After two relatively weak non-conference opponents to open the season, the Wildcats have their first tough test of the season coming up Wednesday night at Butler.
The Butler Bulldogs are coming off a strong season, going 22-11 (10-8 Big East) and making the second round of the NCAA tournament. While that’s not a great Big East record, it’s one of the most competitive conferences, and their schedule included marquee wins against Purdue, Georgetown, Creighton and, in the tournament, Texas Tech.
But the program has suffered some notable losses from last year’s team. Kellen Dunham and Roosevelt Jones, two of the three top scorers from last year’s team, graduated and are now playing in the NBA D-League.
However, there is still a considerable amount of talent on this team, specifically junior forward Kelan Martin. Martin averaged 15.7 points per game and 6.8 rebounds per game on 47.7 percent shooting, 37.7 percent from deep. He was 2nd team all-Big East last season, and this year he’s undoubtedly the star of the team.
Martin’s ability to score inside and out will present a challenge for the ‘Cats, and they will probably want to have Vic Law guard him for most of the game. But Law is still just in his third game coming off his injury, and the ‘Cats need him to be a key contributor on the offensive end as well. They probably want to avoid tiring him out too much on defense, but Martin’s unique skill set limits the personnel the ‘Cats can use to defend him.
At the other forward spot, the Bulldogs have senior forward Andrew Chrabascz, a solid, consistent player who can also step out and hit threes pretty consistently (36.9 percent last year). If the ‘Cats focus all their defensive attention on Martin, Chrabascz could have some open looks and space to work with, and could be in for a nice game.
With regards to the new Bulldog freshmen, guard Kamar Baldwin played the most minutes in their opener, and he could be a significant piece of the rotation on Wednesday. Also, freshman center Joey Brunk got some extended minutes, and he carries an impressive prospect pedigree with him. He was a consensus top-100 prospect, and was one of the best high school centers in Indiana.
Brunk probably won’t start from the Bulldogs, but if he plays significant bench minutes he could be a matchup nightmare for the ‘Cats in the post. Sophomore Dererk Pardon was inconsistent defensively, and he’ll have his hands full with the four-inch taller Brunk. The ‘Cats could also go with junior Gavin Skelly at the five, but he’s known for picking up fouls in a hurry.
The key for the ‘Cats in this game will have to be rim protection, something that was going to be a big question coming into this season. Butler will take advantage of that flaw in the ‘Cats game as much as possible, so if they don’t shore it up early on the ‘Cats could be in for a long night.