Butler Basketball Preview: #11
Overall Rank: #11
Conference Rank: #1 Horizon League
2008-09: 26-6, 15-3
2008-09 postseason: NCAA
Coach: Brad Stevens (56-10 at Butler, 56-10 overall)
Coach Brad Stevens has lost a grand total of ten games during his two years at Butler. That average of five losses per season could become even more impressive after year three. The Bulldogs return absolutely everybody from a team that was given a nine seed in the NCAA Tournament and lost in the first round to LSU.
Key Losses: none
With nine players back who averaged ten minutes per game or more, it will be difficult for the newcomers to make much of an impact. However, the Bulldogs could always use some more size and Andrew Smith and Emerson Kampen should provide just that. Smith, a true freshman, is 6-11 and 239 pounds, making him the biggest player on the roster and Kampen, a walk-on who turned down scholarship offers from other schools, is 6-9. The other newcomer is redshirt guard Chase Stigall who could be a steady contributor in the future.
Starters Shelvin Mack and Ronald Nored were big surprises for Butler during the 2008-2009 campaign. Nobody really expected the freshmen to step in and immediately be so productive. Mack is the more dynamic scorer of the two after averaging 11.9 points per game. His outside shooting was a little inconsistent at times, but Mack was still second on the team with 1.8 three-pointers per contest. Just as importantly, Mack dished out 3.5 assists and grabbed 4.4 rebounds per game. Nored started all 32 games, but he averaged just 4.2 points per game. He is a solid ballhandler and will only get better with experience. The elder statesman of the backcourt is Willie Veasley. The 6-3 senior is a versatile glue guy who averaged 8.9 points and 4.3 rebounds last season.
The frontcourt has two superstars if you count Gordon Hayward as a frontcourt player. The 6-9 wing was yet another freshman who exceeded expectations and tallied 13.1 points and 6.5 rebounds per game and proved to be a superb outside shooter. His presence made things much easier for Matt Howard, who was named the Horizon League’s Player of the Year last season and Newcomer of the Year two years ago. During the 2008-2009 campaign Howard led the team with 14.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks. Howard will be the go-to-scorer once again, but that may change as the rest of the team gets more experienced. With Avery Jukes and Garrett Butcher joining the newcomers, the frontcourt has more than enough depth.
Who to Watch:
However, depth in the backcourt is a minor issue. Since Nored is not much of a scorer, somebody needs to step up and provide a spark off the bench. Zach Hahn did a decent job of filling that role last year, connecting on 41.0 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc, but Shawn Vanzant and Grant Leiendecker both have the potential to play a significant role if they can score more consistently.
There is nothing stopping this team from winning 25 games again. The Horizon League is not too bad, so they might not cruise through the conference, but Butler fans should hope their conference can do better as a whole this time around or Butler will once again lose just a handful of games and then be stuck with an eight or nine seed when they deserve a three or four seed.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Shelvin Mack, Sophomore, Guard, 11.9 points per game
Ronald Nored, Sophomore, Guard, 4.2 points per game
Willie Veasley, Senior, Guard, 8.9 points per game
Gordon Hayward, Sophomore, Forward, 13.1 points per game
Matt Howard, Junior, Forward, 14.8 points per game
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