Butler opens its 2012-13 season Friday with its first practice at 5 p.m. Here are the keys to the Bulldogs having a successful season.
Butler has raised its level of competition significantly by joining the Atlantic 10 Conference. The gap between the high-major programs and mid-major level has shrunk considerably over the past decade, so that helps the Bulldogs' cause. But there won't be any nights off for Butler in league play.
Forget about how difficult the Atlantic 10 Conference schedule will be, what about Butler's non-conference schedule? The Bulldogs will face top-ranked (by some) Indiana, Xavier (out-of-league game), Northwestern and Vanderbilt on the road. They will also host the ESPN "GameDay" crew in January for a nationally televised game with Gonzaga. Just for good measure, Butler will test itself in the Maui Invitational. Good luck and Godspeed to Brad Stevens' bunch.
Though he averaged just nine points per game, the expelled Chrishawn Hopkins was capable of getting his team 20 on any given night – and against any given opponent. Pairing him with Arkansas transfer Rotnei Clarke would have been a tremendous backcourt. Now those points have to come from other sources (and probably will up front).
The Bulldogs frontcourt has to play big, come up big and shoulder a big load for this squad. Senior center Andrew Smith has to play to his potential every night, and forwards Khyle Marshall and Roosevelt Jones just might be Butler's most impactful players on most nights. Reserve forward Erik Fromm can provide a perimeter shooting touch up front to allow Smith more room to operate on the block.
The Bulldogs couldn't be much worse from the perimeter than they were last year (28 percent from three-point range) and they won't be this year. Clarke, freshman Kellen Dunham should make Butler a better shooting team beginning at 5 p.m. Friday.