If the Butler men's basketball program wants to know how to get to where Providence College is, which is spending today looking for a place to display the conference tournament trophy and making travel plans for the NCAA Tournament, the Bulldog coaches need to start by looking at the Friars' team photo. In it they'll see a very big – literally and figuratively – reason why Providence fans will be a lot busier this month than Butler's.
The Friars started redshirt senior center named Kadeem Batts in Saturday's league tournament championship game, and the Bulldogs have no player that resembles the 6-foot-9, 245-pound Batts. That is a big – again, literally and figuratively – reason why the Bulldogs have nothing to do as postseason play gets underway for the first time in nine springs.
The Bulldog coaches knew that their first foray through the Big East Conference would be difficult, and it most certainly was. They struggled to a 14-17 (4-14 league record) mark, which was the program's worst since a 13-win campaign in 2005. Butler bounced back in 2006 to win 20 games and got to the NIT, and strengthening its roster along the front court is just one of several areas that need addressed for the 2014-15 season.
“In terms of recruiting, we're open,” Butler coach Brandon Miller said earlier this month. “We have scholarships open right now. We're actively recruiting the 2014 class.”
Miller signed a pair of high school seniors in November, but neither 6-foot-6 small forward Kelan Martin (Ballard High School, Louisville) or 6-foot-7 power forward Tyler Wideman (Lake Central High School) are the answer to anchor this team at the center position next season.
The first-year Bulldog coach needs to find a big, physical post presence that can contribute immediately. More than likely, no high school kid can make an immediate impact at the Big East level down low, so Butler's best options are either a redshirt senior that has completed his undergraduate degree and can play immediately or a junior college transfer.
“A fifth-year player that can play right away, that's an option,” Miller said. “We'll definitely look at that.”
League foe DePaul did that this year with former Purdue center Sandi Marcius. Though the Blue Demons (3-15) finished last in the conference, Marcius played fairly well for them in starting 24 games.
Butler will return forwards Kameron Woods (senior), Andrew Chrabascz (sophomore) and Nolan Berry (sophomore), but much like a high school kid, none truly fit what the Bulldogs need as far as a post presence is concerned.
Woods (6-foot-9, 200 pounds) and Berry (6-foot-10, 200 pounds) have the length, but not the strength to defend – at least, well – the bigger bodies of this conference. Chrabascz (6-foot-7, 225 pounds) is a strong young player, but doesn't have the length needed.
In the case of Wideman, unless he blows the coaching staff away in preseason workouts, there is no rational reason that he should play a second next year.
With the three returning players, as well as a post recruit to be named later, Butler has four players battling for 80 total minutes each night at the two front court spots. This season, Berry was the odd man out and played less than six minutes per game and in just 18 of Butler's 31 contests. His year was essentially wasted.
Like Batts, Berry should have spent his first 16 months in Indianapolis living in the gym and weight room getting himself physically prepared, from an athleticism and skill standpoint, to be able to contribute far more significantly than he did this season. The same goes for Wideman.
If Miller can't land a fifth-year player, the junior college route is a legitimate option for Butler.
“We've had junior college players play at Butler,” Miller said.
He cited former Bulldog players such as Marcus Nellems and Rob Walls, who adapted to Butler athletically and academically, and ultimately contributed to the program's success. “If he's the right fit and the right type of guy, he's a Butler guy, that's more important than where he is currently going to school,” Miller explained. “What type of guy he is and what type of guy is he in the classroom? How is he going to fit in the locker room? How is he going to fit across campus? Finding the right Butler guy, that's more important.”
Finding the right – and big – Butler guy is what is truly essential.