RTC Class Schedule 2009-10: Butler BulldogsPosted by zhayes9 on October 13th, 2009
This is my last installation of the RTC Class Schedule series. Here are the first nine:
The nightmare for mid-major haters out there has been realized: Butler will be a top ten- yes, top ten- team for the next two full seasons. Their starting backcourt of Shelvin Mack and Ronald Nored are both sophomores. One of the best frontcourts in the nation- post presence Matt Howard and inside-outside stud Gordon Hayward- is a junior and sophomore, respectively, with neither likely to enter the NBA Draft before four years at Butler. They lose two seniors who receive regular minutes after this season with swingman Willie Veasley (8.9 PPG, 4.3 RPG) and forward Avery Jukes (3.2 PPG) departing, but neither should pose a crippling loss. Sharpshooter Zach Hahn (41% 3pt) is just a junior and backup guard Shawn Vanzant is a junior, as well. Coach Brad Stevens has lured the #32 center in the nation Andrew Smith into the fray for this year and the #22 small forward in the country Khyle Marshall for 2010. The Bulldogs are loaded for the foreseeable future and should run roughshod over the respectable Horizon League, possibly beginning a historical conference run for the next two campaigns beginning with a visit from rival Valparaiso on December 5.
Butler has a realistic shot at a top-three seed in the NCAA tournament and backed up their high standing with a challenging non-conference slate coupled with a Horizon League schedule that has Hinkle Fieldhouse inhibitors wondering if undefeated is possible within the conference. Let’s dig deeper into the path Butler must take in hopes of being the first mid-major to reach the Final Four since George Mason in 2006.
Non-Conference Schedule Rank: 8.5. The Bulldogs will be challenged in mid-November when they make a trip to fringe-NCAA contender Northwestern in Evanston. The Wildcats return star forward Kevin Coble and his perimeter shooting along with senior point guard Michael Thompson. They have hopes of making the field of 65 for the first time in school history. Butler enters the most difficult preseason tournament this season in Anaheim with a tremendous first round game against Big Ten contender Minnesota (returns nearly everyone including freshman Royce White entering) and a possible second round contest against UCLA. Potential top-ten team West Virginia looms in a possible championship game along with Texas A&M and Clemson. Butler also welcomes a bolstered Ohio State team to Hinkle followed by a visit a week later from Xavier and new coach Chris Mack. Butler also faces Georgetown- featuring Chris Wright, Austin Freeman and Greg Monroe- to headline the Jimmy V Classic in NYC and travels to rebuilding UAB. Even with the high standards at Butler, that’s a hell of a non-conference schedule for a mid-major.
Cupcake City: The frosting isn’t too heavy for Butler. Stevens does have a return game from Davidson, who obviously won’t be nearly as lethal without Stephen Curry. Evansville has some decent pieces- and Butler must travel there- but the Aces shouldn’t challenge Butler too long. A short trip to Ball State also looms as less-than-imposing. That said, those 300+ RPI teams that most teams stack at least a few times on their non-conference slate is lacking from Butler’s schedule. Once again, give Brad Stevens tremendous credit.
Toughest Early Season Test: If Butler should face West Virginia at the 76 Classic, the Mountaineers would certainly pose the biggest challenge. While Georgetown and Minnesota should find themselves in the rankings more often than not this season, Ohio State receives my vote for stiffest test, even if the game is played at Hinkle. Thad Matta’s team has the goods to finish just behind Michigan State and Purdue in the vastly improved Big Ten this season. David Lighty returns from a season-ending injury to provide outstanding defense, Evan Turner is a popular pick for conference player of the year, William Buford is a dynamic scorer as a sophomore, Jon Diebler improved his shooting drastically a season ago and Dallas Lauderdale (who should return from a broken hand by December 12) gives the Buckeyes a true shot-blocking presence inside. Ohio State could play a very physical brand of basketball this season, a staple for the rugged Bulldogs over this successful decade. This mid-December duel is a must-watch for college hoops fans.
Easiest Conference Stretch: For a team that could possibly go undefeated in their conference, these next two categories weren’t so easy. The last five games of the season shouldn’t pose much of a threat for Butler, even with three of the five coming on the road. The Horizon slate ends with a visit from Loyola followed by trips to Youngstown State and Cleveland State, a Vikings team with some remaining talent but both Cedric Jackson and J’Nathan Bullock departed. The Bulldogs then welcome a bottom-feeder UIC team with Josh Mayo no longer around and finish with a trip to a slightly improved Valparaiso team that welcomes 7’0 UNLV former five star transfer Beas Hamga into the fray. Still, I’d be shocked if Butler didn’t finish the season with these five marked down in the win column.
Hardest Conference Stretch: No single stretch of 3-4 games will be too difficult for Butler, but the teams that could give the Bulldogs some trouble on the road is Wright State, Milwaukee and Green Bay. Brad Brownell is one of the more underappreciated coaches in the nation and won 20 games a season ago despite starting the season 0-6. Returning from injury is possible all-league player Vaughn Duggins along with four other starters, including double-digit wing scorer Todd Brown. They should win 20 games again and reach a postseason of some sort. Milwaukee returns four starters (if guard Ricky Franklin is granted another year of eligibility) from a squad that knocked off Butler at the height of conference play a year ago. Green Bay lost mostly their entire frontline, but they always play well at their home court and the starting backcourt of Troy Cotton and Rahmon Fletcher returns.
Most Difficult Road Test: The January 8 contest in Dayton against Wright State should prove the most difficult road test. Duggins is back at 100% after finger surgery cost him his junior season in which he was tabbed preseason all-Horizon and glue guard John David Gardner also returns from a hip injury. Brownell added Indiana all-star Tyler Koch into the fray. With plenty of experience returning, they may catch Butler sleeping early in the season.
Most Anticipated Home Date: Normally this category is always reserved for a conference game, but it’s rare when a Horizon League team welcomes an elite program like Ohio State into their building. The Hinkle Fieldhouse faithful and crazy Butler Dawg Pound should be out in full force for a game that could officially put this year’s Butler team on the map on a national level. Xavier, who fell to Butler at home a season ago, will also make a trip to Hinkle led by big man Kenny Frease, guard Terrell Holloway and Indiana transfer Jordan Crawford.
Best Individual Matchup: This one is fairly obvious: Evan Turner vs. Gordon Hayward. Both of these elite players can score, rebound, defend and lead their respective teams. Their matchup is one of the best individual duels of the non-conference schedule. Can you tell I’m excited for this game yet? Some other possibilities: How Shelvin Mack contains senior Al Nolen could determine the Minnesota game in Anaheim, likely preseason Horizon POY Matt Howard having to contain 300 pound James Eayrs of Milwaukee, either Mack or Nored against Duggins in the Wright State games and an imposing backcourt of Kelvin Bright and DeAndre Mays from Youngstown State.
Upset Watch: Northwestern out-of-conference would be considered an upset, but for some Horizon league flavor my choice is Milwaukee. Truthfully, I have a very difficult time seeing anyone in this league knocking off a Butler team that could finish in the top ten in the nation. But Milwaukee is an experienced group that knocked off this same Bulldogs team a year ago and only lost erratic point guard Avery Smith. If Ricky Franklin meets academic requirements for another year, there’s your team leader and backcourt double-digit scorer. James Eayrs really emerged late last season and is a matchup problem with his ability to shoot from the outside. Milwaukee’s chances of somehow knocking off Butler will largely depend on the play of junior point guard Deonte Roberts.
Coach Brad Stevens has continued the laundry list of successful Butler head coaches. While some have experienced success at their next stop (Matta) while others have encountered struggles (Lickliter), it appears that Stevens considers Butler his final stop rather than a stepping stone. And why not, considering the Bulldogs should be the best mid-major for the next two seasons in college basketball. Three or four losses on the entire season for this Butler team is not out of the question…and they pretty much all return for 2010-11. Barring injury, Butler is extremely scary.