At first glance, Butler’s nonconference schedule may seem a little dull. But with just enough marquee match-ups and a few teams that could surprise Butler fans, the first couple months of the Bulldogs’ season should be plenty entertaining. Let’s take a dive into the non-con slate and make some predictions while we’re at it.
Miami (OH) – November 10
The RedHawks were a middle-of-the-pack team in the MAC last year, finishing 8-10 in league play. They have higher aspirations this year, largely because of star sophomore Nike Sibande. The Indiana high school standout led Miami in scoring and was named MAC Freshman of the Year. Sibande is an explosive scorer who netted a season-high 29 points in Miami’s final game last season, a CBI loss to Campbell.
Another key player from last year’s RedHawks squad is Darrian Ringo. Ringo led the MAC in steals and was one of the top assist-men in the nation but was dismissed from the team in July. A recent update from coach Jack Owens stated that Ringo is “working his way back onto the team.” If Ringo is part of the 2018-2019 squad, Miami will have a formidable backcourt. The defense of Aaron Thompson and Kamar Baldwin could be the key factor for Butler in this match-up.
Prediction: Butler 82 Miami 68
Detroit Mercy – November 12
The Detroit Mercy Titans, an old Horizon league foe of Butler, will travel to Hinkle on November 12. Things have been bleak for the Titans lately – they finished last season at 8-24 and last in the Horizon League. However, after dismissing head coach Bacari Alexander, Detroit Mercy hired the very experienced Mike Davis. Davis, who is coming to Detroit from Texas Southern, previously coached at Indiana and UAB and has coached in nine NCAA Tournaments.
Davis will have his work cut out for him as Detroit Mercy will feature just three players returning from last year. Between exhausted eligibility and a bevy of transfers, Davis will be asked to engineer one of the toughest rebuilds in recent memory.
Prediction: Butler 96 Detroit Mercy 68
Ole Miss – November 16
For its third game, Butler will face yet another program looking to bounce back from a disappointing season. Ole Miss finished dead last in the SEC last year. In March, Ole Miss hired Kermit Davis as its new head coach. Davis previously coached at Middle Tennessee, helping the Raiders become one of the most successful mid-major programs in the country.
Davis insists that Ole Miss has the talent to win now and doesn’t expect a lengthy rebuilding process. The Rebels return star guard Terence Davis, who tested the NBA Draft waters before announcing his intention to return for his senior season. Ole Miss will also expect major contributions from senior forward Bruce Stevens. Stevens started 19 games last year, averaging 10.8 points and 5.3 rebounds per game while shooting over 50% from the field.
Prediction: Butler 73 Ole Miss 65
BATTLE 4 ATLANTIS: Dayton – November 21
Butler will open the Battle 4 Atlantis against the Dayton Flyers. Dayton finished with a losing record last season, but the Flyers are loaded with talent. They return four starters from last year’s team, including A10 Player of the Year aspirant, Josh Cunningham. Cunningham logged more than 15 points and 8 rebounds per game last season, shooting 64.6% from the field. Butler – having lost Tyler Wideman – will need Nate Fowler and company to step it up in the post against Cunningham.
Joining Cunningham in the starting lineup last year were three underclassmen who will make major contributions this year. Junior Trey Landers figures to be second-in-command to Cunningham, while sophomores Jordan Davis and Jalen Crutcher will be relied upon heavily in the backcourt. With three talented freshmen (Dwayne Cohill, Frankie Policelli, and Jhery Matos) joining the ranks, Dayton brings an intriguing mix of talent and experience to the table.
Prediction: Dayton 81 Butler 77
BATTLE FOR ATLANTIS, GAMES TWO AND THREE: Virginia, Middle Tennessee, Wisconsin, Stanford, Oklahoma, or Florida – November 22-23
The list of teams Butler could possibly play in the Battle 4 Atlantis is an impressive one. Each program has a history of success, especially recently. The strength of Butler’s non-conference schedule is noticeably weaker than it has been in past years, but the Bulldogs are counting on this tournament to beef up their NCAA Tournament resume. After Dayton, Butler will have two more opportunities for quality wins since each game will be played against a tough opponent at a neutral site.
Prediction: After losing to Dayton, Butler defeats Middle Tennessee and then beats Oklahoma, claiming fifth place in the tournament
Saint Louis – December 1
Saint Louis will be Butler’s first repeat opponent from the 2017-2018 season. Last year, the Bulldogs overwhelmed the Billikens, beating them 75-45; the game was played at Hinkle Fieldhouse and it was Kelan Martin who led the charge for Butler. This year, playing at Saint Louis and without Martin, the Bulldogs may have more of a challenge on their hands.
The Billikens’ most exciting player is sophomore Jordan Goodwin. Goodwin, listed at 6’3” and 215 pounds, is reminiscent of Roosevelt Jones – he’s from Illinois, and he’s a legitimate triple-double threat who led his team in rebounding last year despite playing point guard. Saint Louis went on a bit of a hot streak last year before Goodwin was suspended for violating university policy. Goodwin and roommate Hasahn French will look to lead the Billikens in playing a physical, bullying brand of basketball.
Prediction: Butler 88 Saint Louis 66
Brown – December 5
Brown struggled mightily in the Ivy League last year, finishing second-to-last, but the Bears return two star guards, Desmond Cambridge and Brandon Anderson. Either Cambridge or Anderson led the Bears in scoring in 23 of their 27 games last season, and a strong set of backup guards gives Brown an impressive backcourt.
However, the Bears have serious difficulties in the paint. Brown kept many games close against guard-heavy teams last year, including an overtime loss to Providence, but got dominated by strong interior players. If Butler hasn’t figured out how to replace the post production of Martin and Wideman by December 5, Brown might battle them closer than expected.
Prediction: Butler 77 Brown 67
Northern Illinois – December 8
Northern Illinois has been a consistent bottom-feeder in the MAC since its successful 2005-2006 season ended; there is little reason to believe this year will be any different than the last 12. The Huskies return Eugene German who averaged over 20 points per game last season, but his output likely won’t be enough to overcome his team’s defensive woes and lack of a consistent second scorer. Butler hosts Northern Illinois as a tune-up contest before the Crossroads Classic and it will be very surprising if the Huskies are able to make a game of it.
Prediction: Butler 90 Northern Illinois 70
Crossroads Classic: Indiana – December 15
Butler’s Crossroads Classic contest is always one of the most anticipated non-conference games of the year, especially when they are matched up with the Indiana Hoosiers. This year, Butler faces an Indiana program that is still struggling to get back to its former prominence. Butler has beaten IU in three of the teams’ last five meetings, including a five-point victory in the most recent match-up (2016).
Indiana’s success this season will be largely dependent on freshman Romeo Langford. Langford is a five-star shooting guard who will be asked to shoulder much of the load for an offense that struggled last year. Langford will team up with forward Juwan Howard who led the Hoosiers in scoring last season and was named to the All-Big Ten Second Team. It’s difficult to project how good Indiana will be this year; regardless, the rivalry, bragging rights, and frenzied atmosphere of the Crossroads Classic should make for an excellent game between IU and Butler.
Prediction: Butler 75 Indiana 73
Presbyterian – December 18
Presbyterian College, located in Clinton, South Carolina, only officially became a Division I athletics school in 2012. Presbyterian’s teams were once known as the Blue Stockings because of the socks they wore. The name was often abbreviated in newspapers with “hose,” and eventually, the Blue Stockings became officially known as the Blue Hose. Presbyterian plays in the underrated Big South conference. While the top teams in the Big South are usually tough, Presbyterian managed to win just four conference games last year. On top of that, leading scorer Reggie Dillard has graduated and departed, along with feisty point guard Davon Bell. Presbyterian will find itself in the unfortunate situation of having to rebuild following an already unsuccessful season. It’ll be hard not to root for the Blue Hose this year, but they will likely pose no threat to Butler on December 18.
Prediction: Butler 90 Presbyterian 62
UC Irvine – December 21
The Anteaters are coming off a strong season in which they finished third in the Big West and lost in the championship game of their conference tournament. UC Irvine’s roster is loaded with talented players that were seemingly just a little too small at their respective positions to warrant offers from bigger programs. The Anteaters played as a team last year, improving steadily as the season went along, and with just about everybody returning, an NCAA Tournament bid is the goal.
Sharpshooter Evan Leonard, big man Tommy Rutherford, and glue guy Eyassu Worku will lead UC Irvine this year. If the Bulldogs get caught looking ahead to the weeklong holiday break, the Anteaters could give them some trouble at Hinkle.
Prediction: Butler 79 UC Irvine 73
Florida – December 29
Butler finishes up non-conference play with an intriguing match-up against the Florida Gators. Florida won a game in the NCAA Tournament last year and then gave 3-seed Texas Tech all it could handle before eventually losing by three points. They lost a handful of key contributors from last year’s team and while head coach Mike White had a solid recruiting haul for 2018, the incoming freshmen aren’t likely to fill the void.
Nevertheless, Florida has been a very successful program for years now, and White has proven himself to be a solid coach. The Gators seem to possess the same capability as Butler to re-create themselves each season and to continue to compete at a high level regardless of roster turnover. With seasoned veteran Jalen Hudson leading Florida, the Bulldogs must be prepared for what could very well be their toughest non-conference opponent of the season.
Prediction: Butler 80 Florida 74
Butler may have deliberately kept the nonconference schedule a little light so as to conserve energy for the grueling Big East slate. The Bulldogs should enter conference play with a great record and a winning mentality.