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Preseason Battles: Butler Exhibition Takeaways

Yes, I know, putting the words "preseason" and “exhibition” in the title is basically like saying, “I don’t want any pageviews.” I know. But, as RTTG’s honorary Big J Journo for the week, I have to be an honest man. It’s my duty to inform everyone about what happened in these exhibitions and give my takeaways and things to watch. I’m gonna use this thread below to keep me on task and point out some of my real-time reactions. Without further ado, let’s get to it.

Early on, Tiffin had to switch how they defended the Dogs, as the guards (mainly Eric Hunter) did an excellent job of choosing when to attack, and looking for the Bates mismatch. This is really what got the Dawgs out to an opening lead. Hunter played a very solid game, he looked like he belonged from the opening jump. Our defense looked very solid at this point until Tiffin made an adjustment that really changed the flow of this game.

Boom, there it is. Tiffin did an excellent job of forcing the bigs (Bates, Wilmoth) to switch on the perimeter, and attacked those mismatches relentlessly. From the U16 timeout on, Tiffin won the first half 19-16. The Butler offense slowed and couldn't really find a rhythm.

I pointed this out often. For those other poor souls (my fellow Big J’s) around me, they probably heard me say this about twenty times. Despite being an unbiased Big J, I still did react to the very little things.

But this is something that’s really important long term. Butler has to adjust. This is what all teams will be looking to do. Penn State is the first big test, and there’s a legit shot they’re starting a 6’8” center. So, yeah they’re going to spread you out and look to knock down shots. This is a clear weakness that Tiffin exploited, I’m curious to see if/how Coach Matta adjusts. *Note: I’m writing this before Game Two*

Here were my other two halftime notes. Hunter really controlled the game, and the momentum changed when he got subbed in. He was clearly the best player in this first half and really showed out. He was a much-needed calming presence and will be a very key factor for the ‘Dogs this season. He showed that he really found his role on this team.

But, oh mercy I know it’s an exhibition, but if my dad saw that level of free throw shooting from my fourth-grade rec league team, we would’ve been running suicides at halftime. So, please make your free throws, thanks.

*Side Note*: This actually happened to my AAU team (low level, we stunk) at halftime and it was incredibly embarrassing. We deserved it, too. There was no shot I was ever letting that happen again.

Tiffin came out of the halftime break firing and actually took the lead at one point. But, Simas Lukosius got subbed in and made things right. This was the start of an absolutely excellent second half from the sophomore.

This was awesome.

Simas took over and changed this game. He was far and away the best player in the second half. 17 of his 20 points came in this second half. He was absolutely magnificent in this half. He was scoring effectively at all three levels and took control of a game where Butler was looking for a consistent scoring option. He was excellent.

The Dawgs went small, and this lineup seemed to be to counter the perimeter switching, but Bates was still getting switched onto guards, who would separate and knock down mid-range jumpers over him. This was consistent for the Tiffin guards all game long. This was the majority of the Tiffin offense.

A rough game one, no need to sugarcoat it. Not the easiest one to look back on, it was a boring slog of a game. Butler had two stretches where they went on runs, but other than that this game was very even. A win is a win, but I was really hoping for a showcase. A little too similar to last year's Tiffin game, where Butler also won by ten points.

A couple of Additional Notes, I didn’t bring up earlier.

  1. Holy crap we got outrebounded by Tiffin. COME ON. If you’re getting beat on the outside, you HAVE to make them pay inside. Bates and Wilmoth had very clear size advantages. You absolutely have to take advantage of that. Getting outrebounded here is insane. That’s incredibly alarming. Tiffin was able to win the second chance battle here, too. Holy crap. Just insane. Easily the worst thing to come out of this game.

  2. Tempo. Butler took 62 shots this game. That was more than all but two games last season. Both of those games went to overtime, and neither surpassed 64 attempts. The Dogs are playing at a faster pace this season. That’s for sure.

  3. Injuries: Ali Ali didn’t play. Hopefully, he returns at full strength ASAP. He’s pretty clearly the starting four for this team.

Ok, that’s it for Game One. All written before I saw Game Two. Here’s what I was watching for come Game Two.

Saying this game went significantly better, might actually be an understatement.

A quick starting lineup change, due to Myles Wilmoth’s injury. I do wonder if this switch sticks if Ali Ali does miss the season opener against New Orleans. The four-guard lineup looked alright in Game One, and they really brought it against Davenport, who might be a better team than Tiffin, considering they made the D2 Tournament last season. I spent a good twenty minutes before game time trying to find their conference's preseason coaches poll, to no avail, so I can't be sure of how good they're supposed to be.

A name misspell you moron? You can't be a true Big J Journo making these mistakes smh

A much more entertaining game than the first, in part due to what felt like a blazing fast pace, but actually really wasn't. Marcedus Leech Jr. really stood out for Davenport, he was their clear focal point offensively. He hit some really tough shots and made a couple of really nice plays. Once the Bulldogs keyed in on him, the game completely changed.

Leech had 11 at the U12 of the first half and didn’t score again until the 7:26 mark of the second half. Eric Hunter and Jayden Taylor accepted the matchup and made sure he was going to work for every touch he got. They did an excellent job of denying Leech aggressively, and when he would get the ball, everyone would fully commit to helping on drives and force him to pass the ball. At this media timeout, it was 21-18 Dogs, in a very competitive ball game. After this change, Butler never looked back.

The Dogs had 23 fastbreak points yesterday, compared to only 7 against Tiffin. Part of this was due to the ‘Dogs newfound incredibly aggressive defense. They were in passing lanes, harassing every ball handler, not giving Davenport a moment to breathe or get set. Davenport was really struggling to get into their sets, and the Dawgs made them pay, forcing 20 Davenport turnovers, led by four steals from Chuck Harris.

Everything was just so much better from the last game. Halftime hit, and you felt the energy of this game was so different. Butler was playing such high-energy basketball, intense defense, relentlessly attacking the glass and attacking the cup with reckless abandon. The ‘Dogs did an excellent job on the Davenport star, limiting him to five points in the last 32 minutes and making him much more of a facilitator, which isn't his natural role.

That ball was moving tonight and it was a sight to see. Against Tiffin, the offense felt really rigid, and the game was pretty tough to watch. Tonight the offense was free-flowing, players were moving, the ball was moving, just everything about it was beautiful. The Dogs ended with 25 assists on 39 made shots, meaning that 64% of their buckets were assisted. Comparing that to 7 assists of the 29 buckets against Tiffin (24%), it really felt like a completely different team. It was a well-oiled machine tonight against Davenport.

Around this point, the game turned into a highlight fest. Davenport was playing scared. They were afraid to go up for open looks and played very hesitant. The Dogs broke them and really turned up. Great defense which led to runouts, leading to highlights. In the halfcourt, there were a couple of beautiful passes for layups or dunks too, which just made it that much better. It was a complete offensive performance, where Butler only shot 5/18 from three. That’s only going to get better.

"Whatever you can do I can do too" sounds so dumb I love it. I didn't want to say the word better, because well the halfcourt lob was better, so that's what I went with. Great call imo.

The Dawgs ended with 11 dunks. There were throwdowns coming from just about everyone. Pierce Thomas got UP a couple of times. He can straight-up fly. It was an excellent mix of high-flying, non-stop action. It was excellent.

Yep, I put Tiffin in that tweet instead of Davenport. I did that. As the great Jim Calhoun says:

This game sooo much better than the last one. That one was really hard to look back on, this one was electric. This was a statement game. This was complete domination after that U12 timeout in the first half. A huge adjustment from the team turned into an absolutely massive victory.

A couple of notes on recapping both games:

  1. Is the high-energy defense going to be consistent this season, or was that just because Matta gave them an ass-kicking in the post-game presser and probably in practice?

  2. I thought Tiffin had a much better game plan than Davenport. Both teams wanted to slow the game down, but Tiffin used switches to create mismatches while Davenport really tried to attack one on one a whole bunch.

    1. Part of this could be that they don’t have the roster for that game plan, but they didn’t really run a ton of actions to free up Leech. Maybe the team was just rattled, but they could’ve done a bit more here. They ran a pick-and-pop twice early on in the game, and both times it generated a wide-open three for their big man, who knocked one down. I don’t think they ever went back to it. Maybe because Butler prevented them from doing so, but I would think they should’ve attacked more here. Also, Butler played a ton of four-guard lineups, so maybe that was it, too.

  3. Tempo: Both games were played at the 70/71 possession mark, which is over six possessions higher than last year's average tempo. I also think both Tiffin and Davenport were trying to slow the game down, which made these games a tad slower.

  4. Rebounding: I’m still a little worried here. Rebounding was a big-time team effort here, with everyone crashing the glass. Getting outrebounded by Tiffin is still flat-out embarrassing. I feel like I kinda glossed over that one. It's insane. That can't happen, period. If you play like that against Adama Sanogo? GG. You can't play soft inside in this league. You will get beat, no question about that.

So, those are my thoughts. Game two was leaps and bounds better than Game one. Hopefully, regular season game one is better than both.

Box Scores for both games

They're different, sue me, it's what I got


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