It's way too early to start making predictions for next season, but who wants to wait that long? With Butler's season fresh in the rearview mirror and another weekend of college basketball left to watch it's only natural to look ahead at what comes next for the Butler Bulldogs. So as the season winds down and the recruiting heats up, here's a look at where Butler currently stands heading into a key offseason for LaVall Jordan.
Key Losses - Kelan Martin, Tyler Wideman
Butler is losing the leading scorer in the Big East and the most efficient scorer in the Big East. There is no doubt that impact will be felt. Kelan Martin finished his career as Butler's 2nd all-time leading scorer. But it's not just his scoring that Butler will miss. Kelan also had the best defensive rebounding rate on the team to go along with the second best turnover rate and fourth best assist rate. He was the complete package on the basketball court. And the worst news for Butler is there is no proven player currently on the roster set to replace him. The power forward position is without a doubt the biggest question mark for Butler heading into the offseason.
The loss of Tyler Wideman isn't on the same level as Martin, but it's still a significant one. Big Cat was a physical presence down low for Butler and one of the most efficient players in the country. His 67% shooting paired with his 14% offensive rebounding rate gave him an offensive rating of 126.8, good for 26th best in the nation. He wasn't a high volume scorer but he took advantage of every opportunity he got. The good news for Butler is, unlike with Kelan Martin, there is a proven replacement for him in the starting lineup. Nate Fowler will step in and fill Wideman's spot without missing a beat, and redshirt sophomore and former top 100 recruit Joey Brunk will finally get his chance to prove himself in a reserve role.
Key Additions - Jordan Tucker (midseason transfer), Markeese Hastings (freshman)
As of now there is only one roster addition for the Bulldogs who will be available for the opening game. Markeese Hastings, a 6-6 forward from Michigan, is the lone member of the 2018 freshman class. He will likely get overlooked by most since he is only ranked 375th in the country by 247 Sports, but that might be a mistake. Hastings appears to be physically ready for the next level and can contribute in a variety of ways on both ends of the floor. It would be ideal for Butler if players like Christian David and Jerald Gillens-Butler take the next step in their development and block Hastings' path to playing time, but it wouldn't be a complete shock if Markeese pushes his way into playing time sooner rather than later.
The prize addition for LaVall Jordan is Duke transfer Jordan Tucker. Tucker was rated as the 55th best freshman this season by 247 Sports. He couldn't find any playing time on a loaded Duke team and opted to leave after only half a season. He won't be eligible until the conclusion of the fall semester, but expect him to make a major impact once he finally sees the court. He won't replace Kelan Martin's production, but he will hopefully be capable of picking up a decent chunk of Kelan's 21 points a game. Tucker's best asset is his 3-point shot, and at 6'7" he should be able to fill in the gap at power forward in Butler's lineup. Relying on someone who has only logged 14 minutes of game time at the college level isn't exactly comforting, but Tucker is going to have to be a significant contributor if Butler wants to get back to the dance for a 5th straight season.
It's a Big Offseason For...
All of next season's sophomores. Butler needs a big step forward from at least one of them, hopefully two of them. Christian David still possesses an extremely high ceiling and Jerald Gillens-Butler has the potential to be a matchup nightmare, but the two I have my eye on are point guard Aaron Thompson and center Joey Brunk. Thompson has already shown he can be a capable starter in the Big East and has established himself as one of the best on ball defenders in the league. He can be so much more though. It's well documented that Thompson struggles from the 3-point arc, shooting only 2-15 from distance this season. He continues to spend a lot of time developing that shot, and if he can become even an average 3 point shooter it will tremendously bolster the Butler offense.
There are two other aspects of his offensive game that are even more important though. The first is turnover rate. Thompson's 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio looks promising from a freshman, but it's also a little misleading. His turnover rate was by far the highest on the team. Much of that will get cleaned up as he gains both confidence and experience while learning to make better decisions with the ball. The other part of his game that needs to improve is finishing at the rim. Thompson was extremely impressive converting at the rim early in the season but then fell off a cliff. He converted only 46.3% of his shots at the rim. For comparison, Kamar Baldwin was second worst amongst Butler regulars at 57%. Thompson displayed an excellent knack for getting his body into shot blockers and inhibiting their ability to disrupt his shot, but then he simply wasn't converting the layup. The potential to become an outstanding finisher at the rim is clearly there, and once that improves his offensive game will find a new level. I don't think Thompson is just a defender, I expect him to become one of the all around best players in the Big East before his career is over.
The one player who absolutely must have a good offseason is Joey Brunk. The fan favorite from Southport is going to see action whether he is ready for it or not. Brunk is one of only two big men on the roster, and LaVall doesn't currently have the flexibility to play small at the center position either. Hinkle begged to see more of Joey last season. It's almost time to see if their faith in the local top 100 recruit has been well placed. Brunk only saw 109 minutes last season, most coming when the game was no longer in question, but the numbers he put up were solid. He shot 52% from the floor and grabbed rebounds at a mind blowing rate that look like they should belong to Angel Delgado of Seton Hall. Brunk doesn't need to produce anywhere near that level next season, but he absolutely must be a respectable backup for the Bulldogs. Hopefully next season will be the beginning of his emergence as the star Butler fans think he can be.
2018-2019 Trend: Down...for now
Butler brings back a lot of key pieces next season, and much of the roster is young and will only improve. Kamar Baldwin will be one of the best players in the league, but is that enough? They could really use one more piece to help solidify their roster and provide insurance in case any of those young players fail to develop. The good news is Butler has 2 scholarships to work with and the transfer market is deep. Transfers are often looking for a stable program that can provide lots of playing time and an excellent chance to go to the NCAA tournament. There won't be many programs that fit that description for a graduate forward better than Butler. If LaVall can manage to snag either a top scorer or a starting quality forward it would make all the difference in the world on next season's outlook, and that "trending down" could be quickly reversed into a "trending up" with only a single signing.