It's never too early to start looking ahead to next season. Over the coming weeks, we will examine what comes next for each team in the Power 5 conferences and also those outside the Power 5 who could make noise on the national stage. Today: the Butler Bulldogs.
No head coach during the 2014-15 season was in a tougher position than Butler's Chris Holtmann. He was thrust into the role of head coach right before October practice began. Even then, he was only supposed to be a temporary replacement while head coach Brandon Miller took a medical leave of absence.
Miller never returned. By Jan. 2, Holtmann had the interim tag removed and was named head coach. Fittingly, he had already put his stamp on the program. He guided them to wins over the North Carolina Tar Heels and Georgetown Hoyas in the Battle 4 Atlantis and the Bulldogs, to the surprise of many, crashed the top 25 polls.
Holtmann proved to be the right hire after Butler finished tied for second in the Big East with Georgetown and bounced back from its first losing season in eight years with a 23-11 record. He almost engineered a berth in the NCAA tournament Sweet 16, but the Bulldogs were eliminated in a heartbreaking 67-64 loss to the Notre Dame Irish in overtime.
That first year was quite a ride, and Holtmann and the Bulldogs are well equipped to make his second season just as good. For starters, the university announced a contract extension for Holtmann before bigger schools with openings (see: Tennessee) could attempt to lure him away. His new deal last through the 2020-21 season.
The team he returns next season has what could be one of the best trios in the Big East. Seniors Kellen Dunham and Roosevelt Jones, along with junior Andrew Chrabascz, were all starters last season and the team's top three scorers. They're the core of why the Bulldogs should be among the contenders for the league title.
What the immediate future holds: Jones missed the entire 2013-14 season with a wrist injury but showed no hesitation in asserting himself back on the floor. Jones is arguably their most well-rounded player averaging a team-leading 3.7 assists to go with his 12.7 points and 5.2 rebounds, which were both second on the team last season.
Point guard Tyler Lewis could find himself in the perfect situation with the Bulldogs after transferring from North Carolina State. Lewis fits the Butler profile. He's easy to overlook, but he produces. Lewis had a 3.55 assist-to-turnover ratio his sophomore season with the Wolfpack. He started half of NC States' games and helped them reach the NCAA tournament.
The Bulldogs hope freshman center Nate Fowler is fully recovered after a broken foot ended his last season in high school back in December. The 6-foot-10 Cincinnati native will bring some much-needed size to the rotation. Butler loses last season's leading rebounder Kameron Woods, making Jones the returning leader. Fowler's offensive game isn't limited to the post though; he'll also add another 3-point shooter to a lineup that should have plenty.
Dunham ranked fifth in the Big East shooting 41 percent from 3-point range. He can light it up as evidenced by his nine games last season of scoring 20 or more points and his 16.5 point average. Guard Jordan Gathers, who averaged 8.2 points for St. Bonaventure during the 2013-14 season, also shot 36 percent from behind the arc. Even Chrabascz, a 6-7 forward, shot 34 percent from 3-point range for the Bulldogs. Freshman Sean McDermott is billed as a sharpshooter too.
Butler shouldn't have any problems scoring, which is good because it won't likely be as stingy as it was last season defensively without Woods -- their leading shot blocker and rebounder -- and the feisty Alex Barlow, who ranked third in steals in program history. The Bulldogs ranked seventh in adjusted defense last season according to Ken Pomeroy. They'll be hard pressed to duplicate that next season, but then again, maybe Holtmann's already shown a knack for exceeding expectations.