Last season was one marred with change for the Butler Bulldogs. Their longtime coach, Brad Stevens, bolted to coach the Boston Celtics. They changed conferences for the third time in as many seasons, and perhaps saddest of all, their mascot, Butler Blue II, passed away a couple months prior to the start of the season. These factors, among many others, led Butler to their worst record since 2004-05, finishing 14-17, with just four of those wins coming in Big East play. Undoubtedly, Butler fans want to leave these memories in the past and are looking forward to this season. There are a lot of reasons to be optimistic about the Bulldogs' second year in the Big East, but here are the three most prevalent.
1. The Return of Roosevelt Jones
There is no possible way to overstate how inept Butler was offensively last season. They averaged 68.5 points per game, dead last in the Big East, and even that was due to Kellen Dunham accounting for nearly a quarter of those points (16.4 per game). Simply put, outside of Dunham, Butler could not score. This was due to the absence of Roosevelt Jones. Jones was set to be the Bulldogs' leading returning scorer last season prior to suffering a wrist injury during the team's preseason trip to Australia, which ended up costing him his entire season. With Jones slated to be in the lineup on opening night this year, and Dunham's emergence as a scoring threat, Butler should be able to raise their average from last season.
2. Conference Schedule
I know what you are thinking here, "What does the conference schedule have to do with anything? Every Big East team plays each other twice.". That would be correct, but what is particularly favorable for the Bulldogs is the layout of the games. In the schedule analysis, I mentioned this as well, but if you play a team like Villanova on the road early in conference play, as the Bulldogs do, it gives you an advantage in a couple ways. First off, you may catch a good team being unprepared or still not hitting their stride yet. At the same time, if you lose, you still have another shot at them later in the season when you have had more time to study them. Another positive for Butler's conference schedule is that all four of their games against Marquette and DePaul, arguably the two worst teams in the Big East, are in February or March. You need to get wins wherever you can, and four cupcake games late in the season can make or break a team's NCAA Tournament hopes.
3. Year 2
It is not just year two for Brandon Miller, but the Bulldogs as a whole in the Big East conference. Miller and the team now know what to expect in conference play, and Miller has a full year of experience behind the bench. The first year under a new coach or in a new conference is often a transitional year, let alone when you are dealt both cards in the same year, as Butler was last season.
There you have it, Butler fans. What are you most optimistic about? Let us know in the comments.