KILLIAN: Butler still battling without Stevens

When Brad Stevens left Butler behind for the greener pastures of the Boston Celtics and the NBA, many, including myself, figured that the Bulldogs’ magic had run out.

Without Steven’s guidance, the clutch of graduated Rotnei Clarke and the scoring of injured Roosevelt Jones, it appeared Butler was destined for a rebuilding season.

Five games into its Big East season, Butler’s winless record, good for last place in the conference, appears to verify that claim. But it only feels partially accurate when looking at each loss individually.

Heading into conference play, the Bulldogs were considered one of the Big East’s surprises at 10-2. They knocked off Vanderbilt, Washington State and instate rival Purdue, along with coming close to upsetting one of the best teams in the country in Oklahoma State.

In its Big East lid-lifter, Butler lost a heartbreaker in overtime 76-73 against Villanova. The Wildcats remain undefeated in conference play and are the highest nationally ranked Big East squad at No. 6.

The Bulldogs then fell to Xavier by 11 points on the road, were edged 99-94 by DePaul and had their hearts broken again in overtime by Georgetown. Their last loss was an 88-60 drubbing at the hands of No. 20 Creighton, whose fans treated Butler to chants of “Where’s Coach Stevens?” toward the end of the game.

With its latest contest as an outlier, Butler is still playing down-to-the-wire classics that have become commonplace during the last few years.

New coach Brandon Miller has done a bang-up job given the talent he’s had to work with, with sophomore guard Kellen Dunham and senior forward Khyle Marshall developing into serious scoring threats. Dunham has nearly doubled his points per game average from last season with a team-leading 18.4, and Marshall has poured in 15.6 per game.

Time and time again, however, the Bulldogs simply find themselves on the wrong end of the scoreboard, lacking the magic finishing touch they seemed to have in the recent past.

Whether or not the Bulldogs will find someone to take and make the final shot remains to be seen, but it has made a huge difference for this year’s campaign.

Regardless, in Saturday’s matchup, the Golden Eagles will face a group of players starving for their first conference victory and are good enough to hang with just about any team in the nation. Similar to the Bulldogs, Marquette continues to develop its identity and having a win over Butler is more impressive than it might initially appear.

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