Friar Basketball

How Butler Built a Winner

Screen Shot 2020-01-11 at 12.03.37 PM Butler Athletics

Providence managed to salvage an NIT berth, thanks in large part to Butler last season. The Friars’ conference record stood at 5-10 prior to a 73-67 overtime victory in Indianapolis in late February.

PC fell in overtime at Creighton the next time out, and wrapped up the regular season by handling Butler, 83-70. PC led by 24 in the first half of that one, scoring 48 points in the first half, and seeing their lead jump to 28 before stepping off the gas late.

The Big East Tournament four days later wasn’t any different. Maliek White caught fire late in the first half and Providence rolled to an 80-57 victory.

So, how did the group that looked so inept against Providence ten months ago suddenly turn into one of the best defensive teams in the country? How could that group possibly be a top 10 team nationally without the addition of a headline grabbing recruit or transfer?

The makeup of the 2019-20 Butler Bulldogs is a testament to finding under-recruited kids, player development, and intelligently attacking the transfer market.

Head coach LaVall Jordan is in his third year at Butler. Prior to returning to Butler (he was both a player and assistant coach there), Jordan’s lone season of head coaching experience was an 11-24 campaign at Milwaukee. He had been part of successful staffs at Michigan, reaching an Elite Eight and a national title game while in Ann Arbor.

Jordan inherited two very good players in Kamar Baldwin and Sean McDermott. Neither were highly recruited.

Baldwin, now a senior, had a composite national ranking of 155th coming out of high school. The class of 2016 turned out to be an impactful one for the Big East — particularly in the backcourt. While Seton Hall’s Myles Powell (ranked 81st composite) and Marquette’s Markus Howard (68th) look like legitimate All American candidates this year, Baldwin isn’t far behind either when you factor in the defensive side of the ball.

Baldwin was an overlooked recruit coming out of Georgia, but contributed from the jump — averaging over 10 points per game as a freshman. He is terrific scoring off of the dribble, a good 3-point shooter, and makes difficult shots. He’s nearing 1700 points for his career. Baldwin was the best player on Jordan’s first Butler team — a group that upset Arkansas in the first round of the NCAA tournament and lost by a bucket to second seed Purdue, and their star Carsen Edwards (Edwards was another undervalued member of the class of 2016. He was ranked 118. PC’s Alpha Diallo had a composite ranking of 117 that year, and Maliek White 127).

McDermott is a redshirt senior and one of the best shooters in the country. His composite ranking was 287 in high school, and he averaged just over two points per game as a freshman. The Indiana native has continually improved through his time at Butler and is one of the more underrated shooters in the country.

Still, both Baldwin and McDermott were at Butler a year ago. Both were players Big East coaches were very familiar with when they ranked the Bulldogs 8th in the league in the preseason.

The biggest difference with this Butler group is its interior toughness — the toughness they had lacked since Tyler Wideman graduated in 2018.

Jordan brought Bryce Nze in from Milwaukee. Nze played for Jordan while he was the head man at there. Nze was a 6’6, sub 200 pound forward coming out of high school, but now he’s a 6’7, 235 pound interior player who has helped changed the identity of the Bulldogs. He shot nearly 70% in conference games as a freshman under Jordan and is shooting over 62% this year while grabbing over seven boards a game. 

Center Bryce Golden missed almost all of last year due to a shoulder injury, but the one time 224th ranked player in his class is now a solid contributing sophomore. He is scoring over eight points per game and shooting 52% in his first year of extended action.

Jordan also dipped into the graduate transfer market to get seven footer Derrik Smits from Valparaiso.

In addition to two of the more experienced, talented players in the league in Baldwin and McDermott, plus a revamped interior, Jordan also has the benefit of a steady hand at point guard in Aaron Thompson (175th composite national ranking) and nabbed Duke transfer Jordan Tucker, who hit a couple of back breaking, difficult shots against Providence on Friday night.

Tucker is the only former top 100 recruit among this group, but Butler has developed an identity based on defensive toughness and slow paced, efficient offensive execution. Ken Pomeroy ranks them sixth best in the nation in defensive efficiency, and 23rd on the offensive side of the ball. They are keeping teams off of the offensive glass (9th in the country) and hassling opponents at the 3-point line (5th best in the nation).

At 15-1, they are perhaps the biggest surprise in the country this season, and look like a threat to win a Big East that is more wide open than many anticipated in October.

One Comment

  1. Irish Spectre

    January 13, 2020 at 9:15 pm

    “Providence managed to salvage an NIT berth”, which one could argue ended up being very unfortunate; ouch.

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