Tag:Cleveland State Vikings
Posted on: January 24, 2011 3:13 pm

Butler's down season is puzzling

Posted by Eric Angevine

Let’s get one thing straight: I did not expect Butler to dominate the Horizon League this season. I figured a road loss to Cleveland State was a likelihood, and was intrigued by the addition of Ray McCallum, Jr. to his father’s squad at Detroit. Clearly, there would be no 18-0 run through the conference. Still, I thought, the team has seniors, and some promising freshmen, and things would be OK.

Brad Stevens is puzzledNow, I’m not so sure. A sweep of the Bulldogs by Wisconsin-Milwaukee didn’t figure anywhere in my preseason musings. Right now, the top two teams in the Horizon are Valparaiso, under quiet coaching legend Homer Drew, and Cleveland State. Both teams are 7-2, with Butler and Wright State hanging a full game back at 6-3. That’s what makes this past weekend’s result so baffling: the Panthers aren’t even one of the Horizon’s best teams. They’re 5-5 overall, with two of those wins coming against the league’s rock stars from Indianapolis.

Sure, you can always say that the Bulldogs have a target on their backs, that they get an opponent’s best effort every game due to their NCAA championship game appearance to end last season, but that dawg don’t hunt. Butler has been the league bully for a decade now – they always get an opponent’s best effort. This year, they just don’t have the juice to withstand such efforts.

When I say ‘juice’, I mean defense. Brad Stevens (right) still has the best offensive team in the Horizon by a wide margin. The Bulldogs maintain a 114.3 adjusted offensive efficiency mark, which is nearly ten points better than Cleveland State, the next closest challenger. Looking at kenpom.com’s defensive efficiency numbers, however, Butler posts a 98.7. Defensive numbers are like golf scores – the lower the better. The Bulldogs have the worst number out of the league’s top four teams right now, and they’re inching toward the above-100 club, which features every member of the league’s bottom six, including Milwaukee.

If this trend of defensive futility continues, allowing Valpo and Cleveland State to hold onto the top two spots in the Horizon, Butler will be in a position they’re not at all familiar with – they’ll have to go on the road in the league tournament, which rewards the top two regular-season finishers with double byes and awards home court in the quarters and semis to the No 1 seed. The final is played at the venue of the highest remaining seed. There have been plenty of those games played in historic Hinkle Fieldhouse. This year, the conference’s auto-bid hopefuls may have to go through Cleveland, OH or Valparaiso, IN.

That’s what Butler is now: an auto-bid hopeful, just like everyone else in the Horizon. They don’t have the profile of an at-large team, no matter what they did in the non-conference portion of the schedule, and as of today, winning the Diamond Head Classic by beating Florida State and Washington State doesn’t look like much to brag on.

Beating Butler is great for the teams that have done so. The Bulldogs are a class act, and a worthy target for an ambitious team. Certainly nobody is going to give them a break. But this setback for the Bulldogs is also a setback for the Horizon League if the auto-bid goes to a team that gets blown out in the first round of the Big Dance. Beating Butler is a thrill, but it must inspire greater efforts down the road – reminiscent of recent appearances by Cleveland State (2007) and Milwaukee under Bruce Pearl  -- if it’s to be a harbinger of great things to come in the Horizon League.

Posted on: January 7, 2011 10:30 am
Edited on: January 7, 2011 10:45 am

Cleveland St. vs. Butler is game of the night

Posted by Eric Angevine

The Main Event

Friday is the night when mid-majors clash on television, and we have a doozy on tap for tonight. Cleveland State , currently 15-1 overall and 4-0 in conference, travels to historic Hinkle Fieldhouse with one goal in sight: to seize control of the Horizon League race.

Butler is 10-5 overall with an early conference loss to Milwaukee slotting them at 2-1 in league play. Public perception is leaning toward dismissing the national runners-up as legitimate NCAA contenders after a very uneven start to the season.

It's a statement game for both programs. Cleveland State wants to let the Horizon League and the world know that there's a new Sherriff in town. Butler wants to prove that they're still the law in this territory, even if there's a little tarnish on the badge.

Per kenpom.com, the Vikings have the most efficient defense in the league (92.6 adjusted defensive efficiency), but Butler comes in second at 94.5 . Offensively, the edge flip-flops, with Butler first and Cleveland State second. Looking a little bit closer, it's obvious that the Vikings are paced by backcourt players - they rarely turn the ball over and clamp down on opposing jump shooters with particular efficacy. They're not so great at snagging rebounds, however, and that's where the Bulldogs have a decided advantage. Matt Howard is a beast around the hoop, and he's starting to see significant help from 6-foot-11 sophomore Andrew Smith as well.

That's what's baffling about Butler's stumbles this season. They have the personnel, coaching and experience to avoid the pitfalls. They're just not putting it all together yet. If this team hits on all cylinders, there's no way they lose to the likes of Evansville and Milwaukee. No way.

Cleveland State definitely has the horses to challenge Butler, however. Norris Cole (above) is the team's go-to senior, and he's been through the wars, including the 2009 upset of Wake Forest that led the Vikings to the second round of the NCAA tournament that season. Cole has always been big for CSU, but this season he's been on fire, averaging 20.9 points per game. Even so, junior Travon Harmon is the reigning player of the week in the Horizon League  so Cole will have plenty of help.

Ronald Nored must slow Cole's roll in order for Butler to claim control of this game. Getting the ball inside to Howard and Smith will seal the deal. If that doesn't happen, the real panic can begin in Indianapolis.

Cleveland State will visit Butler at 7 p.m. tonight.

The Undercard

Rider (10-5) at Niagara (3-12). The MAAC used to belong to Siena. With Fran McCaffery off to coach Iowa this season, that's no longer a foregone conclusion. In a league that is severely offensively challenged, Rider is one of two teams (alongside Iona) that can put together a coherent scoring game as they showed in non-conference upsets of Southern Cal and La Salle. Niagara, quite frankly, is upside-down on the mortgage, with a low offensive number and a high defensive number. Bad news for them as they go up against a league title contender.

Rider will visit Niagara at 9 p.m. tonight.

Photo: AP
Posted on: January 4, 2011 3:26 pm
Edited on: January 4, 2011 3:33 pm

Butler may not make it back to the Big Dance

Posted by Eric Angevine

I differ (respectfully) with some other college hoops pundits. I don't think a team ceases to be a mid-major once it wins a few games in the NCAA tournament. Very few teams -- Gonzaga and Memphis leap to mind -- gain enough of a foothold on the national consciousness to keep casual fans interested year in and year out, and few can marshal the talent and money required to repeat their success. Read any national stories about George Mason recently? How about Davidson? Once national darlings, those programs have entered the province of long-term memory, while short-term memory holds on to the Big Six conferences as usual.

So, where does that leave Butler (9-4)? Butler has been a consistent winner over the past decade , making the NCAA tournament field seven times out of the Horizon League. In '03, '07 and '09, the Bulldogs failed to win the conference tournament but joined the field as At Large contenders, aided by RPI numbers of 76, 27 and 24, respectively.

Last night's 24-point loss to Wisconsin-Milwaukee leaves a great deal of doubt about Butler's ability to win the Horizon this year. The RPI is still top-notch, sitting at 18 right now, and nobody would ding the Bulldogs for losing to Duke on a "neutral" court or at Louisville, but the home loss to Evansville is looking more like a canary in a coal mine every day. Just last week, Butler looked great in beating Florida State and Washington State to win the Diamond Head Classic. Then the Seminoles dropped a stinker at Auburn and the Cougars lost their first two Pac-10 contests. Those good wins are losing value by the day, and the bad losses hang around.

Make no mistake, Milwaukee (8-7) has been a decent program, but the Panthers are hardly the toughest opponent Butler will face in the Horizon this season. Real danger lurks in the form of Cleveland State , a team that handled Milwaukee 82-59 on the way to a 4-0 record in the conference. Gary Parrish is right, the Vikes aren't poll-worthy just yet , but they have the most reliable defense in the Horizon, having held every opponent but West Virginia and Wisconsin-Green Bay below 70 this season. The Vikings won the auto-bid in 2009 and famously upset Wake Forest to move on to the second round. They'll get a shot at the national runners-up on Friday in Hinkle Fieldhouse.

Wright State, Valparaiso and Detroit are all 2-1 in the league right now, and must feel emboldened by the inconsistency of the conference bully. Most intriguing of those three may be Detroit , which is thriving under the auspices of the Ray McCallum father/son picnic. McCallum, Sr. has coached the Titans since 2008, and had a nice 20-win season in Butler's shadow last year. This season, however, his son, Ray, Jr. has joined the team as a freshman point guard. The kid is considered to be a future NBA player, and he has a decent supporting cast, so those meetings should be circled on Horizon-watchers' calendars as well.

Winning the regular season is a big deal in the Horizon, which awards a league tournament double-bye and home court advantage in the quarters and semifinals to the top two finishers from league play. The final game of the conference tourney is held on the home court of the top remaining seed. If Butler can't make it into that top two, they will have very little shot at winning the auto-bid. The team's performances in the non-conference season won't serve to bail them out this time.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com