- Butler loses several key pieces from last season, but a group of talented returners should allow the Bulldogs to compete at the top of the Big East again.
The college basketball off-season is long and largely lacking in major news developments. Programs are still finalizing their 2017 recruiting classes and sorting out which of their players will return for another season or jump to the professional ranks. We’ve got a long way to go until Midnight Madness. To help pass the time, SI.com is asking and answering three key questions about each of the teams in our Way-Too-Early Top 25. Here’s No. 17, Butler.
1. What will the rotation look like?
The Bulldogs waved goodbye to four seniors, all of whom played at least 20 minutes per game, this off-season. That included forward Andrew Chrabascz, who had a big role during all four of his years in Indianapolis. He averaged 11.4 points and 4.6 rebounds per game in 2016-17, while playing more than 80% of available minutes. Chrabascz was a leader as much for his institutional knowledge of the program and the Big East as for his on-court contributions. Without him, that responsibility will fall onto a new set of shoulders.
With Kelan Martin, Tyler Wideman and Nate Fowler all back, the Bulldogs still have three of the four players who logged significant time in their frontcourt last season. The team’s backcourt, on the other hand, lost three of its key members from a season ago. Avery Woodson, Kethan Savage and Tyler Lewis are all off to new endeavors, leaving about 64 minutes per game to be filled. Savage and Lewis both spelled starting point guard Kamar Baldwin, and were capable of playing together when Baldwin was on the bench. Woodson, meanwhile, was the team’s best shooter, drilling 43.3% of his 178 three-point attempts. Head coach Chris Holtmann has a lot of rotational decisions to make this off-season.
2. Is Kamar Baldwin ready for his moment?
Baldwin’s freshman season in Indianapolis was an unmitigated success. He averaged 10.1 points in 26.9 minutes per game, and quickly gained a reputation as one of the best on-ball defenders in the Big East. He was a unanimous selection to the All-Big East freshman team, and was a star in both of the team’s NCAA tournament wins, before it went down to eventual champion North Carolina in the Sweet 16.
With such a great start to his college career, Baldwin has the foundation to take the next step. He gave the Bulldogs more scoring than they probably expected last season, but now they’ll need him to be one of the focal points of the offense. With Chrabascz and Woodson gone, Baldwin projects as the second-best scorer on the team, trailing only Martin, who led the Bulldogs with 16 points per game last season. Baldwin will have to be an effective second option while handling all his other duties on the floor. That means being a better facilitator than he was last year, when he averaged 1.5 assists per game, which matched his turnover output, and, of course, locking down the opposing team’s point guard. If any one player is the key to Butler’s success in 2017-18, it’s likely Baldwin.
3. Can Kelan Martin be the best player in the Big East?
Martin was one of the best players who didn’t receive a lot of national attention last season. He poured in 16 points and grabbed 5.8 rebounds per game, all while playing an average of 28.7 minutes per game. He was eighth in the conference in scoring, but all seven players ahead of him played at least 31 minutes per game. With Chrabascz gone, Martin should see an uptick in both playing time and usage rate this year. The 6’7” forward does his best work in the paint, but he’s a threat from distance as well, knocking down 64 threes last year. He also shoots the ball well at the line, making 78.4% of his free throws. It’s entirely possible that he surpasses 20 points per game this season. Should he make those gains, that might not be the only hardware in his possession at the end of the season. Martin is definitely on the short list of Big East Player of the Year contenders.