The Butler Bulldogs enter this season, coming off of a pretty disappointing stretch of hoops, all things considered. The ‘Dogs haven’t made the tournament since 2018 (would’ve in 2020, but that whole global pandemic thing, idk if you heard about it), and finished last season 14-19, 6-14 in the conference, good for ninth place.
The last two seasons under Coach Jordan ended pretty similarly. Not sniffing the NCAA Tournament, but doing just enough to beat Xavier in the Big East Tournament and ruin their chances at making the Big Dance. Like crabs in a bucket, if we can’t make the Tournament, there’s no shot you go either.
But, the past is the past. A new era of Butler Basketball is upon us. Coach Jordan has been relieved of his coaching duties, and the Bulldogs brought former Butler, Xavier and Ohio State Head Coach Thad Matta to revive Butler hoops. Coach Matta was at Butler for one season in 2000-01, leading the Bulldogs to a 24-8 record and a round of 32 appearance.
*Old heads you might feel older in like two seconds, be prepared*
Now, all of this happened before most Butler students were born (I’m a junior here (YOUNGEST RTTG WRITER BABYYYYYYYY) and I wasn’t born yet…), so it’s safe to assume the current crop if students don’t know a ton about Coach Matta. So here’s a very mini history lesson. Coach Matta left the ‘Dogs for Xavier in 2001. He led the Musketeers to three consecutive tournament appearances, winning 26 games in all three of his seasons, including an Elite Eight Appearance in 2004. He then left the Musketeers for Ohio State and won 337 games there, winning multiple Big Ten titles, making two final fours and one National Championship game in 2007. He brought some of his former players onto his staff here including former #1 overall pick Greg Oden and fellow NBA draftee Jon Diebler.
So, now that we’ve gotten all of that out of the way, let’s talk about this season.
The coach is an upgrade. No disrespect to former Coach Jordan, but he’s not as good of a basketball coach as Thad Matta. Thad Matta straight-up wins games. Plain and simple. The man wins games and makes the Big Dance. He’s missed the tournament three times in his career (when eligible) whereas Coach Jordan missed the tournament in three of his four seasons on campus where the tournament was held. Matta has made every program much better from when he left it. He’s an excellent coach who will help the Bulldogs, period.
Bryce Golden (transferred to Loyola Chicago)
Yeah, that’s a lot of names. Now, some of this was due to the NCAA giving players an extra season of eligibility due to COVID-19 (Ok, I promise this is the last time I will mention it), but there are a lot of minutes played here. These guys combined for 3,848 minutes, good for 58.3% of the minutes played last season. Good thing is, some of these guys were slowly playing less and less as the season went on, opening up more room for some of the younger guys, looking to take a jump this year.
Connor Turnbull (expected to redshirt)
He brings in some DUDES. Manny Bates comes in as a legit five-man, who can absolutely bully you inside. He’s a legit athlete and is the best shot blocker in the conference, in this man's not-so-humble opinion. Bates will make everyone around him better and is a massive upgrade inside. He’s probably the best shot blocker in program history. He’s a high-percentage scorer, he takes up space and demands attention. Numbers flat out do not do his effects on the game justice.
Manny Bates leads a transfer class that rounds out with Ali Ali, Eric Hunter and Jalen Thomas. Ali is a very solid versatile forward from Akron who can do a bit of everything. He’s effective against high-major competition and had some incredible games in a tough MAC. Ali led the Zips in scoring, averaging just under 14PPG, shooting 46% from the field and over 40% from three. He's dealing with a concussion and is having nasal surgery, but he's expected to play a good amount this season.
Eric Hunter, from Purdue, is the perfect floor general for this team, a calming selfless, non-ball-dominant presence who’s an elite defender and a great shooter, shooting near 44% from three-point range a season ago. His defense speaks for itself, as he was selected to the Big Ten All-Defensive team last season.
Thomas, from Georgia State, is an athletic big who will be sidelined for the early portion of the season due to a Pulmonary Embolism, so we’re obviously wishing for a full and speedy recovery. If he does get back on the floor (he better get a standing O Hinkle crowd) he’s an imposing and athletic shot-blocking, big man.
The returners on this team are expected to take a pretty solid step up and for good reason. Chuck Harris has led the team in scoring in both of his seasons on campus, despite a lengthy slump last season. The team went as he did, as he willed the team to victory in spots like against Oklahoma and Xavier in the BET. He was also the #1 option on the Summer Tour, so I'd expect him to lead the Dawgs in scoring, yet again.
Also returning is Jayden Taylor, a sophomore who flashed real potential in his first season, putting up 18+ points five times last season. Lastly, Simas Lukosius exited the transfer portal shortly after entering and returned to Indianapolis. Simas only averaged 6.8PPG a season ago but had some flashes of brilliance, including a 27-point outburst in MSG against Xavier, and a massive game at DePaul, putting up 19 points, including the game-winning three-pointer. These three are your key returners and should make the Butler backcourt a force to be reckoned with.
Two other returners who have garnered some buzz on campus are Myles Tate and Pierce Thomas. Albeit against some weaker competition, I thought Tate played pretty well on the summer tour. He was effective at creating shots, had some incredibly tough finishes, and seemed to have matured as a player, picking his spots more wisely. As for Pierce Thomas, the buzz I’ve heard from guys in the “know” has been real. He looked great in spots on the summer tour, with a couple of huge highlight dunks. He can absolutely jump out of the gym. Thomas was also very actively defensively, with some highlight blocks, and played some intense defense. Thomas has some work to do on his jumper (I’m still haunted by that free-throw airball), but I’d be shocked if he doesn’t steal minutes.
I was supposed to have not included a ton of opinions until this section, though I probably failed at that one (I’m an opinionated man, what else can I say). But alas, there’s a reason that every media member with a pulse has said Butler is the most underrated team in the conference. This team is going to be good. They have all the pieces for a legit lineup that can go at least 9 deep, and upgrade in multiple key positions. The addition of Bates cannot be understated.
Bates will function as a legit lockdown interior defender and will change so much of what the Bulldogs do defensively. Last season, the Bulldogs ranked T262 in the country in two-point percentage defense allowing 51.9% of opponents' two-point shots to be successful. The blocks per game number last season is even worse, at 2.1 blocks per game as a team (these stats take away the two games against non-D1 competition), good for T314 nationally. Manny Bates alone in his two full seasons at NC State averaged 2.9 and 2.7 blocks per game, so yeah, I’m very confident the addition of Bates will be nothing short of absolutely massive defensively.
In his introductory press conference, my main note was how often Coach Matta highlighted player development. He mentioned it multiple times, and that’s something that a program like Butler absolutely needs to thrive. If he can take these guys and make them better, combined with the talent he’s brought in, this is a team that can cause some serious damage.
One last thing to mention is the tempo. Throughout Thad Matta’s time at Ohio State, here’s how his teams ranked in tempo, in chronological order: 194, 169, 206, 217, 284, 232, 250, 88, 218, 218, 132, 203, 192, which while faster than the: 341, 326, 334 in Coach Jordan’s last three seasons, still isn’t a full-on track meet.
Overall, I really like the backcourt and the depth this team has. There are multiple guys I could’ve written more about, but for the sake of everyone’s time, I think that’s enough. Just two exhibitions, then the season begins. Can't wait.
KenPom Projection: 130 (Just Insane), last in Big East
Coaches Poll Prediction: Eighth
Our Power Ranking Rank: Also Eighth
My Pick (Easily the Most Important IMO): Fifth Place, good enough to see you in the Big Dance