Butler losing out on at-large bid

BY foxsports • December 9, 2009

Butler is running out of chances.
It was a little more than three years ago, in this identical spot, when little 'ole Butler, the small school in Indianapolis best-known for where "Hoosiers" was shot, burst onto the national scene.

The Bulldogs knocked off Tennessee and Gonzaga to win the Preseason NIT at Madison Square Garden, triggering a three-year run that has given the school a fairly consistent presence in the top 25.

Butler brought everyone back from last season's young NCAA tournament team, so it was only natural Brad Stevens' team was a trendy preseason top 10 pick.

But after missed opportunities in Anaheim in which the Bulldogs lost to Minnesota and Clemson — two teams that have since fallen out of the top 25 — and barely getting past a UCLA club that has lost to three other non-BCS schools — Butler was searching for a victory it could hang its hat on.

The Bulldogs will continue to wait after squandering another opportunity Tuesday night with a 72-65 loss to No. 15 Georgetown in the Jimmy V Classic.

"We've got to change everything because what we're doing isn't working right now," Butler star Gordon Hayward said. "What we've been doing the last nine games hasn't worked."

"We have to play better," Stevens added. "That's our focus."

Hayward said it's the defense.

Forward Matt Howard said the team is not taking anything for granted.

Whatever it is, Stevens' club had better find a cure quickly because all that remains in terms of potential résumé-building wins are back-to-back home games against Ohio State and Xavier in the next 11 days.

Remember, Butler calls the Horizon League home — a conference that may not boast another team in the RPI's top 100 this season. Thus far, the most impressive notch on Butler's belt is a win against Northwestern.

"There's definitely more pressure on us now," Howard admitted.

Butler, which is 6-3 after Tuesday's loss, has played seven of the first nine games away from the friendly confines of Hinkle Fieldhouse.

However, this Butler team just doesn't have that same feel it had last season. At least not at this point.

Hayward and teammate Zach Hahn are two of the nation's elite shooters from long distance, but neither is making more than 30 percent of their 3-pointers this season.

Howard has been a rock inside for the Bulldogs in his first two seasons, but he's been plagued by constant foul trouble and layup-itis — in which he uncharacteristically has been unable to finish around the basket.

Butler will almost certainly fall out of the top 25 Sunday, but Stevens and his team could care less. "It's not the end of the world," Stevens said.

There are still those two games looming, but I'm not sure how much they will mean in the eyes of the NCAA selection committee now that Evan Turner is out for Ohio State and Xavier is a fringe tournament team that has already lost to Marquette, Baylor and Kansas State.

Stevens was cautious while putting together the brutal schedule for a team that still relies heavily on a bunch of under-recruited sophomores such as Hayward and Shelvin Mack.

But there was no way he could spurn opportunities such as the chance to play in the 76 Classic, which boasted the most potent field of any preseason tourney, and also in the Jimmy V Classic in Madison Square Garden against a perennial Big East power such as Georgetown.

"My point in playing people is to live," Stevens said.

Stephen Curry and Davidson followed a similar blueprint a year ago.

The Wildcats beat West Virginia in Madison Square Garden last season, but that was the only quality non-conference victory Bob McKillop's team secured.

They would end up losing to BCS powers Oklahoma, Purdue and Duke.

And after being upset in the Southern Conference tournament, Curry ended up in the NIT.

I spoke to Curry that night — and he barely sounded alive.


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