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Weekly Progress Report: Butler Bulldogs

Notes on Alex Barlow and Butler's season so far following the Old Spice Classic.

Frank Victores-US PRESSWIRE

Alex Barlow won't fill up a stat sheet.

The Butler Bulldogs' junior point guard averages 6.4 points and 3.3 assists per game through seven contests. Last Friday's loss to Oklahoma State marked just the third double-digit scoring performance of his career, not impressive from someone who has started 30 games in the past two seasons.

What Barlow does well isn't always apparent in a box score. He's a shutdown defender, expending energy on the defensive end to make up for a lack of major conference athleticism. With rules changes cutting down on hand-checks this season, some thought that Barlow's physical nature (4+ fouls in four games) would eliminate his effectiveness on the floor.

Instead, Barlow has developed into one of the ball-handling point guards in the Big East. Second in the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio, he embodies what Butler does best as a team: not turning the ball over. The Bulldogs rank second in the nation in turnover percentage with Barlow among three Butler players in the top 15 of the Big East in that statistic.

Against Oklahoma State and LSU in the Old Spice Classic, Barlow showed off an improved jumper as well. His 21 points in the two games came on 5-of-8 shooting from three-point range. Still not enough to carry the offense to a win, but plenty dangerous when left alone beyond the arc.

Despite the foul trouble, Barlow has also kept up his intensity on defense. He's second in the Big East in steal percentage. As a team, Butler leads the conference in steals per possession. With his continued quiet effectiveness, Barlow has established himself as a point guard to watch in Big East play this season.

Lessons from the first two losses-

Butler dropped games against quality opponents in Oklahoma State and LSU at the Old Spice Classic. Despite having chances to win each contest, the Bulldogs gave up two opportunities for a statement win early in the year.

Against Oklahoma State, senior Khyle Marshall clanked a pair of free throws that would have given Butler a win over a top five team. Foul shooting as a team has improved slightly since the beginning of the year but the Bulldogs still rank 272nd in free throw percentage. More than anything, you've gotta make it when it counts. Marshall's 57.5 percent line for the season begs the question of whether coach Brandon Miller can keep one of his best players on the floor in crunch time.

The LSU loss will be remembered for the decision not to foul when up three in the closing seconds of regulation. Miller commented that he didn't want to turn the game into a free throw shooting contest (see above), but clearly giving up a game tying shot was not the best plan. Of course, Butler doesn't keep the game close without out-rebounding the Tigers by 12. Marshall and Kellen Dunham, the team's heroes against Washington State, combined to make 30 percent of their shot attempts inside the arc. That's a formula for a sure loss on most nights.

After a 1-2 week, Butler actually moved up a spot in Ken Pomeroy's rankings to 58th (5th in the Big East). With two losses on impressive showings against top competition, the Bulldogs are clearly still an unfinished product. Still, they look much more like a tournament team than most people expected at the beginning of the season.