Team: Butler Bulldogs
2017-18 Record: 21-14, 9-9 Big East
2017-18 Big East Finish: Tied for 6th place with YOUR Marquette Golden Eagles
Final 2017-18 KenPom Ranking: #20
Postseason? Of course! They’ve made it to the Tournament the last three years and have a bit of a trend going (which I’ll talk about later). The Bulldogs were the 10 seed in the East Region of the Bracket. They were the last of the 6 Big East teams that made the NCAA Tournament. They beat Arkansas 79-62 in the first round before a second round exit against #2 seed Purdue.
Key Departures: Seniors Kelan Martin (21.1 pts, 6.3 rbs, 2.0 ast), Tyler Wideman (9.3/ 5.1/0.5).
Key Returners: Kamar Baldwin (15.7 pts, 4.9 rbs, 3.2 ast), Paul Jorgenson (10.2/3.1/2.5), and Sean McDermott (7.5/3.9/0.9).
Key Additions: Jordan Tucker (Sophomore transfer from Duke; eligible at semester break; ranked #82 by 247 Sports in the Class of 2017); 247 Sports’ #103 ranked recruiting class with no top 200 prospects.
Coach: LaVall Jordan. He went 21-14 in his first season coaching his alma mater. Jordan’s only other head coaching experience was at UWM in 2016-17 where the Panthers finished 11-24 but made it to the Horizon League Tournament Championship game.
Outlook: Alrighty this Butler team has been veryyy interesting the last few years and should NOT be taken lightly. Interesting, by the way, as in interestingly good. For some reason, however, our buddy at CBS Sports Network (hi Jon Rothstein) doesn’t know how to put two and two together and has them in the 9 spot, yes ninth, in his preseason Big East rankings. That’s absolutely criminal. You can argue bottom half of the Big East with the loss of Kelan Martin, but 9th, ahead of only DePaul...really? You’re saying that Georgetown, Seton Hall, and Creighton are all going to have better seasons? Yeah, that’s hard to believe for me.
Anyway, this is not a hate on Rothstein article, it’s just the Bulldogs have made the Tournament the last three years and let’s not forget the amazing tournament runs they made to the Final Four in 2010 and 2011. They’ve had recent success making tournament appearances and I’m not so sure this is the year where that will end.
I’m big on experience. If a team has proven themselves and has been there and done that, then I need proof in the contrary to change my opinion. Butler has beaten Villanova three of the previous four times they’ve played them. For those of you that have been keeping track at home, yes, the Wildcats have won the NCAA Championship twice in the last three years. Butler still knocked them down. The Bulldogs are nearly flawless at Hinkle Fieldhouse boasting a 40-9 record the last three years. It’s an impressive resume to say the least.
The Big East has been very competitive in recent years but Villanova has been the clear favorite coming in to the last few seasons. With the losses of Jalen Brunson, Omari Spellman, Mikail Bridges and Donte DiVincenzo the top spot may be up for grabs. As a whole, the conference is going to be a lot closer since I don’t think there’s a clear runaway favorite to win the Big East this year. I talk about the Wildcats because beating them has been the ticket to making the Tournament in the Big East. And if you’ve been paying attention to what I’ve been saying (I don’t blame you if you haven’t), then you know that Butler has beaten ‘Nova three of the last four times. Two of those times the Wildcats were #1 in the nation and the other they were #2...so yeah mildly impressive.
If they can beat the Wildcats and defend their home court like they’ve done recently, I can see them locking up a top 5 spot in the Big East and being part of the Tournament conversation. I see Kamar Baldwin filling the hole that Martin left nicely. And playing alongside Paul Jorgenson will provide a dangerous 1-2 punch for the Bulldogs. After that, it’s a matter of if they can win close games (because I think there’s going to be a lot of those this season). Last year they won half of their games decided by 5 points or less going four for eight (including postseason play). If they can improve upon that this year, I can see them hovering around that 10 seed again come March.
Let me reiterate this because it’s very important. Villanova has lost 18 times (not including Tournament play) in the last five seasons. 15 of the 18 times the team that’s beaten the Wildcats has gone on to make the Tournament. The only three teams that haven’t was St. John’s last year (what a run they had) and Seton Hall in 2014 and 2015. If Butler can continue their recent success against ‘Nova they improve their odds a lot to make the Tournament again this year.