The more things change, the more they remain the same. Or so hopes this year's version of the Butler Bulldogs.
Three seasons removed from back-to-back NCAA tournament runner-up campaigns-- coach Brad Stevens is gone. The 36-year-old coaching sensation from Indianapolis left for greener pastures, literally, in Boston where he will have the task of rebuilding the Boston Celtics. Gone too, are last year's leading scorer (Rotnei Clarke) and leading rebounder (Andrew Smith) to graduation. Returning junior Roosevelt Jones had season-ending wrist surgery in August as well.
Anything else? Oh yeah-- welcome to the Big East.
New head coach Brandon Miller and Blue III arrive on the scene with a completely revamped roster to face the program's biggest challenge yet. Cinderella status is in the past. Now comes the grind of two-and-a-half months of physical conference match-ups. Most schools would just be looking to survive, but Butler's pedigree brings with it the expectation of instant success.
Returning starter Alex Barlow will be joined in the backcourt by sophomore Kellen Dunham. Neither really qualify as pure point guards, which could limit a Butler team losing its top three scorers from last season. Barlow's 1.6 assist-to-turnover ratio led the team a year ago, but neither have shown they are capable of running an efficient offense. Look for Dunham to be the team's primary three-point shooter. Last year, 64 percent of his field goal attempts were from long range. Freshman Rene Castro could compete for a starting spot by mid-season if the Bulldogs need a boost.
Khyle Marshall, Kameron Woods, and Erik Fromm will headline the frontcourt. Marshall was incredibly efficient a season ago where he had the fourth-best floor percentage in the Atlantic 10. The Bulldog faithful hopes that he can continue that success when matched up with Big East forwards. Led by Smith and Jones, Butler boasted the 11th best rebounding margin in the country last year (plus 7.3). Woods and Fromm will need to be dominant forces in the paint if Butler hopes to compete in conference play. 6'10" freshman Nolan Berry should provide a little extra size off the bench as well.
Butler has had success in the past with a focus on positional defense and rebounding. While Brad Stevens' best teams moved at a slightly higher tempo than the Todd Lickliter days, the Bulldogs have always been methodical on offense (65.1 possessions per game last season). Coach Miller, a Butler point guard from 2000-2003, will coach his team much in the same vein. Of course, that continuity has worked in the past. Every Butler head coach since 1989 has either played or been an assistant for the Bulldogs before getting the top job.
The Big East's preseason coaches poll predicts a 9th place finish for Butler, just ahead of perennial cellar dweller DePaul. Despite widespread turnover on and off the court look for the Bulldogs to continue what Stevens started-- just on a bigger stage.