Butler lost to Nebraska last night in the opening round of a tournament the Bulldogs never wanted to play in.
Expectations are higher than that at Hinkle Fieldhouse. Butler is one of just a few teams to play in and win at least one game during the past four NCAA Tournaments, so a trip to the NIT is seen as a stark step backwards.
Fans are worried this rare losing season is the beginning of slippage they have always worried might happen – as though the Bulldogs success has been little more than a 20 year long run of great luck whose eventual end is certain.
Don’t sweat it. Heaters like this don’t happen at the craps table or basketball court. Programs win consistently because of a cultural discipline at its core, and “The Butler Way” is one of the best known – and most successful – in college basketball.
The Bulldogs will be back – and quickly. LaVall Jordan has deep Butler roots, spent four years playing for very successful Butler teams (with three trips to the NCAA Tournament), served as an assistant at Butler and Iowa before joining John Beilein’s staff at Michigan for six years. He’s an effective leader, and a great developer of guards.
Paul Jorgensen and Nate Fowler will graduate, and while they will be missed, fans should be very confident as Kamar Baldwin, Jordan Tucker, Joey Brunk, Aaron Thompson, Sean McDermott, Joey Brunk, Henry Baddley, and others return. Add Khalif Battle and John-Michael Mulloy to the returnees, and that’s a very solid Big East roster.
While finishing in the cellar of the Big East is never good, Butler was only two games out of a tie for third. If the Bulldogs scored just one more point in regulation in what became OT losses to St. John’s and Providence, Butler gets to third. If they hold on to the 10-point lead they choked on during the final four minutes against Xavier, Butler finishes in 3rd by themselves.
The point is that while the results this season were comparatively putrid, the road back to those destinations fans have become accustomed can be short and sweet.
The pieces are in place for Butler to take a step up, and they’ll do that next season.