The offseason wasn’t exactly pleasant to the Butler Bulldogs. Not only did they lose the production and leadership of Andrew Smith and Rotnei Clarke, they lost their youthful and brilliant head coach, Brad Stevens, unexpectedly to the Boston Celtics of the NBA. To make matters worse, Roosevelt Jones, whom is thought to be Butler’s best player, suffered a wrist injury and is presumed out for the entire season.
No, it was not a great offseason for Butler and the preseason media hype has not been there as it was in the past. Butler moves on to the new, basketball-only, Big East Conference with such powers as Creighton, Marquette, Villanova, Xavier and Georgetown. Most preseason preview outlets projected the Bulldogs to finish as high as fifth and drop as low as ninth in the conference.
It’s an understandable circumstance, but an unfortunate one. Not many teams can lose their coach, most of the offensive production and their top returning player in one summer without taking a hit in the eyes of the media and fans of college basketball. Despite their historical success, Butler is no exception to this rule.
But is it all a bit premature? Should we be writing off Butler already, given their track record in situations just like this one?
In a word: no. While all the aforementioned reasons are good cause for Butler’s fall from the graces, it’s hard to write off a program that has faced complete overhaul in the past (both players and coaches included) and got right back to their winning ways. Brandon Miller, the latest in a long line of Butler assistants to be promoted to head coach, is ready for the task and has been working diligently since the day Stevens accepted the Celtics job to ensure the program continues its winning ways.
One high point for the Bulldogs is Khyle Marshall, whom is one of only two seniors on the Butler roster (the other is Erik Fromm, who is taking on a much bigger role this season). Marshall is a long, athletic player who can go inside and finish at the rim and has a soft touch in the mid-range. On Tuesday’s game against Vanderbilt, Marshall went off for 26 points on 11-for-15 shooting, using a combination of at-the-rim baskets as well as short jumpers.
Marshall is the leader for the Bulldogs, a role he appears comfortable with in the young season. Once conference play comes around, he’ll be going head-to-head with Doug McDermott, consensus first team All-American the last two seasons and National Player of the Year candidate from Creighton. McDermott often struggles against physical defenders, Marshall’s and Butler’s bread and butter defensive strategy.
Underrated players for Butler include Kellen Dunham and Alex Barlow. Barlow, as you may remember, hit the heroic shot that helped Butler knock off then-top ranked Indiana last season in dramatic fashion. Dunham is currently leading the team in scoring through three games at nearly 20 points per game. Both exhibit great confidence in their abilities and are vital assets to the Bulldogs. They lead the backcourt for Butler that will be expected to compete with some of the best teams in the nation with their inclusion in the Big East Conference.
Although having solid players is nice, that’s not why people should avoid sleeping on Butler. Well then what is the reason? The Butler Way.
Since the beginning of their ascent into mid-major superiority back in the 1980s, Butler has followed step based down to them from the previous players. The Butler Way is instilled in each Bulldog from the minute they step inside the historic Hinkle Fieldhouse.
So what’s The Butler Way? To simplify the history behind it, The Butler Way boils down to solid defensive effort, playing for the team and never losing sight at the ultimate goal: a national championship. Many teams have the goal of a national championship but few teams, specifically mid-majors, have made it a legitimate possibility. Generally speaking, mid-majors don’t put national championships in their preseason to-do lists because it’s a goal few teams in the country can actually achieve. Butler is not your normal mid-major, though. Of course, they are not a mid-major anymore. They are in big boy territory. The Big East is a historic conference, even if the entire conference has been shaken up due to realignment.
Simply stating that The Butler Way makes the Bulldogs is not a great reasoning, no, but one of the key aspects to this philosophy is. Incorporated in this philosophy is rarely turning the ball over. It is highly uncharacteristic for any Butler team to have more than 10 turnovers in a game. This has been true since Gordon Hayward was still a Bulldog and remains true to this day.
Through the first three games, Butler has only committed a total of 25 turnovers, right on the line of where the team strives to be in each game. As long as this trend continues, Butler will be just fine. Taking care of the ball is a highly underrated team aspect. The importance of taking care of the ball on a game-by-game basis cannot be understated and Butler is one of the best teams in the country in that regard.
Now, three games is a small sample size, but that’s what we’re playing with at this point of the season. Vanderbilt is a solid program and gave Butler their first real test of the season and they passed. After their game against Ball State on Saturday, Butler heads out to Florida for the Old Spice Classic tournament. Their first game is against Washington State. If they get passed that game, a potential meeting against seventh-ranked Oklahoma State awaits. Get passed that game and a possible contest against Memphis would decide the tournament championship. Butler may not be the favorites for this tournament (not by a wide margin) but they have pulled off bigger miracle runs before.
Preseason projections can often be misleading. While they may be fun and help pass the time, it’s impossible to judge a team until they hit the hardwood against real competition. So far, Butler is doing a great job and putting the pieces of the broken puzzle together. Brandon Miller and Khyle Marshall will not sit idly by and allow Butler to become victims of circumstance. It may be early, but Butler is a team to keep an eye on.
The Butler Way is real and it’s spectacular.