Once every 4 years the NCAA allows college programs to play summer games overseas. This is one of those years for the Bulldogs, as they departed this morning on a 10 day, 4 game trip to Spain. The Bulldogs will play the following schedule, per ButlerSports.com:
Friday, August 4
vs. Madrid Generals
Pabellon Polideportivo "Javier Limones", Torrejon de Ardoz
7:30 p.m. Madrid; 1:30 p.m. Eastern
Sunday, August 6
Albacete Basketball Club (LEB Silver)
Noon Albacete; 6 a.m. Eastern
Tuesday, August 8
vs. Valencia All-Stars
Pabellon Municipal de Godelia
7 p.m. Valencia; 1 p.m. Eastern
Thursday, August 10
vs. Union Basket Dax Gamarde
Pavello Esportiu Municipal
7:30 p.m. Barcelona; 1:30 p.m. Eastern
This trip couldn’t come at a better time for the Bulldogs, who will be undergoing a major transition from last year’s Sweet 16 team. Butler lost not only their entire coaching staff but also six seniors who average over 100 minutes per game. There is plenty of talent remaining on the roster, but the 4 games in Spain as well as the 10 extra practices to help prepare them will be huge for helping it all come together.
It also gives us fans an early glimpse at the upcoming season. Last season’s departure has left several question marks. There is only so much we can learn about a team in August, but this will be our first hint at how those questions will be answered. Here are 5 pre-season questions heading into Butler’s Spain tour.
Which Freshman Are Ready For Major Minutes?
There’s no doubt Butler is going to need major contributions from the freshman class. Assuming Joey Brunk gets his hardship waiver, 5 of Butler’s 12 scholarship players will be freshman. They don’t necessarily need another Kamar Baldwin type season from a freshman, but they are in for a long season if at least a few of them aren’t ready to see minutes in their first year.
Aaron Thompson is the most likely to see regular minutes out of all the freshman. He’s Butler’s highest ranked 2017 recruit and will have the easiest path to playing time. He will compete with transfer Paul Jorgensen for playing time at the point guard position. We will get to that position battle here shortly.
At the wing Butler has several intriguing freshman. Cooper Neese is one of the best shooters in the country. He finished his high school career with 2,496 points, good for 7th on Indiana’s all time scoring list. There are concerns around the rest of his game, but his elite shooting could earn him early minutes.
Jerald Butler will also compete for minutes there and is physically the most college ready. Butler is built like a truck, and at first glance might make fans wonder how the Bulldogs got Roosevelt Jones back for a 5th year. Jerald is listed at 6’4” 235lbs and has the skill to play positions 1-4 on the court. His versatility could be a huge asset to a Butler program with a lot of uncertainty on the roster.
Then there is Christian David, who might be the most talented freshman in the class. That may seem like an odd statement for a player that is ranked 197th in the country by 247 sports. Keep in mind, though, that David was a top 100 recruit when he committed to Butler. He tore his ACL at the end of junior season and missed the entire summer before his senior year. That’s when players get tested against elite competition and get evaluated by scouts. After he committed to Butler, I had one coach tell me that Christian’s knee injury was the best thing that ever happened to Butler. That coach thought David was poised to shoot up the rankings into the top 50, and that would have meant exponentially more competition to land him. If he comes back 100% from his knee injury Butler could have a gem.
Is Kamar Ready To Be A Star?
Last season Kamar Baldwin had one of the best freshman seasons in Butler basketball history. He averaged 10.1 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 1.5 assists per game to go along with unbelievable defense. He shot 56% from inside the arc, 37% beyond it, and 80% from the charity stripe. An argument can be made he was already Butler’s best player by the end of his freshman season.
So where does he go from there? Butler is losing 25 field goal attempts a game due to graduation. Some of those will fall to Baldwin. The sophomore will have to be more aggressive in creating shots both for himself and for others. Can he maintain his scoring efficiency while increasing shot volume and seeing additional focus from opposing defenses? Butler needs him to if they want to have more postseason success. He undoubtedly has the potential to be a 1st team All-Big East player next season. Is this the year Kamar Baldwin becomes a nationally known star?
Who Will Win The Point Guard Battle?
After graduating all of their regular point guard minutes from last season, Butler’s lead guard spot is without a doubt the biggest concern to start the season. Freshman Aaron Thompson and transfer Paul Jorgensen are the conventional options. In an ideal world those two play well enough to eat up all 40 minutes of the position. There are worries regarding both of them though.
Thompson is regarded as one of the best freshman defenders in the country, but he is still just a freshman. It’s always hard to know what to expect from freshman. Sometimes you get production like Butler got out of Kamar Baldwin last year. It’s far more likely to get production like Butler got out of Kelan Martin as a freshman. Martin may now be one of the top players in the Big East, but his freshman season was a struggle littered with inconsistency. Hopefully Thompson’s defense will carry over and he can be a contributor even on nights when the offense isn’t there.
Jorgensen is a redshirt junior who adds much needed experience to this young Butler group. His numbers two years ago at George Washington don’t exactly instill confidence that he can be a starting Big East point guard though. He averaged 5 points and 2 assists per game and shot only 36% from the floor. That was a toxic environment and he’s had a year to sit out and improve, so hopefully the change of scenery is all he needed. At worst he is a good safety net though for a position Butler is extremely thin at.
Thompson and Jorgensen aren’t the only options though. Kamar Baldwin is learning to play the point, and there aren’t many in college basketball with a better reputation for developing guards than Butler head coach LaVall Jordan. If Baldwin can make the conversion to point guard he gives the Bulldogs a lot more flexibility. That would open up minutes on the wing where Butler figures to have more depth. It also gives Coach Jordan more lineups to play matchups with. It’s certainly going to be interesting to see who gets the most minutes at the position in Spain over the next several days.
Will Butler Go Big?
Butler might have a problem they’ve never seen before. They have too many big men to find playing time for. We wondered if they might run into this last season, but freshman Joey Brunk ultimately ended up redshirting due to his father’s poor health. Early on it didn’t look like he was ready to challenge for major minutes anyways.
Coach Jordan probably won’t avoid the dilemma this season, and that’s of course a good thing. Butler returns both Tyler Wideman and Nate Fowler from last season’s Sweet 16 team. Wideman is a multi-year starter who has proven himself a quality Big East center. Nate Fowler was the most efficient high major scorer in college basketball last year. Joey Brunk is one of Butler’s highest ranked recruits ever, but it will be tough to earn minutes over either of those two.
The answer might be to go big. Butler hasn’t traditionally played multiple centers together, but this is a unique situation. Not only do they have several quality big men, but with the graduation of Andrew Chrabascz and the departure of incoming freshman Kyle Young to Ohio State, Butler appears extremely thin at the power forward spot. All-Big East forward Kelan Martin is the projected starter there. He played the small forward position last season, but he is strong enough to play the 4 and can generate some mismatches on offense there. But he can’t play 40 minutes a game there, and it’s unclear if Butler will have enough weapons on the perimeter to play small all the time. It’s probably not a question of if Butler will go big, but how often.
Who Is This Season’s Breakout Player?
Almost every year there is someone who emerges and produces far beyond what was expected of him. Spain could offer our first hint at who that might be. Last year it was Kamar Baldwin impressing everyone as a freshman. Could another freshman emerge in similar fashion?
It’s impossible to predict who will surprise us (if so it wouldn’t be a surprise), but two players I will have my eye on are a pair of somewhat forgotten sophomore wings, Sean McDermott and Henry Baddley. This upcoming season will be huge for both of them.
When Baddley committed to Butler I made the prediction that he would not contribute early but eventually would become a great defender and a valuable role player for Butler. He is an outstanding athlete with good length but simply wasn’t ready for minutes last season. There wasn’t a lot of opportunity for playing time anyways. With Kelan Martin potentially seeing more time at the 4 spot there could be minutes available at the 3 this season. It will be interesting to see if Baddley can win any of those.
McDermott saw significant playing time early last season, even earning a start one game, before seeing his minutes fade in conference play once Kethan Savage recovered from his illness. McDermott has a motor that never stops and brings energy with him every time he steps on the floor. He lacks lateral quickness, but has great length to help compensate on defense. Sean was billed as a great shooter coming out of high school, but his 36% shooting from distance last season was only barely above average. He clearly lacked confidence in his shot last season. If he can find his stroke to go along with his energy he will be an important piece moving forward.
As always, be sure to check out our message board during the trip for fan discussion regarding the games, recruiting, and all things Butler basketball!