Butler Basketball: Biggest Challenges in 1st Season of Post-Brad Stevens Era
If there ever was a perfect time for Brad Stevens to leave the friendly confines of Butler University for a big time job, this was the year.
After guiding the Bulldogs to a 27-9 record last season, Stevens decided to take a massive career risk and become the head coach of the Boston Celtics.
With Stevens trading in Butler blue for Celtic green, the powers that be at the small Indiana school decided to keep with tradition and name a familiar face to the head coaching position.
That familiar face is Brandon Miller, who is a 2003 graduate of Butler who has been an assistant on the Bulldogs staff on two different occasions.
Miller has a ton of challenges facing him this season as the Bulldogs make the leap from the Atlantic 10 to the Big East Conference.
Adding to the difficulties of facing a rigorous 18-game conference schedule, which will pin the Bulldogs up against the likes of Creighton and Georgetown, is a titanic injury blow to one of the team's best players from last season.
Junior forward Roosevelt Jones will be one of three starters from last season not donning a Butler uniform this season, but instead of leaving the collegiate ranks for good like Rotnei Clarke and Andrew Smith did, Jones will be recovering from a wrist injury that he suffered back in August.
With an emotional and statistical leader in Jones not available for the entire season, Miller has to rely on a batch of newcomers to succeed in his first year in charge.
Brandon Miller has a difficult enough task, replacing Brad Stevens, heading to the Big East and w/o a point guard. Now he won't have Jones.— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanESPN) August 16, 2013
The Bulldogs will be returning senior forward Khyle Marshall and junior guard Alex Barlow, but they will have plenty of voids to fill.
In the backcourt, the absence of Clarke will be felt immensely, especially if we base this off of the time the transfer from Arkansas was out during his final season.
Clarke, who suffered a concussion against Dayton last season, missed games against Richmond, Gonzaga and La Salle. In two of those games, the Bulldogs faced a bigger challenge than they expected.
If they would have had Clarke on the floor at home against Gonzaga, they may not have needed Jones' late-game theatrics, and in the game after that, the Bulldogs fell to La Salle on the road in Philadelphia by a point.
Both of those games could have easily been won if Clarke and his 16.9 points per game were included in the lineup.
Barlow and sophomore Kellen Dunham, who combined to produce just over 11 points per game last season, will have to step up and deliver quality performances for the Bulldogs if they want to succeed immediately this season.
Clarke's spectacular shooting from beyond the arc will not be the only thing that the Bulldogs will be looking to replace this season as they also lost the point production of Smith, who averaged 11.3 points and 6.1 rebounds per game in his senior season.
Filling the void left by the 6'11" center will be more of a monumental task than replacing Clarke will be.
The two logical replacements for Smith would be 6'10" freshman Nolan Berry and 6'8" senior Erik Fromm, both of whom lack the experience Smith brought to the table.
How Many Wins Will Butler Have This Season?
If that was not worrisome enough for Bulldogs fans, their big nonconference games could present some daunting tasks.
The Bulldogs will be playing in the Old Spice Classic in Orlando over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend where they could potentially run into Marcus Smart and Oklahoma State, as well as the Memphis Tigers.
Neither of those matchups are appetizing to a Butler program that could have a rough season as it looks to rebuild after losing plenty of key pieces from last season's squad.
If the new look Bulldogs are able to survive their nonconference schedule, they will have to navigate the treacherous waters of the Big East, which hands them very few easy games.
The only game in their first month of Big East play that can be labeled as an easy win at this time is the January 9 clash at home with perpetual bottom feeders DePaul.
Other games included in the first month of Butler's conference slate include road trips to fellow Big East newcomers Xavier and Creighton, and home games against Georgetown and Marquette.
While it certainly will be an interesting first few months of the Miller era at Butler, we can not assume that the Bulldogs will just fall back into the middle of the pack and not succeed at some point this season.
The Butler basketball program is a very proud one and there is no way that Miller will let the Bulldogs fail miserably, but there certainly will be some speed bumps and growing pains along the way as they make their maiden voyage into the Big East.
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