Entering the Old Spice Classic in late November, the Butler Bulldogswere a team in search of an identity. Their first road game the Saturday before had very nearly ended in defeat--a 59-58 survival against a struggling Ball State program. Without last year's head coach and with their top returning player sidelined indefinitely, the Bulldogs struggled to get back to "The Butler Way."
Three days in Orlando turned things around.
The first, a narrow 76-69 victory over Washington State, showed off Butler's two stars on a national stage. Kellen Dunhamand Khyle Marshallcombined for 62 points, with Dunham's 32 marking a new tournament record. But it was the two games to follow that set Butler on its recent run of success. Heartbreaking losses to Oklahoma State and LSU provided a chance for the Bulldogs' role players to step into the limelight. Lesser-known defenders Alex Barlow andKameron Woods provided double-digit scoring efforts to offset the stars' poor shooting nights.
Since then, Barlow and Woods have seen their effort pay off on the other end of the court. Burdened by surprisingly weak defensive performances in the first few weeks of the season, Butler has now held three straight opponents to less than a point per possession. Purdue's offensive efficiency on Saturday was its second-worst of the year. Suddenly the program that saw its Final Four runs propelled by a commitment to man defense has its focus back.
Big East foes are noticing. This week, two blogs ranked Butler 3rdand 4th in the Big East (check out the Casual Hoya rankings for some good analysis of how Georgetown views Butler). The team that entered the season as the consensus pick to wind up 9th is hitting its stride at a good time. Next is a chance to make no
Kellen Dunham became the first Butler player to be named Big East Player of the Week following his 25 point performance against Purdue in the Crossroads Classic. He also added four rebounds. Dunham is now second in the Big East in scoring, behind Doug McDermott, and fourth in three-point percentage.
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