Butler’s first test against an A-10 opponent as part of the conference wasn’t, in fact, a league game at all.
Playing what amounted to a non-conference game against a conference foe, the Bulldogs got their first taste of their new league on Tuesday in Cincinnati. It wasn’t a pleasant one.
In a match-up planned specifically for the College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon as a non-conference match-up, long before Butler officially joined the A-10, Xavier welcomed the newest league member with a large serving of humble pie. Jeff Robinson led the way with 17 points and Travis Taylor added 15 as the new-look Musketeers thrashed the cold-shooting Bulldogs, 62-47, at the Cintas Center.
Butler shot a shade better than 36-percent from the floor, 22-percent from behind the arc and a paltry 42-percent from the free throw line. Rotnei Clarke, the former Arkansas 3-point assassin who will play the point for Brad Stevens, was off all night. Clarke hit just one of his seven 3-point attempts.
Senior center Andrew Smith and junior forward Khyle Marshall, both counted upon to assume leadership roles on this year’s squad, were non-factors. Neither upperclassman has made the necessary developments to his game over the last two years. Without marked improvements from each player, the Bulldogs will never climb out of the middle of a deep A-10.
The lone bright spot for the Bulldogs was freshman sharpshooter Kellen Dunham. The state of Indiana’s leading scorer as a high school senior followed up his 18-point debut on Saturday with 11 more on Tuesday. If Dunham, who will likely replace Chase Stigall in the starting lineup sooner than later, can sustain this level of scoring over the full year, he’ll take a little bit of the scoring onus off Clarke and allow the Arkansas transfer to play more like a point.
It’s a difficult catch-22 Stevens must navigate this season: while it needs Rotnei Clarke to run point, Butler also needs Clarke’s shooting spark and high-scoring ability unbecoming of a pure point guard.
Xavier, meanwhile, sure looked good for a team that had to replace its entire starting-five from last year’s team. Robinson was sensational and Taylor backed up a dominant opening game performance with an equally impressive encore against a pesky Butler defense.
The most impressive part about this win for the Musketeers? With a fresh starting lineup and just two games into the season, the team still managed to shoot 50-percent from the floor against a veteran-laden, defensive-minded team.
If you didn’t know any better, there’d be no way of telling by watching Tuesday’s game that Butler, not Xavier, was the team returning six of its top eight players and adding the nation’s top transfer shooter.