The Morning After Recap: Wednesday, December 21

... the safe, smart AM read for college basketball fans

***

Unbelievable. The Butler Bulldogs are 5-7. Back-to-back NCAA title games, and now this. The thing of it is, it's not like the Bulldogs have been handed these losses by elite competition like we saw in past seasons. Bad beats to less-than-dominant schools can't help but stick out. Evansville, Valparaiso, Ball State. Those are not the types of programs that Brad Stevens expects to lose to in any given year, so when he does, it's a serious cause for concern.

Without a two-point victory over Purdue on December 17th, the Bulldogs would currently be riding a five-game losing streak. Instead, they have dropped five of their last seven games and are forced to stay out West for a date with Stanford tomorrow evening. And after that, the focus can finally shift to the keeping the Horizon League throne, which will be a dubious task in its own right.

A year ago, when Brad Stevens' team was floundering at 14-9, it didn't appear likely we'd see Butler make a run in March. Then, miraculously, they did it anyway. But this year just feels...different. The early consensus around college hoops is that Butler simply can't overcome the losses of Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack, and that's a very logical conclusion considering how instrumental each guy was during their respective careers. Sure, this is a powerful program, but it's not Kentucky or North Carolina or Duke. Stevens might have his next batch of stars on the roster right now, but nobody is ready to contribute at the same level as their predecessors, and that's the issue here. The reloading process at Butler simply takes longer than most power conference aficionados are used to.

So yeah, maybe the 2011-12 regular season feels like a country-wide game of "kick Butler while its down". And with the way things are going, a handful of Horizon League foes might get some decent kicks in before March rolls around. Stevens is too brilliant of a tactician not to get this program back to top 25 status by next year, but as far as this season goes, it may be too little too late.

The Local Guys

* Pitino's undefeated Cards had their hands full with College of Charleston on Tuesday (Louisville Courier-Journal)
* A double-double for Sullinger against Lamar, but him gutting it out now might hurt OSU later on (The Lantern)
* North Carolina State nailed a not-quite-buzzer-beating-shot to sink St. Bonaventure (Rochester Democrat and Chronicle)

The Blogosphere

* Arizona played its most efficient game of the year against an Oakland bunch with the NCAA's fourth-highest tempo (Arizona Desert Swarm)
* Scoop Jardine took a season-high 11 shots, forcing 'Cuse to overcome this obvious gaffe (Nunes Magician)
* In a battle of one-time Cinderellas, Mark Few's Zags cruised over an over-matched Butler team (The Slipper Still Fits)

Who Won It Best

Ohio - Northern Iowa's McLeod Center is a difficult place for opposing schools to play. But the Bobcats showed up on Tuesday and silenced the crowd immediately, opening up a 22-11 lead in the game's first ten minutes and never looking back. Ohio, now 10-1, has put together a brilliant season to this point, and can hang its hat on wins over Marshall, Oakland, Portland and Wright State. The Bobcats sit at No. 42 in KenPom's rankings, and it's about time the country woke up to this team.

Who Lost it Worst

Montana State - The Bobcats trailed by a whopping 37 points to New Mexico in one of the most lopsided opening halves imaginable, making the 45-point final deficit actually appear deceiving. Montana State also gave the ball up 21 times, and connected on only 18 of its 60 field goal attempts throughout the game. Remember, this is the same team that went into Utah a few weeks ago and won by six.

MVP

Darien Brothers-Richmond - The junior guard poured in a career-high 38 points in a key win over Old Dominion. Along with draining seven three-pointers, Brothers made 13-of-14 attempts from foul line and only turned the ball over once in 39 minutes. His frequent visits to the charity stripe were an unexpected surprise, as the 6'3" guard entered Tuesday with a total of 13 free throw attempts all season (11 games). Brothers has been a relatively moderate-usage player for the Spiders this year, but an outburst like this could definitely increase his role going forward.

By The Numbers

0 - Minutes played by UAB's Todd O'Brien against VCU. For no good reason at all.

It Was Tweeted

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This Really Happened

Purdue's Robbie Hummel...with the put-back dunk? Say it ain't so.


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