EVANSTON, Ill. – Months of off-season preparation by a collegiate basketball coaching staff can prove to be invaluable in a number of ways. However, it can also prove to be futile when a player just simply interjects himself into the supposed plan.
In the case of Butler men's basketball coach Brad Stevens, what he thought was going to be his rotation at point guard this season, and what it is evolving into are vastly different.
In Saturday's 74-65 Bulldog win at Northwestern, the Wildcats tried to cause Butler problems by playing a 1-3-1 zone defense, but Bulldog sophomore Alex Barlow simply would not allow it.
“Alex was at the top of the 1-3-1 where he was 4-0 in assists to turnovers,” Stevens said. “He really played with poise up there.”
Stevens entered this season with the thought of playing senior Rotnei Clarke at the point, which he still does at times. However, the Butler coaches also knew that they had two scholarship point guards (sophomore Jackson Aldridge and freshman Chris Harrison-Docks) available if need be. However, just as Stevens relied on the walk-on Barlow late last year over Aldridge, that is beginning to be the case again this season.
Barlow started for the second time this season on Saturday and played a season-high 24 minutes. Aldridge never got off of the bench and Harrison-Docks left the program before the first game of the season. It appears that Barlow is here to stay.
“He's just a tough kid,” Stevens kept repeating.
Northwestern trailed by five points late in the first half, but a pair of free throws prior to halftime trimmed their deficit to 34-31 and the Wildcats were hoping to ride that bit of momentum through the second half.
Barlow wouldn't allow that either.
He stole the ball from Northwestern guard Dave Sobolewski and raced down the court to lay it in (it was his lone basket) and the Bulldogs never trailed.
“He figures out ways to do that stuff,” Stevens said. “He does it in practice all of the time.”
Barlow caused problems for the scholarship guys all last season and it drew the ire of Stevens – directed at the scholarship players.
Stevens' ability to play Barlow significant minutes, now allows the coach utilize shooters (Clarke and freshman Kellen Dunham) on the wings, in particular if team's play a 1-3-1 as Northwestern did.
“That allowed us to put Rotnei and Kellen on the baseline,” Stevens said. “That really stretches that (defense). Barlow's ability to handle it up top is huge.”
Barlow's time on the court has been a series of peaks and valleys this season. After playing double-figure minutes in the first two games, he either didn't play or played less than eight minutes over the course of the ensuing four games. However, following Saturday's game, he is back in the midst of a three-game stretch of double-figure minutes, and that doesn't appear likely to change anytime soon.
“There were a bunch of guys that didn't do much statistically that were outstanding,” Stevens said. “Barlow was outstanding in both settling us down and defending. You can't get your motivation from scoring points. You get your motivation from playing good basketball.”