Butler may be in the Big East these days, but the past 2 weeks have felt more like the Horizon League. For the fourth straight game Butler has cruised for an easy victory, pushing their conference record to 7-4, tied for 4th in the Big East. Kelan Martin scored 26 points to lead Butler to an 80-57 victory over DePaul at Hinkle Fieldhouse. Paul Jorgensen scored 13 while Sean McDermott and Kamar Baldwin each added 10. The Bulldogs moved the ball well to the tune of 19 assists on 27 made baskets.
He may not have dropped 37 points this game, but this was one of Kelan's most complete games of the year. In addition to his 26 points on 7-13 shooting he also had 6 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 blocks, and 2 steals while only turning the ball over once. Those are All-American type numbers, and he's starting to put games like this together with more consistency. It's not secret his ability to string together high level games will be essential if Butler wants to make a run in either tournament.
I've written numerous times about how Butler's ability to generate turnovers has disappeared since conference play started. It was back tonight. DePaul coughed the ball up 23 times and Butler capitalized for 27 points off those turnovers. It all started with pressure on the Blue Demon guards that took them out of their offensive rhythm. Overall the Butler defense surrendered only 0.75 points per possession. It was the 4th straight game Butler has prevented their opponents from scoring over 1 point per possession. This quality of defense will win Butler some tournament games.
NCAA Tournament Lock?
Butler certainly has higher aspirations than simply making the NCAA tournament at this point. You have to get there first, and this win may have done just that. Beating DePaul at home isn't going to improve Butler's seed line any, but it eliminates the potential for a bad loss. It's getting harder and harder to draw up realistic scenarios where Butler misses the tournament. When the metrics update tomorrow I would expect Butler's tournament odds to be above 95%. Butler probably only needs 2 more wins the rest of the year to get in, and 3 would almost certainly seal the deal.
If feels like a long time ago when Butler's biggest weakness was thought to be their lack of depth. Sean McDermott and Henry Baddley have stepped up in a big way to give Butler huge minutes on the wing. McDermott scored 10 points today after scoring 13 points on the road against Marquette. Both bring much more than scoring though. Baddley is a top notch defender and McDermott is one of the better hustle players in the league. Kelan Martin and Kamar Baldwin will continue to draw the headlines but it's players like these two that are the reason Butler is a top 25 team in the country.
It's a rivalry match up next for the Bulldogs. Xavier comes into Hinkle Fieldhouse on Tuesday looking to pay back Butler for last year's regular season sweep. Butler fell to Xavier 86-79 for their first Big East loss earlier this season. This game will be a huge boost for someone as both teams fight for preferential seeding in the NCAA tournament.