The number of impact freshmen this season in college basketball is at an all-time high. Everyone knows about Eric Gordon, O.J. Mayo, Michael Beasley and Kevin Love, to name a very few. But the Butler Bulldogs have a freshman that has been a major contributor on one of the most experienced teams in the country.
The No. 16-ranked Bulldogs start four seniors and one freshman. Flying under the radar is 6-foot-7, 220-pound forward Matt Howard from Connersville, Ind. First-year head coach Brad Stevens is off to a 14-1 start, 3-1 in the Horizon League. The leadership of senior guards Mike Green and A.J. Graves has been flawless, and Butler plays great half-court man defense and can shoot the lights out from behind the arc.
So where does Howard fit into this picture. Howard is usually setting the high ball screens in the half-court offense, finishing with a two-hand slam created by Green's penetration or attacking the offensive glass where he has almost as many offensive as defensive rebounds.
As an assistant coach at Dayton, we recruited Howard. He is a quality young man, humble and business-like. Leading up to the campus visit, we watched Howard play a number of times on the AAU circuit. He is a tenacious rebounder and competes every second he is on the floor. I remember telling our coaching staff that he never gets under double-figure rebounds. His toughness and willingness to do what ever he can to help his team win has continued to be his approach at Butler.
This freshman has been a pleasant surprise for the Bulldogs. Howard provides them with a low-post threat to go along with its highly skilled perimeter. He is fresh off a 19-point, 5-rebound performance at Loyola-Chicago. Earlier this season, Howard dropped 23 and seven against Ohio State and went off at Detroit with 20 points and 12 rebounds, with eight rebounds coming on the offensive end of the floor. Currently, Howard is the Bulldogs' third-leading scorer with 12.3 points per game, and he's also pulling down 5.3 rebounds. Through four conference games, he is averaging 14.0 points and 7.8 rebounds. One Horizon League assistant coach called Howard a relentless competitor and the perfect fit for Butler.
Georgetown center Roy Hibbert loaded the stat sheet as the No. 8 Hoyas invaded Allstate Arena and took out DePaul, 76-60. Hibbert recorded 17 points, 11 rebounds and five assists. The five assists are what got my attention. After watching the 7-2, 275-pound center play repeatedly, he has continued to impress me with his passing ability. Passing usually is not at the top of a center's workout, but when you are the go-to guy in the low post of a team that runs the Princeton offense, post passing is a top priority. And Big Roy is pretty good. The five assists against DePaul were a career-high, but there has been other games -- Fordham (four assists) and Radford (three assists) -- where Hibbert has dropped a few dimes.
Passing out of the post is not as easy as it looks especially when you're 7-2. But Hibbert can hit cutters in stride, skip the ball across the court to the weakside, shuffle pass in the lane and kick out against the double team. He has recorded 24 assists with only 18 turnovers this season. Although he's only averaging 1.33 assists per game, many times, when Hibbert passes out of the interior, the score occurs from the second pass. Also, when the ball is in his hands on the low block, it provides the offense huge lanes to allow teammates to make scoring cuts or penetrate.
In addition to Hibbert's skill as a scorer, which includes the sky hook and jump hooks with either hand, his passing will be a huge asset next season in the NBA.