By Jon Rothstein
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Be afraid America — be very afraid.
They don’t have the cache that they’ve enjoyed the previous two seasons and they don’t possess a dominant wing scorer like Gordon Hayward or Shelvin Mack — but aside from that, Butler is still Butler — and that’s a scary thing for the rest of college basketball.
After a sporadic start to the season that saw the Bulldogs possess a 5-7 record after 12 games, Brad Stevens’ team has recently found their stride. Butler has now has five consecutive victories heading into Friday’s showdown with Horizon League regular season champion Valparaiso.
“I did think it would take a while to find some rhythm and part of that is our schedule,” Stevens said. “We challenged ourselves early and we did that intentionally. We want our kids to be prepared for what’s at hand over the next month. We miss Shelvin’s scoring ability at the end of the shot clock and it took a while to adjust to that, but I’m still very excited about where we’re going.”
While the future remains uncertain for Butler, the biggest difference between this team and the one we saw the past two years is this group isn’t star driven. There is no Mack, Hayward, or Matt Howard, whom Stevens said could be “the best four year player ever to play at Butler”. Instead there’s a semblance of parts headlined by some familiar faces.
Back from last year’s team that reached the National Championship game are veterans Ronald Nored, Khyle Marshall, and Andrew Smith but the biggest difference maker for the Bulldogs recently has been freshman small forward Roosevelt Jones. A brute force at 6-foot-4, Jones resembles more of a linebacker than he does a wing.
“He’s a unique basketball player,” Stevens said of Jones. “He’s not an enormous scorer but he’s a terrific defender. He can play anywhere. We showed him clips of Anthony Mason to give him an idea of the type of player we’d like him to become and the type of facilitator we think he can be.”
In addition to Jones, Stevens loves freshman forward Kameron Woods, whom he said “could be one of the best defenders ever to play at Butler”, as well as sophomore Erik Fromm, whose helped the Bulldogs with his outside shooting.
At 18-12, Butler still clearly needs to win the Horizon League Conference Tournament to reach the NCAAs — but that’s a scenario that this group has been known to relish.
“In my five years as head coach here, every year but one we’ve played our best basketball in March,” Stevens said. “This team is trending in that direction.”
What do you predict for Butler? Sound off below!