Thomas Robinson is expected to emerge as a star for Kansas this season. (Icon SMI)
By Keith Levinsky
Friday, October 28, 2011
Last Season: 28-10 (13-5)
Key Losses: Matt Howard, Shelvin Mack, Shawn Vanzant, Zach Hahn
Head Coach: Brad Stevens
Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Ronald Nored 6-0 Sr.
SG: Chase Stigall 6-3 Jr.
SF: Khyle Marshall 6-6 So.
PF: Eric Fromm 6-8 So.
C: Andrew Smith 6-11 Jr.
Key Reserves: Garrett Butcher 6-6 Sr. PF, Emerson Kampen 6-8 Jr. PF, Chrishawn Hopkins 6-1 So. SG, Roosevelt Jones 6-4 Fr. SF, Jackson Aldridge 6-0 Fr. PG, Kameron Woods 6-8 Fr. PF, Andy Smeathers 6-6 Fr. SF
The words "Cinderella story" do not seem to apply to the Butler basketball program anymore. Over the past five years, only Kansas, North Carolina and Duke have more wins than Butler. After a wacky month of March basketball last year, the eighth-seeded Bulldogs reached the national championship for the second straight year.
If Butler has a similar run to the championship this year, it would have to be classified as a "Cinderella story." Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack are gone. Howard and Mack were the team's top two scorers 2010-11, but, even more than that, they have been the faces of the basketball program for the past few years. Coach Brad Stevens is still there so anything is still possible.
Howard's departure hurts for multiple reasons. The Bulldogs will miss his leadership, rebounding and scoring. Most of all, though, his exit leaves Butler without a power forward that can immediately step into the starting lineup. Eric Fromm will have to go from playing only 3.4 minutes per game last year to starting and playing a major role on the squad. Fromm will compete with freshman Kameron Woods for the starting spot. Woods is a two-star recruit and the 62nd best power forward in the nation according to ESPN.com.
Fortunately, Fromm and Kampen will be able to learn from one of Butler's most talented and experienced players, Andrew Smith. Smith was the team's third best scorer and rebounder last year, recording 8.5 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. The junior forward was also second on the squad with 16 blocks last year.
Another player with substantial experience is Ronald Nored. In his final year, the senior guard will contribute not only on the stat sheet but also as a leader. Last year, Nored was the team's vocal leader. With his shin injuries healed, he should be a vital part of the team on the court as well. In 2010-11, Nored averaged 5.0 points per game and was second on the team in assists with 84. He is considered one of the best on-ball defenders in college basketball. During Butler's 2010 NCAA tournament run, he made a living locking down opposing teams' best perimeter players.
Chase Stigall will also return in the Butler backcourt. Without Howard, Mack and Vanzant, Stigall will be Butler's best 3-point threat. The 6-foot-3 junior knocked down 32.2 percent of his 3-pointers last year and scored 3.9 points per game. Khyle Marshall will step into the starting lineup as well after a productive freshman campaign. Even though Marshall only started three games and played 15.2 minutes per game, he was fifth on the team in scoring (5.8 ppg) and fourth on the team in rebounding (3.8 rpg). Marshall was especially vital in the Final Four against VCU when he recorded nine rebounds and six points. Smith, Marshall and Fromm will all have to pick up their rebounding this season as the Bulldogs were 177th in the nation in rebounding in 2010-11.
Two other options in the Butler backcourt will be Roosevelt Jones and Jackson Aldridge, Butler's top two recruits. According to ESPN.com, Jones is a three-star recruit and the 33rd best freshman small forward in the nation. Scout.com says of Jones, "He is one of the strongest and most intense kids in the class who is always attacking the rim off the dribble." In an ESPN.com article, Nored described how he was very impressed with Jones's defense and ability to score on the break in pre-season workouts. Aldridge is a strong, Australian point guard who is spectacular in transition according to ESPN.com.
Butler has lost half of its top eight scorers from last year, including possibly two of the best players in Butler basketball history. That does not mean Brad Stevens can't work more miracles this year. Nored's leadership is underestimated, and Smith, Stigall and Marshall could develop into solid players. If all things go their way, Butler will once again be the favorite in the Horizon League this year, but the National Championship seems a bit far-fetched.
Then again, we're talking about Brad Stevens, so don't be surprised if the Bulldogs make another NCAA tournament run. Not making another NCAA tournament run would be an aberration. After all, that's what Stevens and the Bulldogs do.