Butler Bulldogs: Pieces in Place for a Season to Remember

Mar 21, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Butler Bulldogs guard Kellen Dunham (24) celebrates with Bulldogs forward Roosevelt Jones (21) during the second half against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the third round of the 2015 NCAA Tournamentat Consol Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

For the Butler men’s basketball team, the 2015-2016 season brings with it the highest expectations it has seen since the Gordon Hayward era, and for good reason.

I’ve said it once. I’ve said it twice. And I’ll say it again.

This is the most talented Bulldog squad in recent history. So much so that the loss of last year’s standout seniors Alex Barlow and Kameron Woods won’t hurt the team in the least.

This season’s team is leaps and bounds ahead of the one head coach Chris Holtmann was dealt last year.

I mean absolutely no disrespect to that team, I should say. They just barely lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament to a Notre Dame team that made the Final Four for crying out loud.

-= Butler Bulldogs Snubbed in Big East Preseason Rankings=-

In fact, aside from Barlow and Woods, the players who saw a large amount of floor time last year are essentially the same ones who will likely receive the majority of the minutes this year.

So then what makes this team so different?

Two things.

The first is maturity.

Sophomores Kelan Martin, Tyler Wideman, and Jackson Davis – all poised to play big minutes – are a year older and a year wiser.

Believe it or not, one year can make a huge difference in player development, especially for freshmen transitioning to their sophomore season.

Even for the most established players, such as seniors and preseason all-Big East selections Kellen Dunham and Roosevelt Jones, one year’s time can work wonders.

And let’s not forget junior big man Andrew Chrabascz, who might have experienced the biggest changes of all in the off season.

Along with improving his endurance and scoring abilities this summer, he finally abandoned his baby-faced appearance by growing a full beard. Now that his look actually matches his on-the-court toughness, maybe those who snubbed him in the preseason conference individual selections (cough, cough Big East coaches) will begin to take notice.

The second factor is junior NC State transfer Tyler Lewis.

Here’s a quick stat for you numbers junkies, and it may come as a shock.

Butler ranked 260th in the country in the category of assists per game last year. Nearly every Division I team in Indiana ranked higher on that list than the Bulldogs, including IPFW, Ball State, and the University of Evansville.

But Lewis is here to change that. He is the rare type of point guard with the ability to score at will and to get his teammates involved by dishing out dimes.

While he only had one assist during 24 minutes in Butler’s 79-44 exhibition game win over Taylor University on Saturday, don’t be discouraged.

The Bulldogs were facing a team they could score against as often as they pleased, so assists weren’t exactly needed. Look for Lewis to make his mark in the assist category once the regular season begins.

Lewis also brings a new scoring presence at the point guard spot, as evidenced by his 11 points in just 24 minutes against Taylor. Couple that with the scoring output of Jones and Dunham, and it would appear Butler has a “big 3” of its own.

The Dawgs are ranked 22nd nationally in the USA Today preseason coaches’ poll and 24th in the Associated Press Top 25 poll. So expectations are high not only among Butler fans, but at the national level as well.

And why shouldn’t they be? This team has the ability to go all the way.

Yes, I said it.

The potential is there for a season to remember.

They have all the tools they need to make another run through the NCAA tournament, but it’s a long road. To be the last team standing will require Butler to bring its “A” game every single night. They can’t let one bad game get them down, and they can’t rely solely on Dunham or Jones to top the box scores every contest.

To win will take a combined effort from the entire team. Everyone will need to produce and pick up the slack for those who have off games, especially during conference play.

If they do, and all the right pieces fall into place, then maybe, just maybe, we could finally witness what we were one lucky bounce away from seeing nearly six years ago – a Butler national championship.