Butler home after bouncing into poll with wins over Arizona, Utah
INDIANAPOLIS - The Butler University basketball team is coming off huge wins over No. 16 Arizona in the Las Vegas Invitational championship Nov. 25 and then at Utah on Monday.
So Butler coach Chris Holtmann is hoping for no letdown when his No. 18 Bulldogs (7-0) are home to face Central Arkansas (1-6) at 4 p.m. (EDT) at Hinkle Fieldhouse.
"Central Arkansas is a team that has been able to score really well. They've been good offensively," Holtmann said. "Right now you want to have a good understanding of the opponent. You also want to really focus on your team's improvement and your team's growth. That's our dual focus as we continue to play non-league games."
The Bears are averaging 70.7 points per game on 42.0 percent shooting. In addition to their scoring, Holtmann said the Bears play a matchup zone that Butler needs to be prepared to face.
Another focus is Holtmann doesn't want his team looking ahead to some key upcoming dates at in-state rival Indiana State (Wednesday), hosting Cincinnati (Dec. 10) and playing No. 13 Indiana University (Dec. 17) in the Crossroads Classic in Indianapolis.
"The challenge is we did not play well last year when we came back after being gone for a week to Puerto Rico," Holtmann said. "Our guys are aware of that and I think you try to stress to your guys that this is about playing to the standard and expectation that we have on every possession. That's what we're trying to do, regardless of the opponent. That's our focus. Quality teams may not have their A game every night. There is competitiveness, awareness and an attention to detail every night and that's what it needs to be."
Butler is off to its best start since beginning the 2008-09 season 8-0. The Bulldogs are led by junior forward Kelan Martin, who is averaging a team-high 16.4 points.
Butler is hitting 50.4 percent of its shots while holding opponents to 40.6 percent.
"Six of our 11 guys haven't played in a Butler uniform before, so that's over half the team, so we knew we would have difficult moments this year going through some growing pains," Holtmann said. "What I've been pleased with most is we've been able to weather those difficult moments and able to respond to some game adversity and come back with the right approach. That's allowed us to win some close games."
Despite losing six of seven, all on the road, Central Arkansas lost by just two points (49-47) at No. 17 Wisconsin Nov. 11 and 12 (102-90) at Oklahoma State Nov. 14.
Junior guard Jordan Howard leads the Bears with a 16.3 scoring average, just a tick ahead of senior guard Derreck Brooks' 16.2 average.
Thursday, Central Arkansas started strong, taking a 37-30 lead at half-time at Southeast Missouri. The Bears then were outscored 36-1 to open the second half and lost 87-63.
"Like we tell the guys all the time, you just have to learn how to win," Bears coach Russ Pennell said. "It's not about talent, it's not basketball plays. It's the other stuff. It's the loose ball. It's standing in the right place, all the positioning stuff, rebounding."
In the team's 81-76 victory over Army, Pennell said his team did those things.