What we know about the Bulldogs so far is they’re longer, more athletic and should have more capable outside shooters than last season. But what questions still remain?
Here are five burning Butler questions heading into the regular season.
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Who will be in the starting five?
With only one returning starter from last season, the biggest question facing the Bulldogs is who will be the first five when they tip off against Eastern Michigan.
Jalen Thomas started 13 of 21 games last season and is locked into the starting center position. Posh Alexander is a veteran point guard with three years of experience in the Big East. He’s a lock for the starting point guard position. Jahmyl Telfort is another veteran player with three years of experience at mid-major Northeastern. He’ll occupy one forward position. Pierre Brooks II started both exhibition games and seems to have locked up the other starting forward position.
D.J. Davis, another veteran player with mid-major experience, started at the other guard position during Butler’s exhibition games. He’s in line to start at the off-guard position.
Coach Thad Matta said the starting five of Thomas, Telfort, Brooks, Alexander and Davis was just one of the possible combinations and not the definitive starting five when the Dawgs face Eastern Michigan.
Going with a group of experienced players makes sense, at least to begin the season. Injuries and play on the court will dictate who stays in what role. Sophomore forward Connor Turnbull seems poised for a bigger role. Freshman Finley Bizjack has the size and skills to handle extended minutes as a first-year player. Sophomore Landon Moore missed some time in the offseason, but his versatility makes him a valuable piece to play at either guard position.
Ultimately, having several players capable of starting and playing significant minutes is a good problem to have.
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Can they avoid the injury bug?
Injuries derailed Butler for large chunks of last season, pushing their depth to the limit and forcing its starters to play way too many minutes to sustain success over the course of the season.
Butler is in better position to withstand injuries this season, but they’re not off to a strong start. Promising freshman Augusto Cassia will be out several weeks to start the season with a leg injury. Thomas missed the Dawgs’ second exhibition game with a minor foot injury. Matta said if it was a regular season game, Thomas would have played.
Even with a deeper team, going into the regular season at less than 100% could make Butler fans uneasy. Last year showed some players, even veteran players need time to adapt to playing in the Big East. One injury could adjust a player’s timeline, forcing him to take on a larger role before the coaching staff deems he’s ready to.
Who will have a breakout season?
Butler did not have a single player receive preseason All-Big East honors. If the Dawgs want to improve on last season’s 14-18 record, someone has to break out and develop into an all-conference caliber player. But who will it be?
If exhibition play is any indication, Turnbull and Brooks II are poised to break out. Turnbull’s move to the perimeter has unlocked a deeper offensive skill set for the sophomore. He’s capable of taking bigger players off the dribble, and he’s the added strength to hold up on the inside when needed.
Brooks is playing with an aggression that was rarely seen during his two years at Michigan State. The 6-6, 240-pound forward can score at all three levels of the floor, showing the skills that made him a four-star recruit coming out of high school in Detroit.
Davis could be the best pure shooter in the Big East. UConn and Providence have higher-rated freshmen, but Bizjack has a chance to be one of the best freshmen in the conference.
How will they fare during a tough stretch of nonconference games?
Butler’s first true test of the season comes in its fourth game, a road game against Michigan State in East Lansing. That game is followed by a trip to Orlando to face Florida Atlantic, then Penn State or Texas Tech as part of the ESPN Events Invitational.
Butler has the longest odds of winning the tournament in a field that also consists of Iowa State, Boise State, Virginia Tech and VCU. Anything other than a last place finish could be considered a slight victory.
A home game against Texas Tech is another tough test before conference play begins. A win at Michigan State will completely shift the expectations for a team picked to finish second to last in the Big East. Conservatively, the Dawgs should head into conference play with a winning record.
Can the offense improve from last season?
Butler finished dead last in the Big East scoring 65.3 points per game.
The quickest way to increase the scoring output is to make more 3-pointers. Between Davis, Bizjack, Brooks and Turnbull, the Dawgs have four marksmen from deep. Moore and Telfort are also more than capable of knocking down open 3s.
Alexander is the one player whose outside shot is a question mark heading into the season, but his playmaking ability and on-ball defense could negate his offensive deficiencies. Improved shooting with a quicker pace will lead to offensive improvement. Just how much the offense improves could be dictated by questions two and three: Staying healthy and having a breakout performance from a newcomer.
Follow IndyStar Butler Insider Akeem Glaspie on X at @THEAkeemGlaspie.
This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Butler Bulldogs basketball: 5 burning questions for 2023-24 season