There may be no such thing as a flawless start, but Butler came pretty close to open the season. The Bulldogs scored 20 points prior to the first media timeout and cruised to an 82-64 victory from there. Kelan Martin led Butler with 20 points and 9 rebounds, while Paul Jorgensen scored 14 and Tyler Wideman added 13.
Offensive Execution Was A Tale Of Two Halves
The Bulldogs looked perfectly in sync on offense regardless of the type of defense Kennesaw State threw at them in the first half. They scored 48 points on 56% shooting and had 11 assists to only 5 turnovers in the first half. It looked like they've been playing together under LaVall Jordan for years. Then the Bulldogs got lackadaisical in the second half. They settled for quicker jump shots, hitting only 44% for the half and only tallied 6 assists. Hopefully this was simply Butler getting lazy with a big lead and not an indication of a larger issue. After Kennesaw State cut the lead to 10 the Bulldogs picked up their intensity and starting getting to the rim and earning trips to the line.
Butler Pushed The Pace
Coach Jordan has said he wants to play faster, and Butler did just that. The 76 possession this game were more than all but one game last year (110-86 victory against St. John's). They played up in the passing lanes and got 9 steals that helped lead to some easy baskets on the other end. Butler also pushed the ball off a miss and ended up with 12 fast break points on the night. For the most part Butler stayed under control though, and rarely forced the issue. If they can continue to play faster while not losing discipline it will greatly benefit this offense.
Points In The Paint
The Bulldogs dominated points in the paint, although not necessarily by feeding the big guys down low. Butler's guards got into the lane off the bounce with relative ease and created scoring opportunities for themselves and others. They scored 50 points in the paint and got to the line frequently for 23 free throw attempts. They struggled mightily at the line though, converting on only 12 of those attempts (52%). Butler's guard heavy lineup looks capable of creating offense off the dribble more so than any of Butler's recent teams. We all know what Baldwin and Martin can do, but Aaron Thompson and Paul Jorgensen look like they will be able to contribute significantly in that area as well. That can be important on nights like tonight when the 3-point shot isn't falling (24%).
Baldwin Needs To, And Will, Be Better
This wasn't exactly a memorable start to the season for Butler star Kamar Baldwin. He had 7 points on 3-8 shooting and 3 assists as well as 3 turnovers and 4 fouls. He did pick up 2 steals, but his defense through foul trouble clearly wasn't where Butler needs it to be. Those aren't horrid numbers, but for Butler to continue their success in the Big East and the NCAA tournament he needs to be an All Big-East caliber player, and he simply wasn't tonight. The good news is both Thompson and Jorgensen looked excellent around Baldwin at the guard position. If they can continue to perform at this level as the competition increases it will take a lot of pressure off Baldwin.
There's little rest for the Bulldogs. The challenge intensifies with a solid Princeton team coming to town on Sunday to open their season. The Tigers are coming off a 23 win season where they swept through the Ivy League and made the NCAA tournament. This will be the first true test for the Bulldogs.