Maryland men's basketball has a stern out-of-conference matchup on Wednesday when it hosts Butler. To get the lowdown on the Bulldogs, we contacted Lukas Harkins, a writer for FanSided's college basketball site and a current student at Butler. Our conversation has been edited for clarity.
Kelan Martin is one of the focal points of Butler's offense. For Maryland fans who don't regularly get to watch Butler, what should they know about him as a player?
On the surface, Martin is one of the best scorers in the Big East who can hurt you from anywhere on the court. When running the floor, Martin can either flare to the corner or wing and knock down a three or attack the rack for a powerful slam. In the halfcourt offense, Martin's 6-foot-7, 220-pound frame allows him to either muscle his way to the basket for a finish or rise up for a jump shot with a minimal contest.
In the past, scoring has been the main calling card for Martin, but if the first two games of this season are any indication, it looks like he has made a significant transformation into a much better all-around player. In addition to being an elite scorer (20.0 points per game in the first two games), Martin is flashing better rebounding and passing vision. His 11.5 rebounds per game currently lead the team, and he is doing an excellent job of finding the open teammate when he is pressured on the offensive end. If Martin continues the unselfish play that he has shown to this point in the year, then he could be in for a huge season.
Butler has allowed opponents to shoot over 50 percent from three in its first two games. Is that a cause for concern or just a fluky start to the season?
I think this is a mix of both. Anytime a team is giving up greater than 50 percent shooting from three, it is a cause for concern, regardless of sample size. With this being said, though, Kennesaw State and Princeton (Butler's first two opponents) were both elite 3-point shooting teams last season. In fact, Kennesaw State ranked third in the nation in three-point shooting, at 41.6 percent, and Princeton was 61st at 37.8 percent. Struggling to defend from beyond the arc against these teams is understandable, and although it is something the team can work on, it is not a major issue…yet.
It is also important to note that despite the poor 3-point defense to this point, the Bulldogs' interior defense has been stout. While allowing 54.5 percent shooting from deep puts them in the bottom 10 nationwide, they are holding opponents to less than 45 percent inside the arc. With solid individual defenders in Martin, Kamar Baldwin, Aaron Thompson and Tyler Wideman on the roster, there is reason to believe that Butler's poor 3-point shooting defense will improve with time.
The Bulldogs had multiple seniors who got major minutes graduate from last year's Sweet 16 team. How easy or difficult will it be to replace all of them?
Butler had one of its best regular seasons in program history last season, and the team received its highest NCAA Tournament seed as a result. Guys like Kethan Savage, Avery Woodson and Tyler Lewis are all tough losses, but they were all transfer players, and Lewis was the only one to play more than one year with the program. Since those are all guards, Butler has the ability to replace these three by giving more opportunities to sophomore Kamar Baldwin, Sean McDermott, and Henry Baddley. In addition, transfer Paul Jorgensen and freshman Aaron Thompson have already come in and made immediate impacts.
Andrew Chrabascz, on the other hand, will be very difficult to replace. A four-year Dawg, Chrabascz epitomized Butler basketball on the court and off. As a senior last season, he was arguably the most important player on the team. He might not have been the leading scorer, but the offense often ran through Chrabascz and his ability to score as well as distribute. The loss of Chrabascz will ask for more creation out of the new point guard crew, in addition to more offensive versatility from Martin.
What is the biggest difference you've noticed between how Chris Holtmann and LaVall Jordan coach Butler so far?
In just the first two games of the season, it's clear that Jordan is looking to have Butler push the pace more this season. With very good athletes in players like Thompson, Baldwin, and Martin, this team can play the floor much better than those of Butler's past. With the Bulldogs' ability to create turnovers, Jordan is putting an emphasis on creating offense with fierce defense. As already mentioned, Butler is struggling to defend the 3-point line to this point in this season, but they are dominating on the defensive glass. If this continues, then Butler will continue to push the pace.
There is still plenty of season left to find more differences, but the pace seems to be the biggest focal point so far.
What will Butler need to do get a big road win on Wednesday?
Entering this game, I think Maryland and Butler are two extremely close teams in terms of talent. Maryland will definitely have the edge in coaching behind Mark Turgeon (this will just be Jordan's third regular-season game as head coach at Butler), but the Bulldogs do have the advantage in that they have played more games together. Unlike Maryland, Butler did have the luxury of playing exhibitions over their summer trip to Spain, and that experience could lead to team chemistry that Maryland does not have at this point of the season. Specifically, Butler's senior leaders Wideman and Martin are accustomed to playing in hostile environments, which will help the Dawgs prepare for what will surely be a raucous crowd in College Park.
As for what Butler can do while in the game to create an advantage, I think the game will come down to the play of Martin, defensive play from the guards, and the rebounding differential. In a major road game early in the year, Coach Jordan will rely on his star senior leader in Martin to make plays. If he's able to answer the call and play to his potential as the go-to player in the offense against a tough Maryland team, then Butler could ride his hot hand to victory.
In addition, both of Butler's top defensive guards, Baldwin and Thompson, will have their hands full. Now a sophomore, Baldwin was one of the most clutch players (both offensively and defensively) in the country last season, and he will need to be that guy once again. Lastly, Butler and Maryland have both been extremely solid on the defensive glass to start the season. Whoever ends up winning the rebounding battle could walk out the winner on Wednesday night.