2011 March Madness: Is Butler's Brad Stevens the Best Coach in Basketball?

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2011 March Madness: Is Butler's Brad Stevens the Best Coach in Basketball?
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March Madness 2011 has provided plenty of surprises, none bigger than a second-straight Final Four appearance by the Butler Bulldogs.

Its time to throw the "mid-major" or "Cinderella" label out of the picture. Butler is quickly becoming a basketball powerhouse due to the work of one man.

Brad Stevens, the current head coach at Butler, is showing the foundation of how a program needs to be built.

After beginning his career as an assistant, he took over the Butler program at a young age. Though he is only 34 years old, Stevens has proved to be the best coach in college basketball.

Whether you question my intelligence of basketball or my sanity for that matter, the success Stevens has found the past two years at Butler has convinced me otherwise.

Brad Stevens does not have the amount of resources the major powerhouses in college basketball have. This all begins with recruiting.

Butler is at a disadvantage from the standpoint of recruiting because of the lower-tier conference they play in. The typical talented college athlete wants immediate exposure to a program in a top conference and wants the quickest path to the NBA.

We need to credit both Stevens and his scouting department for finding some great, unknown talent. Whether it was Gordon Hayward (first-round selection of the Jazz), Shelvin Mack or Matt Howard, Stevens gets the best out of his players each and every night.

The last few years Butler has taken their talents to the Big Dance. However, success in the tournament was not easy, as Butler had won one game in their first two stints under Stevens in the tournament.

The 2009-2010 season was different though, as Butler capped off a magical run all the way to the National Championship.

This winning streak included wins over two prestigious head coaches (Jim Boeheim and Tom Izzo) which resulted with a berth in the National Championship game.

The young Butler squad held their own in the game against an experienced Duke Blue Devils team. Though they just came up short, everybody in the nation came away impressed with the Bulldogs.

Everyone was going to wait another season to see if the success could be repeated. After all, the typical Cinderella team has their magical run and then settles back to being a mid-major.

Butler is a different story. The season began on a surprising note, with the team not firing on all cylinders early on.

The team finished with a 13-5 record in the Horizon and won the conference championship. Despite their success, they were 1-3 against tournament teams this year and seemed poised for a short stint in the tournament.

Try telling that to Stevens and his scrappy squad. The defensive performances of Butler have been astonishing throughout the tournament.

The offensive numbers haven't been the most eye-catching, but when it mattered most, both Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard made the clutch shots that were needed.

For two straight years Butler knocked off a No. 1 seed from the Big East conference. This year's victim was Pittsburgh, who supposedly had the easiest run to Houston.

Pittsburgh's defeat had its share of controversy, which in the end didn't matter to Brad Stevens. He knew his team knocked out the most talented team in the bracket and increased the team's chances of returning to the Final Four.

The momentum carried them to a convincing win over Wisconsin. Butler took control of the game early and never looked back. Stevens' game-plan is similar to Bo Ryan's, yet he utilized enough offensive possessions to put the game away early in the second half.

Butler's win over the Florida Gators might have been a result of another great performance by Mack. In the end, Brad Stevens' team was more battle-tested than Billy Donovan's squad. The Gators dominated on the offensive glass early in the first half, but only led the Bulldogs by one at the end of the first half.

After extending a lead to double digits in the second half, the patience of the Bulldogs allowed them to force the game into overtime, where they eventually won.

Butler has reached the Final Four for two seasons in a row, which didn't seem imaginable for a school in Indiana not named Purdue or Notre Dame.

The beautiful part of the story is they can no longer be considered the underdog. There is no team in the nation wishing to play a team coached by Brad Stevens.

Their defensive style allows them to compete with any team in the country, and the experience of playing in this environment will be in their favor.

The job Brad Stevens has done with Butler is better than any other program in the country and has made his mark as the nation's best coach by turning a mid-major into a program on the rise.

I will leave you tonight with this quote by ESPN columnist Pat Forde: "How good was Stevens' coaching job this year? I covered opener at Louisville, and Butler looked sub-NIT. By March, Final Four-bound."

 

I am a Featured Columnist for BleacherReport.com. Follow me at twitter.com/MattMiselis

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