For the first time since Feb. 17, 2001, Thad Matta will be prowling the Hinkle Fieldhouse sideline as Butler’s head coach when the Bulldogs open the season Monday night vs. New Orleans.
Matta, who hasn’t coached since he and Ohio State parted ways in May 2017, has raised expectations at Butler since returning to his alma mater in April. He succeeded LaVall Jordan, his former shooting guard who led the Bulldogs to just one NCAA Tournament in five seasons.
“I love what this place stands for,” Matta said at the Big East media day, “and I look at this place as a great opportunity to come in and try to rebuild something that Butler deserves.”
In the wake of Butler’s 14-19 season, Matta boosted the team’s roster with some serious shopping in the transfer portal: North Carolina State center Manny Bates, Purdue point guard Eric Hunter Jr., Akron wing Ali Ali and Georgia State power forward Jalen Thomas. Nonetheless, the Big East coaches pegged the Bulldogs to finish eighth in the 11-team conference.
Butler won its exhibition game against Division II Tiffin by just 10 points, but Matta didn’t have the services of Ali and Thomas. Ali, who averaged a team-high 13.9 points last year for Akron’s NCAA Tournament squad, has missed time due to a concussion and a broken nose.
New Orleans posted an 18-14 record last year but lost its pair of high-scoring, all-conference guards to graduation — Derek St. Hilaire (20.1 points per game) and Troy Green (16.6 ppg). But 12th-year coach Mark Slessinger and the Privateers have enough back to earn the No. 3 spot in the Southland Conference’s preseason poll.
Junior forward Tyson Jackson (8.7 ppg, 3.9 rpg) and senior forward Simeon Kirkland (8.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg) received second-team preseason all-league honors. They join senior guard Daniel Sackey (6.6 ppg, 2.8 apg) as New Orleans’ returning starters.
“It is an incredible honor to open up the season at the historic Hinkle Fieldhouse against Butler on national TV,” Slessinger said. “We have a very deep and talented team, and I’m excited to see them compete on Monday.”
–Field Level Media