After finishing ninth in their first Big East season and bowing out to Seton Hall in the conference tournament, the Butler Bulldogs will look to prove they belong during their second season as a high-major.
Butler (14-17, 2-14) impressed during a weak non-conference schedule in 2013-14, but struggled to win close games in the Big East including three overtime losses in their first four conference games. This season, the Bulldogs will be without head coach Brandon Miller (undisclosed medical leave of absence) and nearly half of their scholarship players from a year ago. Former Gardner-Webb head coach Chris Holtmann has been tapped as Butler's interim head coach while Miller is on leave.
Roster subtractions: Khyle Marshall (14.9 ppg, 4.8 rpg), Elijah Brown (6.8 ppg -- transfer to New Mexico), Erik Fromm (5.5 ppg, 3.4 rpg), Rene Castro (3.3 ppg -- transfer to Duquesne), Devontae Morgan (6.8 mpg -- transfer to James Madison) Nolan Berry (5 mpg -- transfer to UC Davis)
Returnees to watch: Kellen Dunham (16.4 ppg, 4 rpg), Kameron Woods (7.5 ppg, 9 rpg), Alex Barlow (6.6 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 3.5 apg), Roosevelt Jones (medical redshirt in 2013-14), Andrew Chrabascz (6.3 ppg)
Key additions: Austin Etherington (Indiana transfer)
Forward Erik Fromm and scrappy wing Khyle Marshall, the last players to depart from Butler's historic 2010-11 run to the national title game, have graduated while a handful of role players have left via transfer. The most notable player to switch schools is shooting guard Elijah Brown, who scored in double figures twice against Seton Hall last season.
Perhaps the Bulldog's most impactful addition in the off-season comes not via transfer or recruiting, but from within. All-everything guard Roosevelt Jones returns from a medical redshirt season after shattering his wrist during Butler's preseason trip to Australia a year ago. Jones (10.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 3.5 apg in 2012-13), also well-known for his lockdown defense, is expected to take over a majority of minutes from pass-first point guard Alex Barlow.
Jones and standout junior Kellen Dunham will compose a potent backcourt while 6-foot-6 Indiana transfer Austin Etherington (2 ppg, 1.6 rpg) and top-150 recruit Kelan Martin project to fill in at small forward. Etherington is coming off a torn ligament in his right foot from earlier this summer that stunted his off-season workouts, but was cleared for Butler's first official practice last Saturday. If Chris Holtmann opts for a smaller lineup, Alex Barlow will likely play point guard with Dunham and Jones playing off the ball. Kellen Dunham was a workhorse for Butler last year, shooting 76-217 (35%) from beyond the arc and scoring 20+ points ten times and 30+ on two occasions.
Butler will miss Khyle Marshall (small/combo forward) and Erik Fromm in their front court, who leave senior center Kameron Woods and power forward Andrew Chrabascz to pick up the slack. The Bulldogs are thin behind those two returnees and will have to call on their duo of freshman power forwards in Jackson Davis and Tyler Wideman to provide meaningful minutes off the bench.
Roosevelt Jones, Kellen Dunham, and Kameron Woods look to be an effective trio for Butler, but the Bulldogs aren't deep (328th in bench minutes last season) beyond their starters and can't afford any injuries. Head coach Brandon Miller's absence is also worrying; will a potential return from leave this season disrupt the Bulldogs, or give them a boost? If everything clicks, I can see Butler improving on their ninth-place finish, but there are definitely areas of concern that can relegate them to the bottom third of the conference again.