Last night, Butler beat Gonzaga in the Battle of the Bulldogs at historic* Hinkle Fieldhouse.
If you, like me, missed watching it live and are just catching up this morning, take a few minutes to watch the video below. Maybe watch it a few times.
What jumps out at you?
- The really poor inbounds pass.
- The presence of mind of Roosevelt Jones to not panic and just take the ball and make a play.
- The high degree of difficulty of the shot Jones makes to win the game.
- The bedlam that ensues on the court after the basket.
- Dickie V shouting Dickie V things.
There’s a lot of college basketball wonderfulness to behold in those 20 seconds of video.
But look closer.
As my Twitter friend Jeff instructed me to do, watch Brad Stevens. What do you notice?
You notice Stevens’ expression and body language not change one iota during the play. If you did not know who he was coaching for, you might think he was the coach of Gonzaga watching his team lose.
As the wild action on the court is unfolding, and as the chaos ensues after the shot goes in, Stevens’ face stays the same, his arms stay folded, and he simply turns to walk towards his coaching counterpart Mark Few.
You know why? Because Stevens has been there before. And he’s been there in much bigger games and situations than this.
You know why? Because Butler is no longer just some cute story or “mid-major” or overachieving little guy. They, like Gonzaga, are simply a damn good basketball program that consistently produces damn good teams … occasionally producing great ones.
The amazing Stevens, with the poise of his body language, emphatically drove that point home last night (for those who needed to have it driven home).
Is this particular Butler team a great one? We don’t know yet. But as Ari Kaufman mentioned last night, “Name one school with four better wins than Butler this season: IU, Marquette, UNC and Gonzaga.”
Time will tell if this year’s Bulldogs can reach the heights of the Matt Howard-Shelvin Mack-Gordon Hayward teams. But we need no more time to understand how good this program is.
So let’s stop “praising” Butler with back-handed compliments, like the one Jon Washburn described this morning. Referring to the announcers in last night’s game he said:
These guys are trying…but they know nothing. Heaven forbid we ever say Butler is talented. They are only smart, physical, and well coached. Dunham was recruited by IU, Wisconsin, Kansas, and Michigan. Think Vitale knows that? NBA scouts liked Dunham more than all but one other player at the Maui invitational – McAdoo from UNC who is gonna be a top five pick. But Butler isn’t talented…yet just try hard.
These Bulldogs – and, in fact, all of the Bulldogs teams of recent memory – are smart, physical, well-coached, and talented.
In a day and age when conference affiliation means very little, it seems silly to continue looking at the Butlers, the Gonzagas, and the Creightons of the college hoops world as the “little guy” simply because they don’t play in BCS conferences.
Yes, they are “underdogs” in the sense of having less money and fewer resources than the big conference boys. But that only makes their achievements more impressive and should garner them more respect, not passing interest and back-handed compliments.
Fortunately, we’re getting there. Consider:
- Butler versus Gonzaga was a nationally televised game last night that a lot of folks were interested in.
- Butler, a school that has reached two title games in the past handful of years, rushed the court after a win over Gonzanga – showing their proper respect for a terrific program.
- Butler’s coach felt no need for histrionics after his team’s thrilling victory.
Last night was a really good night for college basketball.
As an Indiana fan, I am all too familiar with Butler’s terrific program. And, frankly, I’m a fan. Not because they’re the underdog, but because they’re good. Damn good. Year in, year out.
Slowly but surely I think the rest of the nation is starting to wake up to that reality too.
* – Hinkle Fieldhouse must always be preceded by the word “historic.” It’s sportwriter and sportscaster law.