Matt Howard has been huge for Butler on both ends of the floor, and is a big reason the Bulldogs have a chance to make some noise in the Diamond Head Classic.
CougCenter is your place to be for everything related to the Diamond Head Classic. This is the fourth of eight capsule previews of the participating teams.
Head Coach: Brad Stevens
Record: 6-4 (#38 KenPom ranking)
Best victory: 83-50 over #103 Stanford
Worst Loss: 71-68 in OT to #153 Evansville
Offense: 111.2 adjusted efficiency (31st); 48.0 eFG% (189th); 17.5 TO% (32nd); 32.2 OR% (191st); 43.4 FTR (85th)
Butler builds most of their offensive success at the free throw line and by valuing possessions. Junior point guard Shelvin Mack is the catalyst, as he is posting a 28.7 assist rate to just a 15.7 turnover rate. He also takes the most shots on the team, and has an above average 105.7 ORtg. Mack doesn't really shoot the ball very well (32.7% on threes, 45.9% on twos), but his ability to take care of the ball makes him an efficient offensive player.
Mack has also done a wonderful job getting the ball to Butler's dominant post player, Matt Howard. Howard has had a scorching hot start to the year, to the tune of a 137.8 ORtg. He is a threat on the block and can stretch the defense, as he has knocked down 10 of 18 three point attempts. He also has been the main factor in Butler's ability to get to the line, as he boasts a 67.0 free throw rate (good for 89th in the country).
Howard's partner in crime down low is 6-11 sophomore Andrew Smith. He has a 126.7 ORtg himself and is 4th in the country with just a 5.4 TO rate.
Butler plays a lot of guys (eight of 30% minutes, nobody over 71.6%), so look for a lot of different names taking shots in Hawai'i. They are the type of team that is tough to pull away from, because even when they are having a bad shooting night (as they often do) they can still hang around by drawing fouls and converting at the line (where they are shooting 74.9%).
Defense: 91.9 adjusted efficiency (55th); 45.2 eFG% (69th); 18.4 TO% (289th); 27.9 OR% (37th); 45.7 FTR (280th)
Butler doesn't force many turnovers, but they do make sure that the opposition is taking contested jump shots. The Bulldogs are holding opponents to just a 25.7 three-point percentage (7th in the country). Their two-point percentage isn't impressive, at 48.2, but they are able to clear out the misses. Butler head coach Brad Stevens has built himself a reputation as a defensive genius. He has his guys playing fundamental basketball, keeping their man in front of them and getting a hand in their face. This allows them to succeed against teams that should be able to overpower them athletically.
Matt Howard has been key on the interior. He has limited his fouls this year, drawing just 3.7 per 40 minutes, so he is able to stay on the floor for longer stretches. His defensive rebounding has been fantastic, at 21.3%. Howard isn't super athletic by any means, but he boxes out as well as anyone is the country.
Overall, Butler has a decent shot at winning this tournament. While they haven't posted any spectacular wins this year, they have played some very tough teams and have shown an ability to hang with them. They should be able to take care of Utah in the first round with ease and their second round matchup with Florida State is likely to be a toss-up. The Seminoles stifling defense may prove to be too much for Butler and they could find themselves with another tough opponent in the third place game. However, their ability to defend, get to the free throw line, and with Matt Howard playing at an All-American level, I wouldn't be surprised if they tapped into some of their NCAA Tournament magic and won three straight.
Check out CougCenter's full coverage of the Diamond Head Classic here.