Junior forward Myles Wilmoth shoots over first-year teammate Connor Turnbull during a scrimmage on Oct. 8. Photo by Claire Runkel.
KOBE MOSLEY | MANAGING EDITOR | firstname.lastname@example.org
After a 233-day hiatus, Butler men’s basketball will make their return to the court on Oct. 29 for an exhibition game versus Tiffin. The Dawgs that will take the floor this season look a little different than they did in last season’s second-round defeat to Providence in the Big East Tournament. Changes to the coaching staff and the roster have created a buzz on campus for what could be the resurgence of Butler in a highly competitive conference — though some experts don’t seem to see that happening just yet.
While exhibition games obviously don’t contribute to Butler’s overall record, it is still a great way for us to get a sense of what the team will look like in terms of style of play and who will be a part of the rotation. As much as we’ll try not to get ahead of ourselves here, it will definitely be exciting to see what head coach Thad Matta has up his sleeves for round two as leader of the Bulldogs. Entering the regular season with momentum can bring nothing but positives — especially for a relatively new team.
Here is what you need to know before Butler’s opening act on Oct. 29.
Who: Butler vs. Tiffin
When: Oct. 29, 7 p.m.
Where: Hinkle Fieldhouse
How to watch/listen: N/A
New look Dawgs
As it was so eloquently written in the Butler men’s basketball season preview, the 2022-23 Butler men’s basketball have several new additions, with expectations for almost all of them to be a contributor right away.
We have to start on the coaching side, of course, with none other than Thad Matta. Matta began his coaching career here at Butler before disappearing for a few years ago in Cincinnati, Ohio, then resurfaced in Columbus where he had the most success of his career to date at Ohio State University. The all-time wins leader for the Buckeyes, Matta compiled a record of 337-123 over 13 seasons, winning the Big Ten Tournament four times and making two Final Four appearances. Due to health concerns, Matta stepped away from coaching in 2017. He has reassured the Bulldog faithful, however, that he wouldn’t have taken the job if he didn’t feel up to the task.
Inside Matta’s coaching staff are people with head coaching and recruiting experience — an important blend when constructing something fresh and new. Mike Pegues was most recently an interim head coach/assistant coach at the University of Louisville. He took over the reins of head coach twice during the 2021-22 season for the Cardinals, and was able to have success in a difficult ACC conference. Pegues also brings some Big East experience, as he was an assistant coach at Xavier from 2012-18. Kevin Kuwik is no stranger to Butler — he served as the director of operations during the 2008-09 season — and is known as an excellent recruiter. Last but not least, Maurice Joseph comes to Butler with head coaching experience, as he served as the head coach for George Washington University from 2016-19. It is also worth mentioning that Greg Oden, the new director of basketball operations, is a former number one overall NBA draft pick.
As we shift to the court, the Bulldogs have five new pieces to the team. Starting with the transfers, Matta welcomes graduate students Eric Hunter Jr. and Manny Bates, and seniors Jalen Thomas and Ali Ali. Hunter Jr., a 6-foot-4 guard from Purdue, brings experience and elite defense to the one-spot. Bates is a 6-foot-11 center from North Carolina State who will easily become the anchor of the Bulldogs’ defense this season. He has suffered injuries throughout his career, but when healthy, he is a strong talent.
Thomas’ role on the team is a little up in the air as the team announced on Oct. 10 that he will miss the beginning of the season due to a pulmonary embolism. Hopefully, this won’t mimic the same unfortunate fates of Chris Bosh or even worse the late Jerome Kersey. Thankfully, all signs as of right now are pointing towards a return for Thomas during Big East play this season. At 6-foot-10, the former Georgia State Panther is another weapon in the paint on both sides of the court. Ali rounds out the new transfers. The former Akron Zip brings another scoring threat and versatility at the guard and forward spots. He is currently suffering from a concussion, so his status is unclear for the Tiffin game. The fifth new piece to the roster is first-year Connor Turnbull. Though it isn’t expected that he will get many meaningful minutes this season, Turnbull has a lot of potential. At 6-foot-10, he has the makings of a big man with guard handles with range.
Who to expect in the rotation?
No coach is ever going to reveal his starting lineup ahead of the season — especially not to a student journalist. That being said, we can only speculate on who will take the floor first for the Bulldogs on Oct. 29. It’s safe to believe that junior guard Chuck Harris, who has started in 35 games during his career at Butler, will remain put at the two spot. Newcomers Hunter Jr. and Bates are also likely to start at point guard and center, respectively.
The three and four spots are where things begin to get interesting. There are realistically four players that could vie for the last two starter positions. In years past, Butler has gone with smaller lineups and played with three guards. If that’s the case, it’s very likely that sophomore guard Jayden Taylor would be at the three. A really small lineup would put 6-foot-6 sophomore Simas Lukosius at the four. Other scenarios could include Taylor at three and Ali at the four or Lukosius at the three and Ali at the four — these scenarios, of course, are pending Ali’s return. A wildcard lineup of sorts could throw 6-foot-9 junior forward Myles Wilmoth into the mix, who could play the four spot alongside Taylor, Lukosius or Ali.
Obviously, Matta and the rest of the coaching staff have a lot of options. Don’t be surprised though if you see Hunter Jr., Harris, Taylor, Lukosius, and Bates as the starting lineup against Tiffin.
Chance to set the tone
Exhibition or not, the first game of the season is always a nice way to set the tone and address areas of strength and improvement. Though this year is a new team for both Butler and Division II Tiffin, the Bulldogs will absolutely look at this game as a stepping stone. Last season, the Bulldogs defeated the Dragons 94-84 in a game where — no offense to Tiffin — Butler definitely played down to its competition. Two players combined for 38 points and collectively shot an insane 11-13 from the 3-point line. Thankfully, both of those players are gone and won’t get a chance to follow up that performance. What a shame.
No reason to harp on the past any longer, though. This year’s roster is simply bigger, more talented, and more experienced than last year’s roster. Expect a win from the Bulldogs that is larger than 10 points.