Butler’s men’s basketball team in action at Hinkle Fieldhouse last season. The Bulldogs host Miami (OH) in their season opener on Nov. 10. Jimmy Lafakis/Collegian file photo.
DREW FAVAKEH | STAFF REPORTER | firstname.lastname@example.org
Another offseason, another offseason where the bar is set low for the Butler men’s basketball team. The Bulldogs placed fifth in the Big East preseason coaches’ poll. Like last season, when they marched to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, LaVall Jordan and his Bulldogs need to avoid scrutiny and create their own litmus test.
This team is defined by the loss of key players to graduation. Tyler Wideman, who averaged 9.3 points and 5.1 rebounds, and Kelan Martin, who averaged 21.2 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.0 assists, are now playing in Europe. Other key players return: Kamar Baldwin, Sean McDermott, Nate Fowler, and Paul Jorgensen. The litmus test will be analyzed according to their performance night-in, night-out.
Without further ado, here are two extreme versions of how Butler’s season could go.
Best-case scenario: Much like the program, Baldwin flies under the media’s radar. To reach unprecedented heights, he must replace Martin as the go-to option on offense. Halfway through the season, Baldwin is one of twenty-five student-athletes on the Wooden Award watch list.
Most importantly, Baldwin improves his efficiency. From year one to year two, his usage rate increased, true shooting percentage decreased, and, as a result, his offensive box plus/minus decreased from 3.2 to 2.4. Simply put, Baldwin was less efficient because he had the ball in his hands more. This season, the narrative flips and Baldwin is more efficient with more shots.
In doing so, Butler’s transition-based offense is able to depend on forwards pushing the ball, not only Baldwin. As Jordan displayed last season with Martin, his dreams are of forwards pushing the ball like Magic Johnson in transition. Thus, Sean McDermott and Paul Jorgensen showcase their improved handles and become legitimate scoring threats in transition, alleviating Baldwin’s taxing workload. Without the dunking abilities of Wideman, Fowler utilizes his soft-touch around the hoop to become a zone-breaker and a safety valve for guards when they drive to the hoop.
Butler honors the 90th anniversary of Hinkle Fieldhouse. Bulldog seniors flood the court when Butler crushes Xavier 72-53 on senior night. Oh, and that’s their second win against the Musketeers. They even surprise the defending champs Villanova at home. In fact, they win every game at home—because, Hinkle! They even silent the Hoosier crowd at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, overpowering Romeo Langford and Indiana.
Another season, another season Butler forces the naysayers to eat their words. They go 14-4 in conference and 28-6 overall in the regular season. This time, the half-court heave in the national championship game banks in. Kamar Baldwin cuts the nets down as One Shining Moment blares in the background.
Worst-case scenario: Kamar Baldwin’s fires more shots, but the shots clank off the rim more often than not. The polls are spot-on with their prediction. Tears stream down Bulldog fans’ faces as they flip between Kelan Martin highlights and Celine Dion belting out, “And my heart will go onnnn!!!!”
Butler won four games by less than three points last season. They lose the tight games this year. Jorgensen and McDermott shoot the ball but are strictly specialists instead of becoming creators.
Bulldog seniors leave their seats disappointed as Xavier Musketeers faithful chant, “Warm up the Bus! Warm up the bus! Warm up the bus!”— the bus drivers even hear the chants and start the buses 20 minutes early. Butler goes 9-9 in conference and 18-14 overall.
It’s Selection Sunday and the Butler players are watching on television. The words slowly filter from Greg Gumbel’s mouth, “And finally…the number six seed…will meet…the number 11 seed…the Musketeers of Xavier!!!”
All hope is gone: the Bulldogs eventually lose in the second round of the NIT to the…Campbell Fighting Camels. Baldwin decides to test his NBA draft stock. Players transfer. Things are bad, but the future is unimaginably worse.
In some Space Jam-like alternate universe, these scenarios are a reality. Not this one, no, certainly not this one—besides crying while watching Kelan Martin highlights with Titanic music playing in the background, I’ll have that one covered.