Following a promising Round of 32 tournament run during Chris Holtmann's first season as Butler's head coach last year, it's safe to say that expectations are high around Hinkle Fieldhouse right now. With stars Kellen Dunham and Roosevelt Jones heading into their final seasons and transfer guard Tyler Lewis set to make his debut, the Bulldogs have a lot of assets in their arsenal, and boast the relatively easy non-conference schedule to get things off on the right foot. Their Big East schedule will be a challenge (as it is every year), but with the season less than two months away, let's count down Butler's five games to watch this season.
5. The Citadel at Butler (Nov. 14)
5. Tennessee at Butler (Dec. 12)
The second game of a home-and-home arrangement with the Volunteers, this time the Bulldogs will play host to a Tennessee team that got the best of them on the road last season. Last year, Butler blew a nine point halftime lead while being outscored 42-21 in the second half, shooting a measly 33 percent on the day against a Volunteers defense that essentially took away all easy looks at the rim. An early win here could give the Bulldogs plenty of December momentum before conference play.
4. Butler vs. Purdue (Dec. 19)
Always a treat for basketball fans in the state of Indiana, the Crossroads Classic has become a staple of Butler's schedule. Since they played Indiana last year, the Bulldogs will face the Boilermakers this time around, looking to repeat a 76-70 victory from 2013. Purdue will be a great test of Butler's big men, as 7'0" senior A.J. Hammons patrols the interior and freshman Caleb Swanigan, Indiana's reigning Mr. Baskeball, looks to make a name for himself early. This is a stronger Boilermaker team than the Bulldogs saw two years ago, and this could be a shootout for the fans at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
3. Xavier at Butler (Feb. 13)
There's no good way to put this: these two teams hate each other. The rivalry began even before the Bulldogs joined the Musketeers in the Atlantic 10 back in 2012, and really cemented when both teams made the jump to the Big East just one year later. Add in Xavier sophomore Trevon Bluiett's Indianapolis connection, and you've got a LOUD Hinkle Fieldhouse crowd brewing here.
2. Providence at Butler (Dec. 31)
The Big East's New Years Tip-Off matchups are always a blast, and the Bulldogs have the good fortune of getting things off the ground running at home to start their conference schedule. This game will also mark the first time that the Bulldogs get to see Providence and their star guard Kris Dunn, who may be the best player in the Big East this season. It's not quite a Villanova-level test to kick off Big East play like the Bulldogs have seen in previous years, but watching some of the conference's best players go at it right away is going to be something special.
1. Villanova at Butler (Jan. 10)
Did we really think it would be anyone else? Once again, Villanova is the team to beat in the Big East, and after two close losses to the Wildcats at home in their first two years in the conference, the Bulldogs are looking to get the monkey off of their back. There's a real possibility that these will be the best two teams in the conference this season, and the positional matchups are terrific. Throw in Holtmann and Jay Wright and you've got a brilliant coaching showdown. There's so many storylines for this one. Sign me up.