A.J. Graves, the Horizon League preseason player of the year, has gone through his share of struggles on the court this season. Butler, however, hasn't missed a beat.
The senior guard would like to continue his resurgence and help the 10th-ranked Bulldogs (20-2, 9-2) post their fifth straight win on Saturday when they visit Wisconsin Green-Bay.Graves led Butler to the regional semifinals of the NCAA tournament as a junior, averaging 16.9 points while becoming one of the nation's best free-throw shooters (94.8 percent). He was tabbed as the league's best player by coaches and media before the season began, but instead he's been arguably the third-best player on his own team.His scoring (13.8 points per game) and shooting percentage (37.0) are down from last season, and he's gotten to the line half as frequently (2.2 attempts per game) as he did a year ago.Meanwhile, fellow senior Mike Green is leading the team with 15.1 points per game while freshman big man Matt Howard is averaging 13.6 points on 60.7 percent shooting in 24.0 minutes per game.But in Butler's latest win, a 71-68 thriller at Valparaiso on Tuesday, Graves showed how much of a difference-maker he can still be, scoring 20 points to help the Bulldogs avoid the upset.Valparaiso coach Homer Drew credited Graves with taking over the game in the second half, though Graves didn't feel he'd done anything out of the ordinary."I didn't take the team on my back," Graves said. "We played well the whole game. Sometimes in our motion it just happens to be one guy making the points there. We kept running our offense."That game followed Graves' 16-point performance in a win over Illinois-Chicago on Jan. 26 after he averaged just 7.9 points in his previous six games.More than 70 percent of Graves' shot attempts are 3-pointers, and he makes only 35.3 percent of those, placing him 13th in the conference.Still, Butler coach Brad Stevens doesn't seem to have an issue with the school's sixth all-time leading scorer continuing to fire away."He's allowed to shoot whenever he wants to," Stevens said after Graves shot 3-for-11 in a win over Youngstown State on Jan. 19. "He's got the neon green light."While Green has been a consistent scorer virtually all season, it's been the play of Howard that's been a pleasant surprise for Stevens and the Bulldogs. He had averaged 18.4 points and 7.3 rebounds in his seven games prior to scoring six while being limited due to foul trouble against Valparaiso.Green Bay (13-9, 7-5) has won four of five, including its last two games -- both in exciting fashion. The Phoenix got a layup with 2.7 seconds left from Cordero Barkley to beat Detroit 66-64 last Saturday, then needed overtime to defeat Valparaiso 76-71 on Thursday.The Phoenix have the league's third-leading scorer, Mike Schachtner. The junior forward averages 17.2 points, and has topped 20 points eight times this season.Schachtner should have a tough time finding open looks against Butler, which is first in the Horizon and ninth in the nation in scoring defense, yielding 58.3 points per game.The Phoenix allow an average of 69.4, worst in the conference.Green Bay last defeated the Bulldogs on Jan. 8, 2005, getting outscored by an average of 13.8 points in seven meetings since that 57-50 victory.