It was publicly announced on August 31st that incoming four-star Butler freshman Scooby Johnson underwent surgery earlier in the week to repair a torn ACL in his left knee. The news rules him out for the entirety of this upcoming season, which is a huge blow for the Dawgs. It also marked the third ACL injury to a Butler player within the past 10 months (Campbell Donovan and Christian David). It has certainly been an unfortunate run of injuries for the program.
Even as a true freshmen, many expected that Johnson would not only be a part of the rotation but a competitor for a spot in the team’s starting lineup. I wish Scooby the best in his recovery over the next several months, and I am still confident that he will put together an excellent career with Butler. Concerning this coming season, though, Butler’s coaching staff will have to traverse the campaign without their top-rated freshman.
Perhaps most notably, this opens the door for Markeese Hastings to prove that he can be a contributor at the Big East level. Although he has only played 19 minutes to this point in his career, the 6-foot-7 forward is in his third year with the program and should be ready to make his mark. Experience matters in college basketball, even if it comes through practice rather than in-game situations. Considering his low rating out of high school and lack of significant minutes to this point, it’s hard to discuss *how* Hastings can have his breakout.
Yet, Butler is a program that has been built on unheralded players taking their games to the next level while in Indianapolis. While Christian David (when healthy) or Jair Bolden will likely land the starting “3” spot, there should be no shortage of opportunities for Hastings to prove his worth on the court. I have mentioned in the past that he is not someone to overlook as a key piece for 2020-21, and now he will be under a microscope in a position of need. A surprising breakthrough from Hastings to help offset the loss of a fellow Michigan native would help the Dawgs significantly.
Johnson’s injury could also lead to a heavier reliance on small-ball. Three-guard lineups were not all that common for the Dawgs during this past season as McDermott and Tucker both fit the mold of traditional “3s”, but that will likely need to change in 2020-21. Johnson’s absence on the wing is a big hit to the depth at that position, and will force Coach Jordan and Co. to be a bit more creative. This means running lineups that include three of their four guards.
While Aaron Thompson is locked into playing 30+ minutes per game as the team’s pure point guard, Butler’s other three backcourt pieces are impacted greatly by Johnson’s injury. Starting with Jair Bolden, his playing time will not necessarily be different as he should still see ~30 minutes, but his role could change. Given his experience and solid 6-foot-3 build, he could find himself playing a fair amount of minutes at the “3” in small-ball lineups. I wouldn’t even be surprised if he started in this spot.
With Bolden playing “up” a position for a few minutes per game, that opens up more playing time for incoming freshmen Chuck Harris and Myles Tate alongside Thompson in the backcourt. These two are both regarded as fringe Top 150 players (just like Johnson) and could make positive contributions from the onset of their careers.
Harris and Tate were heralded as solid defenders at the high school level, which fits into the overall team dynamic for 2020-21, and they are also score-first guards. Harris is a bit better getting downhill with his well-built 6-foot-2 frame and wide array of finishing moves, whereas Tate is a shiftier, perimeter-oriented scorer. Either way, having more bucket-getters on the floor is to Butler’s advantage this season given the players that they need to replace this offseason (namely Baldwin and McDermott).
As I have discussed in the past, Butler has a strong group of upperclassmen poised to lead the way for this campaign. Thompson, Bryce Nze, and Bryce Golden will all be reprising their roles as full-time starters while Bolden is a proven high-major starting-caliber player and David is a plus defender off the bench. That is a really good place to start when discussing the team’s “floor” for the year.
And while Johnson’s injury is clearly a big blow, the main key for Butler remains the same: at least one freshman needs to emerge as an above-average rotation player in order to push the team to NCAA Tournament consideration. Johnson was deemed by many to be the most likely to fill that role, but the Dawgs could still be alright if one or more of Harris, Tate, Jakobe Coles, and Myles Wilmoth emerge as that possible freshman phenom from Day 1.
Depth is still the biggest concern, in my opinion, as there are only four proven and healthy pieces on the roster. David has certainly shown that he can contribute, at least in a strong reserve role, but he is also coming off an ACL injury. The rest of the roster then, although full of potential surprises, includes 96 combined collegiate minutes. There are a whole lot of question marks for this team, but there were before this injury as well.
It’s also important to mention that this season will likely be shortened, at least in some way, due to COVID-19. Fatigue will be less of a factor as a result, and playing a shortened rotation from Day 1 isn’t a bad idea. Remember: Butler essentially only played a seven-man rotation down the stretch last season and it has already had five proven rotation pieces for 2020-21. The Dawgs just need to find two or three more from their freshmen class (four players) + Hastings + Mulloy. Is that too much to ask? Maybe, but let’s wait to find out before panicking.
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