Last week, a couple of things happened while you were asleep. Butler squeaked by No. 1 seed Pittsburgh in a game where Pittsburgh shot 56 percent from the field and still lost. It’s becoming clear what’s going on for Butler. They’ve grown, they got some great players in there and a fantastic head coach.
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To be honest, some people saw it coming. I remember in 2000, watching a Butler school play Florida tough, until Mike Miller crashed their hopes. Even then, Butler was considered a school on the rise.
Fast forward to 2001, Butler defeated Wake Forest, then led by head coach Thad Matta. Matta left, but the talent didn’t as Todd Lickliter led Butler to their first Sweet 16 since 1961.
Similar to Matta, Lickliter left the Butler program, leaving the job up to 31-year-old Brad Stevens in 2007. Since the Stevens hire, Butler has won a tournament game every year but 2009. What is it that kept Butler alive? What allowed them to keep up success even though they had three coaches in 10 seasons?
For one, all three head coaches were great coaches. Thad Matta has a couple Final Fours under his name at Ohio State, as well as a couple of top 10 draft picks (Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr, Evan Turner) under his name. Matta moved up in the coaching world.
Todd Lickliter didn’t move at all when he traded the Butler job for the Iowa job. Lickliter struggled getting Iowa off the ground, which resulted in his dismissal after three seasons.
For many, Stevens was considered “groomed” for the Butler job when Lickliter brought him in as an assistant in 2001. During Stevens’ time as an assistant, Butler went 131-61 overall. At his time as an assistant, Stevens also got first hand experience recruiting, game management, setting up plays and doing many things that assistant coaches don’t do, preparing him for his eventual takeover of the program.
We also have to discuss Butler’s talent increase. One can say Butler lucked out when Matt Howard decided to leave Purdue and Xavier alone and headed for Butler. In his four seasons, Howard has been the consistent star for the team.
In 2008, Butler struck gold when pulling in a slew of three star talent in Shelvin Mack, Ronald Nored and Gordon Hayward. Hayward turned out to be a superstar, leading Butler to the NCAA title game last season, and becoming the first top 10 pick in Butler’s history when he was selected ninth by the Utah Jazz.
In 2009, Butler snagged 6'11" Andrew Smith, who’s proven to be a solid player opposite of Matt Howard, and many expect him and Mack to take over once Howard leaves. In this past year’s recruiting class all players have played significant roles for this Butler team. Next season, Butler brings in another three star, three pieces by Roosevelt Jones.
However, Butler did miss Cody Zeller, a 6'10" five-star recruit. He did go to rival Indiana. With Indiana and Tom Creen slowly rebuilding with their 2012 class (considered a top three class), one must wonder if Butler can continue to be the best school in Indiana.
My thoughts? Yes they can. As long as Stevens is leading the charge.
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