Team: Butler Bulldogs
2016-17 Record: 25-9, 12-6 Big East
2016-17 Big East Finish: 2nd place; three games back of Villanova, two games ahead of a five way tie for third.
Final 2016-17 KenPom Ranking: #25
Postseason? Yep. Beat Winthrop and Middle Tennessee in the NCAA tournament before falling to eventual champion North Carolina in the Sweet 16.
Key Departures: Seniors Andrew Chrabascz (11.4 pts, 4.6 rbs, 3.1 ast), Kethan Savage (8.0/2.7/1.5), Avery Woodson (8.9/2.6), and Tyler Lewis (6.6/1.4/4.0).
Key Returners: Seniors Kelan Martin (16.0 pts, 5.8 rbs, 1.2 ast) and Tyler Wideman (7.2/5.0), and sophomore Kamar Baldwin (10.1/3.7/1.5),
Key Additions: Paul Jorgensen (junior transfer from George Washington; 4.9 pts, 1.9 rbs, 2.1 ast as a sophomore); 247 Sports’ #61 recruiting class, 7th best in the Big East.
Coach: LaVall Jordan, in his first season at Butler and 2nd season as a head coach after going 11-24 with UW-Milwaukee in 2016-17.
Outlook: When I first started roughing out the opening data lines of this article, Butler had the #33 recruiting class in the country and a head coach coming off three incredibly successful seasons made even more impressive by the cards he was dealt when he was hired.
Things have changed.
The Bulldogs have been bumped from first in the alphabetical order of these summer check-ins down to the last entry in order to let the dust settle after Chris Holtmann left Butler in early June to take the Ohio State job. He’s been replaced by LaVall Jordan, a 2001 Butler alumnus and former player who has one year of head coaching experience under his belt. His 11-24 record in charge of the Milwaukee Panthers squad probably doesn’t tell the full tale of what he accomplished in his one season there, and neither does the nine game losing streak to close the regular season. UWM was picked to finish last in the Horizon League last year, so you can’t exactly call the season a failure when they did exactly that. In fact, given that Milwaukee played their way into the Horizon League tournament championship game and trailed by just three points with a minute left, you’d have to say that Jordan’s Panthers were trending upwards.
Instead, Jordan will attempt to jump on to a rocket that was already pointed toward the stars and attempt to keep it going in that direction. He has two things working in his favor: Playing for Butler as the Bulldogs made three NCAA tournaments and one NIT as well as working as a Bulldogs assistant coach for four seasons under Todd Lickliter. Jordan ended up following Lickliter to Iowa, while another Butler assistant, Brad Stevens, got the job of replacing his former boss. Paths not chosen, huh?
If you find yourself wondering if Jordan’s experience with The Butler Way will end up paying dividends in the long run, that’s a fair question. I think the early trends are that it will. Four of Butler’s five recruits elected to remain with the Bulldogs after Holtmann left for Columbus. It remains to be seen how well that works out, as you could also argue that early June is way too late for those guys to suddenly look for another Division 1 school to attend. Butler’s best recruit, Kyle Young (#77 in the country), ended up following Holtmann to Ohio State, leaving Jordan with four freshmen not ranked in 247 Sports’ top 150. Butler has a weird way of turning lesser known guys into college stars, so maybe this will all work out for Jordan and the Bulldogs. Time will tell.
Amidst all this tumult of the offseason, let’s not forget that Kelan Martin, Tyler Wideman, and Kamar Baldwin is more than enough of a strong core for Jordan to work with and continue the program’s success. Sean McDermott and Nate Fowler had quality performances as depth players last season on a team that made it to the Sweet 16, and guys like Henry Baddley and Joey Brunk didn’t get much in terms of playing time, but they sure got a look at what it takes to be successful at this level of college hoops. This team can be an NCAA tournament team again in 2018, regardless of changes in the coaching staff or the recruiting class.
Butler is in the midst of a four game summer trip through Spain with their final contest coming up later today, and this trip could not have been accidentally planned at a better time given the coaching change. The Bulldogs got extra summer practice time to prepare for the trip, giving Jordan a chance to get familiar with his players and vice versa. They’re 3-0 on the trip with a narrow four point margin of victory in their first game and two relatively easy Ws to follow that up. Kelan Martin, Paul Jorgensen, and Kamar Baldwin have all had a game where they led the team in scoring, and games #1 and #3 featured five Bulldogs scoring in double-figures. Game #2 was a 34 point win and no one played more than 21 minutes, thus the lack of double digit scorers.