A.J. Graves and Mike Green give Butler one of the top starting backcourts in the nation. Graves ranked fifth in the Horizon League in scoring, second in 3-pointers per game and fourth in steals. He proved he could hold his own against elite competition, too. He was named the MVP of the Preseason NIT and averaged 16 points per game in the NCAA Tournament.
The Bulldogs will count on A.J. Graves to lead them back to the NCAA Tournament.
Green, who also is 6 feet 1, provided a huge boost last season in his first season at Butler after transferring from Towson. Green ranked second in the Horizon League in assists, eighth in rebounding and ninth in steals.
Both guards also do plenty of damage from the foul line. Graves ranked second in the nation last season in free-throw percentage (94.8 percent), and Green set a school record by making 196 free throws.
Julian Betko is a 6-5 swingman who started every game last season and has earned a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA. Betko ranked fourth on the team in assists and steals last season despite averaging only 21.4 minutes per game.
The Bulldogs also should get an immediate contribution from true freshman Zach Hahn, rated by Rivals.com as a three-star prospect.
No matter how well Butler's guards play, the Bulldogs won't return to the Sweet 16 unless they can fill the holes in their frontcourt. Butler must find replacements for three-year starter Brandon Crone and Brian Ligon. Butler may find one immediate replacement in 6-7 true freshman Matt Howard, a four-star prospect who received offers from Indiana and Purdue. While we've listed Howard as a reserve for now, we wouldn't be surprised if he moved into the starting lineup immediately.
Pete Campbell is a 6-7 forward, but he's more of a perimeter guy than a post player. Campbell made 81 3-pointers last year and set a Horizon League record with his 3-point percentage (51.9 percent).
Drew Streicher averaged 23.2 minutes per game as a reserve last year and should assume an expanded role this season. Streicher shot 64.4 percent and had a team-high 15 blocks last season.
Butler could have trouble against teams with a legitimate big man. The Bulldogs don't have a player on their roster taller than 6-8 forward Avery Jukes, who is an Alabama transfer.
The departure of former coach Todd Lickliter to Iowa shouldn't change Butler's trademark halfcourt offense. New coach Brad Stevens worked on Lickliter's staff the past six seasons and plans to utilize the same type of patient, perimeter-oriented approach that helped Butler win a school-record 29 games and advance to the Sweet 16 last year. Butler led the Horizon League last season in 3-pointers (8.92 per game), turnover margin and assist-to-turnover ratio.
Butler ranked fifth in the nation in scoring defense last season by allowing just 57.1 points per game. The Bulldogs' lack of size prevents them from blocking many shots – they ranked eighth out of nine Horizon League teams with an average of 1.78 per game – but they make up for it with a tenacious man-to-man defense. Butler led the conference in field-goal percentage defense last year, when opponents shot just 40.6 percent.
Outlook with postseason forecast
The loss of Lickliter definitely hurts, but promoting from within should allow for a smooth transition. Stevens also should benefit from the return of Graves and Green in the backcourt. Although Butler's lack of height is a major concern, the Bulldogs' combination of strong backcourt play and solid defense should produce another postseason berth. While a return to the Sweet 16 might be a stretch, Butler should win the Horizon League and return to the NCAA Tournament.
Shoes to Fill
F Brandon Crone (11.4 ppg, 4.7 rpg).
Must Step Up
Streicher filled in capably as a reserve last year, but the 6-7 senior will need to produce more this season as the Bulldogs try to replace Crone and Ligon in the frontcourt.
Howard is one of the most highly touted recruits ever to sign with Butler. The Bulldogs suffered their biggest graduation losses in the frontcourt, so this 6-7 freshman should contribute immediately.