With five incoming freshmen joining the mix, it is fair to say that Butler has plenty of unproven players this season. All five of those newcomers will be donning their first collegiate uniforms this season and those transitions could prove to be difficult. Butler’s list of unprovens, though, is not limited to just its highly-regarded recruiting class. Rising sophomores John-Michael Mulloy and Markeese Hastings both also fit that mold as they have played a combined 95 minutes to this point in their careers. As we look ahead to the 2020-21 season, though, that number looks to skyrocket.
While neither is a lock to play big minutes by any stretch, opportunities will abound in Indianapolis for underclassmen to prove their worth. Considering Mulloy (one year) and Hastings (two years) have already spent at least one season in the program, it wouldn’t be a complete shock if they are more prepared than the true freshmen to make impacts. Given neither has seen much real-game action since their high school days, let’s take a look at what we do know about them to try to project their role and possible contributions.
John-Michael Mulloy | 6-10 | 235 lbs | Center
Mulloy, more notably, is coming off a true freshman season in which he appeared in 16 contests. This was perhaps not the original plan for him, though, as many projected him as a redshirt candidate due to his need to add bulk to his frame. Derrik Smits’ knee problems forced him into the rotation while Bryce Golden’s occasional foul trouble also contributed to minutes. And while Mulloy was not particularly impressive during his time on the floor, that wasn’t surprising. He was thrust into big games at difficult moments before he was ready.
Will he be ready this season? Now that is the question worth asking.
Mulloy, to me, fits the mold of a potential “glue guy” in the frontcourt. He works hard and makes winning plays. That was his reputation while at Carmel and I have heard positive things about his development over the past year with the program. Most importantly, he has put on a significant amount of weight. Mulloy has gained ~30 pounds since coming to campus last fall and improving his frame so drastically will help him inside against fellow high-major bigs.
For someone that entered college more as a skilled big than a bruiser, this weight increase could go a long way in aiding his development on both ends. This is especially true if he is still able to run the floor well, one of the traits that made him intriguing for Butler’s soon-to-be faster offensive scheme. Athleticism is a strength of his. At the very least, the weight increase should help him defend and rebound better inside.
At the end of the day, though, his skill is what will need to carry him into making an impact. After all, he is still mostly a finesse big man. Mulloy has a solid lefty stroke with range out to the 3-point line, is an excellent passer for the position, can score in the post, and hits his free throws. While perhaps not the strongest big man, he boxes out and rebounds at a high rate.
The 6-10 big also had a knack for doing the little things during his high school career. He sets strong screens, relocates as a roll or pop man well, boxes out, hustles after loose balls, and makes smart decisions as a passer. He averaged 14.5 points, 8.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and 1.0 blocks per game during his senior year while connecting on 55 percent of his field goals and 72 percent of his free throws. His team went 26-1.
An Indiana All-State First Team selection and state champion during that campaign, Mulloy was a proven winner in high school. The 76 minutes he played in a season he was projected to redshirt shouldn’t have changed anyone’s opinion on him or his potential.
As far as his role for this season goes, Mulloy looks likely to find a consistent spot in the rotation on paper. With Derrik Smits graduating, he should be the preseason favorite to fill the primary reserve spot at center. This role, however, might only net 5-10 minutes per game as Bryce Nze and Bryce Golden are back to cover the lion’s share at the position. He will be competing with freshmen Jakobe Coles and Myles Wilmoth for this spot, though I expect to see Coles play most of his minutes at a different position. Wilmoth might need more time before cracking the rotation.
One of the things I really like about Mulloy as the backup here is that the scheme doesn’t need to change with him on the floor. Nze, Golden, Mulloy, and Coles are all above-average passing bigs and Coach Jordan loved to utilize the former two as playmakers last season. Assuming that letting his bigs create is a staple again this season, Mulloy should fit nicely within Butler’s offensive sets. His ability to space the floor from three on occasion also gives him a touch of versatility that can help him if he is ineffective as an interior finisher.
Additionally, he should fill well with the rest of the reserve unit. Namely, freshman point guard Chuck Harris is a dynamo at running the pick-and-roll and Mulloy has really emphasized setting strong screens and making decisive cuts to the basket over the past year. Those two could form an underrated PnR duo in the minutes spelling Thompson this year and for the next 2-3 years that follow.
Mulloy would likely struggle if thrust into big minutes, but I do think he can hold his own in a minor role such as this one. Even if it is only five minutes per contest, consistently seeing the floor for every game is sure to boost his confidence. A positive year from Mulloy would greatly increase optimism for the following campaigns as he figures to be a major piece of the frontcourt rotation along with Myles Wilmoth, Jakobe Coles, and DJ Hughes.
Markeese Hastings | 6-7 | 210 lbs | Forward
Hastings, despite having an extra year in the program on Mulloy, is perhaps even more of a mystery. Due to injuries and a lack of positional need, Hastings redshirted his first year on campus and then saw just 19 minutes of action last season. As a result, he is now essentially two full years removed from seeing in-game action. That in-game action also came at the high-school level, making it even more challenging to determine where he is in his development.
One thing that we do know for sure, though, is that Hastings is built like a truck. The 6-7, 210-pound forward brings plenty of muscle to the court already and he should have no trouble with the physicality of the Big East. He seems likely to be 3-4 combo forward positionally and that is an area of need for Butler. If Christian David struggles upon return or Bo Hodges doesn’t receive a waiver, Hastings might even challenge for a starting spot. That is, though, contingent on him having made massive strides over the past two years.
On the whole, there are very few “knowns” about Hastings’ game at this point. He is big, athletic, and was an unbelievably good rebounder (15.0 boards per game as a senior) at the high-school level. He also has a pretty high defensive ceiling given his physical gifts and Butler’s program-wide dedication to excellence on that end of the floor. If you don’t defend, you usually don’t play. Even though we haven’t seen him play many minutes at the college level, I am a believer in Hastings as a strong defender.
He has more question marks offensively. While he averaged 22.3 points per game as a senior at Godwin Heights (MI), highlights indicate a fair amount of breakaway easy buckets. Those highlights also showcase his impressive athleticism, though, as he skies for slams. He does a nice job leaking behind defenses as a cutter that can finish above the rim.
One concern is that he will not be able to straight-line drive as much in the Big East as he could in high school. There needs to be more variety to his offensive game and that starts with being able to space the floor. Deploying him as a backdoor cutter sounds great in theory, but it will not be effective unless defenses respect his outside shot. He does appear to have a pretty decent shot based on my limited experience watching him in practice and warm-ups but we’ll see how that translates to real minutes.
It is important to note, though, that this past summer was his first with the program in which he was healthy. It isn’t out of the question that he took a big leap in his development as a result.
I envision Hastings’ best outcome for this season is filling a role akin to Christian David last year. Neither has quite the typical height to play the “4” but are strong and intelligent defenders. They are both multipositional on that end and make winning plays. I am not expecting Hastings to be thrust into being a top scoring option among the reserves and he will thus be able to focus the majority of his efforts on defense.
With David expected to miss at least a little bit of time to begin the season, Hastings should see plenty of opportunities to succeed. Additionally, Hastings’ role will be directly impacted by whether or not Bo Hodges receives a waiver to play this season (a waiver decision might not come until after the season starts, either, so that is a fluid situation).
Neither Mulloy nor Hastings was a highly-touted recruit. Both, though, showed flashes during their high school careers and will have opportunities this year to prove that they deserve minutes. Mulloy feels more likely to be a mainstay in the rotation given the positional need and more playing time already under his belt, but we will just have to wait and find out.
It might also be worth noting that walk-on Mike Parker will also be on the team. A sophomore by standing, he has a great reputation as a rebounder and might be a surprise contributor this year. He is yet to play a college basketball game (DIII transfer) but practiced with the Dawgs throughout last season. He has a great motor, is very physical, and attacks the glass hard. I've heard good things about Parker, but whether or not that translates to him being the next great walk-on surprise in Hinkle Fieldhouse remains to be seen.
Butler’s roster is full of unproven underclassmen that will be out to show that they can perform at a high level this season. While it is the freshman class that is receiving most of the publicity heading into the year, who is to say that Mulloy and/or Hastings can’t be that breakout rotation piece that the Dawgs need?
With Thompson, Bolden, Nze, Golden, and hopefully Hodges all poised to be upperclassmen starters, the underclassmen need to focus on being stars in their roles.