What to expect: Butler
Indiana concludes non-conference play on Saturday morning when it takes on Butler in the 10th annual Crossroads Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
The Hoosiers are 6-3 all-time in the Crossroads Classic and are 3-0 in the event under Archie Miller. Saturday’s game will tip at 11:30 a.m. ET on FS1 with Vince Welch and Stephen Bardo on the call:
To wrap up the pre-conference slate, Indiana will play away from Assembly Hall for the fifth time in seven games. Saturday’s foe is Butler, which has split its previous four contests with the Hoosiers in the Crossroads Classic. All four games have been competitive.
Butler won 88-86 in overtime in 2012 when Alex Barlow was the unlikely hero against an Indiana team that was ranked No. 1. The Hoosiers won 82-73 in 2014 as Troy Williams went for 22 points and Yogi Ferrell added 20. In the 2016 matchup, which was Tom Crean’s final season in Bloomington, Kelan Martin exploded for 28 points in an 83-78 Butler win. And most recently, Rob Phinisee’s buzzer-beater in 2018 gave IU a 71-68 win.
This year’s Crossroads Classic, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, will have a much different feel than the previous nine years. The event typically brings together a strong contingent of fans from all four fanbases and acts as a Saturday showcase that fans from around the state circle on the calendar each year. Eyes will still be on Indianapolis this Saturday, but everyone will be watching from home.
MEET THE BULLDOGS
Butler was one of the nation’s surprise teams last season as the Bulldogs started 15-1 after being picked to finish eighth in the Big East. At 22-9 when the season ended abruptly due to the pandemic, the Bulldogs were a lock to make the NCAA tournament had it been played.
This season hasn’t started out so smoothly for Butler as it edged Western Michigan 66-62 on Nov. 25 and then didn’t play until three weeks later due to a COVID-19 shutdown. On Wednesday, Butler fell 85-66 at Villanova in a game that was close early in the second half.
The Bulldogs, coached by LaVall Jordan, could also be coming in shorthanded as forward Bryce Golden missed Wednesday’s game and guard Aaron Thompson went down with an apparent knee injury in the second half of the Villanova loss. Butler already lost its two leading scorers from last season’s team in Kamar Baldwin (graduation) and Sean McDermott (graduation) with Golden and Thompson making up two of the team’s three returning starters.
There’s also uncertainty regarding the status of Bo Hodges, a graduate transfer from East Tennessee State, who is now eligible but did not play at Villanova on Wednesday.
(Editor’s note: After this article was published, it was announced that Hodges has been declared academically ineligible for the 2020-21 season. It was also reported that Golden will play and Thompson is questionable with a knee sprain.)
Thompson, a 6-foot-2 senior, is off to a solid start through two games. He’s averaging 17.5 points, five assists and 2.5 rebounds in 32 minutes per game. Golden, who played 30 minutes in the season opener, was the sixth-best offensive rebounder in the Big East last season. At 6-foot-9 and 245 pounds, he’s a key for Butler to help slow down Trayce Jackson-Davis and Race Thompson.
Jair Bolden, a 6-foot-3 graduate transfer from South Carolina, has made six of 14 3s through two games and is averaging 16.5 points and seven rebounds. Freshman point guard Chuck Harris, who is from the Team Takeover program and the Washington D.C. area, had 12 points in the loss at Villanova and could take on an even bigger role if Thompson’s injury keeps him out on Saturday or beyond.
In the frontcourt, senior forward Bryce Nze is back after starting all 31 games last season and is the team’s leading returning scorer at 9.2 points per game. Nze suffered an ankle injury in the season opener but was back in Wednesday’s loss at Villanova with nine points and eight rebounds in 30 minutes. Another freshman, JaKobe Coles, started alongside Nze in the Villanova game and scored four points and grabbed five rebounds before fouling out in 23 minutes.
KEYS TO THE GAME
• Continue to play inside-out: Butler’s depth, particularly up front, is thin right now. Indiana is still without Joey Brunk, but the Hoosiers will have the most talented player on the floor in Jackson-Davis. Even if Golden is able to play on Saturday, Indiana has an advantage in the frontcourt with Jackson-Davis and Thompson. Playing with a focus on getting paint touches first and foremost should help Indiana continue its parade to the free throw line in addition to creating some space on the perimeter for its shooters. Through six games, Indiana’s free throw rate (FTA/FGA) of 47.2 percent ranks in the top 20 nationally. That’s notable given that Indiana has played a top 50 schedule.
• Make better decisions with the ball: Indiana started the season with two strong performances in terms of taking care of the ball and limiting turnovers, but has regressed since. Archie Miller has stated that IU’s goal is 12 turnovers or less per game and Indiana has turned it over at least 14 times in each of its last four games. Through two games, Butler’s opponents are turning it over on just 14.3 percent of possessions and the slow pace the Bulldogs play makes it imperative for Indiana to limit mistakes with possessions at a premium.
WHAT IT COMES DOWN TO
There will be a much different feel on Saturday in Bankers Life Fieldhouse with no fans in attendance for an event that is typically sold out.
Butler is relying heavily on freshman due to injury issues and that inexperience could really show on Saturday against an Indiana team that has already been tested four times against high-major teams.
The KenPom projection favors Indiana by six with a 70 percent chance of a Hoosier victory. The Sagarin ratings like Indiana by seven. A win on Saturday would move Indiana to a stellar 7-3 all-time in the Crossroads Classic.
Filed to: Butler Bulldogs