Team Name: Butler Bulldogs
2013-14 Record: 14-17 (4-14 Big East)
Along with 2013-14 being their first season in the new-look Big East, it was also the first year of the post-Brad Stevens era at Butler. Their new head coach, Brandon Miller, did not have a ton to work with going into last year either, as he lost his top three leading scorers from the previous season.
Still, last season could've been much worse for the Bulldogs in terms of wins and losses. After opening up with an impressive 10-2 non conference record featuring wins over Vanderbilt and Purdue, along with close defeats to Oklahoma State and LSU, there appeared to be real hope for the Bulldogs last season.
But what followed in Big East play would be nothing short of a collapse, as Butler would win just two of their first 16 conference games before stumbling to a 4-14 overall conference record. An anemic offense was the main culprit of the season's struggles, the Bulldogs averaged just 68.5 points per game, lowest in the conference.
Will a returning core with a year of experience mean better results for the Bulldogs, now without their coach for an indeterminate period of time?
G Devontae Morgan (1.8 PPG, 0.9 RPG), F Erik Fromm (5.5 PPG, 3.4 RPG), G Elijah Brown (6.8 PPG, 2.2 RPG), C Nolan Berry (1.9 PPG, 1.8 RPG), F Khyle Marshall (14.9 PPG, 4.8 RPG)
Last year's second-leading scorer and rebounder, Khyle Marshall, is gone after an impressive senior season. While causing another dent in already weak offense from last season, Marshall's departure should open up the door for some younger players to take on more of a scoring role this season.
Also of note, the Bulldogs had four players transfer out of the program last season, three of them freshman. Elijah Brown, Nolan Berry, and Rene Castro were joined by sophomore Devontae Morgan in leaving the school.
While these departures may not be a huge hit for next season, Brown, Berry, and Morgan all figured to be central pieces to Bulldog teams of the future. And with three of those players being guards, the Bulldogs will be shorthanded in the backcourt.
The Bulldogs have also suffered another key loss off the court, as it has recently been reported that head coach Brandon Miller will be taking a medical leave of absence from the team for an undisclosed amount of time. Interim coach Chris Holtmann will be taking over the team in the meantime.
F Kelan Martin (Louisville, KY), F Tyler Wideman (Merrillville, IN), F Jackson Davis (Lexington, KY)
Martin, a four-star forward, highlights a very strong inaugural recruiting class for coach Miller. The 6'6" forward should see a good amount of playing time this season in the wake of Khyle Marshall's departure.
Joining Martin in the class of 2018 are a pair of three-star forwards Tyler Wideman and Jackson Davis, who come in at 6'7" and 6'8" respectively.
Also returning this season is forward Roosevelt Jones, who was held out all of last year with a wrist injury. Jones averaged just over 10 points and 5 rebounds per game for the Bulldogs in 2012-13.
Key Players Returning
G Kellen Dunham (16.4 PPG, 4.0 RPG), F Kameron Woods (7.5 PPG, 9.0 RPG), G Alex Barlow (6.6 PPG, 3.5 APG), F Andrew Chrabascz (6.3 PPG, 3.0 RPG)
The Bulldogs will essentially return most of their starters from last season, including leading scorer, Kellen Dunham, and leading rebounder, Kameron Woods. Dunham returns for his junior season as arguably one of the conference's best shooters, as his 78 three pointers made last season ranked him in the nation's top 100.
Sophomore forward Andrew Chrabascz was named to the Big East All-Rookie Team after last season, and has the potential to be a huge difference-maker for the Bulldogs this year.
With the four players listed above gaining another crucial year of experience, along with Roosevelt Jones returning from his injury, the Bulldogs should be able to alleviate their scoring woes from last year.
Returning Minutes/ Points/ Rebounds
Key Non-Conference Opponents
North Carolina (11/26), UCLA/Oklahoma (11/27), @Tennessee (12/14), Indiana (12/20)
Butler will take place in the 4th annual "Battle 4 Atlantis" tournament in the Bahamas, joining programs such as North Carolina, UCLA, Oklahoma, Georgetown, Florida, and Wisconsin.
A guaranteed matchup versus North Carolina and either UCLA or Oklahoma is in store for the Bulldogs, as each of those games should give fans a great idea of where the program stands going forward.
A matchup on the road at a 2014 tournament team in Tennessee only strengthens their non-conference schedule, while a rivalry game at Indiana should be entertaining.
Most Intriguing Conference Matchup
This being only their second season in the Big East, the Bulldogs lone rival in the conference may be Xavier, who they'll take on at Hinkle Fieldhouse on January 10.
One matchup that I am certainly looking forward to is their Valentine's Day game against Villanova. The first meeting between these schools last year also happened to be the Big East opener, in which 11th-ranked Villanova edged out Butler 76-73 in overtime.
That loss began the downfall for the Bulldogs last season, as they would go on to lose six of their next seven after that. Will they get their revenge at home this time around?
Scouting the Bulldogs
Projected Big East Finish: 7th
Projected Overall Finish: Possible NIT Bid
Despite the difficulties that came with last year, the pieces might be in place for Butler to have a legitimate shot at postseason play this season. Any time a team essentially returns all five of their starters, has an impact player returning from injury, and has a strong recruiting class coming in, there has to be some sense of optimism going into the season.
That said, I'm not completely ready to put a 14 win team from last season into the tournament just yet, and with the loss of their head coach also looming over them, it's tough to see this team starting strong out of the gate this season as well.
Butler fans should expect a much improved and much more entertaining season out of their Bulldogs in 2014-15.