Key Returners: Kamar Baldwin, Kelan Martin, Tyler Wideman
Key Losses: Andrew Chrabascz, Avery Woodson, Tyler Lewis, Kethan Savage
Key Newcomers: Paul Jorgensen (George Washington transfer), Aaron Thompson, Christian Davis, Jerald Butler, Cooper Neese
Postseason Projection: 6-11 seed
Outlook: There's a reason why our postseason prediction seed range is so large - a brand new coach, significant roster turnover and expected contributions from unproven freshmen make this year's Butler team seemingly impossible to project. The Bulldogs athletic department continued to stay true to their roots by bringing ex-Butler player (1998-2001), assistant (2004-07) and Director of Basketball Operations (2003-04) LaVall Jordan to man the head coach vacancy after Chris Holtmann replaced Thad Matta at THE Ohio State University. Jordan's assistant coaching resume is quite impressive since he left Indianapolis back in 2007, making stops at Iowa and Michigan before embarking on his first head coaching adventure last year in Milwaukee. Certainly a lack of head coaching experience caused some to raise an eye at the decision to hire Jordan, but Butler's track record of successful promotions from within should alleviate many of these concerns (Brad Stevens, Brandon Miller and Chris Holtmann seemed to work out just fine).
After Roosevelt Jones' 10-year tenure as Butler's primary ball-handler and decision-maker ended in 2015-16, Holtmann looked to the transfer wire to find a serviceable replacement at the point guard spot. He found a hidden gem in NC State's Tyler Lewis, who now departs after posting one of the most efficient offensive seasons in the conference, albeit in somewhat limited minutes. The question now is how will Jordan allocate the backcourt minutes not just at the point, but across all spots on the perimeter. Outside of a rising star in sophomore Kamar Baldwin, the rest of the guards will all be foreign faces to those that aren't close to the Butler program.
In an interview with Jon Rothstein this summer, Jordan was asked point blank who he envisioned initiating offense this year. In addition to the aforementioned Baldwin, he referenced that incoming George Washington transfer Paul Jorgensen along with a pair of freshmen, Aaron Thompson and Jerald Butler, should all be major contributors in somewhat of a "playmaking-by-committee" attack. Jordan also indicated that he plans to mirror the offensive approach displayed by recent Butler squads, while mixing in some schemes he learned from the offensive mastermind John Beilein at Michigan. The key takeaway from the interview is that this year's Butler team will not go through any significant makeover, at least from a stylistic perspective. Expect the newcomers to be quickly molded into the Butler principles of gritty defense and team-based offensive execution, which rarely, if ever, relies on one superstar.
However, in late shot clock and end of game situations, Jordan will surely hand the rock over to either Baldwin or their versatile swingman, Kelan Martin. While Holtmann in past seasons experimented with using Martin as an overqualified 6th man, this team is too starved for offensive scoring to bring him off-the-bench. While the advanced metrics don't portray Martin as an elite shooter percentage-wise, his offensive ceiling is as high as anyone in the Big East. A stout 6'7 220 pound frame coupled with an explosive first step make him a tough cover for most 3s and 4s, especially when he begins to heat up from downtown. He's certainly earned his stripes as a primetime performer, headlined by a 22 point outburst in Butler's stunning 74-66 road victory @ Villanova last year, one of the most impressive wins by any team in the country.
Along with Martin - an excellent rebounder in his own right who will typically match up with 4s on the defensive end - the Bulldog interior defense will be spearheaded by the veteran Tyler Wideman. Wideman is just the latest version in a long line of prototypical Butler bigs that make their pay by simply outworking opposing forwards on the boards. Wideman was the Big East's 3rd and 8th best offensive rebounder and shot-blocker, respectively, on a per minute basis last season, to go along with an efficient 117 O-Rating on the other end of the floor. Look for rising junior Nate Fowler to join Wideman in crashing the offensive glass and play a much bigger role in the 1st shot offensive attack, especially with Andrew Chrabascz graduating this offseason. At 6'10 240 pounds, Fowler actually posted a team best 72% effective field goal percentage and even flashed signs of a pure shooting touch from the outside (he connected on 10 his 21 threes last season). The real question mark is sophomore Joey Brunk, who was ranked just outside the top-100 nationally in last year's recruiting cycle. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Joey and his family as they cope with the tragic death of Joey's father, "Big Joe", who passed away earlier this spring.
Bottom Line: Over the past decade, the Butler program has a shown a knack for getting the absolute most out of all of their players' potential. And with only two double digit scorers returning from last year's team, that tradition will need to continue this season under the new direction of LaVall Jordan. Many foresee the Bulldogs taking a significant tumble in the Big East standings this year, but I'll bet on the institutional success the Butler way always seems to produce.