Indianapolis (IN) - A new year, another challenge for Brad Stevens. The 35-year old, fifth year head coach for the Bulldogs has had a new team and challenge every year, and has excelled.
His first was a team filled with seniors in A.J. Graves, Mike Green, and Pete Campbell. His second was a team filled with new, inexperienced players such as Gordon Hayward, Shelvin Mack, Ronald Nored, and sophomore Matt Howard. His third season was when he had the most players back in Hayward, Mack, Nored, and Howard, the only time in his career thus far. Last season the Bulldogs lost their first player to the NBA lottery, Hayward, and Stevens had to adjust to life without the versatile forward.
This season will also be a little bit different. Butler lost seniors Howard, Vanzant, Hahn, and also junior Shelvin Mack to the NBA draft. He will have his point guard (Nored), center (Smith), and sixth-man (Khyle Marshall) back, but also four freshman and some role players from last season.
The guards will be undoubtedly led by Ronald Nored. The senior guard from Homewood, AL has certainly left his mark on the Butler program. He has been the best on-ball defender in college basketball the last two seasons. His physical and gritty style of play inspire his teammates. He is truly a coach on the floor for the Bulldogs and Stevens will need his leadership and saavy on the court. His offensive game leaves a little to be desired, but with all the work that Nored put in during the off-season, his first completely injury free off-season, there is sure to be some improvement.
At the other guard spot, Butler returns junior Chase Stigall. Stigall was solid for the Bulldogs last season. The New Castle native averaged just over 16 minutes per game, but just four ppg and shot just 32% (40-of-125) from the 3-point line. He started a majority of games, but wasn't on the court at the finish. Stigall is better suited as a role playing 3-point threat and could maximize his 3-point efficiency in that capacity.
In order to move Stigall to the bench one of the more inexperienced players on the roster will have to step up. The player most likely to do that is ultra-athletic sophomore Chrishawn Hopkins.
Hopkins is a little used combo-guard. Most college basketball fans remember when Hopkins stepped in against Florida and hit a big 3-pointer. Most Butler fans remember watching Youtube vidoes of Hopkins prior to last season and thinking that he could break into the starting lineup at point guard. Now it is up to Hopkins to crack the starting lineup this seasons. Hopkins shoots it very well from 3-point range with range out to the NBA-line and also can get to the basketball off the dribble. His type of athleticism is something the Bulldogs have never had. Look for a combination of Hopkins and Nored to start for most of the year.
Off the bench freshman Jackson Aldridge (Australia), Roosevelt Jones (O'Fallon, IL), and Andrew Smeathers (Bargersville, IN) will see significant minutes.
Jones, a wide-bodied guard, is a Willie Veasley clone. He has great length for a guard and should be a defensive stopper for the Bulldogs. While he is a little taller than Veasley, he should be able to guard the one through four positions on the floor. Jones can get to the basket off the dribble, but does struggle some with his jumper. He also gets to the free-throw line very well.
Smeathers reminds most of Gordon Hayward. Although not as athletic and not as fluid this early in his career, Smeathers is a lanky guard/forward that can really stroke the 3-pointer. Much like Jones, and freshman forward Kameron Woods, Smeathers is very versatile and should provide Stevens with many options.
Aldridge is a quick, play-making point guard. He has experience in big situations Internationally and should provide a solid back-up point guard for Nored. He can shoot out to the 3-point line as well, giving the Bulldogs an offensive threat at point guard. Look for Aldridge to get minutes a point guard early and often without another true point guard in the rotation.
Much like Matt Howard in 2008, Andrew Smith will be the cornerstone for the young Bulldogs. Smith has improved annually on offense and defense. He has good post moves and an improved jumper which he can extend past the 3-point line. Look for Smith to show his improved jump shot fairly regularly this season.
Khyle Marshall was an impressive offensive rebounder off the bench during the NCAA tournament last year, but will be relied upon as a starter in 2011. Marshall rebounds well out of his area and can be a difference maker on the defensive side of the ball with his length. He will need to tone down his aggressiveness so that he can stay on the floor and not get in foul trouble. On offense Marshall must improve his post game and become a true dual threat.
Freshman Kameron Woods can play both forward positions and should crack the starting lineup early for the Bulldogs. He is a good defender and should provide Butler with a good shot blocking presence. He is also versatile on offense being able to stretch the defense and provide lanes for the guard to drive with his range out to the 3-point line.
Sophomre Erik Fromm and senior Garrett Butcher will get key minutes for the Bulldogs in replacing Smith, Marshall, and Woods. Fromm could get plenty of minutes if he can start to hit the outside shot. Butcher has battled injuries throughout his career including a concussion this fall.
Nothing has changed on the side line for the Bulldogs. Butler returns one of the best coaches in American in Brad Stevens. He will not be out-coached and truly knows how to prepare his team for any opposition. Stevens is 117-25 in the first four years as head coaching including 62-10 in the Horizon League. Butler has also finished in 1st place in each season.