If the entire point of Butler basketball is to ruin Xavier’s season on an annual basis, the past two years have been a rip-roaring success. By any other metric, they have been an abject failure. Coming off what was to date his best season as Butler coach in 2020, and having been denied a chance at a favorable seed in the NCAA Tournament by COVID 19, LaValle Jordan looked like he had things up and running at Butler after a couple of down seasons as the last vestiges of Chris Holtmann’s final roster left. Instead, Jordan guided the Bulldogs straight to the depths of the conference standings typically occupied by DePaul and, a comical three weeks after Butler’s last game of the 2022 season, found himself out of a job.
In came former Butler(and Xavier) head coach Thad Matta, who last coached in the 2016-17 season at Ohio State. Matta has had some questions attached to the health of his back, but brings far more pedigree and a much more impressive track record than anyone else Butler could have brought in. As poorly as Jordan’s departure may have been handled, the only thing keeping this from being a slam dunk hire would be if Matta’s health concerns re-emerge. In an offseason of major turnover in the Big East, Butler made the move that Xavier did and that Georgetown did not and upgraded at the head coach position.
Off a squad that went 14-19 last season, Butler lost 5 of the top 8 scorers, leaving Matta without much of a foundation upon which to build. Aaron Thompson led the team in minutes last season, the final touch on a career in which he went to great length to demonstrate that not all high major guards can shoot a basketball. Bryce Nze was the most consistent force on the boards, averaging 6.5 per game while battling injuries for much of last season, only bested by Bo Hodges, who grabbed 6.9 in his 17 appearances and is also gone. Bryce Golden was not a factor on the boards, but did chip in 8.8 ppg and was the team’s most consistent scoring threat down low. Jair Bolden arrived with a reputation as a shooter, but failed to produce and did not hit a three after January 14th last season.
While none of these players were in the running for any Big East honors last season, they did combine for 107 starts last season which means the depth chart below them was also pretty barren.
Back in the fold will be last season’s leading scorer/persona non grata at the Cintas Center Chuck Harris. Harris was a volume scorer last year, posting a .378/.298/.740 shooting line on his way to 11.4 ppg and took over 100 more shots than the next closest player. That player was fellow guard Jayden Taylor, hometown kid who showed flashes in conference play and posted 8.2/2.9/1.1 as a Freshman. The only other real impact player coming back is forward Simas Lukosius, who was very good at times as a Freshman and averaged 6.8/3.3/1.2. Guard Myles Tate will also be back, having missed most of last season with an ACL injury, having posted 6.7/2.5/2.3 as a Freshman in 2020-21.
With the dearth of returning talent, Butler had to do very well in the transfer portal to avoid slipping even further down the Big East standings. To make a long story short, they did. To aid with the loss of their top two rebounders they snagged Manny Bates from NC State, who will look to put last season’s injury woes behind him and provide a presence inside. Alongside him in the front court will be Akron transfer Ali Ali, who brings great offensive versatility but almost no rebounding. Running the show will be Purdue transfer Eric Hunter, who will add a deep threat for the Bulldogs, coming off a season where he shot 43.6% from three. Georgia State transfer Jalen Thomas looked like another good signing to add some physicality to the paint, but he has been ruled out indefinitely with a pulmonary embolism, which obviously has larger implications for the young man than just its impact on his basketball career.
The only freshman Butler enrolled is 3-star center Connor Turnbull, who originally committed under Jordan and re-upped once Matta took charge.
There is reason to believe that Butler will be better than it has been the past two seasons, but that is not to say there is reason to believe Butler will be a good team. They have the pieces to outperform their preseason metrics, which have them ranked last or next to last in the Big East, and Matta’s work in the portal and overall ability might be enough to see this team wearing their home colors when they ruin someone’s season on Wednesday night at the Big East tournament.