Off and Running

Butler isn’t an underdawg team anymore


Mark Carlson, Sports Editor

Next time I hear someone say that Butler upset a team that is outside the top 10 in the rankings, I’m going to be a little bit upset. Butler is no longer that team that no-one had ever heard of from the Horizon League that was one shot away from winning the NCAA tournament. They are a basketball program that is capable of taking on any team in the country and not relying on miracles and future NBA superstars to get them through the game.

Let’s take a time machine back to 2013 when Butler was still in the Atlantic 10. This was a roster that featured no future NBA players. They still managed to finish third in the regular season standings to two ranked teams in VCU and St. Louis, and the made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament where they missed a buzzer beater against third seed Marquette, who went on to the elite eight that year. Butler happened to have beaten them on a buzzer beater earlier that season.

2013 was also the last year for Brad Stevens as coach, as he left to coach the Celtics. In the next two seasons Butler had two different coaches. They emerged from those seasons with a stable coach who has lead them to a second place finish in the Big East in his third year of coaching at Butler. Surviving coaching turmoil and keeping decent recruits and still being able to develop players into a unit that can compete in the Big East is pretty impressive. Contrary to what happens at other schools, like IU, they actually had kids transfer in, and the existing underclassmen stuck with the same program and didn’t transfer or go to the draft three years too early (Noah Vonleh). This is because Butler doesn’t recruit super highly rated athletes.

This year’s freshman were ranked as the best recruiting class that Butler has ever had. They were ranked 32 by ESPN. They are currently ranked as the 22 best team in the most recent AP poll. They have to make up for the recruit quality gap between them and other top teams. A team that doesn’t get super good recruits has to do two things, develop players and punch above their weight. And this season Butler has punched a couple weight classes up knocking off Villanova twice and Arizona once. Those two teams are first and second seeds in the NCAA tournament this year respectively. And in case you care, I have Butler falling short short for the third time in the finals to Villanova. And obviously since I have them winning it, they will win it.

But this time when Butler makes it to the finals, (or deep in the tournament for you non-Butler fans) it won’t be luck or a fluke. It will be because they are better than the teams they beat. They won’t have to rely on buzzer beaters and insane performances to beat other teams. They will beat them by playing tough defense and other such Butler things like using undersized centers to great effect like they have for the past several years since the late Alex Smith graduated. They will win by having great guard play like they have since Shelvin Mack helped Butler to the tournament finals two years in a row in 2010 and 2011. They will win because of players passed over by larger colleges becoming stars on Butler such as Roosevelt Jones, Kellen Dunham, Rotnei Clarke and that Gordon Hayward kid.