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Know Your Big East Opponent: Butler

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For Xavier fans knowing Butler is basically hating Butler, but the Bulldogs will be in the mix at the top of the conference again this year.

What? There's a Butler guy in this picture.
What? There's a Butler guy in this picture.
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Of all the teams in the Big East, Butler is the squad with which Xavier has the most history by far. Starting December 19, 2009 when a frankly still incomprehensible turn of events saw the referees simply end the game early, resulting in a Butler win, things have been bitter between the two teams. Butler joined the A10 in 2012 for a season and then moved with Xavier to the Big East, being the only conference foe to do so.

Last year's Butler team was defined by its defense, coming in as the 7th best in the country on KenPom. Butler defended the arc well, holding opponents to a .307 mark outside, and limited second chances exceptionally, pulling down essentially three quarters of all their opponents' misses. Turning the ball over was of secondary importance, although they were at least average at it, and blocking shots was really not part of the gameplan, with the Bulldogs preferring to take away the perimeter and force bad looks.

Offensively, they were not necessarily a juggernaut, with most of their production in that end coming from Kellen Dunham, Roosevelt Jones, and Andrew Chrabszc. They played slowly on offense, looked to take care of the ball, hit the boards, and try to get to the line, but were not an overly efficient shooting team at the end of the day. They actually struggled to convert from the line, only shot 46% from inside the arc, and were statistically one of the easiest teams to block last year.

Returning Players:

Kelli Dunham is probably a good place to start here. First team All-Big East last year and preseason again this year, Dunham is pretty much the face of Butler basketball, which is enough to make a lot of people not like Butler basketball. The thing that is undeniable about Dunham is that he can score points in bunches when he gets going, which he frequently did last season. His 16.5/2.6/0.9 came on .429/.410/.850, making him one of the most efficient scorers in the conference. He did shoot a lot, but it is hard to deny his effectiveness, and he did well to get to the line and convert as well.

Next on Butler's scoring list from last season is Roosevelt Jones, who is finally entering his 8th and final year as a Bulldog. Jones joined fellow senior Dunham on the preseason All-Conference first team and is somewhat of a complete anomaly on the court. Listed at 6'4", 227 lbs., Jones plays as a distributing forward, looking to set his teammates up from inside, rather than the perimeter. In fact, he didn't even attempt a three pointer last year, so was his commitment to the lane. He got 12.7/5.2/3.7 on .421/.000/.606, meaning he didn't exactly light it up when the time came to take it upon himself. He also turned the ball over 2.6 times a game, and is often undersized or too slow for his man on defense. Jones is not like any other player in the country, but he isn't without his flaws.

The Bulldogs also return their third leading scorer in Andrew Chrabaszc, who averaged totals of 11.2/3.6/1.7 with a slightly more flattering shooting line of .446/.343/.617. Chrabaszc stands 6'7" and brings the ability to get points in the paint as well as step outside and hurt an opponent from the perimeter. He battled injury last season, and Butler topped out at 58 points against top 100 opposition in games when he didn't start. He will be even more important to their chances of a successful season this year with more of the rebounding load falling on him, as well.

Butler's bench only went three men deep last season, and all three return this year. 6'6" Rising Sophomore Kelan Martin will probably be Dunham's understudy again this season, after averaging 7.1 points in 14.6 minutes per game last year. Martin's .412/.247/.700 shooting line paints the picture of more of a volume scorer, which is borne out in his usage rate of 27.8. Martin will be joined by 6'6" Senior Austin Etherington, the second most used player off Butler's bench last year at 12 minutes a game. 2.3/2.1/0.5 aren't eye popping numbers by any stretch, but he did shoot 92% from the line last year, so he has at least one skill. Etherington is also a serviceable rebounder for his size and tends not to throw the ball away on offense, but isn't much of scoring threat, either. The only other player to even get 10 minutes a game was 6'8" forward Tyler Wideman. Wideman is a reasonable rebounder at both ends and shot 53% from the field in his limited action last season.

Departing Players

There are only two, but they were both starters. Alex Barlow was Butler's point guard and was one of the best perimeter defenders in the Big East, averaging over 2 steals per game. While Barlow was never much of a scorer, coming in at 8.7 points per game, his 45% mark from deep in league play gave opponents something to think about when game planning. Barlow was the catalyst of a lot of things defensively for Butler, and their defense is almost certain to be weaker without him.

The other loss is center Kameron Woods, by far the most effective rebounder and shot blocker on the team. He also came second only to Barlow in steals and steal rate, while pulling down 9.9 boards per contest. Woods was not a big threat to score inside, but was like Barlow in his importance to Butler on their defensive end. Without these two players, it will be interesting to see how a team that defined itself on dogged defense last season gets on without their two best defenders.

Incoming Players:

Tyler Lewis is the main name here. Lewis transferred in from NC State after his sophomore season and becomes eligible for Butler this year. Lewis is a 5-11 pass first point guard who had an amazing 32.9% assist rate against a turnover rate of only 18.7% in the last season he played for the Wolfpack. Lewis posted an utterly atrocious .346/.234/.744 shooting line for NC State, so he's not going to light up the scoreboard. He'll replace Barlow as the person who throws the ball to Dunham and then joins the rest of the team in watching him shoot.

Butler brings in a grand total of two freshman to join the squad this year. One is 6-9 Moeller product Nate Fowler. ESPN had Fowler as a four star recruit near the end of his time in high school, while Scout had him at a three. He's fundamentally sound and won't be betrayed by his shot, even out to mid range jumpers. There's a lack of consensus currently on whether his body and aggressiveness are quite ready for the Big East yet. Joining Fowler is relatively unheralded shooting guard Sean McDermott. He wasn't on many radars before landing at Butler and doesn't figure to make a huge splash this year.

Outlook:

Lewis gives the Bulldogs someone to handle the ball so Kellen Dunham doesn't have to, and he's extremely reliable in keeping control of the ball and keeping the pace slow. Senior citizen Roosevelt Jones will augment Dunham offensively, and Chrabascz will mop up the rest. It's not immediately apparent who will replace Kameron Woods' rebounding, but Wideman seems the most likely answer. There's not a lot coming in, but the pieces that are in place seem well suited to replace what departed. What that means is that Xavier fans will once again have a competitive Butler team to freely hate.