by Kent Sterling
It’s been almost a decade since Butler experienced a season like this one. Sometimes we forget that in the middle of all that excellence through the Collier, Matta, Lickliter, and Stevens years that Butler won only 13 games in 2004-2005, but they did.
That aberrational season was in the Horizon League, so who knows how many games would have been lost against a reconstituted Big East.
What is known is that this first season with Brandon Miller at the helm has ended, and unhappily with a 14-17 record. Like three of the early conference season losses, this was so close – so within Butler’s grasp during the final minutes – that the team might wonder what all that scrapping was for.
Down 45-32, the Bulldogs stormed back through junkyard dog defense and excellent rebounding. The Alex Barlow half court heave at the buzzer would have won the game, as likely would the previous possession that ended in a turnover after a great hustle play of defense by Seton Hall.
Khyle Marshall was outstanding for Butler, scoring 44% of the total points. Kellen Dunham and Alex Barlow had a tough time, combining to hit only 3-21 from the field for a total of seven points.
But this season won’t be remembered for how it ended tonight in Madison Square Garden. Butler was relentless in its desire to fight, and equally consistent in its unsatisfying results. Once the three losses came in overtime to Villanova, DePaul, and Georgetown, the snowball started to roll downhill until the Bulldogs came through the other end of the tunnel with regular season ending wins at DePaul and at Hinkle Fieldhouse against Seton Hall.
A lot of the talk about the Bulldogs this year was about whether Brandon Miller was ready to lead a Big East program built by four special predecessors, and the verdict in the minds of many is not yet ready to be rendered, but in my mind the final three games were huge.
With nothing to play for, Butler continued to believe. They had no chance – zero – to win the Big East Tournament, but still they kept fighting. They came up short tonight after finding success at the end of the regular season, but the fight was there.
A coach unready for the challenge entrusted to Miller might have lost his leadership compass and turned against his team, but Miller stayed the course, and the Bulldogs responded. Miller’s success or failure will have a lot to do with his wins off the court on the recruiting trail. As he learned this year, it’s hard to win when outmanned.
Calling the Bulldogs outmanned isn’t a slight to the current players, but a simple statement of fact. Whether of not these Bulldogs succeed on the court, they will find their way in the real world in large part due to what they learned while responding to the adversity faced this season. If I’m hiring a young man, I’ll take the less gifted bulldog all day.
Butler will move on, re-tool, and succeed. They lose Marshall but return Roosevelt Jones, the rest of the roster, and add four-star power forward Kelan Martin out of Louisville Ballard and 6’7″ Tyler Wideman of Lake Central High School.
This season won’t be remembered fondly by fans like the two National Championship finalists are, but they continued to live without question the legacy instilled by Collier, Matt Howard, Ronald Nored, Matthew Graves, Mike Marshall, and so many others.
When cornered, they fought instead of cowering. The result won’t define the 2013-2014 Bulldogs. Their tenacity will, and future teams will benefit from it.