On March 21, Butler found itself playing in the Final Four for the third consecutive season. Unfortunately though, Butler's 2012 Final Four appearance came in the College Basketball Invitational
(CBI) rather than the slightly more prestigious NCAA Tournament.
Technically, Butler was back in a postseason Final Four, but the circumstances surrounding the contest could not have been more different. The CBI semifinal was not held at Lucas Oil or Reliant Stadium—instead the game took place on the Bulldogs' home court at Hinkle Fieldhouse. The opponent meanwhile was not a Kemba Walker led UCONN squad or Coach K's Duke Blue Devils, but rather a flailing Pittsburgh team that finished 12th in the Big East.
With that being said, Butler fans should take solace in the fact that Head Coach Brad Stevens does not plan on letting the Bulldogs fall into mediocrity. Stevens simply said "this is going to be a very demanding off-season,” when speaking of the immediate future of Butler basketball.
Last year's Butler team was not able to match up to the extremely high level of expectations that the program has come to put on itself. The good news is though that next season's Bulldog roster appears to possess the bite that was lacking throughout the 2011-12 campaign.
Butler brings back their top three leading scorers from last season in Andrew Smith, Khyle Marshall and Chrishawn Hopkins. This is particularly welcome news for a Bulldog team that only averaged a meager 63.3 points per game last year. Smith and Marshall are especially efficient shooters who will do the majority of their scoring around the basket. Roosevelt Jones also showed great promise as a freshman last year and will take on a bigger role as a sophomore.
Butler's high number of returning personnel is great in itself. Frankly though, it is the Bulldogs' newcomers that have me excited about this team's potential. Brad Stevens may not have won as many games as he would have liked on the court last season, but Stevens has been picking up some marquee victories on the recruiting trail as of late. Those recruiting victories that I reference come in the form of Arkansas transfer Rotnei Clarke and incoming freshman Kellen Dunham.
Rotnei Clarke is a deadly accurate three-point shooter who proved to be a high volume scoring guard during his time at Arkansas. Rotnei was named to the All-SEC second team as a junior with the Razorbacks. Clarke's arrival at the school could not be more timely. Butler needs an influx of scoring power as well as a replacement for departed guard and team leader Ronald Nored. Rotnei Clarke fills both of those needs perfectly.
Joining Rotnei on campus next season will also be freshman Kellen Dunham. Dunham was a top 100 recruit as rated by Rivals coming out of high school. His signing with Butler is particularly impressive considering that he garnered interest from nearby Big 10 powers Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin. Kellen is similar to Rotnei Clarke in that he is also a three-point marksman. In a player evaluation by Scout.com, high praise is given of Kellen saying that "Dunham has to go down as one of the best pure shooters in the class."
Clearly Brad Stevens has wasted no time in addressing the shooting and scoring woes that plagued his team last season.
Butler's return of established veterans as well as talented newcomers could not have come at a better time either as the Bulldogs will transition from the Horizon league to the Atlantic-10 conference this coming season. Needless to say, the in-conference competition that Butler will face on a nightly basis will be more daunting.
For the most part, the Bulldogs ran roughshod over their Horizon League competition. Now Butler will matchup with Atlantic-10 powers Temple, Xavier and St. Louis as well as fellow conference newbie Virginia Commonwealth. You might recall that Butler last faced Virginia Commonwealth in the semifinals of the 2011 Final Four.
There is reason to be optimistic about this Butler team's prospects next season. No, I would not rate them as a preseason top 25 team. I also would rank St. Louis as the top team in the Atlantic-10 heading into next season rather than the Bulldogs. With that being said, Butler has the look of an NCAA Tournament team rather than a CBI squad as we stand roughly three months before the opening of the upcoming college basketball season.
Brad Stevens will not allow this program to stay down for an extended period of time. While Butler may have gotten knocked down last season, they are certainly not out. That is why the smart money is on the Bulldogs trading punches with the top-tier of the Atlantic-10 and ultimately earning a Selection Sunday shout out next March.
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