Best-Case Scenario for Butler Basketball Starters in 2013-14
If the past is any indicator, the Butler Bulldogs appear to be a best-case scenario waiting to happen.
The term would aptly describe a 2009-10 squad that was within one point of a national championship after reaching the NCAA tournament as a No. 5 seed, or an even more improbable bunch reaching the final game of the dance a year later.
The honeymoon has long passed since then. Coming off a 27-win season that ended in a disappointing NCAA tournament loss to Marquette, Butler once again finds itself in position to retool its starting five—albeit with some important pieces returning to the fold.
Can the 'Dawgs overcome the loss of Rotnei Clarke's scoring and Andrew Smith's awkward yet effective display of manning the paint?
Negativity certainly isn't a staple of Brad Stevens' coaching style. Therefore, here's what the head master will be be hoping for in order to fuel a successful 2013-14 tournament run.
Point Guard: Alex Barlow/Rene Castro/Jackson Aldridge
Alex Barlow: 6 PPG, 4 APG, 3 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 45 FG%, 30 3PT FG%
If you would have told anyone that Alex Barlow would be the Butler starting point guard by his junior season, most of them would have laughed.
Probably even Barlow himself.
Nevertheless, it's certainly looking that way heading into the season. With that said, it's important not to sell Barlow short—his defensive tenacity, intelligence and selflessness on the offensive end are valuable attributes that are welcome components to any college basketball team.
However, Barlow averaged 2.3 points per game in a little over 19 minutes per contest last season, shooting 25 percent from downtown. He averaged just 1.9 assists per game.
In an offense that has relied so heavily on scoring point guards in the past (Rotnei Clarke, Shelvin Mack), it's fair to think Barlow may be relegated to the role in which he is best suited for by season's end—a defensive scrapper coming off the bench.
Rene Castro could very well be the starter by March. As I wrote here, the incoming freshman has a knack for creating his own shot, something the current Butler roster desperately needs. It is a skill that would give three-point sniper Kellen Dunham some much-needed breathing room.
Junior Jackson Aldridge might be the team's best ball-handler, but his lack of offensive confidence and defensive inferiority to Barlow have left him struggling to find his niche in his first two collegiate seasons.
Shooting Guard: Kellen Dunham
15 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 2 APG, 45 FG%, 40 3PT FG%
The man with one of the smoothest strokes in college basketball lived up to the hype in his freshman season, but he is going to have to take a big leap as a sophomore in order for the Bulldogs to be a threat in the Big East.
Watching Dunham, it sure seemed like more than 37.5 percent of his shots found twine last season. But when all was said and done, that was his final shooting percentage as a freshman.
When left open, Dunham is as deadly as anyone in the country. The issue is that he often has trouble creating space and shaking his defender, which explains his low shooting efficiency.
One of two things needs to happen next season: Dunham needs to work hard this offseason in order to become a threat to shoot off the bounce, or one of the Butler point guards needs to emerge as a legitimate playmaking threat to go alongside Roosevelt Jones.
If either one happens, expect big things from KD in 2013-14.
Small Forward: Roosevelt Jones
16 PPG, 6 RPG, 4.5 APG, 53 FG%, 0 Three-Pointers Attempted
Roosevelt Jones has some heavy expectations riding on his shoulders going into his junior season.
Luckily, the 6'4", 220-pounder's shoulders look as though they were chiseled out of stone.
All unnecessary physique observations aside, Jones is the best returning player the Bulldogs have. He leads all returning players in rebounding, assists and scoring, while shooting an impressive 48.5 percent from the floor. (Not all that hard when your jump shot makes a Ben Wallace free throw look like an exquisite piece of art and all of your attempts come from within 10 feet, but still, quite impressive.)
An important flashback to 2012 though: Most people remember Jones' buzzer-beater he hit to shock Gonzaga on national television. What a lot of people don't remember is that Clarke was injured that game, and Jones essentially willed the Bulldogs to victory by himself, scoring 20 points on 70 percent shooting.
The Bulldogs are going to need to see more of that Jones in 2013-14. Not only that, but with all the question marks at the point guard position, don't be surprised to see Jones running the show next year on a regular basis.
All of this coupled with often drawing the opposing team's toughest offensive assignment, Jones better come ready to play in 2013-14.
Power Forward: Khyle Marshall
13 PPG, 6 RPG, 1 BPG, 55 FG%
Khyle Marshall has been solid in his three years at Butler, but the athletic power forward should expect to see his minutes increase in 2013-14. As a result, his production should spike as well.
While undersized at 6'6", Marshall makes up for any height he lacks with his athleticism.
One of two seniors returning to the Bulldogs (Erik Fromm is the other), Marshall often appears to be the best player on the court for Butler. Other times, he goes missing—think Chase Stigall's jumper in a typical warm-up routine.
The Bulldogs can ill afford Marshall to be lackadaisical in his final campaign, and something tells me his final go at it will be his best.
Center: Kameron Woods/Erik Fromm/Nolan Berry
Kameron Woods: 9 PPG, 8 RPG, 2 BPG, 51 FG%
Truthfully, Butler does not have a center on its roster. It will essentially be using either a three-guard or a three-forward lineup all season.
Regardless, the final starting spot is still up in the air heading into training camp. Junior Kameron Woods came on strong late last season, but as more of a 3-4 tweener, it may be unrealistic for his lanky frame to be able to match up with Big East centers.
With that said, Woods has the potential to be a game-changer. He is the returning leader in blocked shots and ripped down almost five rebounds per game while averaging just 17 minutes last season.
Senior Erik Fromm may be the safe choice, as Brad Stevens loves his strength, ability to stretch the floor and the fire he exudes on the court (and on his head). Still, he doesn't change a game like Woods does.
Incoming freshman Nolan Berry could be the dark house here, however. The buzz around Butler's campus is that Berry's game is a carbon copy of former fan-favorite Matt Howard when he first arrived as a freshman.
While this would be great for Butler, putting that kind of pressure on a 3-star recruit is a bit unfair—though if he could live up those expectations, life would be a heck of a lot more fun in northern Indianapolis.