January 22, 2009 11:59 am ET by Kyle Whelliston
Wisconsin-Green Bay at Butler (Horizon League)
Hinkle Fieldhouse - Indianapolis, IN
7:00 PM EST
Cakewalks, even the kind where no cake is expected, are no fun. Constant winning gets monotonous, boring even, when you don't have to break much of a sweat to do it. Folks get content, bloated, and they heap on expectations. But none of this should be a problem for the Butler Bulldogs in the near future. Look, there on the lineless Horizon: challengers await!
The Bulldogs' next two games will be against Wisconsin teams with a combined 13-2 league record. Tonight's opponent, at Green Bay (14-5, 6-1), represents the most battle-hardened of the two, if not necessarily the one with the slightly more impressive record (that would be 7-1 Milwaukee). We've been heralding the Phoenix for some time now after watching a young team with endless promise perform well at the 2007 NIT Preseason Tip-Off. But that edition didn't have the kind of point guard play to survive the Horizon League, and finished with a dead-even 15-15 (9-9) record. That's been rectified this season with the steady year-over-year improvement of now-sophomore Rahmon Fletcher, who is dishing 3.8 apg and playing vastly improved defense -- he's averaging just as many steals as assists. But the core of the scoring comes from the hard-nosed Valley-quality bigs in Tod Kowalczyk's arsenal, seniors like Ryan Tillema and Mike Schachtner (combined 27.2 ppg and 9 rpg). Whether they can make the most of their last chance at UWGB, and slip past Butler in March to force a two-bid league, remains to be seen. But we'll get a clue about the possibilities tonight.
Butler (16-1, 7-0) is, well... Butler! After the program's multiple retoolings and consistent high level of play, it's now a basketball synonym for "awesome." (As in, "That's a very Butler tie you're wearing, sir. Have a Butler day!") The team sits atop our computer rankings of the Other 22.5, to be released later today, and have an eight-game win streak coming into tonight's action. The young Bulldogs have had no problem working freshmen Shelvin Mack and Gordon Hayward into the offensive mix (combined 26.1 ppg), and everybody's bought in to the defensive plan. Since league games began, no HL team has allowed as few points (55.1 PA) or yielded a less impressive field-goal percentage (36.3 percent). And sure, OK, the team is struggling shooting itself, but that's nothing new. As we've said plenty of times before, the constant maturation of 6-7 paint tussler Matt Howard gives Butler one more layer of safety against a bad shooting night.
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