Ball St.-Butler Preview
After coming within inches of winning the national championship in April, Butler began this season intent on proving its remarkable postseason run was no fluke.
Coach Brad Stevens' team is hoping that's all its latest game was.
Coming off the worst loss of Stevens' tenure, the 16th-ranked Bulldogs try to bounce back Saturday afternoon at Hinkle Fieldhouse as they look to top in-state rival Ball State for a seventh consecutive season.
Butler (1-1) knew some viewed its march to the Final Four as nothing more than an aberration, and the loss of leading scorer Gordon Hayward certainly didn't help that perception going into this season.
Shelvin Mack scored 20 points in an 83-54 season-opening rout of NAIA opponent Marian last Saturday, but the Bulldogs' first true test proved to be too much to handle. Louisville raced to an 18-point halftime lead Tuesday and led by as many as 24 in the second half of an 88-73 win.
"I think people will say Butler is not as good as advertised, that Louisville exposed Butler," Bulldogs guard Ronald Nored. "Louisville played really well. We really weren't focused on our jobs. We can't do that. We have to play better basketball. That's the bottom line."
Butler lost by more than 10 points for the first time in Stevens' three-plus seasons at the helm, allowing its most points in a regulation game since 1999.
"We've got a lot of room to get better," Stevens said. "If we hang our heads, we're not going to get better, and if we chalk it up as just another game, we're not going to get better. We've got to learn from what we didn't do well and move forward. You know, we didn't set the world on fire last November."
Stevens was referring to losses to Minnesota and Clemson, the first two of Butler's four non-conference defeats before Christmas. After that, it embarked on a 25-game winning streak that lasted until the national title game against Duke, with Hayward's potential game-winning half-court shot at the buzzer bouncing off the rim.
The Bulldogs haven't had any problems beating Ball State (2-0) in recent years. Butler has held the Cardinals to an average of 50.0 points in winning the last six meetings, including a defensive clinic in last season's 59-38 victory in Muncie.
Mack and center Matt Howard combined for 26 points in that win, and they accounted for 48 in the loss at Louisville.
That's left Stevens desperate for a third option offensively, particularly considering Howard's penchant for finding foul trouble. The Bulldogs are hoping freshman forward Khyle Marshall, who's averaged 6.0 points in his first two games, eventually fills that role.
Ball State, meanwhile, was favored to win the Mid-American Conference's West Division, and it's off to a solid start thanks partly to Jauwan Scaife. The sophomore guard scored 19 points in a season-opening 77-46 rout of Eastern Illinois on Sunday, then had a career-high 24 in Wednesday's 65-60 win over Indiana State.
Scaife, who started 29 of 30 games as a freshman, had a performance to forget against Butler. He had three points and three of Ball State's 18 turnovers in 21 minutes.