Davidson at Butler
Indianapolis, IN - Despite having a young, inexperienced group of players, Butler reached the NCAA tournament for a third straight year last season after winning the Horizon League regular-season title.
With all of last season's team returning, expectations are higher in 2009-10.
The No. 11 Bulldogs open the season Saturday with a home game against Davidson, which anticipates going through some growing pains after losing the nation's leading scorer to the NBA.
Oddsmakers from online sportsbook SBG Global have made Butler -12.5 point spread favorites for Saturday’s game against Davidson. Current College Basketball Public Betting Information shows that 69% of more than 129 bets for this game have been placed on Butler –12.5.
Butler had no seniors on its roster in 2008-09, when it won 26 games and captured a third straight Horizon League regular-season championship. The Bulldogs benefited from a season without any major injuries, having the same five players start every game, but their inexperience may have caught up to them when they reached the NCAA tournament. Butler lost to LSU in the first round after making it to the second round in 2008 and the round of 16 in 2007.
Now, led by defending conference player of the year Matt Howard, the Bulldogs hope having another season under their belts will pay off. They're looking not only to repeat as Horizon champs, but also to get to nearby Indianapolis - the site of this season's Final Four.
The Bulldogs, who have won 17 straight home games against unranked non-conference opponents, begin the season with their highest ranking in school history.
"In the beginning part of the season, we're looking for opportunities and moments to prove that we are going to get better and that we have the mindset to get where we need to go," coach Brad Stevens told the Bulldogs' official Web site following a preseason game.
Butler expects another big year from Howard, who was the team's leader last season as the only returning starter from 2007-08. He was fourth in the conference in scoring at 14.8 points per game, and he shot 55.0 percent from the field while adding 6.8 rebounds a game. He was especially effective late in the season, averaging 19.8 points over his final nine games.
The Bulldogs also hope for improvement from Gordon Hayward, who as a freshman averaged 13.1 points and 6.5 rebounds. He was one of the conference's top threats from outside, shooting 44.8 percent beyond the arc while averaging more than four 3-pointers per game.
Shelvin Mack, also a freshman last season, averaged 11.9 points and a team-leading 3.5 assists.
Besides bringing back all the talent from last season's starting lineup, Butler also returns a deep bench. Four players averaged more than 10 minutes per game last season.
The Bulldogs beat Davidson 75-63 last February. The highlight of that matchup was expected to be the play of Stephen Curry, but instead it was Hayward who had the most impressive night, finishing with a career-high 27 points and nine rebounds.
Curry struggled with a sprained ankle and finished with 20 points on 6-of-23 shooting. He didn't get much help from his teammates, who attempted just seven more shots than he did.
That loss could be a preview of what's to come for Davidson now that Curry, the nation's leading scorer last season at 28.6 points per game, has jumped to the NBA. The Bulldogs are also looking to replace Andrew Lovedale, who averaged 12.5 points and led the Southern Conference in rebounding with 8.7 per game.
The losses of Curry and Lovedale could make it a difficult season for Davidson, which won 27 games last season but failed to reach the NCAA tournament after making it to the round of eight the year before. The Wildcats' top returning scorer is senior Will Archambault, who averaged 8.3 points.
"It's like having a Broadway show and actors are now being challenged with playing different roles," coach Bob McKillop said. "Our leading singer, our leading dancer, our leading dramatic presenter is gone."
McKillop's son Brendan is expected to take over for Curry at point guard. He played 35 games last season, including one as a starter, averaging 4.9 points and 1.4 assists in just over 16 minutes.
Davidson went 0-4 against ranked opponents last season.
Posted: 11/14/09 1:36AM ET