How might Utah State replace Spencer Butterfield's production?
Utah State is spending Friday traveling to UT Arlington and getting ready for the next game. So far, there's been no official word on whether recent leader Spencer Butterfield will be back.
What we know: Butterfield reaggrivated a hip injury on Thursday night that was already going to require surgery after the season. He was sent to the hospital to be checked out. The Herald Journal reported this morning that he was listed as "questionable" for the game and was walking around.
Let's assume, just for this post, that Butterfield will miss one or more games. There's some uneasy questions Utah State must answer to replace his production - essentially, who steps up?
Scoring • Butterfield was a revelation as a starter, averaging about 14 points per game after entering the starting lineup. If he's out, it's likely that a number of players will have to take more shots. You're looking at more minutes for TeNale Roland and Marvin Jean, especially, and both of those players need to sharpen up their shooting: Butterfield shot 49.3 percent, and Roland and Jean are a combined 39.9 percent with fewer field goals put together. Marcel Davis also needs to become more of a scoring threat, and specifically as a penetrator. Butterfield made a habit of busting defenses and making tough shots, and Davis (7.0 ppg) can take on more of that role by being aggressive.
Rebounding • A potential absence by Butterfield could leave a huge hole on the glass, where he averaged 6.3 rebounds per game for the season. It puts a lot of pressure on the frontcourt guys, Jarred Shaw and Ben Clifford, who helped Butterfield get a lot of his boards by boxing out the competition. It's hard to say whether Utah State can replicate that with other players, such as Jean or Davis. Roland had a good rebounding game against Louisiana Tech, so maybe he steps up his contributions with more minutes. Jordan Stone and Matt Lopez will need to win on the boards more consistently off the bench.
Free throws • An underrated quality of Butterfield's game is getting to the line. He led the team in free throw percentage, burying 56 of his 68 tries. Now, three of the top four most productive free throw shooters are injured (Jarred Shaw leads the team with 97 attempts). This relates to who will get the ball more under durress to take up tough shots. The Aggies will certainly rely upon Shaw more to score in the post, but others need to drive to the basket. The obvious candidate for this is Davis, who has taken 65 attempts from the charity stripe this year. He's only made 63.1 percent, so that number will have to go up for Utah State to have a chance in close games.
Leadership • If he's out for a while, perhaps the hardest thing to replace will be Butterfield's steadfastness in games and in practice. For the injury-stricken Aggies, he often was the toughest player on court. He scrounged for loose balls and rebounds and ran hard all game. Every Utah State player will have to assume some of this mantle. Self-accountability is the best tool the Aggies have to stay competitive in the face of overwhelming adversity.
Kyle Goonkgoon@sltrib.comTwitter: @kylegoon