Overall Rank: #22
Conference Rank: #1 Horizon
2006-07: 29-7, 13-3, 1st (t)
2006-07 postseason: NCAA
Take care of the ball and you will win games. Nobody proved that more than Butler did last year. This was not a team that was expected to even be in the top half of the Horizon League last year, but with the help of the fewest turnovers in the nation, the Bulldogs were in the Sweet Sixteen and gave a nice game to eventual national champions Florida. As long as the turnovers stay the same, expect Butler and new coach Brad Stevens to be headed back to the Sweet Sixteen. The coaching change may cause a little concern, but Coach Stevens worked with former coach Todd Lickliter the past six years and once the team is on the floor, it will be back to the normal patient Butler basketball.
The frontcourt lost a couple starters in Brandon Crone and Brian Ligon. Their absence will cause some concerns against bigger, stronger teams until some other players are ready to step up and assume their roles. Crone was the best scorer and rebounder in the frontcourt, averaging 11.4 points and 4.7 rebounds during his senior season. Ligon added 3.4 points and 3.2 rebounds, but it is defense that will be missed the most. Guard Marcus Nellems saw some minutes off the bench in just about every game last year, but his departure will not mean much to a team full of talented guards.
The guards could use some depth, but it is the frontcourt that needs it more and they found it with Matt Howard and Avery Jukes. Howard is one of the best recruits to ever come to Butler and he may be starting from day one. The 6-7 forward from Connersville, Indiana is a tough competitor and will immediately give Butler help where they need it most…in the rebounding department. Surprisingly for an Indiana kid, his main weakness is his outside shot, but he will get it done inside. Jukes, a transfer from Alabama, is the tallest player on the roster at 6-8. He has some athleticism and will fit well into the Butler style of play and should be a better rebounder than the departing players. Zach Hahn, Shawn Vanzant and Grant Leiendecker will provide some depth on the perimeter. Hahn is an Indiana kid who can shoot. The 6-0 All-Stater will at least be a shooter off the bench this year. Vanzant and Leiendecker, who missed last year with a hip injury, are both prolific scorers who will be given the opportunity to work their way into the regular rotation as freshmen.
Who to Watch:
No team in the Horizon League can come close to matching the perimeter talent that Butler has this year. A.J. Graves is a pure shooter who averaged 16.9 points per game last year and shot nearly 95 percent from the charity stripe. He will not let up for his senior season. It was Mike Green who can be credited with creating a large portion of the surprise that was Butler last year. In his first year eligible to play for the Bulldogs after transferring from Towson, Green averaged 13.9 points, 6.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists. The 6-1 guard has one more season to put up even better numbers and lead his team back to the NCAA Tournament. Julian Betko does not get the accolades that Graves and Green enjoy, but the 6-5 swingman deserves some. Betko only averaged 4.3 points per game, but he is a good passer, a passable rebounder and a solid defender. He was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA and gives the Bulldogs a dynamic, senior filled group on the perimeter. Wing Willie Veasley will mix it up with the newcomers for minutes off the bench and it will be helpful if Graves and Green do not have to spend 35 minutes a game on the floor again this season.
Pete Campbell and Drew Streicher were the first two players off the bench last year and they will have to do more than that this year. Campbell only averaged 14.6 minutes per game, but he still managed to average 9.1 points. Nearly all of his shots came from long range, but at 6-7 and 200 pounds he will have to play the four and be ready to toughen up on defense. Otherwise, he may find himself back on the bench. Either way he is a superb shooter and hit 51.9 percent of his shots from behind the arc last year. Streicher is more of a defensive presence and led the team in blocks last season, although that is not saying much. Campbell and Streicher, along with Howard and Jukes, will be the only viable options at the four and five spot all year long. If they can do as well as Crone and Ligon did last year, Butler will aim for another Sweet Sixteen. Otherwise, even with the dynamic backcourt, it could be a season of disappointment following the season of surprises.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Mike Green, Senior, Guard, 13.9 points per game
A.J. Graves, Senior, Guard, 16.9points per game
Julian Betko, Senior, Guard, 4.3 points per game
Pete Campbell, Senior, Forward, 9.1 points per game
Matt Howard, Freshman, Forward, DNP last season