The Butler Bulldogs kick off a season of change for real at home against a weak non-conference opponent in the Lamar Cardinals. The visitors boast a big name coach in Pat Knight, son of third all-time winningest coach Bob Knight, who led the program to its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 12 years in 2011-12. Last season, things didn't go quite as planned for the Cardinals as they finished 3-28, the worst season in school history.
Butler scored an average of 97 points in its two exhibition games against Nova Southeastern and DePauw. After losing coach Brad Stevens to the Boston Celtics and their top three scorers to graduation and injury, the Bulldogs were expected to finish near the bottom in their first year as part of the Big East Conference. So far, new head coach Brandon Miller has the team playing well and with uncharacteristic firepower on the offensive end of the floor.
Sophomore shooting guard Kellen Dunham looks to be the catalyst on offense. Dunham has shined in a starting role so far this season, scoring 16 and 23 in the exhibition contests. Coming off the bench last season, he proved to be a streaky shooter from long-distance. Butler will need him to provide a more consistent scoring threat against difficult opponents.
Freshman Elijah Brown has also played very well, averaging 15.5 points per game against Nova and DePauw. He has uncanny confidence for a first-year player and can provide a spark off the bench. Kameron Woods is a rebounding specialist down low, ranking in the top 30 for defensive rebounding percentage last season. Butler teams have been known for strong defense and taking away second chances for their opponents. In that vein, Woods looks to contribute double-digit efforts on the glass this year.
Two years ago, Pat Knight look over the Lamar program and found instant success. Winning their last three games of the regular season and sweeping the Southland Conference Tournament, the Cardinals earned a spot in the First Four of the NCAA Tournament. Since then, Lamar has lost 28 of its last 31 and ranked second-to-last in Ken Pomeroy's ratings last season.
Sophomore Rhon Mitchell is the top player back after averaging 10 points and five rebounds last season. His classmate Donnell Minton led Lamar to a 66-62 exhibition win against McMurry, scoring 18 points on 8-12 shooting.
Lamar did keep opponents away from the free-throw line last season. With referees cracking down on hand-checks this year, the Cardinals' discipline could lead to an improved win-loss record. Of course, that would also require improving their shooting (336th in effective field goal percentage last season) and ball-handling (fourth-highest offensive turnover percentage).
Butler rolls. This might be the Bulldogs' first game against a Division 1 opponent, but its not necessarily a step up in competition. Pat Knight may be able to get Lamar back to the NCAA Tournament eventually, but this isn't the year.
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