In: F Khyle Marshall (Fr.), F Eric Fromm (Fr.), G Chrishawn Hopkins (Fr.)
Out: F Gordon Hayward, G Willie Veasley, F Avery Jukes
They were everyone's favorite flavor of the month last March, the Cinderella story, the Little Engine that Could, David to every large conference's Goliath, last year's fluky national runner-up: the Butler Bulldogs.
And if you believe any of that, you haven't been paying attention for the past decade-plus.
Last year's deep tournament run by Butler was no fluke or just a group of seniors stringing together for just one strong run. It was only a matter of time with this program. And a return in the near future isn't a longshot. In fact, had Gordon Hayward not jumped to the NBA, the Bulldogs would have been one of the top three teams in the nation, alongside their two opponents from Lucas Oil Stadium last April.
But that doesn't mean this cupboard is bare, not by any stretch.
Coach Brad Stevens returns three starters, two others who logged significant minutes last season and also brings in a possible star recruit for the 2010-11 version of the Bulldogs.
All-American candidate Shelvin Mack is now the centerpiece of the team. He averaged 14.1 points and 3.0 assists a game last season while also being the Bulldogs' main 3-point threat. He showed the occasional ability to take over a game from a scoring standpoint, but that will be needed much more this season.
Matt Howard is back for his senior season, after two straight appearances on the first-team All-Horizon League team and an MVP of the 2010 Horizon League tournament. Unfortunately Howard has been plagued by foul trouble throughout his career and it's only gotten worse. He averaged 3.5 fouls a game last season, fouling out nine times. His minutes have been severely hampered by his inability to avoid the cheap foul and it was never more apparent than in the NCAA tournament, when the Bulldogs were advancing in spite of him (in the final five games he had 19 fouls while shooting 31 percent from the floor and logging more than 20 minutes just once).
The other big name back for Butler is Ronald Nored. He led the Bulldogs in assists and takes great care of the ball, but he may need to take more shots this season with the departure of Hayward. Remember, just because he didn't take many shots last year doesn't mean he isn't capable. There were plenty of other mouths to feed.
Khyle Marshall comes in as a top-25 small forward according to most recruiting outlets, meaning he'll be attempting to step into Hayward's role, at least in some capacity. By many accounts, he's cut from a similar mold as Hayward -- wiry, athletic and can attack and finish from the baseline. He may lack an outside shot early in his career, but the Bulldogs do have some other marksmen.
Someone who will log a lot more minutes this season is sophomore center Andrew Smith, who stands at 6-foot-11. He saw very limited action during the tourney run last season, but will be a big part of the 2011 Bulldogs. In fact, he might be the key in keeping Howard out of foul trouble.
Senior guards Zach Hahn and Shawn Vanzant will see a few more minutes in supporting roles and junior forward Garrett Butcher provides a big body on the inside to spell -- or even compliment -- Howard, though he's not much in the way of a capable scorer.
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Question to Answer: For years it has been a rallying cry for the Bulldogs that they don't get the respect they deserve from the selection committee in the NCAA tournament. Last year was no exception, as anyone who watched that Butler team all season knew it was much better than a five-seed. (Really? A five with a No. 11 RPI?). But by making a run to the national championship game -- knocking off heavyweights Syracuse, Kansas State and Michigan State in the process -- do the Bulldogs now have less to prove? And if so, isn't that part of the edge of a so-called mid-major (proving everyone wrong)? The task will be to channel that into a "everyone thinks it was a fluke" sentiment.
Best-Case Scenario: Mack ups his game and plays like a superstar all season, Howard learns to stay out of foul trouble and blossoms into a great big man while Marshall slides nicely into the three. The role players do what they do while Nored becomes a legitimate scoring threat. Then the selection committee finally gives Butler some respect in the form of a No. 3 seed and the Bulldogs once again make a Final Four run.
Worst-Case Scenario: With the chip on their shoulder removed, the Bulldogs lose their motivating edge of year's past. The loss of Hayward leaves a huge void as Mack can't handle the extra offensive attention and Marshall isn't yet ready to step in and perform. Of course, if all of this happens, Butler still wins the Horizon League. It just gets a poorer seed than accustomed and bounced in the first round of the Big Dance.
FanHouse Prediction: It's gonna be an adjustment to play without Hayward. The Bulldogs will struggle some early in the season against some tough non-conference opponents (Louisville, Duke, Xavier, etc.), but things come together through the relatively weak Horizon League schedule. Come tourney time, Butler is again given a seed deemed too low (let's say a six) and proves its point with a Sweet 16 run; maybe even Elite Eight. But the magic ends shy of the final weekend this time around.