Butler Taking On The Big East

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There is nothing college basketball fans enjoy more than an underdog or Cinderella story.  One of the biggest Cinderella stories in recent memory is the Butler Bulldogs pulling off births in back-to-back National Championship games in 2010 and 2011.  While they lost both games, it legitimized their place as one of college basketballs best mid-major programs.  Last season, the Bulldogs switched conferences from the Horizon League to the Atlantic 10 for the 2012-2013 season.  Their run in the Atlantic 10 was short, as they are changing conferences again starting in July 2013 to the new Big East.  It is a bold move for Butler because they will play more competitive teams night in and night out.  However, the Bulldogs proved they can compete with anyone.

It is hard to talk about Butler and not mention the young, miraculous head coach Brad Stevens.  Butler did have a significant amount of success before Stevens.  They won the Horizon League Tournament four times in 1997, 1998, 2000, and 2001.  Stevens would bring them to new heights.  He is touted by many as one of the best young coaches in college basketball.  On April 8th, 2013, Stevens signed a contract extension with Butler through the 2021-2022 season.  This did not stop teams like Clemson, Oregon, and Wake Forest from trying to lure Stevens away from the Bulldogs.  In March of 2013, UCLA fired their coach Ben Howland.  Stevens was on the top of UCLA’s exclusive list, offering to pay him between $2.5 million and $3 million.  It is a dream coaching job, and the most historic college basketball program.  While there were numerous rumors that Stevens was negotiating with UCLA, he turned down the job.  Stevens has immense loyalty to the program that gave him his first shot at coaching.  It is rare to find such dedication, especially to small schools that cannot afford to pay coaches top dollar. 

Coming into the 2013-14 season, Butler will have lost two of their best players due to graduation.  Guard, Rotnei Clark, led Butler in scoring with 16.9 PPG.  The other big senior the Bulldogs lost was second leading scorer, C Andrew Smith (11.3 PPG).  With these two playmakers out, Sophomore F Roosevelt Jones will have to pick up the slack.  As a freshman he averaged 10.1 PPG and 5.6 RPG.  Another player to keep an eye out for this season is sophomore G Kellen Dunham.  Dunham only averaged 9.5 PPG, but he was a four star recruit coming out of Pendleton Heights High School in Indiana.  In his second season for the Bulldogs Dunham is looking to take on a bigger role. 

While the existing players on the Butler roster need to have a big impact this year, the incoming freshman have to contribute as well.  Stevens recruited four three star players in the 2013 class, two guards and two forwards.  It was crucial for Butler to get some forward depth because the Big East is a physical conference.  6’8 Nolan Berry and 6’8 Andrew Chrabascz are expected to help right away with offense and defense in the post.  Going forward Butler is looking to sign 6’10 forward Andrew Lyles from Arsenal Technical High School in Indianapolis, Indiana.  Lyles, a five star prospect in the 2014 class, narrowed his choices to Butler, Kentucky, UCLA, Louisville, and Duke in February.  He has been on the record saying Stevens is a great coach.  It will be interesting to see if Butler can sign a prospect of this magnitude, but with their culture of winning and a switch to the Big East, it is possible.  Plus it is Lyles’ hometown school.

All in all, the move for Butler to the Big East could prove to be an immediate challenge.  Having to face the likes of Georgetown, Villanova, and Marquette will be grinding, but if there is any coach that can accomplish this, it is Brad Stevens.  During his tenure, he has progressively transformed Butler from a cute Cinderella mid-major team, to a national powerhouse that is ready to compete in one of the premier conferences in the country.