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Big East Season Preview: Butler Bulldogs

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With the season rapidly approaching, Robert O'Neill and Mike Murtaugh break down everything you need to know about the Bulldogs

Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

2013-14 in Review: 14-17 (4-14), 9th in Big East, Lost in Opening Round of Big East Tournament to Seton Hall

Departures

Khyle Marshall (Graduated; 14.9 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 0.5 APG, .533 FG%)

Erik Fromm (Graduated; 5.5 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 0.4 APG, .378 FG%)

Devontae Morgan (Transferred to James Madison; 1.8 PPG, 0.9 RPG, 0.4 APG, .435 FG%)

Elijah Brown (Transferred to New Mexico; 6.8 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 1.2 APG, .337 FG%)

Nolan Berry (Transferred to UC Davis; 1.9 PPG, 1.3 RPG, 0.2 BPG, .500 FG%)

Rene Castro (Transferred to Duquesne; 3.3 PPG, 0.6 RPG, 0.3 APG, .469 FG%)

Michael Volovic (Transferred to Florida Southern; 2.8 PPG, 0.5 RPG, 0.2 APG, .667 FG%)

Arrivals

Tyler Lewis (Transfer from N.C. State; 4.4 PPG, 1.3 RPG, 3.8 APG, .346 FG%)

Austin Etherington (Transfer from Indiana; 2.0 PPG, 1.6 RPG, 0.5 APG, .326 FG%)

Kelan Martin (4*, Louisville, KY), Tyler Wideman (3*, Merillville, IN)

Jackson Davis (3*, Lexington, KY)

Returnees

Roosevelt Jones (Missed 2013-14 season due to injury)

Kellen Dunham (16.4 PPG, 4.0 RPG, .390 FG%, .355 3FG%)

Alex Barlow (6.6 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 3.5 APG, .368 FG%)

Kameron Woods (7.5 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 2.0 APG, .448 FG%)

Andrew Chrabascz (6.3 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 1.1 APG, .525 FG%)

Jackson Aldridge (1.6 PPG, 0.5 RPG, 0.5 APG, .341 FG%)

Steven Bennett (2.0 PPG, 0.7 RPG, 0.0 APG)

Projected 2014-15 Starting Lineup: PG Alex Barlow, SG Kellen Dunham, SF Roosevelt Jones, PF Kameron Woods, C Andrew Chrabascz

Coaching Turmoil

The Bulldogs were dealt a deft blow in September when it was announced that Head Coach Brandon Miller would be taking an indefinite leave of absence for medical reasons. Butler assistant Chris Holtmann was named the interim coach. Holtmann is no stranger to being a head coach, however. In his time before joining Brandon Miller's staff last year, he spent three seasons behind the bench at Gardner-Webb. Holtmann was somewhat successful in this position. In his third and final season, he led the school to a 21-13 record and an appearance in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament.

ESPN's Jeff Goodman has described Holtmann in the past, saying,  "[Holtmann] flat out gets it. He has a tremendous work ethic, connects with his players, can recruit, and also knows the game". Holtmann is Butler's first Head Coach since 1921 to have had previous head coaching experience at another school before taking over for the Bulldogs.

Key Transfers

After a tumultuous offseason saw five players from last year's roster transfer elsewhere, the Bulldogs re-tooled by transferring in two exciting new prospects. Guard Tyler Lewis, who arrives at Butler after playing two seasons at N.C. State, will have to sit out the 2014-15 season due to NCAA rules and regulations, but brings valuable know-how from his time in the ACC. Lewis boasts the skillset of a pure point guard, setting a Wolfpack school record last season with a 3.55:1 assist-to-turnover ratio while starting the team's final 14 games en route to an NCAA tournament appearance. Leadership and experience in big games will make Lewis a strong locker room presence for the Bulldogs this season, and provides the team an exciting outlook for the future.

Unlike Lewis, forward Austin Etherington, who comes to the Bulldogs via in-state rival Indiana, will be able to jump into the lineup right away this season. Etherington, a 6'6" wing with the ability to slide into a stretch-four role, played three seasons for the Hoosiers, but took a medical redshirt his sophomore year after suffering a knee injury just seven games into the season. With two more years of eligibility, Etherington should play a key role off the bench this season for Butler given his range and ability on the glass.

Early Tests

Butler's nonconference schedule this season is far from a cakewalk. They are in, perhaps, the most loaded Battle 4 Atlantis field ever. Joining the Bulldogs are two teams who made the Final Four last year (Wisconsin and Florida), two teams ranked in the preseason Top 25 (North Carolina and Oklahoma), and two teams (UCLA and Georgetown) who are both on the rise going into the season. The only matchup the Bulldogs will have for sure is against #6 North Carolina, but if they win that game, and continue making a run in the tournament, we will find out a lot about them coming out of it.

"If we handle it right, the rigor of that schedule will prepare us better for the Big East," Holtmann said following the team's practice on Thursday, Oct. 23. "I think it would rank up there as the one of the more difficult schedules in its entirety that we've ever played."

Butler also faces a tough Northwestern team, a very good Tennessee team, and the Indiana Hoosiers before Big East play opens. They will certainly be battle-tested going into conference play.

Fresh Faces

In addition to the two new transfers, Butler head coach Brandon Miller established a strong recruiting presence this offseason with a new class that features three All-State talents at the high school level. The freshmen are led by forward Kelan Martin, a four-star recruit out of Louisville with the ability to play both spots on the wing and unleash from three-point range. Martin was named first team All-State for his senior season and served as a finalist for Kentucky's "Mr. Basketball" while averaging nearly 23 points and nine rebounds a game. Of all the freshmen, expect Martin to see the biggest role for the Bulldogs as the season goes on, providing the lineup another scoring option at the guard or forward slot next to Dunham and Jones.

"If we handle it right, the rigor of that schedule will prepare us better for the Big East. I think it would rank up there as the one of the more difficult schedules in its entirety that we've ever played." -Chris Holtmann

Tyler Wideman, a three-star forward with a nose for rebounds and a wide frame in the post, was named first team All-State and conference MVP for his final year at Indiana's Lake Central High School. Wideman, who averaged nearly 16 points and seven rebounds a game last season en route to a state runner-up finish, will look follow in the footsteps of sophomore forward Andrew Chrabascz, whose high-energy play in the post earned him playing time early as a freshman last season.

Choosing Butler over Alabama and Rice this April, three-star forward Jackson Davis rounds out Miller's first recruiting class as a head coach. Also a first team All-State selection in Kentucky, Davis averaged a double-double as a senior, with nearly 25 points and 14 rebounds per game. Along with Wideman, Davis will also look to crack the frontcourt rotation for the Bulldogs, hoping to carry over a two-way skillset in the post that helped him score 32 points and grab 31 rebounds in one game during his final high school season.

"They've all had really good moments [in practice]," Holtmann said in regard to his three freshmen. "Kelan's ability to score the ball, Tyler's strength and physical ability, and Jackson Davis is really rebounding the ball well. He's a really raw force."

Roosevelt's Return

After missing all of 2013-14 with a wrist injury suffered in the preseason last year, Roosevelt Jones is scheduled to be making his return to the lineup Opening Night. This is a welcome addition for the Bulldogs, who, outside of Preseason 1st Team All- Big East guard Kellen Dunham, struggled offensively last season (68.5 PPG, worst in the Big East). As noted above, Jones averaged 10.1 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 3.5 APG, .485 FG% in 2012-13, and was projected to be Butler's best returning player last season before his injury.

This season, the Bulldogs will look to roll out Jones in a "point forward" role, in which the redshirt junior can share lead ball-handling duties with senior point guard Alex Barlow. "My ball-handling has improved major over the years," Jones said after Thursday's practice. "The trainer had me ball-handling because I kind of had to get my wrist together, so I learned some new moves that I was trying while I was sitting out."

Jones' ability to attack the basket should open up the floor for high-volume shooters like Dunham and Martin, and his return will be one of they key factors to Butler's success in Year Two of Big East play.

New Digs

The Nov. 15 home opener against Maine will carry extra weight for the Bulldogs, who will be playing their first regular season game in the newly-renovated Hinkle Fieldhouse. The renovations, which cost over $30 million to complete, went underway in the fall of 2013 and kicked into gear after last year's basketball season came to a close.

The revamped fieldhouse will feature new chair-back arena seating for fans, upgraded locker rooms and a brand new video scoreboard operated out of a video room named after Butler alum Gordon Hayward, now with the Utah Jazz.

Season Prediction

Robert: 19-12 (9-9 in Big East play)

Mike: 18-13 (9-9 in Big East play)