With the season right around the corner and Big East media day behind us, it's time to dive into a look around the new Big East conference. Over the course of the next few weeks I will be counting down the teams in reverse order of predicted finish in the Conference and giving you an in depth look at who the team returns, who they lost, and how they will fare this season.
We start at the bottom with Butler. This spot is normally reserved for DePaul, but I'm going to go out on a limb and pick the Blue Demons not to finish last in the Big East for the first time since 2008. While DePaul has owned the basement for the last 5 years, I think Butler were usurp its throne this year.
Last Year: 27-9 3rd in the A-10, 6 Seed in the NCAA tournament, Round of 32 loss to 3 Marquette
KenPom Profile: 45th overall; 53rd on Offense; 51st on Defense; 219th in Tempo
Key Returnees: Khyle Marshall 6'6" Sr SF , Kellen Dunham 6'6" So SG/SF, Alex Barlow 5'10" Jr PG/SG, Kameron Woods 6'8" Jr PF/C, Erik Fromm 6'8" Sr PF, Jackson Aldridge 6'0" Jr SG, Andrew Smeather 6'6" Jr SG/SF
Key Additions: Elijah Brown 6'4 PG/SG, Rene Castro 6'2" PG/SG, Nolan Berry 6'10" PF/C, and Andrew Chrabascz 6'7" PF
The off-season started out as a dream for Butler when on July 1st they officially joined the Big East conference. The Cinderella program that appeared in back-to-back national title games in 2010 and 2011 had finally joined the big leagues. But it immediately turned into a nightmare when their head coach Brad Stevens was hired by the Boston Celtics just 2 days later. If that weren't bad enough, a month later Roosevelt Jones broke his wrist on Butler's foreign tour to Australia. Jones was the Bulldogs returning leader in points, rebounds, assists and second in steals and blocks.
The Bulldogs do return 2 starters in Khyle Marshall and Alex Barlow, and key contributors Kellen Dunham and Kameron Woods. These 4 will likely start alongside senior big man Erik Fromm. The 4-man recruiting class is unheralded, bringing in 2 combo guards in Brown and Castro and two bigs in Berry or Chrabascz. None of these recruits are in the top 100 of any rankings. However, they will provide some much needed depth for the beleaguered Bulldogs.
Alex Barlow will likely get the nod as the starting PG which is going to be an area of concern for Butler as they don't have a true PG. Barlow and incoming recruits Brown and Castro are all really combo guards at best with Brown being more athletic and Castro being the better distributor. Neither of them has a consistent outside shot either. Barlow is a pesky ball hawk though with a stl% of 3.8 good for 86th in the nation. Dunham is the lone 3pt threat on the team posting a 34.5% mark from behind the arc on 165 attempts. The next best returning three-point shooter is stretch 4 in Eric Fromm at 30.9% on 55 attempts. Dunham should have a breakout season as a Sophomore. In addition to being an outside threat, he also is able to get to the rim and draw fouls and doesn't turn the ball over making him the most efficient returning player on the team.
What the Bulldogs will do well is defend and rebound. Kameron Woods is an excellent rebounder on both ends of the court and a quality shot blocker as well. Marshall is also a good rebounder, especially on the offensive glass. The two big recruits Chrabascz and Berry will provided some depth. Berry is the more likely to contribute and appear to be more of a face up player like Fromm. Chrabascz is an undersized PF and will likely take a little longer to contribute, but with the lack of depth on Butler he'll probably get some minutes.
It's hard to know exactly what we'll see from the Bulldogs this year with the change in coaching staff. However, Miller, like all Butler's previous hires, is a Butler man who will likely continue to emphasize "The Butler Way". So it's probably a fair assumption that we will see a team similar in style to past Bulldog teams of tough positional defense, strong fundamentals and a deliberate offense.
Butler has overachieved compared to the recruiting rankings of their players and if Brad Stevens was behind the wheel I certainly would have them ranked several spots higher. But without the Wiz kid guiding this brand of Bulldogs it seems a lot to ask of a first time head coach that is facing a step-up in competition with a limited roster. I expect Butler will turn it around and dig themselves out of the basement before long, but it's going to be a long first season for the Bulldogs.