clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

2018-19 Butler Bulldogs Season Preview

The Bulldogs return most of the team from last year, but will the one big departure loom large?

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Purdue Boilermakers vs Butler Bulldogs Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Coach

LaVall Jordan

Jordan exceeded expectations in his first season at Butler, but will the program take another step forward under his direction in 2018-2019?


2017-2018 Season at a Glance

21-14 (9-9, BIG EAST — t-6th place); #10 seed in NCAA Tournament, advanced to round of 32; #20 KenPom

Departures

Player Reason 2017-2018 Stats
Player Reason 2017-2018 Stats
Kelan Martin Graduation 21.2 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 2.0 APG, .447 FG%
Tyler Wideman Graduation 9.3 PPG, 5.1 RPG, .5 APG, .672 FG%

Returnees

Player Year 2017-2018 Stats
Player Year 2017-2018 Stats
Henry Baddley Junior 4.1 PPG, 1.9 RPG, .5 APG, .521 FG%
Kamar Baldwin Junior 15.7 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 3.2 APG, .442 FG%
Joey Brunk Sophomore 1.3 PPG, 1.8 RPG, .2 APG, .524 FG%
Christian David Sophomore 1.1 PPG, .6 RPG, .4 APG, .345 FG%
Campbell Donovan Sophomore .5 PPG, .1 RPG, .200 FG%
Nate Fowler Senior 5.9 PPG, 3.1 RPG, .6 APG, .607 FG%
Jerald Gillens-Butler Sophomore 1.2 PPG, .5 RPG, .2 APG, .188 FG%
Paul Jorgensen Senior 10.2 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 2.5 APG, .417 FG%
Sean McDermott Junior 7.5 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 1.0 APG, .512 FG%
Aaron Thompson Sophomore 4.3 PPG, 1.4 RPG, 3.4 APG, .396 FG%

Newcomers

Player Year
Player Year
Bryce Golden Freshman
Markeese Hastings Freshman
Jordan Tucker Sophomore (Transfer from Duke)


What Happened Last Year?

With new coach LaVall Jordan taking the reins, Butler had a lot of questions to answer coming into the season. Early on, the Bulldogs didn’t give reassuring answers. The Bulldogs crushed a slew of weak opponents, but were no match for the likes of Maryland, Texas, and Purdue. The bright spot in nonconference play happened on November 26, when the Bulldogs won an absolute thriller over former coach Chris Holtmann and his Ohio State Buckeyes.

In BIG EAST play, the Bulldogs proved that they were a formidable opponent. They started off by overcoming a 20-point deficit to stun Georgetown, eventually winning in double overtime. Next time out, Butler turned in an all-time great offensive performance, burying 15 three-pointers in a victory over #1-ranked Villanova.

The Bulldogs’ performance leveled out and they struggled with inconsistency. They usually prevailed when Martin was supported by a consistent second scorer, but their offense was occasionally stymied and they were often unable to defend the paint. Butler finished 9-9 in the BIG EAST, tying for sixth place. The Dawgs finally ended their winless streak in the BIG EAST Tournament by beating Seton Hall before getting run out of New York by Villanova.

In the NCAA Tournament, Butler, a ten-seed, dominated Arkansas and then battled Purdue to the wire in a tough loss. Kelan Martin was named unanimously to the All-BIG EAST First Team.


Key Nonconference Match-Ups

The nonconference schedule is somewhat pedestrian by Butler’s standards, but it is not without some interesting match-ups.

The highlight of the nonconference schedule will be the Bulldogs’ participation in the Battle 4 Atlantis (Nov. 21-23) where they play a tough Dayton team first and could play the likes of Virginia, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin later on.

Butler will also face Indiana in the Crossroads Classic on December 15. Two other potential NCAA Tournament teams on the nonconference slate are Saint Louis (Dec. 1) and Florida (Dec. 29).


Reasons for Optimism

The Butler Way

Over the last decade or so, Butler has shown an impressive capability for replacing lost production. For example, the Bulldogs have qualified for the NCAA Tournament (and won at least one game there) four straight years despite losing star players Kellen Dunham, Roosevelt Jones, and Andrew Chrabascz during that stretch.

Much of this can likely be attributed to the well-documented culture of selflessness, teamwork, and toughness that is emphasized at Butler. LaVall Jordan is a strong proponent of “the Butler Way,” having played at Butler and coached there under Todd Lickliter. Jordan has brought a new mantra to the Bulldogs as well – “gritty, not pretty.”

If Jordan’s team can compete at the same level as recent Butler squads, it could be in the mix for a BIG EAST title in what could be a bit of a down year for the conference.

Perimeter Play

Butler has a chance to dominate the perimeter against most opponents. Kamar Baldwin, who was selected unanimously to the preseason All-BIG EAST First Team, could be one of the most explosive scorers in the nation. Paul Jorgensen and Sean McDermott will complement Baldwin nicely – both can get hot from long-range and both are capable of getting to the rim on occasion.

Baldwin will be the star defensively as well. Baldwin’s length and athleticism combined with Jorgensen’s aggressiveness and Aaron Thompson’s constant pestering of ball-handlers should cause major problems for opposing guards. The size and rebounding ability of McDermott will help neutralize bigger guards or forwards that play on the perimeter.

Jordan Tucker, who will be discussed in depth further down, will also be a major player on the perimeter for Butler.

Experience and Roles

Butler has two great luxuries that many college teams lack – experienced players and defined roles. Not only does Butler have several upperclassmen, but they are upperclassmen that saw lot of playing time as freshmen and sophomores. Every returning Butler player has either experienced or witnessed first-hand the grind of a BIG EAST schedule and the intensity of the NCAA Tournament.

Furthermore, the roles on this Butler team are abundantly clear. Baldwin is the star, Jorgensen and McDermott are the shooters. Thompson is a ball-handler, passer, and defender. Fowler is the big man who must defend the paint and stretch the floor. Baddley and Brunk are the tough guys that bring a spark off the bench. There is some uncertainty as to the roles of some of the younger players (David, Gillens-Butler, etc.) and Tucker is, again, a wild card; but the Bulldogs shouldn’t face much confusion about how each player should contribute to team success.


Reasons for Pessimism

Inconsistent Scoring

Last year, Butler struggled to find a consistent second scorer to Kelan Martin. This year, Baldwin must take over the role as top scorer, but he was somewhat unreliable even as second fiddle; in a late stretch of the season, Baldwin scored 35 points over the course of four games, then proceeded to score 32 points in one game against Seton Hall.

For Butler to succeed, it will need Baldwin to dominate consistently and for Jorgensen, McDermott, and/or Tucker to consistently contribute in the scoring department. When those secondary scorers fail to perform, it will be tough for Butler to win. When Baldwin fails to perform, it will be nearly impossible.

Post Play

Post play was a struggle for Butler most of last year even with Tyler Wideman in the lineup. Now, Butler will rely heavily on Nate Fowler – who has been perceived by some as being “soft” – to hold down the interior, especially on defense.

Joey Brunk, who should see a major increase in playing time this year, can help. However, Brunk looked a little lost in his limited minutes last season and has yet to make any kind of mark on the team. It is quite possible that replacing Tyler Wideman will prove more difficult than replacing Kelan Martin for the Bulldogs.

Physicality

Butler teams of the past have been founded on tough, physical defense and rebounding. Recent Butler teams have gone slightly away from this identity, and, in fact, the Bulldogs have struggled some defensively the last few years. Losing Martin and Wideman can’t help in this regard. Both were big, strong, physical defenders and were the team’s top two rebounders.

Butler, which has several players that specialize more in skill and finesse, may find itself struggling to compete with other teams’ physicality this year. While most of the Bulldogs are certainly defensive-minded, they may not have any enforcers that can wear down the opponent and help dictate the pace.


Wild Card

Jordan Tucker gets his own section here because he is an enormous wild card for the Dawgs. Tucker, who was ranked as high as #40 among national recruits in high school, played at Duke for less than a season before transferring to Butler in search of more playing time. As a result, Tucker will miss the first several games of the season but will be eligible once the fall semester ends.

Tucker is known as a sharpshooter and can play small forward or stretch the floor as a power forward in a smaller lineup. It is uncertain what kind of impact Tucker will have or even how many minutes he can expect to play. He may start, or he may struggle to find minutes, depending on his production. What is certain is that he will have a chance to prove himself. If he can defend and – most importantly – lighten the scoring burden for Kamar Baldwin, he could change the entire composition of the Bulldogs’ team.


Outlook

Best Case Scenario

Butler tears through nonconference play, going nearly undefeated – perhaps dropping a game or two in the Battle4Atlantis and losing to Florida. In BIG EAST play, Kamar Baldwin establishes himself as the obvious choice for BEPOY and Tucker provides a powerful scoring punch. Butler competes at a consistent level while opponents struggle to find their identities. Villanova doesn’t live up to expectations and Butler wins the conference with four or five losses. Butler enters the NCAA Tournament as a #2 or #3 seed and has a nice little run, advancing to the Elite Eight before falling to a complete team that dominates the Dawgs in the post.

Worst Case Scenario

The Bulldogs stumble through the nonconference slate while Kamar Baldwin struggles to score consistently and Butler fails to take care of the ball. In conference play, Butler has some terrific performances but is mostly mediocre and finishes with a losing record as several conference opponents exceed expectations. Butler finishes seventh or eighth in the standings and a first-round BIG EAST Tournament loss seals their fate as an NIT squad.

Prediction

23-8 (14-4, BIG EAST)

Kamar Baldwin wins BEPOY and the Dawgs tie for first in the conference. They enter the NCAA Tournament as a #4 seed and advance to the Sweet 16.