Where Does Butler Go From Here?

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by Peter Christian

The Butler Bulldogs accomplished a boatload in 2010. They had the longest winning streak of the season. They knocked off the heavily favored Syracuse Orange in the Sweet 16. They plowed their way through their bracket all the way to the National Championship and gave Duke a serious run for their money. They came within an inch or two of hitting a game winning shot to win the title. Now what?

Now they drive the 6 miles from Lucas Oil Stadium to the Butler University campus and wait for the Basketball Gods to deal them their hand. Does Butler make the leap that Gonzaga never could? Does Butler become a mid-major version of Duke? Can they build on this solid foundation and become the program that every MVC, Horizon, MAC, WAC, MWC, WCC and all the other tweener conferences aspire to be? Or do they get imploded; coach bolting to bigger pastures, star players heading to the League and this team simply gets remembered for coming up just short?

Butler is at a major crossroads as a program and the next few months will ultimately dictate how high the ceiling for their program is. Brad Stevens is an extremely hot commodity and will be at least mentioned in every athletic department that has a vacant head coaching position. He’s 32 years old and just took his under-recruited squad to the wire against one of the best college programs in the nation that featured 1 pre-season All-American and 1 2nd Team All-American in addition to a Gold Medal winning coach that has been to 8 National Championships (winning 4).

He’s kind of a big deal.

There are programs out there that will blow his mind with the dollar signs they offer him. If he goes, the program may not be crippled but it won’t continue to rise. However, that’s not the only worry. Butler’s 3 best players are underclassmen. Matt Howard has 1 year of eligibility left, Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack each have 2. While Haywood is considered to be the only true NBA prospect on the team, weirder things have happened to see college kids get overwhelmed with the attention and make silly decisions. If any of them opt for the NBA Draft, the Butler squad will also be taking a step backwards.

If the team stays together, however, they would have the opportunity to do something great. In fact, I think they can be just like Duke. Well, not like 2010 Duke that everyone hates, but like the Duke that the public did like.

I would compare this Butler team to the Duke team that lost the 1990 National Championship game to UNLV. Duke was overmatched and got blown out by the juggernaut Runnin’ Rebels but kept their core (in a different era, granted) and came back the next season as a more refined, more focused team and beat UNLV in the National Semifinals and then took down Kansas for the crown. Now, I know that Duke was in a better conference and still had a history of basketball success but it wasn’t until the late 80’s that they became a true powerhouse. Butler has that opportunity. They can use this tournament run to get better recruits, to build a winning tradition and take the next step. They can be a national champion.

I know the doubters will point to this tournament’s unpredictability and the early exits by some of the favorites as the reason why Butler made it to the precipice but that isn’t Butler’s fault either. They don’t have to fall back into the abyss like George Mason, in fact, they shouldn’t be considered a “Cinderella.” If anything, Butler was under-seeded. They were ranked #8 nationally prior to the tournament, yet received a 5 seed while 9 teams ranked below them received higher seeds (Villanova, New Mexico, Purdue, Georgetown, Wisconsin, Pitt, Maryland, Baylor and Vanderbilt) and none of them made it to the Final Four. In fact only one of those teams made it to the Elite 8 (Baylor) and one other made it to the Sweet 16 (Purdue). Two of those teams didn’t even make it out of the first round (Georgetown and Vanderbilt). If the team stays intact, Butler should open next season as one of the top 3 teams in the nation and should realistically be favored to win the entire tournament.

Butler was only inches away this season. If they follow Duke’s footsteps from the late 80’s, they can reach the top of the mountain and carve their way into becoming one of the nation’s best basketball programs on a yearly basis.

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  1. paulmbanks says

    Thank you…for mentioning how underseeded Butler was, I beat them drum all week and no one listened. Good analogy with late 80s/early 90s Duke. A couple reporters brought that up to Kryzyzewski this week at press conferences

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