Like VCU it has been announced that Butler will be joining the A-10 immediately. Unlike VCU, Butler shouldn’t be considered one of the favorites to win the conference. Not unless everything goes perfect.
Butler, by making two straight Final Fours created unrealistic expectations about the team and Brad Stevens. And then last season they struggled a bit and failed to make the NCAAs. Of course “struggling” is relative for Butler – if you throw away the ridiculous expectations then you’ll see that the Bulldogs had a very solid 3rd place finish in the Horizon regular season. But last years Horizon and next year’s A-10 are different beasts.
In Brad Stevens first four seasons his offense never averaged below 1.10 points per possession, and on the national level (out of 345+ teams), they ranked 30th, 61st, 50th and 50th. Then came last year – 0.98 points per possession, 223rd nationally. Ouch.
Their shooting – to put it simply – was awful. They were 204th at shooting 2s, 341st (!) from beyond the arc, and 302nd from the line. The only player they lose in Ronald Nored who didn’t help in the 2s or 3s department, but he did have the 3rd highest FT Rate in the nation and once he got there he made 71%.
Butler does bring in an impressive recruiting class and Stevens has a history of thrusting freshmen into the starting five. They also have transfer Rotnei Clarke from Arkansas, who will hopefully solve the 3-point woes. In his 3 seasons as a Razorback Clarke shot 39%, 43% and 44% from beyond the arc. And he’s had a year of practice to prepare for his final season.
If Clarke dominates on the offensive end then Butler has a shot. If not, last year’s freshmen need to step up, and this year’s freshmen need to not play like freshmen.
But even if Butler gets their offense turned around, the A-10 is going to be a minefield. Butler – according to Ken Pomeroy – finished 110th in the nation this past season. Nine of fourteen A-10 teams finished better, as did fellow newcomer Virginia Commonwealth. In short, the A-10 is loaded, and if Butler wins it then the “will Brad Stevens take the coaching job at high-major team X” rumors next year will be unbearable.
Unfortunately, Butler is leaving one of the last truly equitable conferences in the nation – they play a true round robin schedule in the Horizon – and entering one of the new super conferences where they’ll play the majority of teams only once. So their success next year will come down to a question of scheduling. A tough schedule (2 games vs VCU, St. Louis, Xavier, etc…) and Butler will likely struggle. An easy schedule and they could win. There is no way to predict these things until the schedule is released.