INDIANAPOLIS — One state, four ranked teams, a combined 34-5 record coming in. So what did the Crossroads Classic tell us, besides that they play good basketball in Indiana? We knew that already.
Time for some yesses and nos.
Start with the team that had the most illuminating Saturday. That would be Butler.Yes, the No. 18 Bulldogs look like a Big East-ready new model of the Butler Way — though they should be long past surprising anyone — and must be considered for promotion closer to the top 10. They’re 10-1 with one of the nation’s shiniest non-conference seasons; the 83-78 win over Indiana their third against a ranked opponent. The quintet of Arizona, Cincinnati, Indiana, Northwestern and Utah are a combined 43-10. Butler accounts for five of their 10 losses.
“I wondered if I over-scheduled,” coach Chris Holtmann said. Guess not.
“We wouldn’t mind being ranked [higher], but we like where we’re at,” Kelan Martin added after dropping 28 points against Indiana. “We just keep working every day. That’s just what we do.”
No, the Bulldogs don’t make many mistakes: six turnovers against Indiana, and 69 fewer than their opponents for the season. No, they don’t run a lot: not one fastbreak point against the Hoosiers. They do the little things.
“That has to be what we’re about,” Holtmann said.
Which is why point guard Tyler Lewis is one of the big men in the Big East, never mind he’s 5-foot-11. He went 26 minutes without a turnover Saturday. He’s had 14 all season. “If I take care of the ball,” he said, “I know the team is going to follow suit.”
Yes, Martin’s star is getting brighter. The 6-foot-7 forward didn’t take a shot in the first 9:32 against Indiana, or the last 13:06. In the 17-plus minutes in between, he scored 28 points, which runs his season average to 18.6.
The Louisville native grew up rooting for the Cardinals, hoping to play for Rick Pitino when the time came. One problem. Pitino never called. Wonder why?
“I didn’t ask,” Martin said. “I just went with the flow.”
How about Indiana, the neighbor he torched Saturday?
“I heard from them once.”
“Basically, just Butler.”
“I really wasn’t worried about [recruiting rankings]. I was just trying to get to have a great opportunity in college.”
No, Butler’s biggest basket Saturday — a deftly executed inbounds play with 15 seconds left and the game teetering at 79-77 — was not even Holtmann’s idea. The Bulldogs sent Martin off a screen to the corner, and slipped Tyler Wideman inside. No Hoosier defender in his zip code. Dunk, ballgame.
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Center Andrew Chrabascz suggested it in the huddle.
“Just a spur of the moment, put something out there, and Coach just agreed with it,” Chrabascz said. “It’s a one-in-a-million chance.”
Get smart players, and then occasionally listen to them. Play sound. Beat the big boys, with guys who don’t even know how many stars they were as prospects.
Yes, Butler is being Butler.
Moving along, yes, Purdue coming from 17 points behind to beat Notre Dame 86-81 was a booster shot to the Boilermaker psyche, after letting games get away against Villanova and Louisville.
“It just meant everything for us,” said Caleb Swanigan, he of 26 points and 10 rebounds. “Because going into the conference season, without this win, we have no résumé, and you’ve got to earn it in the grind of the Big Ten, which we all know that’s just — it’s just long and it’s hard. You want to have non-conference to back you when it comes tournament time.”
Coach Matt Painter had mentioned something about the 9-2 Boilermakers needing some toughness. Pushing past the Irish is a start.
“I’d just say it speaks for itself,” Vincent Edwards said.
Added Swanigan, “We just proved it to ourselves because you’ve got to show it in a game. You can shoot well in practice, be tough in practice, but when it starts translating [into a game] ... then it just helps the snowball effect.”
No, Edwards is not sulking since Painter moved him from the starting lineup to a relief role. He’s gone for 16, 11 and, on Saturday, 20 points (with 10 rebounds) the past three games off the bench.
“I think any time you get into when your team is not playing well, sometimes you’ve got to make an adjustment to get a spark,” Painter said. “It’s a hard thing as a coach because any time you take a guy who’s a really good player, then you bring him off the bench, you don’t want him to lose confidence from that.
“You like all your players. It’s college. If you didn’t like them, they wouldn’t be on your team. But sometimes you’ve got to make some changes and some adjustments that they don’t like that’s the best thing for the team, and then in hindsight it’s the best thing for them. But not always. Sometimes you make mistakes.”
Yes, Purdue can play small and win. It can also not ruin its chances with turnovers. The Boilermakers had just nine against Notre Dame.
“It’s a good sign but can we consistently do that? I feel as a coach we can, but we haven’t shown that,” Painter said. “I think that’s going to be the telltale for us, especially going on the road in the Big Ten.”
Next, Notre Dame.
Yes, the Irish have led Villanova by 11 points and Purdue by 17 in consecutive games.
No, they didn’t win either, which is reason for some concern, as the ACC season nears.
“This is two times now in a row where we’ve had leads and it came down to defensive rebounding and we haven’t done that,” guard Matt Farrell said. “And we didn’t get enough stops to win. That’s just toughness.”
Coach Mike Brey left Saturday saying, “We’re not in the same league of the two high-level teams we played. I told them that. We’ve got a nice team. I love our team. [But] we’re not in their league right now. We’ve got some work to do before New Year’s Eve.”
On what, for instance?
“I still think our interior defense and defensive rebounding is going to be the key. I thought that would be an issue I would be worried about. It was an issue I worried about in October. And we’ve made progress, don’t get me wrong. But when we really start to play up, it’s got to be better.”
Yes, the Hoosiers still have an offense that is going to make noise sooner or later. They shot 32 percent the first half against Butler, 57 percent the second. Scored 28 points one half, 50 the next.
And yes, nobody keeps Indiana off the boards. The Hoosiers outrebounded Butler by 16 and lead the nation in rebound margin.
But no, neither of those can save Indiana if the defense leaks. Like Saturday. That’s gotten other recent high-scoring Hoosier teams in trouble.
“I don’t even need to see the film to know it’s the worst we’ve done,” coach Tom Crean said. “It’s the second time this year that we’ve let our lack of offense affect us on the other end, especially in the first half.”
The first, by the way, was the upset overtime loss at Fort Wayne.
“We made shots and all that, but we’ve got to guard better than that," Crean said. "I don’t have a lot of brain power to go beyond that right now until I watch the film.
“As I told the coaches, there’s no magic answer, We’ve got to guard better.”
One last thing: Yes, Indiana is 2-0 against top-3 teams this season, with wins over Kansas and North Carolina. But the Hoosiers are 0-2 against the state of Indiana. Meanwhile, Butler could beat the likes of Arizona and Cincinnati, but not Indiana State.
Hey, it’s Indiana.