1. Given all the issues Butler had to deal with going into the season (mainly the uncertainty at head coach), did you ever expect they would be as successful as they were?
Robert O’Neill: Before the Brandon Miller situation unfolded, I actually thought Butler was the third best team in the Big East behind Villanova and Georgetown. Once that all came out, I had them a bit closer to .500, because I didn’t know what to expect from Chris Holtmann. Little did we know that everything would click for the Bulldogs. I don’t think anyone pegged them as being quite that successful, but I didn’t think they’d finish under .500 like they did in 2013-14.
Mike Murtaugh: I’ll be completely honest in the fact that my expectations were slightly lower than the team’s actual results. In our season preview, I had them pegged at 18-13 in the regular season, and the Bulldogs came in far above that at 22-9. I’m not sure anyone expected Holtmann to become a Big East COY candidate, but if you ask me, he put together the most impressive start to finish coaching performance in the conference this season. His debut ended up being even more impressive than Miller’s, and it was a huge reason why the team was so successful this year. After losing Brad Stevens to the Boston Celtics just two summers ago, Butler has most definitely found a worthy replacement.
Pierce Roberson: I expected this team to turnaround from a dreadful campaign. 2014 was an underachieving year for Butler without Roosevelt Jones, who proved how big he could be in that lineup in the NCAA Tournament. Chris Holtmann came in and changed the culture around and had Butler within seconds of the Sweet 16, so the success falls in line with my expectations for them this year. Now the question turns to “where can they go from here?” Kellen Dunham and Jones are returning, this team has some moxie after a good year in 2015. The Big East title is in their sights. It’s their job to grab that brass ring.
Adam Hillman: I always believed this was one of the more talented teams in the Big East this year, even after Brandon Miller’s medical issues. With Roosevelt Jones coming back from injury, I wasn’t quite sure what role he would take on this team with his inability to shoot from outside. All the credit has to go to Chris Holtmann for rallying this team behind all the uncertainty at the beginning of the season and coaching up a team that lacked true size.
2. Who would you consider Butler’s MVP this season and why?
Robert: It’s tough, but I think I have to go with Roosevelt Jones. Kellen Dunham was the offensive force, but Jones was the glue that held everything together. Jones was a solid defender, above-average rebounder, and on the occasions where Dunham couldn’t get his shots to fall, Jones stepped up as a viable offensive option. I think there was a fair amount of disrespect sent Jones’ way when he wasn’t named a finalist for Big East Player of the Year.
Mike: I would say Holtmann, but that feels like cheating. I’ll take Kellen Dunham, who shook off some inconsistencies early in the season to finish as the team’s leading scorer for the second year in a row. For me, it wasn’t just the fact that he was so dominant offensively again this season, it was the way he was doing it. Think about it: last year, Dunham was potentially the team’s only consistent offensive option, but this year, he had to learn to share the ball with Roosevelt Jones, who was returning from a wrist injury that cost him the entire previous season. He shot 41 percent from three-point range, which was up a whopping six percent from the 2013-14 season, and showed new confidence driving to the hoop and breaking down defenders off the dribble. Jones was terrific, but there’s a reason Dunham was the player selected to the All-Big East first team. By learning to work off of his teammates to find open shots, Dunham turned into one of the most dangerous shooters in the nation, let alone the Big East.
Pierce: Roosevelt Jones. You can tell how much Butler missed this guy in 2014. Like Rob said, he was the glue that held the roster together. Dunham was stellar offensively, but Rozay was all-around Butler’s MVP last year. High-energy guy, good defender, can get to the hoop and score. Dunham might have lit up the stat sheet, but Jones did all the dirty work that propelled the Bulldogs to the NCAA tournament.
Adam: I have to take Roosevelt Jones. Andrew Chrabascz was enticing since he was able to solidify the paint for a team that lacked solid interior defense but Jones really was just outstanding this year. Excluding shooting from outside, Jones was dominant and really did just about everything for Butler. At 6’5, he averaged 5.2 rebounds and 4 assists per game. Even at his small stature, Jones was able to bully his way in the paint and force the defense to crash down on him so the shooters like Alex Barlow and Kellen Dunham could take open shots. He may have not been the most talented offensive player, but his impact stretched far beyond his statistics, which are pretty solid in their own right.
3. Butler will return most of their team, but Kam Woods and Alex Barlow both graduated. Neither of these guys were stat sheet stuffers, but Woods was a great rebounder, and Barlow was a high-caliber defensive PG. Will the Bulldogs struggle to replace them?
Robert: Butler is in one of the tougher situations around the Big East when it comes to players departing, because Woods and Barlow were both starters. On the bright side for the Bulldogs, they were also the fourth and fifth scoring options, respectively. While I think Butler’s rebounding numbers might dip a bit with the departure of Woods, all in all these guys are replaceable. Tyler Wideman did a nice job coming off the bench for the Bulldogs at forward, and former McDonald’s All-American transfer Tyler Lewis is eligible this year at PG for the Bulldogs. The starting lineup this year should be Lewis-Dunham-Jones-Wideman- Andrew Chrabascz.
Mike: Both players had tremendous careers at Butler, and it was great fun to watch Woods come on offensively towards the end of this past season after eating on the glass for the last two years. Barlow is the more replaceable player, with stud transfer Tyler Lewis ready to take the reins at the point, but they’ll miss his defensive tenacity and unparalleled work ethic. Lewis brings a different type of skillset to the team than Barlow did, as he’s a naturally talented passer with a knack for streaking to the rim, and he’ll open up the offense in ways that Barlow did not. We’ll see less sets with Jones playing “point forward” now that Lewis gives the team a true point guard, and think about how much fun it will be to see Lewis and Andrew Chrabascz in the pick-and-roll with Dunham flying around on the wings. As for Woods, I have no idea who fills that role next season. We’re talking about an athletic, lanky, 6’9” rebounder who could shut down wing players and block shots inside, and the Bulldogs just don’t have one of those for next year. Tyler Wideman’s skillset will replace some of that rebounding, but leaves the team incredibly undersized in the paint. Jackson Davis is the most similar to Woods in terms of body type, but will need to take a big step forward after some short spurts in the lineup this past season. They’re going to miss Woods badly next season.
Pierce - You lose Barlow and Woods, two starters on that team, but you bring in Tyler Lewis, who never really got a chance to show what he can do at NC State. He’ll set up Dunham well coming off screens and he’s good at putting the ball on the deck and taking it to the rim. Woods is more difficult to replace, but Tyler Wideman is a solid rebounder and should fill that role well.
Adam: Barlow and Woods’s impact on defense and rebounding will definitely be missed, although Butler has hit the mark on the transfer market. N.C state transfer Tyler Lewis is smaller than Barlow but is very strong defensively and loves to play unselfishly. Barlow’s scoring may actually be upgraded with the addition of George Washington transfer Kethan Savage. He should be ruled eligible and will be a definite scoring boost off of the bench. Kelan Martin only brought down 2 rebounds per game this year, but he also only played 14 minutes a game. His minutes should increase along with his rebounds. Roosevelt Jones could take a larger role as a rebounder next year along with Chrabascz. Also, watch out for freshman Nate Fowler. He will be the largest on the team next year 6’10 and has been noted in high school for his excellent rebounding ability. Losing those two may hurt, but Holtmann has done a solid job preparing for their exits.
4. Following the season, Chris Holtmann was rewarded with a nice extension following rumors he might be considered for the Tennessee job. How important was it for Butler to lock up Holtmann long-term?
Robert: Incredibly important. You could tell all season that the players really took a liking to Holtmann and truly believed in what he was doing, which led to their success. Plus, had Butler lost him to Tennessee, they would have been starting the coaching search process for a fourth time in four seasons, a feat that has likely never been accomplished. I don’t think Holtmann was ever seriously going to go to Tennessee, but you can’t blame the guy for using some leverage to get a raise.
Mike: To be honest, I’m not sure how legitimate the Tennessee rumors ever actually were, and the extension was probably more of a reward for how unbelievably impressive Holtmann was with the limited time he had to prepare for a head coaching gig before last season. None the less, Holtmann’s extension was huge for Butler’s continuity. I won’t be surprised if Holtmann ends up in the same conversations that Stevens was once in as a mid-major coach who could potentially make the leap to a higher-profile gig, but you can tell the guy loves his job and has a special relationship with his players. He’s not going anywhere for a while, especially after receiving a nice bonus this offseason.
Pierce - There’s a lot of debate to the validity of those rumors, but this is where Holtmann needs to be. How crushing would it be for this team to go through four head coaches in four years? Holtmann has a good opportunity to do something in Indianapolis next year and perhaps make the jump to a better coaching gig when he better establishes himself, but for now, enjoy that pay raise and win Butler some ball games.
Adam: Rumors like those appear all the time before a coach signs a massive extension. They are almost always released by the coaches agent to try and coerce the school into signing a larger contract. Either way, if they did not sign him to a long extension there is a strong possibility that he would jump ship, if not this year then the next. He proved this year that he was a solid recruiter, play caller, and coach in the locker room and I am sure that a large school like Texas with a massive amount of funding program would have scooped him up. Signing him to that contract solidifies Butler as a contender in the Big East for years to come.
5. Early prediction for next season?
Robert: I think anything short of the NCAA Tournament for a team that has their three best offensive players returning would be a disappointment. Butler’s nonconference schedule this season is about as tough as last season, but I still think they should be able to grab a quality win or two in Puerto Rico, then possibly beat Purdue at the Crossroads Classic. That would put them in very good shape heading into the Big East slate.
Mike: They’re going to be really, really good. Lewis is under-the-radar right now, but dominates in practice and is going to be really special at the point. Dunham and Jones are both in their final years of eligibility, Chrabascz should take another step forward, and both Kelan Martin and Jackson Davis could have nice seasons under the right circumstances. They should be a tournament team, and could be top three in the Big East. I undersold the Bulldogs before this past season, but I’ve got big expectations for this team next year.
Pierce - I think they CAN win the Big East next year. They’ll have some obstacles to overcome, but this is a veteran team with two leaders in Jones and Dunham. Andrew Chrabascz took some steps this year and Holtmann has a year of coaching under his belt. I don’t have them as my early pick to win next year, but it’s not far-fetched to think Butler has the weapons to do so.
Adam: With their talent and the coach, they should make the NCAA tournament as a higher seed than this year. The Big East will be strong next year so saying that they will win the league is a bit premature. Although, they have the talent to do so and I would not be surprised if this team is playing in the second weekend of the NCAA tournament. With Jones, Dunham, Chrabascz, and Martin coming back, plus the incoming transfers and recruits, it should be considered a disappointing season if Butler is not an elite level Big East team next year.