Butler Bulldogs: Is There a Challenge on the Horizon?

Mike HendersonCorrespondent IIAugust 17, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS - APRIL 05:  Head coach Brad Stevens of the Butler Bulldogs looks on in the first half while taking on the Duke Blue Devils during the 2010 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball National Championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium on April 5, 2010 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Duke won 61-59.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

It would be easy to pencil in Butler as the Horizon League favourites based solely on last year's near-miraculous run.

But there is one team in (or on) the Horizon that may have some say in this. 

Scoff if you will, but the Detroit Titans are on the radar. Despite the 9-9 finish in conference last year, the Titans impressed and will be improved this season.

Take a look at last season's meetings between the two teams. At Detroit in their first meeting, Butler needed overtime to escape 64-62. Granted road games are tough in any conference, but at home, the Bulldogs won by only five in a game where they committed 21 turnovers.

Obviously, this doesn't mean that Butler shouldn't merit strong consideration for defending the league title. But there are some things that can't be overlooked either.

First, the Dogs lost Gordon Hayward, who was clearly their best player in terms of scoring, rebounding, and general court awareness. Second, they also lost Willie Veasley, a solid scorer and defender in his own right, and they lost Avery Jukes, who was a valuable contributor off of the bench. Jukes had a great final against Duke, but aside from that, was really the only option with size off of Brad Stevens' bench.

Third, the Titans return Chase Simon and Eli Holman, two of their top three scorers, and top rebounder (Holman) from last season. Yes, they lost Thomas Kennedy and the invaluable Woody Payne, but coach Ray McCallum managed to recruit a highly- regarded point guard in four-star prospect Ray McCallum.

I'm guessing that McCalllum (Jr.) already understands what his father wants and needs from him and I'm guessing that he will fit in fairly seamlessly with his new teammates. Whether or not this propels the Titans to the top of the heap remains to be seen. But the potential is certainly there.

And last, it could happen.

Hayward was a Horizon league anomaly. He wasn't dominant athletically but was skilled enough and smart enough to impact every game he played. Not the same can be said for anyone on the Bulldogs' squad this season. As much as I like Matt Howard's skills, he is in foul trouble far too often, usually the result of one (or two) bad fouls per game. Shelvin Mack is a very good player at both ends of the floor and Ronald Nored certainly gained notoriety in the NCAA tourney. But who will fill Hayward's shoes? Who will fill Veasley's shoes? 

It is easy to say "the Butler way" will reign supreme, but too often in the mid-to-low major conferences, teams with a little more experience and continuity will rise up, if only for one season.

Last year, after the close home win against the Titans, Stevens said: “They are a really good basketball team who could beat a lot of people on a given day. They are very, very good.” (Yahoo! Sports)

The Detroit Titans will be better this season and could, possibly, turn the Horizon into a two-bid league.