Butler Bulldogs a Good Role Model for UIC Flames

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For a solid blueprint to success, the team playing at the campus colloquially known as “Circle” can look to their “Circle City” conference brethren.

“Butler has a program that we’re aspiring to be, not that we’re trying to be Butler,” said UIC first year Head Coach Howard Moore, who previously worked as an assistant under Bo Ryan at Wisconsin.

“We’re aspiring for that kind of success, where your players come out expecting to win and expecting to get results whether at home or on the road. They’re very impressive, they know who they are, and they play to that.”

Moore has many reasons to complement his Horizon League rival. Brad Stevens has won the league all three years that he’s led the small private school in Indianapolis. This year, they’ll finish third or fourth, but look to be in decent shape for a NCAA at-large bid

By Paul M. Banks

Moore continued, describing his desire for a team where everyone buys into the gestalt of the unit. Self-interest is minimized on behalf of the greater good of the collective unit.

“That’s why we removed the last names from the jerseys. It’s not about who scores, it’s about UIC scores. The biggest thing is you build a program where guys understand what it’s all about to be a UIC Flame,” he said.

Of course, “The Butler Way” didn’t come about overnight.

“”I’m not going to give Brad all the credit, but I will give him credit for being smart enough to stay with what they do. You got to go back to Coach (Barry) Collier, Coach (Todd) Lickliter, Coach (Thad) Matta, they have their own way of doing things, pretty similar to what we do at Wisconsin. Making sure you recruit to a certain level of player, character, kids that have a great basketball IQ, kids that understand what they are and making sure they do it for the team, selfless guys who buy into the school,” Moore said.

Butler leads the overall series with UIC 31-11, and have taken the last ten meetings with the Flames.

During the last ten years, Butler has gone 244-84 (.748), including: eight seasons of 20+ wins, six NCAA Tournament appearances, three Sweet 16 appearances, and becoming the only Horizon League team in history to reach the Final Four (and NCAA Title game). The period also included seven conference season titles and three conference tournament titles. Only two other schools in the nation (Kansas and BYU) have won at least 25 games every year during the past four seasons.

“What makes them special is consistency, and they haven’t been doing it for just a couple years. If you track the history of mid-majors, there’s ebb and flow, some programs will have a swing of going through three, four good years and then they’re down for a couple years and they get it back up. Butler has been consistent now going back to Coach Collier, and a long time through four different head coaches. And it’s a credit to them, and staying within what they truly think is the best way to run a program, and it’s a nice model for us to follow,” said UIC Assistant Coach Al Biancalana.

The Flames (7-22, 2-15 Horizon League) got beat pretty bad Saturday by the Bulldogs and continue the rebuilding process with their regular-season finale Saturday at the league’s #2 team, Valparaiso. UIC lost 68-66 (OT) to the Crusaders on Dec. 2. Then it’s the conference tournament, in which a rematch with Butler looks very likely.

UIC leading scorer Robo Kreps put up 22 points in a loss at Butler’s Hinkle Fieldhouse (the famous venue featured in the cult classic film, “Hoosiers”) earlier this season, but had just 10 on Saturday, a Senior Day that resulted in a 27 point loss.

“They definitely were trying to stop my penetration,” Kreps said. “Any time I got the ball at the top of the key I had five defenders looking at me.”

Next year Kreps is gone, but UIC brings in more players who better fit howard Moore’s system, and the Flames will be less dependent on players recruited by Jimmy Collins. As this is just year one of regime change, it will take time for the Flames to get back to the NCAA Tournament, and brighter days are ahead.

Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports Bank.net. He is also a regular contributor to the Tribune’s Chicago Now network, Walter Football.com, Yardbarker Network, and Fox Sports.com

He does a weekly radio segment on Chicagoland Sports Radio.com and Cleveland.com

You can follow him on Twitter @thesportsbank

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