Fresh off their heartbreaking loss, albeit surprising run to the National Championship game, what is in store for the Butler Bulldogs? Even as a "mid-major", they ran through the regular season and into the post season, collecting 25 straight wins before losing to the Duke Blue Devils in the NCAA finals. That's a span of over three months without losing, and nothing to be ashamed about. But there is no use sulking because the team has much to do this offseason.
At 33 years old, Stevens has had one heck of a career at Butler so far, posting a career record 89-15 (.856), winning the Horizon League Coach of the Year award in back-to-back seasons (2009, 2010) and the taking home the High Durham Mid-Major Coach of the Year award this past season. He is being actively pursued by Oregon and even several NBA teams have begun talking about Stevens, but will he leave? Our sources tell us not just yet. He may wait another year or two before jettisoning the Bulldogs for another collegiate program. Out his 8-man rotation, Stevens is losing two players to graduation- starting forward, Willie Veasley and backup forward Avery Jukes, who was a key player all season long coming off of the bench. Gordon Hayward could bolt for the NBA and be a mid-1st round pick, but with the core of his team returning, it's quite possible Hayward might push off the NBA for one more year. His draft stock may never be higher than it currently is after scouts fell in love with his versatility during the 2010 NCAA tournament, but you can't put a price on Hayward's bond with his Butler teammates and empty feeling of leading his team all the way to the championship game to come up just short.
If Hayward returns, Butler also brings back fellow 1st team all-league players Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard, and Horizon League Defensive Player of the Year, Ronald Nored. Replacing Veasley and Jukes will likely be done with Butler's stellar incoming freshman class, led by top recruit, Khyle Marshall, a 6'6" wing who was pursued by several Big Ten teams and other major conference players. He will fill Veasley's starting spot nicely; he is a bigger forward with more athleticism, a better rebounder and more scoring-oriented. His slashing abilities could open up the perimeter more for Hayward and Mack, but also complimenting Howard in the low post. Backing up Howard and replacing Jukes, the Bulldogs will bring in Eric Fromm, a long, skilled 6'9" forward. He sets strong screens, rolling hard to the rim, or popping to knock down a 3-point shot. He is active on the glass and will provide a much-needed defensive presence in the post.
Can Butler duplicate its storied 2010 season next year? Heading into the offseason, Butler has the pieces to continue its regular season Horizon League dominance, as well as putting together a competitive non-conference schedule (beating Ohio State and Xavier in 2009-10). If Hayward and Stevens stay, the Bulldogs won't sneak up on anyone next year, but are certainly capable of another deep run in the 2011 NCAA tournament.