2008-09 Butler Basketball Preview: #65
Overall Rank: #68
Conference Rank: #3 Horizon
2007-08: 30-4, 16-2, 1st
2007-08 postseason: NCAA
Butler pretty much ran a seven man rotation during their magical 2007-2008 campaign. Five of those guys are now gone and this year’s Bulldog team has some work to do to live up to the recent success. Yet, Butler is never about the players as much as it is about the system. Coach Brad Stevens knows how to win and the Bulldogs will not slip as much as it would appear. But Butler does not have any seniors on their roster either and for a team that usually depends on experience and leadership, the lack of seniors will keep the Bulldogs on the outside of the Horizon League championship race for now.
Mike Green, A.J. Graves, Drew Streicher, Julian Betko and Pete Campbell were the heart and soul of the Bulldogs. Green led the team with 14.6 points, 6.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists during his senior year. Nobody is going to replace all of that production any time soon. Graves and Campbell were both extremely prolific outside shooters. In fact, the departed players accounted for approximately 92 percent of the team’s total three-point shooting. Even Ben Slaton, a three year walk-on who only played in five games last year, is not returning to the team. Slaton would have been the only senior on the roster.
The future of Butler basketball is in good hands with another solid recruiting class. Point guard Ronald Nored could take over the starting duties as a freshman. At the least, he will play an important role off the bench. Chase Stigall and Shelvin Mack will give the team more options in the backcourt. It is Mack who is expected to make a huge impact right away. The 6-3 guard is like Green in the sense that he can fill up the stat sheet in just about every category. Mack is also a superb shooter who can help fill the void left behind by Graves and Campbell. If Mack is not starting from day one, it will be a surprise. On most teams Garrett Butcher and Gordon Hayward would be playing on the wing. At Butler, they will likely spend some time at the four spot as well. Hayward has the outside shooting ability to fit into the Bulldogs scheme, but he will need to add some more weight before he can play defense in the paint against most opponents.
Who to Watch:
The alternative to Hayward at the four spot is Avery Jukes. The 6-8 junior will not put up huge numbers, but he is a good scorer and a capable rebounder. The frontcourt will depend on the only returning starter, Matt Howard, to do most of the damage around the basket. Howard averaged 12.3 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.1 blocks as a freshman. Now that he is the main threat on the team, Howard should have a huge sophomore campaign. What makes Howard different than most Butler players is the fact that he is not a three-point shooter. His ability to open up space for the shooters on the outside is very important.
Now the team just needs to find a few more shooters. Zach Hahn is the most prolific shooter returning and he averaged less than ten minutes per game last year. Like Hahn, Shawn Vanzant showed some potential during his limited action as a freshman. Those two will have to play a big role in the backcourt. If they struggle, so will Butler. Willie Veasley was in the regular rotation as a sophomore and averaged 4.5 points per game and is the most experienced player on the team. The 6-3 wing might not replace the scoring of Green and Graves, but he will have to help replace their leadership.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NIT
Projected Starting Five:
Shawn Vanzant, Sophomore, Guard, 1.0 points per game
Shelvin Mack, Freshman, Guard, DNP last season
Willie Veasley, Junior, Guard, 4.5 points per game
Avery Jukes, Junior, Forward, 3.2 points per game
Matt Howard, Sophomore, Forward, 12.3 points per game