Beneath the Hoosier Sky last March, the Butler Bulldogs unfolded one of the greatest stories in college basketball history. And had that last second half-court heave stayed down and fallen through in the national title game, history would not have denied the glow of the victory firelight for the “home team” at Lucas Oil Field.
Just one more basket and the small mid-major school could have beaten heavily-favored Duke to win it all. The full story is documented quite well by David Woods in his book “Underdawgs.”
This year has been much less romantic for the Bulldogs however. Sure, they can still run the table in the Horizon League Tournament next week to guarantee a NCAA berth, but right now they are the very definition of a “bubble team” in most bracket projections.
Let’s look at how they can grab that at-large berth.
By Paul M. Banks
Today, it takes a power conference team 21 wins to get into the tournament; as long as you have a decent RPI and SOS. And pretty much every team in the power 6 will have that on their resume because of their conference schedule. It’s like black jack, hit 21 and you win! Not every time, but almost every time.
Therefore, a mid-major like Butler will need 23 wins, as their RPI and SOS will be lower due to their conference. Sure, the Horizon League is much better than last year, but it would be in the Bulldogs’ best interest to blow out Loyola at home to finish their regular season (much like they did Saturday against Chicago’s other Horizon League team, UIC) and then just win two in the HL Tourney.
The league does it’s bracket rather oddly- the top two teams get a double bye to the semis. Butler is looking locked into either the #3 or #4 slot, so they’ll have to do some work. But they’ll get a chance to beat down the league’s bottom feeders (another match-up with UIC looks imminent) to acquire those additional wins.
“I’ll let everyone else figure that stuff out,” Butler Coach Brad Stevens said.
“How you’re playing at the end of the season matters and our guys are playing really well. And the way we scheduled and how we played in the non-conference, I don’t have any regrets over November and December, you won’t find many teams that aren’t losing at Xavier, at Louisville against Duke in the Meadowlands, and we went through a slump where we lost some games and you’re not going to find many teams that don’t do that either, they were all games we could have won, with the exception of one.”
And that’s true- the Bulldogs are getting hot at the right time, riding a six game win streak. Butler has had nine wins streaks of at least five games under Stevens. Butler hasn’t lived up to their #17 preseason national ranking (they shot up to #11 in week one) this year, but they do have some decent wins (Florida State, Washington State) from taking the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii at Christmas time. Unfortunately, they suffered a three game losing streak recently, and also dropped three of four in the pre-conference. Those losses to Evansville and Youngstown St. are really going to hurt them.
“One of the things you do is you stay the course and don’t freak out and lose sight of what you’re about and what you want to be about, and all we did is we got a little better in each game,” Stevens said about the bad times in 2010-11.
“a couple possessions better in each game, and that’s been the difference.”
It also helps the Butler cause that they’re 3-1 versus the top two teams (Cleveland State and Valparaiso) in their conference this season.
“In college basketball, if you’re a split second behind the you’re dead. That’s the difference between being good and not being really good…As far as getting into the tournament, and all the numbers and all the talk we’ll let that stuff play itself out,” Stevens said.
He does a weekly radio segment on Chicagoland Sports Radio.com and Cleveland.com
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