At the time, it seemed like a great opportunity for head coach Brad Stevens and the Butler basketball program. They were given the chance to again face the team that just barely beat them to win the 2010 National Championship.
Butler would get to face Duke in December on a neutral court in Newark, NJ. It was a game—and location—that the program could not possibly have access to prior to their Final Four run in Indianapolis.
What was the only obstacle in order to make the Duke game happen? It was a simple rescheduling of a game already on their schedule—against Horizon league rival Illinois-Chicago.
When did the game get rescheduled to? February 19, the same weekend that Bracket Busters happens to fall on.
It was a very sensible decision—from both a financial and program-building standpoint—at the time. Taking the Duke game was a must for the Butler team and program.
Ideally, the game with UIC would not have to be moved to Bracket Buster weekend, but finding mutual open weeks/weekends in college basketball is very difficult.
As a result, Butler will be forced to miss out on the Bracket Buster game. It comes at a least opportune time—when the Bulldogs are clinging to their NCAA at-large lives.
Butler is currently 19-9 overall, and 11-5 in the Horizon League. They are tied with Milwaukee—a team who beat them twice this season—for third place.
Normally, five losses in the Horizon would completely destroy a team’s at-large chances. It just about did for Butler as well. Their fifth loss came to Youngstown State—who has won just seven other games all season.
However, Butler followed that horrible loss with an impressive win at Cleveland State—at 23-5, the league’s most viable at-large candidate. That win began the Bulldogs’ current five-game winning streak and gives them a fighting chance to back their way in to the NCAA tournament.
Butler’s non-conference schedule was very challenging, thanks in part to the Duke game mentioned above. They lost that game, as well as on the road against Louisville and Xavier—two surefire tournament teams. A loss at home to Evansville seemed catastrophic at the time, but they have been a .500 team in the Missouri Valley, which is respectable.
Most of Butler’s profile strength comes from their three days in Hawaii at the Diamond Head Classic in December. The Bulldogs beat Utah, Florida State and Washington State to win the tournament and give them some quality wins to present to the selection committee.
While those non-conference wins are solid, they could still use another one to give themselves that additional late season boost that the selection committee values.
Even though they were struggling (14-8 overall, 6-4) at the time the matchups were announced on January 31, Butler would still have likely been given a quality opponent for television appeal.
Northern Iowa or Wichita State would have been possibilities, since they were slated to play home games and Butler was slated to play on the road after hosting Siena last year. Playing—and winning—at Wichita State would have been an enormous boost to the Bulldogs’ tournament profile.
Other outside possibilities would have included playing at Old Dominion or Charleston. Beating either of those teams—ODU in particular—would have also been a significant boost for Butler.
Unfortunately for Butler—and for mid-major followers around the nation—they will not be seen in a Bracket Buster game on ESPN this weekend. The exposure hit can be withstood, especially given the Bulldogs’ rise to Gonzaga-like status.
However, the hit that Butler will take on improving their chances to return to the NCAA tournament—where they had such outstanding success last year—may be felt around Indianapolis until next season.
Information on the Butler-Duke matchup and rescheduling with Illinois-Chicago from Chris Littman, SBnation.com