Butler coach Jordan seeks improvement in 2019-20

Butler head coach LaVall Jordan watches during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Seton Hall, Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019, in Indianapolis. Butler won 70-68. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Entering a third season as Butler's head coach, LaVall Jordan considers himself blessed.

Not many former college players get to coach at their alma mater or work for a mentor.

"There's not many coaches that get a chance to lead a program that they are invested in," said Jordan, who played at Butler from 1997-2001. "To be able to play for an athletic director, Barry Collier, who was my coach, and getting to live in Indianapolis, raise our kids here, there a lot of positives."

That's what made last season's 16-17 campaign sting for Jordan. He knew his team didn't play up to the Butler standard, first set by Collier and carried over through Todd Lickliter, Brad Stevens and Chris Holtmann.

"We didn't feel like we had the kind of season we wanted," Jordan said. "As a coach, you are always looking at ways how you can be better, how your staff can be better.

"This is a big summer for us and our players from a developmental standpoint and an accountability standpoint. The standards need to be raised to get where we need to be. We need to be more focused and raise our level of consistency."

In particular, Jordan said a heavy emphasis this offseason will focus on defense. Butler ranked ninth in the 10-team Big East in field-goal percentage defense (45.7 percent) and 3-point percentage defense (35.7 percent).

"Defensively, we weren't anywhere near where we wanted to be," Jordan said. "As a staff we are addressing that to be a lot more solid, a lot more consistent to be at the level we need to be defensively to play in the Big East."

This offseason, Jordan lost one big man, center Joey Brunk, as a grad transfer to Indiana but added a potential replacement in 7-foot-1 transfer center Derrik Smits from Valparaiso. Smits, the son of former Indiana Pacers center Rik Smits, averaged 12.2 points and 5.7 rebounds last season.

"Excited about Derrik," Jordan said. "He's a kid that's older and that has played at a different level. His size is a factor. Offensively, he's made strides as a viable guy inside. He's had a good career at Valparaiso, and he could play on the perimeter for us depending on how he develops his shot."

Smits also could provide a presence at the rim defensively the Bulldogs were lacking last season.

"We'll see," Jordan said. "You can't teach size. Playing at the rim without fouling is obviously a big area we'll emphasize with him, to be positionally in the right spots on the floor where you can block and deflect shots."

Butler recently released its non-conference schedule. The Bulldogs have won 50 straight games at Hinkle Fieldhouse, a streak that will be put to the test with home games against Minnesota (Nov. 12) and Florida (Dec. 7). In addition, Butler will play Purdue in the Crossroads Classic on Dec 21 and play at Ole Miss (Dec. 3) and at Baylor (Dec. 10).

"We're always looking to challenge ourselves, and this is possibly one of the toughest schedules we've ever played," Jordan said. "Florida, we started that series last year, and we get Minnesota here in the Gavitt Games. The road games will test us as well, and we understand the importance of road wins in the eyes of the committee. That's an area where we need to improve with our team, being able to play well on the road."

Hinkle Fieldhouse is in the midst of undergoing a $10.5 million renovation on its practice courts this offseason, an investment Jordan said should help with Butler's recruiting and ability to compete in the Big East.

"It's tremendous," Jordan said. "There's nothing better than playing at Hinkle Fieldhouse. The commitment from administration is big for us. To be able to go there and be there constantly, to practice and play in the same building and to spend time there I think will have a positive effect for our players."