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The biggest hurdle for the Butler basketball program in its first season in the Big East is no longer the absence of Brad Stevens. For the first year, at least, it will be playing without Roosevelt Jones.
The school announced Friday that the Butler forward will have season-ending surgery after suffering ligament damage to his left wrist on the team's trip to Australia.
The good news for the Bulldogs and new coach Brandon Miller is that they still get two years of Jones when he comes back. The bad news is they could be in for a rude awakening in the Big East.
The league is not exactly stacked this year, but outside of Seton Hall and DePaul there are no gimmes.
Marquette, Creighton, Georgetown and Villanova were all NCAA tournament teams a year ago who'll return enough players to make it back. Even with Jones, Butler was in a middle tier with St. John's and Xavier. In terms of talent, those teams had more, but the Bulldogs had the NCAA experience and the talent drop-off was not a major one.
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That's no longer the case. Jones was clearly the most talented player on the roster, and he did so many things for for the Bulldogs.
Without a great point guard, Jones played sort of a point forward. He led the team in assists last season (3.5 per game). He was the one Butler player who could create for himself and others. He is unorthodox—see his shooting form—but he finds a way to produce and is just one of those guys who can carry a team down the stretch of a game with his ability to get to the paint.
Jones was also the team's leading returning scorer (10.1 PPG) and rebounder (5.6 RPG). Replacing his scoring and passing have to be major concerns for Miller.
Without Jones, the pressure falls on sophomore guard Kellen Dunham, who will have to inherit more ball-handling duties and be the go-to scorer.
Will Butler make the NCAA tournament next season without Roosevelt Jones?
Dunham is a good shooter—he made 57 threes as a freshman—but he could struggle as "the man" facing the competition Butler will now go up against. He would definitely benefit from someone else, like Jones, setting him up. Dunham did average 16 points per game on the team's Australian tour, but he had one game where he went 0-for-11 from three.
That's what this season could be; a lot of games where the Bulldogs live or die with Dunham's shot.
The expectations should definitely be tempered and finishing anywhere near .500 in the Big East would be considered a success.
More than likely, the Bulldogs will be fighting with Seton Hall and DePaul at the bottom of the standings. That's not exactly what the program probably had in mind when the Bulldogs accepted their invite to the new league.