17 November 2009

Better Know an Opponent: Butler University

On Wednesday November 18 at 7pm Central, NU takes on Butler University ("Butler") in its second game of the 2009-10 men's basketball season. The game is at the Welsh and will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network (check your cable/satellite/fiber optic service provider for details on the channel).

Butler Quick Facts:
Location: Indianapolis, IN
Nickname: Bulldogs
Coach: Brad Stevens
National Rankings: AP #11, Coaches #10
Team Colors: Blue and White
Conference: Horizon League
Student Population: 4K (undergrad and grad)
Most Famous Alum: Tony Hinkle (former basketball coach for 41 years, invented the orange basketball, namesake of Butler’s Hinkle Fieldhouse)
Other Notable Alums: Thad Matta (former basketball headcoach, now at OSU), Scott Drew (former basketball headcoach, now at Baylor), Todd Lickliter(former basketball headcoach, now at Iowa), and Dave Calabro (track announcer at the Indianaplis Motor Speedway)

Butler is like Northwestern in some ways. Butler was founded and opened its doors in 1855 (Northwestern was founded in 1851 and opened its doors in 1855). Butler was originally known as North Western Christian University while NU got its name as it was intended to serve the people of what was once known as the Northwest Territory.

Butler is unlike Northwestern in many more ways. NU’s total enrollment of 18.5K students dwarfs Butler’s 4K student population. Butler is a liberal arts university while NU is a research university (which partly explains the difference in student population sizes). And then there is the tiny bit of difference in basketball tradition…

First, we have the arenas. Once upon a time, Butler’s home court, Hinkle Fieldhouse, was the largest college basketball arena in the land. Now, it reverently considered one of the great cathedrals of college basketball and was the filming location of the Indiana State Championships in Hoosiers. The Welsh has its charms and can be a real snake pit, but there frankly is little comparison here.

Then there is Butler’s basketball tradition. Butler had a nice run in the late 60s-early 70s but then went dormant until this past decade. Over the past decade, Butler has become one of the preeminent “mid-majors”. Butler’s high water market to date came in 2006-07 when Todd Lickliter coached them to a #5 seed and earned himself some national coach of the year hardware. This year looks to be even more promising as the squad is currently ranked around #10 in the land. We are well aware of how NU’s basketball tradition, or lack thereof, pales in comparison. ‘nuf said.

Butler plays in the Horizon League and is widely considered the favorite to win its league. Significantly, Butler returns everyone from its squad from last year that earned a #9 seed in the NCAA tournament before bowing out to LSU in the first round. Butler is led by junior forward Matt Howard (14.8 ppg, 6.8 rpg last year) who is the Horizon’s League’s reigning player of the year. Sophomore forward Gordon Hayward (13.1 ppg, 6.5 rpg) was first team all conference and earned newcomer of the year. Sophomore guard Shelvin Mack (11.9 ppg 4.4 rpg 3.5 apg) also was on the conference all newcomer team. Rounding out the Bulldog starting five are PG Ronald Nored (2.7 apg) and senior forward Willie Veasley (8.9 ppg, 4.3 rpg).

NU and Butler battled last season at Hinkle Fieldhouse. NU held a 36-27 halftime lead but could not hold on for the victory in the second half (a sign of things to come last season). NU shot well in the game, going 8-17 from distance. Ultimately, Butler took advantage of an uncharacteristically high number of NU turnovers (17) and its aggressive play (Butler made 17 FTs to NU’s 3) to will itself to a 5 point victory. NU standouts in the game were Juice, Moore, and Peljusic.

Based simply on additions and losses from last year’s squads, this game does not shape up well for NU. Gone for NU are Moore, Coble, and Ryan with a question mark as to Nash’s availability (word is that he is cleared to go but we shall see…). Butler has its entire squad back. In NU’s favor are home court advantage and its underdog status. Plus, Hayward and Mack were already coming into their own early last year while Shurna, Mirk, and Rowley were all pretty raw in what was only their second road game (ok this last bit is a stretch).

I don’t think any NU fan is feeling too good about NU’s chances in this game. Hopefully this allows NU to play loose and knock a talented Butler squad back onto its heels through some intense defense, aggressive offensive rebounding, and strong takes to the hoop.

Gentlemen, start your engines!