Busting Brackets

Butler Basketball: 3 takeaways from another 20-point loss to Providence

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - DECEMBER 06: Chuck Harris #3 of the Butler Bulldogs dribbles the ball to the basket during the first half in the game against the Yale Bulldogs at Hinkle Fieldhouse on December 06, 2022 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - DECEMBER 06: Chuck Harris #3 of the Butler Bulldogs dribbles the ball to the basket during the first half in the game against the Yale Bulldogs at Hinkle Fieldhouse on December 06, 2022 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images) /

Butler Basketball lost their third straight Big East contest, this time to Providence. Here are three takeaways from yet another 20-point loss for Thad Matta’s squad.

For the first time since Butler joined the Big East for the 2013-14 season, the Bulldogs are 0-3 to start their conference schedule. After two games against UConn and Creighton where Butler held its own for the first half and into the second, Providence quickly ran away from the home team inside Hinkle Fieldhouse cruising to a 72-52 victory. The Friars took a 46-18 lead into halftime thanks to a 25-3 run and never looked back.

The Bulldogs are now 8-6 on the season with zero wins against teams inside the top 50 at KenPom. They’ve lost their first three conference games by a combined 64 points. Let’s take a look at three takeaways as the Bulldogs watched another opportunity to get a quality win slip through the cracks.

1. Thad Matta might be onto something with his starting lineup change.

First-year head coach Thad Matta started the same five players each of the first 13 games of the season. Chuck Harris and Eric Hunter Jr. shared the backcourt alongside Jayden Taylor with Simas Lukosius starting at the four and Manny Bates anchoring the middle. Against the Friars, Matta made a lineup change inserting Georgia State transfer Jalen Thomas into the starting five. Thomas missed all of non-conference play after being diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism before the season started.

First of all, Thomas looks like he belongs in the Big East even as he knocks off the rust. His numbers won’t blow anyone away but in 46 minutes over the last two conference games, he has 20 points, seven rebounds, one assist and three blocks while going 8-of-12 from the floor. In his first start, it was clear the issues he and Manny Bates can create for opponents. Thomas had only taken 13 threes in his entire college career entering Thursday night. He calmly drilled a trifecta 22 seconds into Thursday’s game. If he can show any sort of consistency as a mid-range and outside threat, he and Bates can find a way to co-exist on the offensive end.

On the defensive end, there are arms and legs everywhere when those two bigs are on the floor together. Both players are known for their ability to contest and alter shots at the rim, but Thomas showed his ability to guard a player with the versatility of Bryce Hopkins early. He blocked a 3-point attempt from Hopkins 90 seconds into the game and then stopped Jared Bynum in a fast break situation moments later. His quickness as a big makes him malleable enough that he can play alongside Bates and create overwhelming size for opposing offenses.

Unfortunately, Bates picked up his second foul with 11:27 left in the first half sending him to the bench for a large portion of Providence’s first-half run. Butler’s problems go beyond the defensive end right now, but Bates and Thomas on the floor together provided some very interesting minutes with plenty of possibilities. The Bulldogs look like a different team with Bates and Thomas on the floor.

2. Offense looks so difficult for Butler for long stretches. And the conference numbers say the same.

In each of Butler’s first three Big East games, the Bulldogs have gone stretches where they just can’t buy a basket. Against UConn, they went six minutes without a point from 11:48 to 5:43 in the first half. To start the second half against Creighton over three and a half minutes ticked off the clock without Butler finding the bottom of the net.

The woes continued against Providence. With eight minutes left in the first half, Butler had already gone at least 3:20 without scoring on two separate occasions and they finished the first half with zero field goals in the final 6:34. It doesn’t take long to understand why these things are happening in Big East play. Through three Big East games – albeit against arguably three of the four best teams in the league – Butler is dead last at KenPom in offensive efficiency, effective field goal percentage, offensive rebounding rate, 2-point field goal percentage and  3-point field goal percentage.

In short, they’re not doing anything on even an average level relative to the rest of the Big East. Against the Friars, Butler was 2-of-16 from beyond the arc dropping their 3-point FG percentage to 16.7 percent. The Bulldogs have struggled rebounding the basketball all season and those struggles continue on both ends of the floor, especially on the offensive glass. There are places on offense to get easy baskets, up efficiency and just make life easier. Second chance opportunities. The charity stripe. And the 3-point line. Butler isn’t performing well in any of those categories and they don’t have any one player that is good enough on his own offensively to mitigate those shortcomings. Butler’s offense needs easy baskets and it’s not getting any of them.

Against Providence, the Bulldogs were 12 percent from beyond the arc, 62 percent from the free throw line and were outrebounded by 15 boards. At some point, Matta’s squad is going to have to figure out how to do at least one of those things well, consistently so they have some sort of foundation to fall back on when all else fails offensively.

3. Any possession where Chuck Harris doesn’t touch the basketball is a bad possession, regardless of outcome.

It’s a little ridiculous the Bulldogs are still coming to terms with it, but Chuck Harris is the most offensive player on the Butler roster and no one else is in the same zip code. Harris is the best scorer, on-ball creator and playmaker for the Bulldogs and he should be treated as such in the offense.

Did Harris have a great performance against the Friars? No. He had just 10 points on 3-of-11 shooting and he only took one shot in the first half. However, he did finish with four assists to just one turnover and in the second half showed exactly why he should touch the ball every time down the floor.

The reality of the situation is that Butler doesn’t have very many players that truly put a lot of pressure on the defense. When Harris has the ball in his hands, good things happen because of what he could do with it. He can get downhill and finish through and around contact. Even though his 3-point shooting percentage doesn’t jump off the page he is guarded like he can make any shot he takes from beyond the arc. In a matter of minutes early in the second half, Harris was responsible for a pair of layups, a dish to Thomas that should have resulted in another bucket and two different put-back layups that came from Harris shot attempts.

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Other players struggle to put consistent pressure on Butler’s opponents, Harris does that by default just by having the ball in his hands. Every possession should at the very least start with him because that gives the defense the most to think about each time down the floor.