Butler Basketball: At-Large Bid Hopes Still Alive

“We’ve got to change everything we’re doing right now. What we’ve been doing the past nine games hasn’t worked, so we have to go back to the drawing board and change it.”

Butler sophomore Gordon Hayward told me that following the Bulldogs’ 72-65 loss to No. 13 Georgetown at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night. It struck me as a bit dramatic; after all, Butler was 6-3 and ranked 20th in the country.

But Hayward, despite his 24 points and eight rebounds, was frustrated. His team, ranked No. 10 in the preseason coaches’ poll, failed to win any of its match-ups with other ranked teams, dropping games to Minnesota and Clemson in Anaheim before falling to the Hoyas. The team that exceeded expectations last year en route to a 26-6 record, another Horizon League regular season title, and a berth in the NCAA Tournament, was struggling.

The media was starting to question whether Butler could still earn an at-large bid, as they did a season ago. The Bulldogs’ next two games were certainly going to be important. Yesterday, they took a step in the right direction by beating No. 15 Ohio State 74-66. (Hayward again had 24, and shot much better from the field.)

Skeptics will be quick to point out that it was a Buckeye squad playing without Evan Turner. Does that lessen the quality of the win? Absolutely, but let’s wait and see how Ohio State fares without its star. If the Buckeyes can adjust and start winning some games, Butler’s ‘W’ will look better.

Butler’s next two opponents are Xavier and UAB (it also has a yet-to-be-determined BracketBusters game in late February). Neither is ranked, but they’d still be quality victories. My point is, those who have written off the Bulldogs are making a mistake. The Butler program has earned national respect and should get some leeway come March. I’m not saying a third-place finish in the Horizon League will get them a bid, but the committee won’t overlook the fact that eight of Butler’s 12 nonconference games are away from home.

Here’s head coach Brad Stevens’ take: “I look at every win as really meaningful. I know sometimes the media doesn’t. They just count certain wins as meaningful and others as not.” He noted his squad went to Northwestern and handed the Wildcats their only loss. “We’ll see what’s meaningful at the end of the year,” he added.

The next two games will be very important for Butler. After the loss to Georgetown, many felt those games would be irrelevant.

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