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2017-18 Butler Bulldogs Big East Season Preview

The ‘Dawgs are out to defy expectations... again. With a new head coach... again.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Milwaukee Practice Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

BUTLER BULLDOGS SEASON PREVIEW

COACH

LaVall Jordan (11-24 at Milwaukee in 2016-17)

In their fifth season in the Big East, the Butler Bulldogs will have their third different head coach. After Brandon Miller came Chris Holtmann, who succeeded and then some in Indianapolis the past few seasons. Holtmann, however, is now in Columbus with the Ohio State Buckeyes. The Buckeyes’ vacancy was enough to tantalize him to flee the Big East for the Big Ten, and put BU in scramble mode.

They didn’t have to go too far to find their next head coach, though. And it’s a name Butler fans know already. LaVall Jordan, who starred for the ‘Dawgs from 1997-2001, is back on the Butler staff. He served as an assistant coach from 2003-2007 under then-head coach Todd Lickliter. Jordan made stops at Iowa and Michigan before assuming the role of head coach with Milwaukee last season.

There were a lot of moving parts, and the 11-24 record is a bit ghastly. But if BU was going to hire ‘their’ guy, Jordan was the right man for the position.


2016-17 Season at a Glance

25-9, 12-6 in Big East; finished 2nd in standings; Lost in Sweet 16 to North Carolina Tar Heels


DEPARTURES FROM 2016-17

Player Departure Reason 2016 Stats/Notes
Andrew Chrabascz Graduation 11.4 PPG, 4.6 RPG, All-Big East 1st Team
Avery Woodson Graduation 8.9 PPG, .421 3PT FG%, Made 20 Starts in 2016-17
Kethan Savage Graduation 8.0 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 1.5 APG, Made 11 Starts in 2016-17
Tyler Lewis Graduation 6.6 PPG, 4.0 APG, 0.6 SPG, Made 23 Starts in 2016-17
Trey Pettus Graduation 1.3 PPG, 0.3 RPG, 0.4 APG, Appeared in 7 Games in 2016-17

RETURNEES FROM 2016-17

Player Year 2016 Stats/Notes
Kamar Baldwin So. 10.1 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 3.1 APG, Big East All-Freshman Team Selection
Henry Baddley So. 1.1 PPG, 0.8 RPG, 0.2 APG, Appeared in 24 Games in 2016-17
Sean McDermott So. 2.3 PPG, 1.4 RPG, 0.3 APG, Appeared in 30 Games in 2016-17
Kelan Martin Sr. 16.0 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 1.2 APG, 2017 Preseason All-Big East First Team Selection
Tyler Wideman Sr. 7.2 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 0.8 BPG, Started All 34 Games in 2016-17
Nate Fowler Jr. 5.3 PPG, 2.1 RPG, Shot 3PT FG% of 47.6%, Appeared in All 34 Games in 2016-17
Joey Brunk So. 3.1 PPG, 1.0 RPG, 0.1 BPG, Appeared in 7 Games in 2016-17

ARRIVALS FOR 2017-18

Player 247Sports Composite Rankings
Paul Jorgensen Transfer from George Washington
Aaron Thompson 3-Star, 171st Ovr, 33rd Pos (PG), 11th St (Virginia)
Christian David 3-Star, 196th Ovr, 41st Pos (SG), 2nd St (Vermont)
Jerald Gillens-Butler 3-Star, 243rd Ovr, 51st Pos (PG), 24th St (Florida)

WHAT HAPPENED LAST YEAR

Once again, Butler defied preseason expectations and made a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. It would only be surprising if it didn’t feel so normal. Right? All the time, it seems that Butler is in this position. Forget the fact that Kellen Dunham, Roosevelt Jones, Austin Etherington and Jordan Gathers left town. Kelan Martin, Andrew Chrabascz, Tyler Wideman and newcomer Kamar Baldwin ran the show last season, and ran it so well, all the ‘Dawgs did was finish second in the Big East.

Oh, and they beat Arizona Wildcats in Vegas.

Also, they picked off Villanova Wildcats at The Pavilion, something no team had done since 2013.

By the way, they also led wire-to-wire in the Round of 64 and 32 in the NCAA Tourney before falling to UNC.

Pretty impressive, huh?


Reasons for Optimism

Kelan Martin and Kamar Baldwin

While the Bulldogs lost a big impact player in Chrabascz, don’t overlook the fact that Martin and Baldwin are back. Martin was one of the best players in the Big East last year despite bouts of inconsistency and a sometimes-baffling usage (or lack thereof) by Holtmann. Interestingly enough, Martin actually raised his scoring total from 2015-16 to 2016-17 by almost a full point per game, while only getting a small uptick in minutes. It’s not out of the realm of possibility to see that number rise yet again this year. The important thing for Martin will be finding a consistent rhythm early in the game and taking smart, confident shots. It’s his team now.

The other big returning piece here? Kamar Baldwin, who was one of the Big East’s best defenders in his freshman campaign, averaging 1.7 steals per game, which was good enough for fourth-best in the conference. Baldwin also showed he was a formidable threat on offense, as well, averaging 10.1 points per game and 11.3 in Big East play. It feels like Baldwin is primed to keep developing on both sides of the ball to the point where he’ll be a darkhorse pick for Big East Player of the Year before his time at Butler concludes.

Joey Brunk’s development

A lot was made about Brunk’s commitment to Butler over Oklahoma, among other schools. It was (and remains) a bit of a rarity for the Bulldogs to land a commitment from an Indianapolis native. The hype was significant from when Brunk committed to the time that he got to campus.

Then, life interfered. In short, Brunk spent most of his freshman season dealing with off the court issues related to the health of his father, and ended up redshirting his first year with the Bulldogs (pending NCAA approval).

While the tragic events of last year undoubtedly weighed heavily on Brunk, he opened up to David Woods of the Indianapolis Star recently about how he’s looking ahead to this season.

Having Brunk is a huge gain for this Butler team, as they can really use a dominant player down low to pair with Tyler Wideman.

Butler Way

The Bulldogs have been one of the best teams in the Big East in their time since joining the conference, and it’s not coincidental. Since their run to back to back National Championship Games, Butler has been a dangerous squad despite having multiple different coaches and rosters in the time since. On paper this roster is a bit of a step back from last year, but Hinkle Fieldhouse is still an incredibly tough place to play and the Bulldogs play a strong nonconference schedule to get them ready for Big East play.

Reasons for Pessimism

Departures

All three reasons here are intertwined. The Bulldogs had a proven record of success under Chris Holtmann. He took them to three NCAA Tournaments and compiled a 70-31 record, including 34-20 in Big East play in his three seasons. Holtmann left Butler for Ohio State late in the coaching carousel, and the Bulldogs went with a relatively inexperienced alum in LaVall Jordan. That move may ultimately end up working out, and this could all be rendered irrelevant, but on the surface, losing Holtmann stings.

Continuing the theme of departures, Swiss Army Knife and 2016-17 All-Big East First Teamer Andrew Chrabascz graduated. Like Roosevelt Jones before him, Chrabascz was solid in every aspect of the game, and did more on the court than the stat sheet may indicate, which is saying something considering his 11.4 points and 4.6 rebounds per game last season. He was the ultimate glue guy, and Butler will need someone to step up and fill that role.

Finally, Tyler Lewis graduated, as well. While Lewis didn’t light up the scoreboard, he was one of the nation’s best point guards in terms of not turning the ball over, which led to the Bulldogs leading the Big East in turnover percentage last year (15%). Additionally, Lewis was a gifted passer, with his 32.6 assist rate checking in at 37th in the nation. When you put all three of these departures together, the cracks in the roster start to appear.


Best Case Scenario

The best case scenario for the Bulldogs is pretty similar to what it usually is, when you think about it. Win 20+ games, finish in the top four of the Big East, win a Big East Tournament game, and make the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. One of Martin or Baldwin would likely be on the All-Big East First Team in this scenario and LaVall Jordan could be getting Big East Coach of the Year hype, as well.

Worst Case Scenario

Martin struggles to find consistency, Baldwin takes a step back instead of forward, and the aforementioned departures prove to be too much to overcome as Butler ends up eighth in the Big East, as predicted by the coaches at Big East media day.


Outlook

It seems foolish to doubt Butler again. They certainly have the scoring prowess with Kelan Martin. They have the defense with Wideman and Baldwin, who should take another step forward after an impressive freshman season. Nate Fowler could be an X-Factor if he performs at a high-caliber level.

Has the conference improved too much for this team to handle? We don’t know what LaVall Jordan brings to the table, although he has the BOTD for now. The ceiling for this team is another trip to the NCAA Tournament. The floor may very well be eighth place in the grinder that is the Big East.