas Tech’s defense is designed to NOT give up the middle of the floor whenever possible. Texas Tech will ice any ball screen, forcing it to one side of the floor, and trying to keep the ball there, stalling out your offense.

Butler countered this beautifully by using off-ball screens to get the ball to the middle with slashers in attack mode, and flashing either Brooks or Telfort for a catch at the top of the key, and clearing out. This opened up a lot of drives through the middle of the lane, where help wasn’t ready, or if it was, it led to wide-open shooters in the corner. The play to end the half shows exactly this: Moore clears out and finds Telfort at the top of the key, who drove by his defender and converted at the rim, putting Butler up seven entering the half.

Butler does a great job at spacing out for their drivers and giving them the middle of the floor, with tons of room to operate.

The offensive sets run for DJ Davis are unlike anything we saw last year. Butler didn’t create this spacing, or have a shooter of Davis’s caliber last season. Butler had good shooters, but nobody was as consistent as Davis, who shot over 40% from deep in his time at UC Irvine. As a result, Butler has so many creative ways of getting him open, and will go to him in late-game situations when they desperately need a bucket, and he tends to convert.

Davis is always taking these screens tight, and is always in rhythm ready for the shot, and his lightning-quick release allows for him to get the shot off quickly and effectively. 

The set they ran here for Bizjack was excellent. It threw everyone off and created so much confusion for this Cal defense. Nobody was ready for it, and Bizjack got a wide-open look in the corner to end the half. Just an absolutely gorgeous play. These sets to end the half, or end the game with momentum have been absolutely excellent, and a huge reason that Butler was able to win their close games against Texas Tech and California. Those plays don’t go this well, and this team could be 6-4. Well-designed plays and executed equally well.

Also, one note I’ve tried to hit on so many times is just how good a passer Jahmyl Telfort is. In Butler’s first six games, he had seven total assists. He had seven in the Texas Tech game alone. Telfort’s passing from the high post opens up so many more opportunities for this offense. You have to respect his drive and his vision, making him an even tougher cover than he was to start the season. His passing has added another dynamic to this offense which makes them so much better.

However, the defense has struggled a bit as of late. Particularly with Butler’s three-point defense. Butler’s three-point defense was looking solid, up until these two games against California and Texas Tech.

Entering the Texas Tech game, Butler’s opponents were shooting 46/172 (26.7%) from three-point range. In their following three games against D1 opponents, those teams shot 33/86 (38.4%), in a stretch that includes their game against Buffalo, the 336th ranked team on KenPom whose 25.1% three-point percentage ranks 355th in the country, out of 362 eligible teams. Texas Tech and California on the season shoot 33.9% and 33.8% respectively, neither eclipsing the Top 150. 

These aren’t excellent shooting teams that did what they do best, these are okay shooting teams that had great days. Now, sometimes the shots are just falling (and a two-game sample size is soooo small), but the way these teams got looks concerns me a bit.

Now, are you expecting perfection on defense every game? Of course not, the offenses are designed to mess you up, and sometimes good offense beats good defense. There were certainly some plays in both of these games that were just great offense, and there wasn’t much Butler could do. Denying that would be foolish. 

But, they gave up some really good looks to Texas Tech shooters on some fairly basic actions. The same screen and replace worked twice, with the same guy getting the exact same look. Of course he knocks it down. In the final clip, sometimes switching everything leaves you in some compromising positions, if Toussaint can make that pass, fair play. Great play from him, and Darrion Williams shifted up, Turnbull didn’t notice and he knocked down an easy three-ball. 

Cal was able to run some really effective offense, sparked behind some excellent shooting. Not only that, but all of their best shooters got great looks, and converted efficiently. You have to know who you are guarding, otherwise some excellent shooters will make you pay.

Texas Tech did the exact same thing with Chance McMillian, who ended up knocking down 8 threes.

Butler switches just about everything 1-4. It works for how this team defends, particularly with Telfort being able to guard everyone 1-5. He allows this defense to switch as much as they do, but switching requires excellent communication. All five Butler defenders have to be talking and making sure that they have eyes on shooters at all times.

This team has been really impressive this season. They’ve looked excellent offensively, and have had their moments on defense. There’s still some room to grow, but I really liked what I’ve seen from this group. Hopefully they can keep this level of offense, and take that step up defensively, and steal a couple of games against the top of the Big East.

Bonus Content

Here’s some stuff I noticed that I didn’t tweet out, or really even hint at previously.

California got their first few three-point looks after Butler doubled down in the post. Butler adjusted and left Thomas on an island against Fardaws Aimaq, a center with an offensive skillset that very few possess. I don’t know if Butler will face another center who can stretch it out and hit three-point jumpers like he can, or put the ball on the floor and make a tough bucket. Regardless, Butler adjusted and decided to just leave Thomas (and Screen for a play here) on an island, and they did a very good job of limiting Aimaq in this one.

I left that last play in there to show you how good Aimaq is. Nothing Thomas could do about that, that was just an awesome bucket.

Here’s what I mean when I say “Don’t jump to Pass.” This and getting beat backdoor are probably my two biggest basketball pet peeves. 

Butler might need to do a better job of finding shooters in transition. I can’t tell how much of this is good offense vs bad transition defense (probably a bit of both, but the spacing here is very good, making it really, really tough to cover). On the Tyson rebound, Butler didn’t do a good enough job of matching up. But other than that, it feels like this was some pretty solid offense, though Butler has to identify Cone and McMillian as guys to check in transition, and not let them get hot. Will have to do this better in the BE too, but if a team has numbers in transition, I also expect them to score more often than not.

Would love to see what others think, is this good transition offense or some bad defense?

Butler’s transition offense is just so pretty. Letting Brooks or Telfort go downhill is a nightmare for the defense without your center back. Also, just how well they space the floor, and in particular move the ball is night and day from last year. Beautiful spacing, and they’ve got playmakers who can make some pretty tough plays here, too.

Just figured people would enjoy watching that, particularly if you got this far.

Alright, that's all I've got. See you early tomorrow for a Georgetown (BE Opener!!!) preview. Or, if you are here after the Georgetown game, thanks for stopping by! Hopefully, you'll keep checking out my work!


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