Butler needs to win league tourney

Butler came within inches of winning the national championship last season.

Now, the Bulldogs almost certainly will need to win the Horizon League tournament just to return to the Big Dance.

Brad Stevens’ team lost again on Sunday, falling to 14-7 overall – which isn’t all that bad considering the nonconference schedule the Bulldogs staff put together.

But Butler is just 6-3 and tied for third place in league play after being swept by Milwaukee.

It was clear this wouldn’t be the same team after it lost lottery pick Gordon Hayward, but the Bulldogs still returned Shelvin Mack, Matt Howard and Ronald Nored – three key pieces from last year’s Cinderella story.

Howard is having the best season of his four-year career, and while Mack has struggled shooting the ball, the issue isn’t on the offensive end.

It’s the defense.

Wright State beat the Bulldogs about a week ago and shot 45 percent from the field. On Saturday, Milwaukee shot 54.4 percent in its overtime win.

Butler will travel to play first-place Valparaiso this weekend, but even if the Bulldogs come back and win the regular-season title, it won’t be enough.

The Diamond Head Classic title appeared to have put Butler back in the mix for an at-large bid, but three quick losses in Horizon play have put them back on the outside of the bubble.

The only way to get back? A win on March 8 in the league tourney championship game.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: It’s not even up for debate. First, the Texas Longhorns, led by Jordan Hamilton’s 27 points, absolutely crushed a red-hot Texas A&M squad in Austin. Then, Rick Barnes’ team, after trailing 18-3 in Phog Allen Fieldhouse, came back to pull off the upset and end Kansas’ 69-game winning streak. J’Covan Brown finished with 23 and Hamilton added 17 in the win.

STUD (PLAYER OF WEEK): We’re going to give it to a pair of teammates in the Pacific Northwest: Washington’s inside-outside duo of Isaiah Thomas and Matthew Bryan-Amaning. Thomas averaged 21.5 points, nine assists and six boards in a home sweep of the Arizona schools, while MBA went for a career-high 30 points and grabbed nine rebounds against ASU and had 18 points and seven boards in the win over Arizona.

MOST IMPRESSIVE WIN: The easy pick is Texas over Kansas in Lawrence, but because we already gave the Jayhawks the ultimate honor of the week, we’re going to go with Villanova’s victory at the Carrier Dome against Syracuse. Maalik Wayns had 21, and each Corey – Fisher and Stokes – had 16 points in the win.

SHOWCASE PERFORMANCE: Ohio State freshman big man Jared Sullinger was in hostile territory, in Champaign against Illinois against a pair of veterans in Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis. However, Sullinger didn’t disappoint and dominated to the tune of 27 points and 16 boards as the Buckeyes stayed perfect.

WEEK TO FORGET: We’re giving the nod to Gonzaga over Syracuse. The Orange at least lost to a pair of ranked teams. Mark Few’s Zags dropped a pair on the road to Santa Clara and in overtime against San Francisco. Gonzaga is 13-7 overall, 3-2 in WCC play (which is tied with Santa Clara for third place) and will need to do some work to get in position for an at-large bid come March.

DUD: Baylor getting embarrassed in Waco against Kansas. It was truly never a game as the Jayhawks dominated a talented Bears team from start to finish. Baylor’s leading scorer, LaceDarius Dunn, was just 3 of 9 in the loss and finished with 13 points.

WORST LOSS: Wake Forest getting pounded in Atlanta by a Georgia Tech club that hasn’t exactly set the world on fire this season. The final was 74-39 – as the Demon Deacons scored their fewest points since a 44-34 setback to North Carolina all the way back in 1959.

MID-MAJOR TEAM OF THE WEEK: VCU – The Rams had a huge road win against Old Dominion to move into a first-place tie with Hofstra in the CAA. Shaka Smart’s team has won six straight and had just six turnovers against ODU. The Rams also knocked off Georgia State and are now 15-5 overall and 7-1 in league play.

FEELING SORRY FOR: Kansas sophomore Thomas Robinson – He’s one of the nicest kids I’ve ever come across, and he’s gone through a brutal stretch. His mother died of an apparent heart attack Friday night, just weeks after his grandmother passed away. Robinson, whose grandfather also died in the past week, opted to play Saturday against Texas with a heavy heart – but played just eight foul-hampered minutes in the loss.

THE STREAK: North Carolina continued its home dominance over Clemson with its 55th consecutive win in Chapel Hill over the Tigers. Clemson was tied with 7:45 left, but managed just one field goal the rest of the way and new coach Brad Brownell was indoctrinated to The Streak – one in which Clemson has never beaten UNC in Chapel Hill.

UNBEATENS: After Kansas lost at home to Texas, there are just two teams left without a loss: Ohio State and San Diego State. The Buckeyes will host Purdue on Tuesday, while San Diego State travels to Provo with a date with Jimmer Fredette and BYU.

STILL LOOKING: We’re going to have to start calling it Centenary Watch. The Gents lost a pair to Louisiana-Lafayette and Oral Roberts. Next up this week are road contests against IPFW and Oakland.

WEEK’S TOP MATCHUPS

1. San Diego State at BYU, Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET – Who would have figured this would be the headliner of the week, but it’s the undefeated Aztecs going on the road and facing The Jimmer.

2. Purdue at Ohio State, Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET – The top-ranked team in the nation goes up against Purdue – and it’ll also be a matchup of arguably the top two big men in the country: Buckeyes freshman Jared Sullinger and Purdue senior JaJuan Johnson.

3. Missouri at Texas, Saturday at 9 p.m. ET – The Longhorns just came off a huge week, but they will go up against the pressure of Mizzou. It’s a matchup of Top 25 teams and also two of the elite clubs in the Big 12.

4. Georgia at Kentucky, Saturday at 4 p.m. ET – The Bulldogs got Kentucky down in Athens; can John Calipari’s team return the favor in Lexington?

5. Saint Mary’s at Gonzaga, Thursday at 11 p.m. ET – The Gaels could use a resumé win while the Zags just need to get back on track after getting swept on the road against Santa Clara and San Francisco last week.

6. Xavier at Richmond, Saturday at noon ET – This could wind up being a battle of the two top teams in the A-10.

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