Butler heads into season with more firepower, greater expectations
Butler coach Chris Holtmann wasn’t sure what to think when he heard standout player Roosevelt Jones talking about the new run-and-gun style of offense.
He knows that’s not exactly the blueprint he’s drawn up for this second season calling the shots, his first without the interim tag.
What is true is that things will change. Holtmann wants the Bulldogs to push the ball, to score more points and take advantage of fast breaks while staying true to the principles that have made No. 24 Butler one of the best small programs in the nation. Holtmann believes it will work.
"Last year we tried to play more in transition and it was one of the things we were really effective with," Holtmann said. "We tend to make opponents play longer possessions, but we do want to play more in transition."
This season, Butler has a team suited to play that way, too. The first look at this version of the Bulldogs comes Saturday night against The Citadel at Hinkle Fieldhouse.
Kellen Dunham, the high-scoring 6-foot-6 shooting guard, and Jones, the crafty 6-4 swingman, are both Big East preseason first-team selections who can be more effective finding open shots on the run.
After losing point guard Alex Barlow to graduation, Holtmann believes he already has found a replacement in 5-11 junior Tyler Lewis, a transfer from North Carolina State who has proven capable of nimbly firing passes through defensive gaps. And he says his greatest strength may be pushing the ball.
The combination prompted Holtmann to make a shift that players have quickly embraced.
"This team has a lot more offensive firepower," Dunham said with a grin. "We can get up and down the floor a little better. My first three years, we’ve been more of a slowed down, tactical offense. This year, we’re going to get up and down the floor."
Lewis will be a very different player than Barlow but could be every bit as proficient after spending last season in the program. The other challenge is finding someone who can rebound like two-time Big East rebounding champ Kameron Woods, now gone. Butler, which went 23-11 in 2014-15, does have some size this season, but Woods was masterful at using his long arms to grab loose balls.
Butler has had plenty of big-time shooters through the years, and Dunham has been one of the best. Last year, he finished among the league leaders in 3-point percentage (41.0) and free throw percentage (85.0). Where can he improve? Inside the 3-point line, where he was 94 of 211 last season (44.5 percent). Easy baskets in transition could help his percentage and move up on the school’s career scoring chart.
Last season, Jones returned from a left wrist injury that forced him to miss the entire 2013-14 season. He was one of the Big East’s most versatile players last season and finished averaging 12.7 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists. With another year to get stronger, expect Jones to have an even better final season in Indianapolis.
Twelve months ago, Holtmann was in an awkward position he took over for the ailing Brandon Miller. Now, it’s his job and in Year 2, players and coaches know what to expect from Holtmann.
"I’m more comfortable now," he said. "I’m not sure you’re ever comfortable this time of year because you’re anxious about what’s coming."
Butler fans also have big expectations this season.
The same can’t be said of Citadel fans. After losing their only two double-figure scorers from last season’s 11-19 team, the Bulldogs were picked to finish ninth in the 10-team Southern Conference and without one player among the 10 preseason all-conference selections.
The Citadel, which has never faced Butler and has no wins over Top 25 teams, is employing a fast-paced system under new coach Duggar Baucom after he helped VMI lead the nation in scoring six of the past eight seasons.
The change could most benefit Brian White, who scored in double figures in each of the final seven games last season and had 22 points in an exhibition win over Erskine last week.