HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 04: Shabazz Napier #13 of the Connecticut Huskies passes the ball against Andrew Smith #44 and Matt Howard #54 of the Butler Bulldogs during the National Championship Game of the 2011 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament at Reliant Stadium on April 4, 2011 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Chris Steppig-Pool/Getty Images)
Purdue fans seem to take one of two views towards Butler's recent success. They either view it as a good story of an excellent, fundamentally sound team succeeding against the world of one-and-dones, or they take a more bitter view. Some Purdue fans see Butler and there is jealousy. After all, they made the Final Four in the two years that we were supposed to, only to have the universe conspire against us once again. I am jealous of their success, and wish it was ours. Still, I don't hate them. quite the opposite, in fact.
I am a basketball purist, so I love Butler. I love Hinkle Fieldhouse and describe it as if God Himself designed a basketball arena. To me, Butler plays the game the way it should be played. They've had great success the past two seasons by doing just that, and it ended up resulting in two improbable runs that almost led to two National Championships. In what was supposed to be our time, they stole the title of Most Successful Team in the state. I like them because they're good, fun to watch, and they aren't dicks about it. Our women's golf team has been excellent with their golf balls and distance golf balls of late as a Butler-like standard of excellence for us.
They were humble about it too. It is very hard to hate on a program like Butler. To purists like me, their style is very similar to Purdue's in that they value the team over the individual. Their roots are in good old-fashioned Indiana jump shooters and hustle. Had they shot the ball as well as they normally do (hell, if they shot even half as well) they would very likely be the defending National Champion. I do envy their success because I know it should have been us in their place had Rob not gotten hurt, but I have no problem emulating it. They've consistently been the best team in the state over the last decade, and even though they have struggled this season, they are still the standard-bearer for basketball in Indiana. Making one Final Four at a program like Butler can be a fluke, but making two in a row shows they are building a spectacular program, because even the best in the country struggle to make consecutive Final Fours.
2011-12 record: 4-6, 0-1 Horizon League
2010-11 record: 28-10, 13-5 Horizon League (National Runner-Up)
Blog Representation: Victory Firelight
Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 37-16 (Butler has won two straight)
Last Purdue win: 63-54 on 12/19/1998 at Market Square Arena
Last Butler win: 68-65 on 12/16/2006 at Conseco Fieldhouse
Over time, we have dominated the all-time series, but in the few meetings since Butler returned to prominence in 1997 the Bulldogs have been the better team. Nine of Butler's ten NCAA tournament appearances have come since 1997, with their only previous appearance coming in 1962. In that time they've reached four Sweet 16's, two Final Fours, and were robbed of an NCAA appearance in 2002 when they had a fantastic start and went 25-5 during the regular season. I remember that team well. They came into Mackey Arena and never panicked when they trailed by double digits in the second half. They came back to win 74-68 and get their first win at Purdue since 1953.
This year's Butler team is not the same as the last two years, but when you lose your top three players to the NBA, that is expected. They've struggled, but two of their losses have come in overtime on the road. They also lost by three last week at Ball State, and the Cardinals are improving. They challenged Xavier, falling behind early before making a comeback late. They still lost by 12, but they fought back to make it a six point game with 10 minutes left after trailing by 16 at the half.
The Bulldogs are not going to make the NCAA Tournament unless they win the Horizon League tourney, but don't count them out. They've taken some lumps in losses to Louisville, Indiana, and Xavier, and they still have to play Purdue, at Gonzaga, and at Stanford. They're already 0-1 in the Horizon League with an overtime loss at home against Valparaiso.
Butler has balance this year, but they lack a go-to player like Gordon Heyward and Matt Howard were. Khyle Marshall, Chrishawn Hopkins, Andrew Smith, and Chase Stigall each average around 10 points to score the bulk of their 66 points per game. Stigall is simply the latest in their long line of New Castle High School shooters. Like Zach Hahn, Darnell Archey, and many others before him, Stigall is a shooter that can get hot from long range. He's struggled with his shot this year, hitting only 22 of 71 attempts from long range.
The one major holdover from both final four teams is Ronald Nored. The savvy point guard averages over five assists per game, and he can score when necessary. Both he and Lewis Jackson should put on a very nice show of how to run the point. Both are senior point guards that have a ton of experience in dictating the tempo of their respective teams.
Roosevelt Jones and Kameron Woods have come on as decent bench players in the post to help Marshall and Smith, but none of this quartet is as dangerous as Howard and Heyward were. Smith is a 6'11" junior center that could present so match up problems for us against Jacob Lawson, Sandi Marcius, and Travis Carroll.
Butler is the type of team that is always very dangerous, even when they are down like they are now. They have one of the best coaches in all of college basketball, so you know they are going to be well coached. They take care of the basketball, and they can go for stretches where they can shoot the lights out of the gym. Their three-point shooting has not been there like it has been in the past. It is shocking to see Butler shooting worse than 28% from long range. Normally this is a team above 40%, and they are capable of bombing away. The shooting woes they had against UConn in the title game seem to have carried over.
That doesn't mean they aren't a threat. A team of shooters can always get hot. Their record shows that a victory over them won't have the same value as in years past, but I know Butler. Beating them will not be easy. If Smith establishes himself in the post (and he can draw our defenders outside with his 5 of 21 3-point shooting) it could open things up on the perimeter for Stigall. Hopkins is an excellent finisher at the rim too. He can create his own shot. He has come on well after not playing a lot last season.
This should be a Purdue win. Butler is shooting worse than 39% from the field overall and they are only 64% from the line. I am not considering this an easy one, however, because this team can turn it on like most Butler teams. They just lack the experience that the last two years of Butler basketball had. Eventually, things will start to click for this team. Once their shots start falling again (and it's Butler. They will fall) they will get a lot better in a big hurry.