The Butler Bulldogs fell apart down the stretch against Xavier. Leading by five at halftime, Butler was outscored 15-4 in the final six minutes of the game and lost 79-68.
One factor in the late-game collapse was fatigue. Top scorer Kellen Dunham logged 38 minutes, his fifth straight contest playing 35 minutes or more. Fellow starter Kameron Woods has logged 35+ minutes in four of the past five contests and played 37 minutes on Saturday.
Butler has relied on its starters to log nearly three-quarters of the team's minutes, good for second-most in the Big East. That's a significant change from the past two seasons when Brad Stevens' squads finished in the middle of the pack for bench minutes in the Horizon League and Atlantic 10.
An increased reliance on a core group of players raises questions over whether a short bench will lead to dead legs for shooters like Dunham. At first glance, bench minutes seemed to have little or no effect on team success in the Big East last season.
Bench Minutes Rank
The wide disparity in rotation size indicates that quality of talent outweighed depth in the Big East last season. But did a heavy reliance on starters still play a factor?
Last year, three Big East teams finished 300th or lower in bench minutes (Butler currently ranks 301st). Those teams combined for a 36-18 (0.667) conference record. They finished the regular season 8-7 (0.533), dragged down mostly by the Orange coming apart at the end of the year. In the postseason, Syracuse, Georgetown, and Notre Dame combined to go 10-6 (0.625). This time, Syracuse led the way with their typical Madison Square Garden heroics and Final Four bid while the Irish and the Hoyas fell flat.
With only one of these three teams joining the new Big East and dealing with a relatively small sample size, its hard to argue conclusively that Butler's short bench will be an issue in late February and March. However, the Bulldogs should still be careful to avoid falling into the same fatigue trap that caused, at least in part, one-and-done NCAA trips for Notre Dame and Georgetown a year ago.
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