Five questions for the 2021-22 Butler men’s basketball team

Bryce Nze rises for a layup attempt in a matchup against Xavier on Jan. 30, 2021. Butler went on to lose 68-55. Photo courtesy of Zach Bolinger.

ANDREW MILD | SPORTS REPORTER | amild@butler.edu 

1. Is experience the key to a successful Bulldog Season?

Having experience has always been crucial to college basketball. Some of that comes from players knowing what they are getting into when they walk onto an opposing team’s floor and not letting the atmosphere get to them. Good news for the Bulldogs — they come into the season with four graduate students and three seniors. Head coach LaVall Jordan and the Bulldogs are one of more experienced teams —  not just in the Big East, but in the NCAA — and with the team having a high basketball-IQ, fans should expect the team to make smart plays. 

2. Is Ty Groce the answer to last year’s scoring issues?

Last year’s squad had a rough time doing the most important thing that translates to wins — getting buckets. During the 2020-21 season, Butler finished averaging 63.5 points, ranking them 326 of 347 Division I schools in the country. Clearly this has been something that has hurt Butler’s success. 

This resulted in Jordan recruiting promising 6-foot 8-inch graduate student Ty Groce from Eastern Michigan. In Groce’s last year for the Eagles, he averaged 15.2 points while shooting 53% from the field. Groce will be doing most of his work in the paint trying to play above the rim for the Bulldogs. 

What allows Groce to be a dominant force in the paint is that he is extremely athletic. Groce runs the floor well which will lead to easy transition buckets. Due to his leaping capabilities, Groce was hard for defenders to block, allowing guards to float an alley-oop up to him. Groce should be a great addition for the Bulldogs as they look to solve last year’s scoring issue.

3. Will Butler be able to win on the road?

Being able to win at home is always a good thing, but a team that can hit the road and win is the measurement of a championship team. Butler went 10-15 last season, with just one win coming from a road game at Seton Hall. Other than that, Butler went a disappointing 1-9 during away games. This is the worst road record the Bulldogs have had since the 1992-1993 season when their record was 1-11. 

If Butler wants to make the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2018, the Dawgs will have to capture some wins on the road — especially when conference play begins versus St. John’s on Dec. 23.

4. Will the Bulldogs return to the NCAA tournament?

It is no secret that Butler loves their college basketball, but campus really thrives during the NCAA tournament when the Dawgs find their way into March Madness. Unfortunately, most current Butler students have not experienced their team playing in the tournament. The last time the Dawgs went to “The Big Dance” was 2018 when the team got into the second round before losing a 76-73 heartbreaker to their in-state rivals, the Purdue Boilermakers. 

What’s even more heartbreaking than losing to a school an hour away was the COVID-19 pandemic wiping away one of the best seasons Butler has had in recent memory. The 2019-20 team had a 22-9 record and in January was ranked fifth in the country. The Bulldogs were just about to head east and partake in the Big East tournament, but instead the pandemic shut down everything. Leaving players, coaches and fans wondering what that team could have accomplished if the season did not abruptly end. This current team has a lot going for them heading into the season, and analysts think because of chemistry and experience — Butler will be in the mix for a tournament berth.

5. How much of a difference will the Bulldog faithful give to the team?

It does not get more magical than Bulldog basketball at Hinkle Fieldhouse. The last time Hinkle was packed full of screaming Butler fans was March 4, 2020 when the Dawgs mauled St John’s 77-55 — in a game where Butler scored 46 points in the second half. 

Butler hosts IUPUI on Nov. 9 to kick-off the regular season, and when both teams take the court to a packed house, it will conclude a 615-day wait for Butler fans. The Bulldogs have always been able to defend their house, but when you add one of the strongest college basketball fan bases the country has to offer, the road team will have to come into Hinkle mentally tough. The season can’t come sooner as Bulldog fans are ecstatic to come home and watch basketball in “Indiana’s Basketball Cathedral.”

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