MATTHEW VANTRYON | STAFF REPORTER
To say the offseason has been a whirlwind for the Butler men’s basketball team is an understatement.
Between a conference change, a coaching change, the graduation of two key players and the loss of junior forward Roosevelt Jones to injury, this will be a different-looking Butler team.
“At the end of the day, when you step on the court, you’re playing the game that you’ve always played,” senior center Erik Fromm said. “That doesn’t change. We all came here to play basketball, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Out went guards Rotnei Clarke and Chase Stigall and centers Andrew Smith and Emerson Kampen at last season’s end.
Gone, too, is Brad Stevens, who coached the Bulldogs from 2007 through the end of last season.
Fromm will join forward Khyle Marshall as the two seniors on this year’s squad. Fromm said that he knows it is time to step up and lead.
“That’s where Khyle and I need to step up,” Fromm said. “Those are some big shoes to fill with (Andrew Smith and Rotnei Clarke) who left, but I’m just trying to fill my role and play within the system.”
Fromm’s and Marshall’s presence on the court will be even more important with the loss of Jones in the offseason due to a wrist injury.
Additionally, junior guard Andrew Smeathers announced earlier this week that he will not be a part of the program this season.
“Any time you lose anyone that’s a part of your program, there’s a void to fill,” junior guard Alex Barlow said. “As a team, we have to replace the guys we’ve lost from last year to this year.”
With these changes, the Bulldogs were picked to finish ninth out of 10 teams in the Big East Conference.
However, the team is well accustomed to the underdog position.
“Being ranked low, there’s no expectation, and I think that’s where Butler thrives is as the underdog,” Fromm said. “If we can just do what we do and play hard, I think we’re going to surprise some people.”
Marshall and sophomore guard Kellen Dunham are Butler’s two top returning scorers. Both averaged more than nine points per contest last season, and they will likely be looked to for more production.
Butler also added six freshmen from across the U.S.
One, guard Elijah Brown, tallied 29 points between Butler’s two exhibition games. Center Nolan Berry had 16 in the same span.
Fromm emphasized the importance of home conference games, and added that fans have a role to play.
“I think that every home conference game is a huge game where we need to have everybody come out, and (Hinkle Fieldhouse) needs to be packed,” Fromm said. “There truly is a ‘sixth man’ with Hinkle, and so we need that in full effect.”
First-year head coach Brandon Miller said defense is key if this team wants to be successful.
“Butler throughout the years has had a team defensive philosophy,” Miller said. “It takes all five guys to be connected on the defensive end of the floor.
“Our team defense needs to be at an all-time high of taking care of the details on that end of the floor.”
Barlow said toughness will be a crucial aspect of good defensive play.
“We’re going to have to play harder, we’re going to have to play better team defense, and we’re going to have to play tougher than we did last year,” Barlow said.
The team’s opening month is highlighted by a trip to Orlando to play in the Old Spice Classic during Butler’s Thanksgiving break. Miller said non-conference games will help the team prepare for Big East competition.
“There are many challenges in our schedule,” Miller said. “We play teams with different styles, and the styles help prepare you for the different styles in the Big East.”
Conference play starts on New Year’s Eve, as Butler hosts Villanova.
The Big East Conference Tournament is scheduled to begin Mar. 12. It will be held at Madison Square Garden in New York.
“If we continue to progress and get better at the rate that we have so far, I think we’ll like where we’re going to be as we move forward,” Miller said.