Gordon Hayward is one of the best players in Butler basketball history. If he’s not the best, he has to be in the top five. Hayward helped lead the Bulldogs to one of the most improbable NCAA tournament runs, taking Duke to the final buzzer. Everyone will remember Hayward’s college legacy by his famous heave that almost went in. The sound of the ball clanking and rolling off the front rim is etched in the memory of many fans. He was the guy for Butler and was the go to guy offensively. The supporting cast was great. but there was no doubt that Hayward was the man. That was back in 2010, when Butler was still a team from the Horizon League. Now, six years later and in a new conference, they find themselves in a similar position with Kelan Martin.
Martin’s play caught a lot of people by surprise. He was given a sixth-man type role. Come off the bench and give the team some pop while main scorers Kellen Dunham and Roosevelt Jones can rest. But, Martin slowly started playing like Butler’s best offensive player, especially in Big East play where the games get harder. Martin averaged 17.1 points in Big East play while shooting 41% from the field. Along with that he was also a presence on the boards, averaging 7.1 rebounds per game. After only averaging 7.1 points last season, he doubled his scoring output and soon Butler was relying on Martin to lead the way. His highest moment came against Georgetown when he dropped 35 points on the Hoyas.
His impact offensively was glaring against Virginia in the NCAA tournament. Martin only scored six points and couldn’t get the ball to just go into the basket. He had eight field goal attempts, a big dip from his previous games. Butler fell short of upsetting the #1 team in their bracket and you could point to Martin’s lack of output as a reason to. You could also look at the fact that he didn’t have the ball in his hands a lot. But this year, there is no excuses for Martin. This is his team now.
This year Butler will have to cope with losing two senior leaders in Dunham and Jones. Both were instrumental to what Butler did offensively. Dunham was the sharpshooter whose deadly accuracy from three made it impossible for teams to even think about going under on a screen for him. Jones was Mr. Do-it-all for Butler. He handled the ball up the court and although his jump shot was not great, he was strong enough to get to the rim and finish in the paint. He was a pure guard-forward hybrid. Replacing both will be hard in terms of offensive output. Especially Jones, who was great at creating offense for Butler. Thankfully for the Bulldogs, that’s Martin’s strength as well.
The one thing about Kelan Martin that makes him dangerous offensively, is his ability to create his own shot. He’s a very good shooter in the midrange game and can hit a quick shot off the dribble or off the catch. He uses ball screens well and is able to create separation between him and his man to get enough space to shoot. His three-point shot isn’t automatic but he has shown improvement from deep in his two years with the Bulldogs. Martin also can punish defenders in the paint with his ability to score at the rim. However, with defenses game planning for him more this year, he will have to get more creative. Maybe using multiple ball screens to get open, or just simply making the tough basket. Martin is a pure scorer and can put the ball in the basket, but he will have to get better this year because he’s taking anyone by surprise.
He will also have to come up in crunch time like Jones did. That will be the key for Butler coming into this season. There will be a lot of games for the Bulldogs that will come down to the wire and they will need someone to make the tough shot or the tough play. Martin has to be that guy.
The Big East will be tough and hard to get a grasp of. After Villanova and Xavier, the rest is up for grabs. A number of Big East teams can finish right behind the two giants, Butler included. Right now the Bulldogs are a NCAA bubble team and their standing in conference play and in the Big East tournament will be key in their quest for a bid. If they want a ticket to the Big Dance, Kelan Martin is going to have to hit a new level. He’s got that in him.