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Big East Season Preview: Butler Bulldogs

Our Season Previews conclude with Butler!

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Key Returnees

Kellen Dunham (16.5 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 33.9 MPG)

Roosevelt Jones (12.7 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 3.7 APG, 35.5 MPG)

Andrew Chrabascz (11.2 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 1.7 APG, 28.7 MPG)

Kelan Martin (7.1 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 14.6 MPG)

Austin Ethrington (2.3 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 12.3 MPG)

Tyler Wideman (2.3 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 10.9 MPG)


Tyler Lewis (Guard, Transfer from N.C. State, eligible to play after sitting out last season due to NCAA transfer rules)

Jordan Gathers (Guard, Transfer from St. Bonaventure, eligible to play immediately as a graduate transfer)

Kethan Savage (Guard, Transfer from George Washington, eligible to play in 2016-17)

Nate Fowler (3* Center, Cincinnati, OH)

Sean McDermott (3* Guard, Pendleton, IN)

Key Departures

Alex Barlow (8.9 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 2.6 APG, 2.2 SPG, 33.9 MPG)

Kameron Woods (7.8 PPG, 9.9 RPG, 31.3 MPG)


Chris Holtmann (2nd Year, 23-11 Record in 2014-15)

Last Season at a Glance

Robert: Going into last season, Butler was rife with uncertainty. A month before the season began, second-year head coach Brandon Miller took a medical leave of absence (from which he never returned) and Chris Holtmann was named interim head coach of the Bulldogs.

For the third time in three seasons, Butler had a new coach on opening night. Opening night also saw the return of Roosevelt Jones. Jones, who suffered a severe wrist injury in August 2013, missed all of the 2013-14 season. His absence proved costly for Butler, who went 14-17 in their first year in the Big East.

After a strong showing in the Battle 4 Atlantis, in which the Bulldogs recorded wins over (then) top 10 North Carolina, and Big East foe Georgetown in a rare nonconference meeting of conference teams, Butler was on the national radar. By the time Big East play opened, Holtmann had been named the full-time head coach.

The Bulldogs rolled to a second place finish in the Big East, going 12-6 in conference and 23-11 overall. This was good enough for a 6-seed in the NCAA Tournament. Butler took care of business against the Texas Longhorns before eventually losing to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in one of the best games of the Tournament.

Complete Coverage: Opening Week

3 Reasons for Optimism

Core returning

The Bulldogs are in one of the more interesting situations in the Big East, roster wise. They lost two starters from last year, but the three they returned mean more to the team than the two that departed. Sure, the Bulldogs might miss Alex Barlow and Kameron Woods in certain situations, but Roosevelt Jones, Kellen Dunham, and Andrew Chrabascz all returning is huge for the Bulldogs. Not to mention, former McDonald's All-American and NC State product Tyler Lewis is eligible this year, and if the two exhibition games are any indication, he'll fill Barlow's shoes just fine.

Coin flip games

If you're going to a job interview, a good skill to have is to be able to turn a negative on your resume into a positive. That's what we're going to do here for Butler: turn a negative from their 2014-15 NCAA Tournament resume into a positive. Butler lost six Big East games last year. Each loss (Villanova x2, Georgetown x2, Providence, Xavier) was to an NCAA Tournament team. Of those six losses, five were single digits, while three of those five were five points or less.

If you lose by five points or less, it is likely the result of one or two mistakes or "coin flip decisions". If the coin flips in the opposite direction in some of those games for Butler this season, they should be even stronger both in conference play and in the NCAA Tournament.


Fun fact: Chris Holtmann was the first head coach in Butler's history to have Division I coaching experience before taking over at Butler. Holtmann coached at Gardner-Webb for three seasons before coming to Butler as Brandon Miller's top assistant.

The prior experience seemed to help Holtmann, as Butler surpassed everyone's expectations last year, not to mention Butler's 2016 recruiting class is the best in school history.

3 reasons for pessimism

Inexperience Down Low

While it hasn't necessarily reared its head yet in the two exhibition games, the Bulldogs will need a few games to iron out their rotation down low after rebounding behemoth Kameron Woods (now the NBA D-League's Oklahoma City Blue) graduated this spring. Junior Andrew Chrabascz is back and locked in at one spot down the block after an impressive sophomore campaign, but Holtmann will have a bit of a committee to work with at the four or five (depending on where Chrabascz is lined up at any given time). Sophomore Tyler Wideman got the starting nod in both exhibition games and is the strongest of the bunch, but freshman center Nate Fowler and sophomore Jackson Davis will look to factor in with their height and athleticism, respectively. Together, they'll be able to pick up Woods' production, but it may take a little while to get their rhythm going.

Free Throw Shooting

The Bulldogs did themselves no favors at the free throw line last season, shooting just 68.6 percent from the charity stripe. Of players with at least 50 attempts, only Kellen Dunham (85.0 percent) and Alex Barlow (83.6 percent) shot north of 75 percent from the line, and with so many games coming down to the wire a year ago, their inability to make their gimme's came back to hurt them more often than not. It remains to be seen how the Bulldogs look there this season, as they shot an impressive 87.0 percent from the stripe in their first exhibition and just 69.2 percent in the second. One thing is clear: they're going to have to improve in this area this year if they want to take the next step.

Offensive Stagnancy

I'll admit, it's difficult to really call this a "weakness" this year, but the team undoubtedly struggled to create at time last season as they deferred to lots of mess iso sets for Dunham and Jones late in the shot clock. Rob touched on it a bit before, but Tyler Lewis looks to be the real deal at point guard, and with a true ballhandler running the offense, things should run a lot smoother this time around. Lewis is a passing savant, and he opens up lanes for his teammates while bending the D around with ease. It still remains to be seen how the team will handle things again with Lewis goes to the bench and Jones slides over to the point, but if the exhibition games are any indication, Holtmann has his team moving the ball much more fluidly this season. (I think I just turned a reason for pessimism into another opportunity to gush about Lewis, but I digress.)

Best Case Scenario

Mike: We talked about this on the Butler preview podcast the other day, but if we're talking the best possible scenario, it's not unrealistic to see this team reaching the Sweet 16 or Elite 8 depending on their tournament schedule. Dunham and Jones will hold an early edge on two All-Big East 1st Team slots, and there's a good chance that Dunham might end up being the second-best player in the conference behind Providence's Kris Dunn. They'll most certainly be in play to win the Big East tournament, and if Lewis breaks out, this could be one of the nation's best mid-major programs once again.

Worst Case Scenario

Robert: Barring injury to Jones or Dunham, it's tough to envision a scenario where the Bulldogs fail to reach the NCAA Tournament. I guess their worst case scenario would be to lose every "must-win" coin flip game I mentioned above, barely get to 18-20 wins, and be firmly on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament, but it's incredibly tough to picture. I guess losing in their first Tournament game would be a worst case scenario?

2015-16 Prediction

Mike: I went way too low with this team before last season, so I won't make that mistake again. 23-7, 13-5 Big East

Robert: An easier Thanksgiving Tournament this year leads to at least one more win for the Bulldogs. I think 23-7 is a pretty fair place to have them, so I have to agree with Mike.