Head Coach: Thad Matta (first season as head coach)
2021-22 Record: 14-19 (6-14 Big East)
2021-22 Big East finish: Ninth
Final 2021-22 KenPom.com Ranking: No. 121
2022-23 Big East Coaches Poll Ranking: Seventh
2022-23 KenPom Rating: No. 130
2021-22 in review
Butler significantly underperformed last season even with mediocre expectations — they were picked sixth in the coaches’ poll but ended up ninth. There was a glimmer of hope for the Bulldogs after returning four out of the five starters (albeit from a 10-15 team) but this didn’t lead to much success, especially early on as they couldn’t get a signature win during a three game stretch of facing Michigan State, No. 12 Houston, and Texas A&M.
They were able to eke out an OT win against Oklahoma on the road soon after that losing streak, a game in which they were 11-point underdogs, but this was one of the lone bright spots on the season for Butler. LaVall Jordan’s team was only able to muster six in-conference wins and four of these came against DePaul and Georgetown, the latter of which did not win a single Big East game. This constant mediocrity and failure to compete in the Big East ultimately led to the firing of Jordan after his fifth season at the helm of Butler.
Matta makes his return to coaching after being away from the sport since 2017. A former head coach of Butler for only one year after departing for Xavier, Matta is most well known for his time at Ohio State, where he spent 13 seasons and is the winningest coach in Buckeye history. During his tenure in the Big Ten, Matta also won five regular season titles, four tournament championships, three coach of the year awards, made nine NCAA tournaments including two final fours. Needless to say, he has a long list of accolades, is a proven winner in the sport, and unquestionably elevates the coaching level in the Big East.
It will not be easy for Matta starting out, as Butler only returns one full-time starter from a disappointing 2021-22. Luckily the returner is their best player in junior guard Chuck Harris, but while was able to lead the in scoring at a paltry 11.4 points per game, he shot 37.8% from the floor. Because of their significant offensive struggles (No. 128 in adjusted offensive efficiency per Kenpom, and No. 314th in three-point shooting percentage), a lot of Butler’s possessions ended in Harris attempting to play hero-ball and bail out the Bulldogs by making tough-contested shots. Harris also attempted over 100 more shots than the next leading bucket getter on the Bulldogs, which does not bode well at all for offensive success.
Matta will also be reliant on sophomore guard Jayden Taylor to help ease the scoring burden of Harris in the backcourt. Taylor is a hometown kid who was under-recruited coming out of high school, but due to a lack of depth was forced to play major minutes during his freshman season and produced with 8.2 points and 2.9 rebounds per game, but struggled with efficiency, shooting 37.9% from the field and 29.4 % on three-pointers.
Purdue transfer Eric Hunter (career 6.2 points, 2.2 rebounds, and 2.0 assists) joins Taylor and Harris in the backcourt and can hit the open three (43.6% three point in 2021-22) and was a member of the All-Big Ten defensive team last season.
The key to Butler breaking into the top half of the Big East could reside on the back of popular breakout candidate Simas Lukosius. The Lithuania native showed flashes of brilliance last season, taking home two Big East Freshman of the week awards, and also poured in 17 points against UConn. Lukosius is a big, physical guard-forward that is well on his way to being the conference’s new Eastern European matchup nightmare, similar to the 2021 co-Big East player of the Year award Winner, Sandro Mamukelashvili.
Lukosius and Akron transfer Ali Ali, a six-foot-eight wiry guard who was Akron’s leading scorer at 13.9 points per game last season, should allow Butler to deploy a small-ball lineup at times which will hopefully improve their atrocious pacing last season, when they ranked nearly last in adjusted tempo.
Butler’s entire frontcourt was also in need of replacing, so Matta went to the portal and grabbed a pair of centers in Manny Bates and Jalen Thomas. Bates averaged 9.8 points per game in 2020-21 and is fourth in NC State history in blocks while playing only two seasons, and Thomas put up 7.9 points and 6.2 points per game last season. Bates only played in one game last year before suffering a season ending shoulder injury so he hasn’t seen game action in over a year, and Thomas was an average-at-best player in the Sun Belt conference.
No certainties exist in college basketball, but Butler sure has a considerable amount more unknowns than proven talent. Matta will have an uphill battle ahead of him as he looks to recapture the early 2010s Butler magic that propelled them to consecutive national championship appearances as a member of the Horizon League.