Since the new Big East came to be in 2013, no team has been on more of a roller coaster ride than Butler. Two days after the Bulldogs officially joined the conference, Brad Stevens left for the Boston Celtics.
Butler, left without many options given the timing, promoted Stevens' assistant Brandon Miller to the head coaching position. Miller's squad was dealt a blow before the season even started, as Roosevelt Jones suffered a wrist injury during a preseason trip to Australia which cost him his entire 2013-14 season. The Bulldogs finished 14-17
Last offseason was, arguably, more tumultuous for the Bulldogs. A month before the season was set to begin, Miller took a "medical leave of absence". Miller's assistant, Chris Holtmann, was named interim coach, and Butler had their third coach in three seasons.
Miller never returned, and Holtmann was named his permanent replacement in January. Holtmann led the Bulldogs to a 23-11 season, capped off by an overtime loss to Notre Dame in the third round of the NCAA Tournament.
Holtmann was rewarded with a contract extension in the offseason, keeping him in Indianapolis through 2021, and bringing some stability to the head coaching position at Butler.
Let's take a look at what Butler should expect in conference play this season.
(READ MORE: BUTLER NONCONFERENCE ANALYSIS http://www.bigeastcoastbias.com/2015/9/15/9330809/2015-16-nonconference-schedule-analysis-butler-bulldogs)
Providence (December 31)
What a way to start the season. The Bulldogs will welcome the Friars, led by preseason All-American guard Kris Dunn, to Hinkle Fieldhouse on New Year's Eve. Last year, the Bulldogs and Friars split their series 1-1, with Providence winning at Hinkle, and Butler winning at the Dunkin' Donuts Center. Dunn thrived in the historic Hinkle Fieldhouse, putting up a (then) career high 25 points. Revenge will be on Butler's mind here.
Xavier (January 2, Cincinnati, OH)
No better way to celebrate the Big East Tip-Off Marathon than a rivalry game. Butler and Xavier met thrice last season. Butler won the first meeting, at Hinkle Fieldhouse, then proceeded to lose to the Musketeers in Cincinnati and in the Big East Tournament in an overtime thriller. Butler and Xavier are both returning the bulk of their teams this season, so this should be a fun one.
DePaul (January 5, Rosemont, IL)
Butler has won their last two games at the Rosemont Horizon by an average of 23.5 points. That's not saying much, DePaul doesn't exactly have a "home court advantage" in the Horizon (less than 2,200 fans per game). But it's still tough to win on the road, and Butler's been able to do just that when in Rosemont. Look for that to continue this year.
Villanova (January 10)
A rematch of the 2014-15 Big East Game of the Year, Villanova travels to Hinkle Fieldhouse for a Sunday Night Showdown. If Butler wants to take the next step and win the Big East this year, this game is a must-win for them. As everyone always says, "to be the best, you've got to beat the best". Villanova has been the undisputed best in the Big East for the last two seasons.
St. John's (January 16)
In one of Butler's longest inactive stretches of the season, the Bulldogs will have six days between Villanova and St. John's. That doesn't bode well for the Red Storm, who will be playing Georgetown on January 13th at Madison Square Garden. However, if St. John's is able to upset the Hoyas, they might be able to ride an emotional high into Indianapolis. Butler is the better team in this game, on paper, but will have to be careful.
Providence (January 19, Providence, RI)
Butler and Providence gave us all a great game last March when they squared off at the Dunkin' Donuts Center. Both ranked at the time, Butler took care of business and left with a four-point victory. Kris Dunn was, yet again, a thorn in the Bulldogs' side, scoring 23 points, but the difference came down to Butler's 39-27 edge in rebounding.
Creighton (January 23, Omaha, NE)
This has all the makings of a big-time upset. Butler will likely be ranked (or at least close to it) going into this one. Creighton likely will not. CenturyLink Arena is one of the toughest places to play in all of college basketball for an opposing team. It's massive, and also always filled to capacity with Creighton fans. This is also the first time we'll see the Big East's two prized point guard transfers -- Butler's Tyler Lewis and Creighton' Maurice Watson, Jr. square off. There are a lot of things worth watching in this one.
DePaul (January 27)
Remember earlier when I said Butler's beaten DePaul by an average of 23.5 points in their two trips to the Rosemont Horizon? The Bulldogs haven't fared as well when the Blue Demons have come to Hinkle. In 2013-14, Butler took a double overtime loss to the Demons. Last season the Bulldogs won by 10, but DePaul was within five points at one point in the second half. For some reason, the Bulldogs struggle with DePaul at home. This would be a bad loss to take at that point of the season, so Butler will have to be on high alert.
Marquette (January 30, Milwaukee, WI)
Last year when Butler went to Milwaukee, they sleepwalked through the majority of the game. Marquette led 58-50 with 2:20 to play, before Butler went on an 8-0 run to send the game to overtime, where they eventually won. Andrew Chrabascz had a career-high 30 points, and was the main reason Butler came out victorious. Chrabascz will likely play a large role in this game as well, as Marquette's offense will likely run through their two-headed monster down low of Henry Ellenson and Luke Fischer.
Georgetown (February 2)
This will be Georgetown guard D'Vanutes Smith-Rivera's final trip to Indianapolis, his hometown. Last year, DSR had quite the homecoming: 16 points, seven rebounds, and a steal in Georgetown's 60-54 victory. Georgetown, like Villanova, is a team Butler will have to defeat at least once this year if they want to win the Big East. This game is a great opportunity for them to do just that.
St. John's (February 6, New York)
While Butler doesn't get a week to prepare for St. John's the second time around, they should still be okay in this game. St. John's has been picked by nearly every pundit to finish last in the conference. While it's possible Butler could get caught up in the bright lights and big city, it's tough to see a situation where Chris Holtmann allows that to happen to his disciplined bunch.
Seton Hall (February 10, Newark, NJ)
Butler takes care of both New York-area teams in one fell swoop, which is smart when you think about it. Of course it becomes irrelevant when you consider they'll be going back to Indianapolis in the interim, but it's smart in theory. Last year, Butler traveled to Newark when Seton Hall was ranked, and knocked them off 69-65 in overtime. This year, the Pirates likely will not be ranked when Butler heads out there, but nonetheless, Butler may have a bit of a hard time slowing down Angel Delgado since Kameron Woods has graduated.
Xavier (February 13)
It's funny that the second game between these rivals takes place the night before Valentine's Day, because there will be no love lost between the squads. While both of these teams should be locks for the NCAA Tournament, this game still matters for one thing: Braggin' Rights! Also Big East Tournament seeding.
Creighton (February 16)
This is a game that Butler may end up being thankful for, scheduling-wise. Their final six games are tough: Xavier, Creighton, @ VIllanova, @ Georgetown, Seton Hall, Marquette. I think four of those teams are NCAA Tournament bound with Creighton and Seton Hall being the exceptions. Butler, ideally, would like to go 3-2 at worst down that stretch, so a victory over Creighton here is vital.
Villanova (February 20, Villanova, PA)
As mentioned above, Butler's final five games are tough. This one is likely the toughest. Villanova's only home conference loss in the new Big East was the infamous drubbing they took from Creighton on Martin Luther King Day 2014. Butler give the Wildcats a game last year in The Pavillon, trailing 36-32 at the half before losing 67-55. Butler will certainly be more battle tested this season when they travel to Pennsylvania late in the season.
Georgetown (February 27, Washington DC)
If your two toughest conference games are going to be back-to-back, it's nice to have a week off between them. Butler should have left the Verizon Center with a victory last season, if not for some late game heroics from Isaac Copeland. These are two of the deepest teams in the Big East, two of the most experienced teams, and two of the best teams. This game should be a great one.
Seton Hall (March 2)
Seton Hall might end up being a bubble team if all goes according for plan for Kevin Willard and company. This game becomes huge for him. By this point, Butler should be safely in the NCAA Tournament, so this game should mean more for the Pirates than the Bulldogs. At the same time, Butler will be playing for Big East Tournament seeding, so this game isn't all for naught.
Marquette (March 5)
The Bulldogs wrap up their season with a meeting with the Golden Eagles. Marquette, like Seton Hall, might find themselves on the bubble and in need of a victory in this game. At the same time, though, it will be senior day, so Roosevelt Jones and Kellen Dunham will be taking the court at Hinkle Fieldhouse for the last time. Those two guys will likely have a bit of extra motivation in this one.