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Butler provides a big obstacle for Missouri in the Hall of Fame Classic

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The Bulldogs return a lot from a team which struggled a bit, sound familiar?

NCAA Basketball: Butler at Marquette Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

With Missouri releasing their season non-conference schedule, we’re taking a brief look at each of their opponents. You can catch up with the previous posts in the series here:

The Hall of Fame Classic is an event held at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, and has been held in Kansas City since 2001 when Missouri defeated Iowa in the championship game (the tournament was previously held at Kemper Arena). No Iowa this year, but two games await the Tigers with Oklahoma facing Stanford on one side of the bracket, and Missouri facing off against Butler in the other.

Butler has come a long way since joining the Horizon league in 2001. The program had long been a stout mid-major program, and then Brad Stevens took the job in 2007 and took the program to new heights. They went from a good Horizon League team to the National Championship game two years in a row, losing to Duke in 2010 and UConn in 2011. In the 12 years since Stevens took over the program, the Bulldogs have made the NCAA tournament nine times and moved into the new Big East Conference where they’ve been mostly good but challenged in making their way up the charts in a much deeper league.

Stevens left for the NBA just prior to the program reaching the Big East after a lone season in the Atlantic 10. Then Brandon Miller took over and gave way to Chris Holtmann after Miller needed a medical leave of absence. After Holtmann left for the Ohio State job, Butler brought in former Bulldog player and assistant coach Lavall Jordan, who was then the head coach at Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Butler Bulldogs

Last season: 16-17, 72nd in KenPom

Torvik Projection: 61

Head Coach: Lavall Jordan

NCAA Basketball: Butler at Georgetown Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

In year one Jordan guided the program back to the NCAA tournament, but missed last season when they struggled to replace the versatile production from Kelan Martin. Granted, the Big East can be unforgiving, and Butler had several solid non-conference wins before falling below .500 in conference play.

Since making the championship game Butler has been good but rarely great. They’ve had two seasons finishing at 20 in KenPom and one at 25, with some bottoming out at 99 and at 72.

So it remains to be seen what sort of level Butler fans can expect from Jordan’s teams as they’ve rebuilt a little bit and the base of talent is pretty good.

RETURNING PLAYERS OF NOTE:

  • Kamar Baldwin — 17 ppg, 84.9% %min, 101.7 ORtg
  • Jordan Tucker — 9.7 ppg, 40.1% %min, 97.6 ORtg
  • Sean McDermott — 9.5 ppg, 69.3% %min, 118.5 ORtg
  • Aaron Thompson — 6.3 ppg, 67.2% %min, 104.5 ORtg
  • Nate Fowler — 5.5 ppg, 45.8% %min, 109.0 ORtg

Baldwin was outstanding last year, and he’s likely to be the man again. Tucker took a little while to get going but showed flashes of what earned him a scholarship to Duke before his transfer to Butler. Aaron Thompson is a steady point guard, but relatively low usage, but the guy to keep an eye on is Sean McDermott... a 40.6% shooter from deep who is capable of carrying the load offensively when he gets going.

Butler also adds Valparaiso grad transfer Derrick Smits (son of NBA Legend, Rik) to the roster for some much needed interior depth.

NCAA Basketball: Butler at Georgetown Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

This could be a tricky game for the Tigers because I’m not entirely sure how good Butler will be. They’ve got pieces, but much like Missouri, they struggled with consistency last year. Torvik projects them as #61 in the country, which still feels a little low with what they’ve got coming back. Maybe I’m just a little higher on the potential of a guy like Tucker, a much needed versatile wing scorer in the mold of a Kelan Martin. If he’s deployed in similar ways, he could really cause matchup problems. With Tucker and Baldwin on the wing and McDermott to space the floor, there are more than enough angles to improve on the 53rd rated offense from KenPom’s Adjusted Efficiency.

Still this feels like a game Missouri should be able to win. Butler is close, but I think Missouri is closer. A win on a neutral court against a hopeful NCAA tournament team would be a nice mark on the resume if they can get it.