By Jeff Goodman
It shocked me to hear the words.
"Our biggest deal all year has been our inability to shoot it. We're one of the lowest teams in the country in 3's."
That was courtesy of Brad Stevens.
We've all come to expect that if there's one thing Stevens and the Butler Bulldogs can do, it's shoot the you-know-what out of the ball.
But the Bulldogs are shooting a dismal 28 percent from beyond the arc this season. That checks in at 274th in the country. Wow.
"We're shooting it better lately," Stevens said. "It's just taking a while for guys to get comfortable in their new roles."
There's no star on this team. No Gordon Hayward. No Matt Howard. No Shelvin Mack.
Junior gig man Andrew Smith leads the team at 10.6 points per game. No one else is in double figures. Khyle Marshall (9.3 ppg, 3.9 rpg) is having a solid season, but hasn't quite delivered what some had hoped as a sophomore. Fellow sophomore Chrishawn Hopkins has been up-and-down while freshman Roosevelt Jones has started 24 games and will be a fixture for this program.
Butler goes into the regular-season finale at first-place Valparaiso with an 18-12 record and a half-game up on Cleveland State and Detroit for second place in the Horizon.
Can these guys make a run in the Horizon league tourney and get back into the NCAA tournament -- where the Bulldogs have become the nation's ultimate Cinderella story each of the past two years?
"The tourney is up for grabs," he said. "But our road to the league championship is a long one -- and that's not always advantageous."
The top two teams in the league earn a double-bye and right now Stevens didn't sound overly optimistic that the Bulldogs would be in that position. They lost both games to Detroit and split against Cleveland State -- the two teams that sit a half-game back at 10-6 in league play.
Stevens will lose just one player in the rotation off this year's team: Senior point guard and leader Ronald Nored. Look at his numbers and it doesn't appear that Stevens & Co., will have a tough time replacing the Alabama native, but Nored brings defense and all the intangibles that have made this program so successful over the last few years.
But Stevens will add someone that will immediately fix the team's perimeter shooting woes: Rotnei Clarke.
The Arkansas transfer is arguably the best long-range shooter in the country.
But that's next year -- and Stevens isn't quite ready to turn the page and give up on this group just yet.
After the last two seasons, who can blame him?