"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Wednesday, October 04, 2023

Butler Preview, 2023-24

Butler Bulldogs

January 10, 2024 at Fiserv Forum and February 13, 2024 at Hinkle Fieldhouse

Head Coach: Thad Matta (453-172, 38-26 at Butler)

Three-Year NET Average: 124.0

Three-Year kenpom Average: 120.0

Projected 2023-24 T-Rank: 101

Projected Starters: PG Posh Alexander (6'0" Sr), SG D.J. Davis (6'1" Sr), SF Pierre Brooks (6'6" Jr), PF Jahmyl Telfort (6'7" Sr), C Jalen Thomas (6'10" 5th)

Jalen Thomas is the only returning Bulldog to average more than 6 mpg

Photo by Justin Casterline | Getty Images

It was a tale of two seasons for the Bulldogs. Thad Matta's return to Butler opened with promise. They went 8-3 in non-conference play, with all three losses to eventual NCAA Tournament teams and a big win over Kansas State. During that span they were ranked #39 at T-Rank and looked like an at-large contender. Then Big East play started. Butler lost their first three contests by 20+ points, which turned into a trend. Their 6-14 Big East record included 12 double-digit losses. Per T-Rank, Butler ranked #186 during Big East play, which despite their 9th placed finish in the league standings was the worst efficiency margin for any Big East team, lower than even DePaul or Georgetown. Matta then lost all five starters, two to graduation and three to transfer.

The biggest incoming offseason news for Butler was the arrival of point guard Posh Alexander. The former Big East Freshman of the Year was a three-year starter for St. John's known for his lockdown defense, but he is also offensively inconsistent. At his best, he is a creative playmaker who is excellent at getting to the rim, but he can also be turnover-prone and he's just a 25.0% career shooter from deep and has never reached 30% for a full season. Three more transfers expect to factor in heavily. D.J. Davis was a productive scorer for UC-Irvine, is a reliable ball-handler, and very good shooter. Pierre Brooks was a top-75 recruit for Michigan State but never consistently cracked the rotation. Jahmyl Telfort joins from Northeastern with a bit more of an old man game, not particularly athletic but with some crafty moves that made him effective in the CAA. The top returning player is Jalen Thomas, who was primarily a backup big before Manny Bates missed time late in the year. Butler's bench has another pair of transfers in guard Landon Moore, who had an efficient, productive freshman year at St. Francis before coming to Butler and seven-footer Andre Screen from Bucknell. Their recruiting class is highlighted by fringe top-100 player Finley Bizjack who was a prodigious high school scorer.

For the most part, Matta tried to slow the pace while putting four guards who could stretch the floor around Manny Bates. The problem was they couldn't shoot and outside Bates, couldn't rebound. Butler finished last in eFG% and offensive rebounding rate in the Big East. Not only did they have the worst offense in the league, but the efficiency gap between 10th placed Georgetown and 11th placed Butler was the biggest single-spot gap in the league per kenpom. Defensively it wasn't much better. The goal has always been to defend without fouling, making sure you beat teams back on the break. They didn't rebound the defensive end either and Manny Bates' rim protection wasn't close to what he did at NC State, which led Butler to the second-worst 2PFG% defense in the league.

So what can we expect from the Bulldogs this year? The optimistic case would be that last year's inefficient bunch is all gone and Thad Matta brought in a bunch of productive but under-recruited mid-major players that are ready for the big time. But last year Matta had a trio of experienced Big East players in Chuck Harris, Jayden Taylor, and Simas Lukosius surrounded by a pair of proven high-major starters in Eric Hunter and Manny Bates. That resulted in 9th place in the league and metrically the worst team in Big East play. They bring back one player that struggled to crack that rotation, add one high-major starter in Alexander, and surround him with mostly low-major transfers. What's worse, the further we went into the season last year, the less competent Butler looked. And when they lost, they did so in spectacular fashion, by an average margin of 17.9 points in those 14 losses. The reality is this team had a roster good enough to be a factor last year but they were miserable and this roster on paper is worse at every position except maybe point guard. It would take a wizardly performance from Matta to turn this into even a middle-of-the-pack Big East team and last year his wand looked beyond broken. The only challenging Butler is likely to do this year is challenging DePaul for last place in the league.

One Man's Opinion: Butler looks like the worst team in the Big East and I'm picking them 11th. You could argue they got worse at every position this offseason. Fans will call Alexander an upgrade over Eric Hunter, but Hunter was equally anticipated when he arrived at Butler. Alexander led St. John's to 3 straight non-tourney seasons that got his coach fired. Hunter started a majority of games for multiple tourney teams. It's hard to say that's an upgrade. There was plenty to question about Chuck Harris, but he was a proven high-major starter, whereas D.J. Davis has never played at this level. Pierre Brooks only averaged 14 mpg in the Big 10, Jayden Taylor played at least 14 minutes for Butler in every Big East game last year. Jahmyl Telfort looked too slow to compete at this level while playing for sub-300 Northeastern while Simas Lukosius was a proven high-major starter who's headed to the Big 12. And there's simply no chance that Jalen Thomas is an upgrade over Manny Bates, who started every game he appeared in while Thomas was on that same roster. Butler had a huge transfer haul, but that haul looks to have downgraded them at every position. This is the team that already had the worst efficiency margin in Big East play and they got worse at every position with a coach who all too often looked like the game has passed him by. Sorry Butler, but it looks like you're the Georgetown now.

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