Last year I wrote a blog stating that the Butler Bulldogs should now be perceived as a major program after their run to the Final 4.
This year they have more than proven me to be a prophet.
After Butler’s 74-71 overtime victory over Florida in the Southeast Regional final, the Bulldogs reached their second consecutive Final 4. In the last 11 years only Florida, Maryland and UCLA have done that exact same feat. Those are heavy hitters folks.
Funny thing about this year’s team is that they were on the verge of not making it back to the dance. After last year’s improbable run the team suffered a few setbacks. Super Sophomore Gordon Haywood went to the NBA and combined with their heartbreaking loss to Duke The Bulldogs suffered from a long Final 4 hangover.
They came out of the gate super slow going 4-4 with huge losses to Louisville and Duke and a close road loss to Xavier. After they seemed to pull it together by winning the Diamond Head classic in Hawaii they suffered a 24-point thrashing at the hands of Milwaukee-Wisconsin and then lost three straight conference games including an embarrassing loss to 9-21 Youngstown State. At 14-9 the Bulldogs were battered and bloodied and seemed destined for the NIT than the NCAA and winning the Horizon League title was their only sure bet.
So naturally they picked themselves off of the mat and kept going.
Just like last year’s 24 game winning streak, Butler has reeled off 13 straight games including their 4 wins in the NCAA tournament. Butler has become masterful in close game situations, as 9 of the 13 wins have come by 8 points or less including outlasting a much bigger and stronger Florida team.
Butler does it with defense limiting two opponents to over 70 in their last 14 games. Against Florida they outrebounded the Gators 36-33 and held them to 3-14 from behind the arc.
This is a testament to Brad Stevens’ brilliance as a head coach. You can make the case that Stevens is currently the best coach in America after this four year run in Indianapolis.
After losing his star to the NBA and watching his team become the target of every mid-major program, Stevens just kept it moving and kept pushing his players. Once Haywood left, Shelvin Mack stepped in to take on the bulk of the scoring responsibilities. Matt Howard shook off a poor NCAA tournament last year and as been great down low, and Ronald Nored is still the defensive beast this year coming off of the bench.
While most coaches would have panicked after a mid-season lull, Stevens stayed the course and let his team figure it out and it paid off. In doing so Stevens now heads to his second Final 4 and is the youngest coach to ever reach two Final 4’s. He now has the same amount of appearances in the Final 4 as John Calipari, Gary Williams, and Bob Huggins and has more appearances than Thad Motta, Tubby Smith and Bill Self. That’s not a bad bragging point.
12 months ago after the shot that almost was, we wondered if we would ever see Butler come close to the opportunity that it had to win it all that night. We wondered could the little school from the little Horizon League conference, or any mid-major for that matter, replicate what had almost happened that night.
12 months later we get to find out.
Once and for all Butler proves their aint nothing small about their program. You can officially remove the mid from their vernacular. These guys are just major.