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2020-21 Big East Women’s Basketball Team Preview: Butler Bulldogs

We start off our team preview of the women’s teams in the Big East with the first team in alphabetical order.

Marquette v Butler Getty Images

Team: Butler Bulldogs

2019-20 Record: 19-11, 11-7 in the Big East

2019-20 Big East Finish: Five-way tie for third, but ended up with the #5 seed in the conference tournament by way of tiebreakers.

Final 2019-20 Her Hoop Stats Ranking: #123

Postseason Projection: High Post Hoops showed the Bulldogs falling short of an NCAA tournament bid. That #5 seed in the conference tournament makes me think that they could have been a WNIT squad, but that #123 Her Hoop Stats ranking makes me think they were very short of that destination.

Key Departures: Butler had five seniors on last year’s roster with only three of them making notable contributions. The big name you’ll notice missing this year is Kristen Spolyar. She averaged 18.1 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game a year ago, which led the team in both scoring and rebounding. The other two regular contributors were Shae Brey and Katherine Strong. Brey appeared in all 30 games for the Bulldogs, earning the start each time and averaging over 30 minutes of run per game. Strong missed one game and didn’t start in two others, but still averaged just a shade over 20 minutes per game. Strong was the bigger contributor on the stat sheet, averaging 7.3 points, 3.9 rebounds, and just over an assist per game. Brey still managed to chip in 5.2 points, a very strong 5.6 rebounds, and 2.2 assists. Neither woman was much to speak of in the long range shooting department, although Brey (41%) should have let fly more than her 17 attempts on the season, especially with Spolyar only hitting 28% of her 4.2 attempts per game.

Key Returners: Butler is in a little bit of trouble in this area, as they had a seven woman rotation for the most part last year and three of them are now gone. Oumou Toure is your leading returning scorer at 9.1 points per game, and the 5’11” Washington native is also the best returning rebounder on the squad at 6.1 per contest. I should point out that this all gets a “yes, okay, you know what I mean” note, because Tenley Dowell went for 12 points and eight rebounds in her lone appearance in Butler’s season opener before suffering a freshman season ending injury. Is it safe to guess that Dowell will have a big role to play for the Bulldogs given her performance in the only 29 minutes she played last year? Yeah, probably. But who can say what her health status will be?

Genesis Parker, Upe Atosu, and Naira Caceres are the other three rotation players back this year. Parker and Caceres both appeared in all 30 games last season, while Atosu saw run in 23 of them with four starts. Parker averaged 9.0 points, 2.8 rebounds and nearly two assists per game to end up as the biggest contributor out of this trio. Atosu gave them 6.6 points, 3.0 rebounds, and just under an assist per game, while Caceres chipped in 6.1 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 1.2 assists.

Key Additions: The Bulldogs have one grad transfer, two junior college transfers, and three freshmen on the roster. We’ll start with the grad transfer, Micah Scheetz, as she’s the most likely of the six to make an impact purely because that’s the point of being a grad transfer. Scheetz started her collegiate career at UAB before transferring after her freshman year and spending two active seasons at East Tennessee State. She led the team in scoring at 15.0 points per game last season, and chipped in 3.4 assists and 2.0 assists per game. The 5’8” Tennessee native had the green light to shoot threes last season (team high 121 attempts) but only converted 27% of them.

Okako Adika and Annilia Dawn are the two JUCO transfers. Adika is a 6’0” guard/forward according to Butler who put up 11.3 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 1.6 assists while making her way to NJCAA First Team All-American status and winning conference MVP at Odessa College last year. She’s a native of Denmark, so it’s super wild that she elected to come to the US to go play junior college hoops. Dawn hails from Amarillo, Texas, and comes to Butler from Kilgore College. The 5’5” guard averaged 12.3 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 4.4 assists last season after transferring from Midland College.

The three freshmen on the roster are Nyamer Diew, Rosemarie Dumont, and Abby Stoddard. ESPN only acknowledges the existence of Diew and Stoddard, but that’s probably because Dumont hails from Quebec. All three women come in at 6’1” or taller, with Dumont at 6’3”. This is notable, because that makes all three the tallest players on the squad along with the 6’1” Caceres.

Coach: Kurt Godlevske, entering his seventh season at Butler. He has a record of 87-100.

Outlook: The Bulldogs have had an interesting time of things under Kurt Godlevske’s guidance. He took over the job after Butler had spent one year in the Big East, and did so in a bit of a cloud of bad tidings. And then the program immediately went backwards in terms of wins and losses. As you can see in the link, there’s reasons to wonder why Beth Couture was getting her results, but she was keeping the Bulldogs within shooting distance of .500. Godlevske went from 14-16 as the interim to 10-21 in his first full season in charge to 6-25. That’s not great!

Things have bounced back from there, going 15-17 in 2018, followed by his first 20 win season in 2019 and then this past season. It’s the second straight season with a winning record in league play, something that hasn’t happened for Butler since their first two years in the Big East.

But, and this is the reason why I was bringing all of that up, there’s a real argument to be made that 2019-20 ended in disappointment for Butler. On February 10, the Bulldogs were 9-3 in the Big East and riding a five game winning streak. They lost their next two games, both by 20-plus points, but we’ll forgive them that because they were roadies against DePaul and Marquette, aka the most difficult road trip in the league with the travel partner system. They bounced back with two home wins against Creighton and Providence, but then lost to St. John’s and Seton Hall on the road to close out the year, and then lost by 26 in their first game of the Big East tournament.

That’s a 2-5 finish to the year, and a 2-4 close in league play that dropped them from a clear path to third place by themselves in the Big East to a tie for third and the #5 seed in the conference tournament. It cost them their first back-to-back 20 win seasons since 2010 and 2011, although maaaaaaaybe they would have been granted a WNIT bid and have gotten one last chance to get that 20th win.

The point here is that Godlevske’s tenure has been kind of disappointing up until the last two seasons, and then last season ended in disappointment. That’s not super great moving forward, especially as the Bulldogs have to reconstitute themselves without Kristin Spolyar. By herself, without even including Shae Brey and Katherine Strong, Spolyar gave the Bulldogs 29% of their scoring a year ago along with 18% of their rebounding and 18% of their assists. That’s a lot of one player to have to replace.

At a glance, the thing that would concern me the most about Butler if I were a Butler fan is the presence of Micah Scheetz on the roster. Now, sure, the obvious thought process here is that Scheetz was brought in to do Kristin Spolyar things as there’s some decent similarities in their stat lines. However, the biggest problem with Spolyar last year was her three-point shooting. For some reason, Godlevske let a 28% three-point shooter fire off over four threes a game last season. Spolyar let fly more than 30 times more than anyone else on the roster, and she was objectively bad at it. This is where I remind you that I told you that Scheetz had a green light at ETSU, attempting nearly the exact same number of threes as Spolyar..... and made less of them.

If just sticking Scheetz into the lineup in Spolyar’s place is the plan, that’s a very bad plan. I mean, sure, I guess if you can squint, you can pretend that Scheetz is just going to shoot 39% like she did the year before on 97 attempts, but I wouldn’t exactly hold my breath waiting for that to happen. Maaaaaaaybe having Tenley Dowell around alleviates the need to have one woman doing so much heavy lifting for Butler, but that’s presuming that she’ll be 100% all season long.

The Bulldogs are also going to need someone, or really, multiple someones to rebound for them. The loss of Spolyar and Brey sucks out a lot of life from the rebounding department, and BU wasn’t exactly a great rebounding team last year. They were #154 in the country in offensive rebounding rate per Her Hoop Stats, and #145 on the other end. The good news here is that Godlevske is going to have options in that department. In addition to his returning players getting a little bit more of a chance to contribute, he’s adding size to his roster. I’m willing to believe that Okako Adika can at least come close to replicating her NJCAA All-American level rebounding for the Bulldogs, which is good news. The three freshmen are all up over 6 feet tall, so if any of them can show an ability to haul in rebounds, they should be able to earn playing time right away.

There’s also the question of the appearance of Connecticut in the Big East. I’m not going to try and tell you that Butler is going to be the first team to hand the Huskies a conference loss. However, Butler hasn’t made an NCAA tournament since their only appearance in 1996. How are they going to react to getting knocked down a peg in the league by the Huskies? Is this going to make Butler’s quest to be a regular postseason squad — just five WNIT appearances this century, all since 2009 — harder or easier?