IBJNews

Butler's basketball success as a 'mid-major' a rare feat

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

Butler coach Brad Stevens never wanted to play the copycat game.

So the young coach with the old-school approach sought players with a relentless work ethic and a preference for teamwork. He brought in defenders with a penchant for making 3-pointers and guys who would stay long enough to teach their young teammates the key lessons.

It's a rare approach in a world increasingly ruled by one-and-dones.

"I think you have to stay true to what you believe in," Stevens said. "You admire people's blueprints and you're always trying to learn how to become better at what you do. We're not exactly like those other (non-BCS) schools. We just have to find our niche and sell it."

The Bulldogs are one of a handful of "mid-major" teams that have carved out a spot on the national map with a simple strategy: You win by being yourself.

Xavier and Gonzaga were there before Butler. George Mason made a brief appearance with its 2006 Final Four run, and it's almost certain more schools will join the pack.

Suddenly, schools that once relied on the big boys' leftovers are recruiting their own big-time players and getting more television opportunities because the networks need to fill air time. All those NCAA tourney upsets have shown how much parity exists, and those who doubt whether non-BCS schools can win national titles only have to be reminded of the close calls by George Mason, Memphis and Butler.

Getting attention is one thing.

Maintaining success is a tricker proposition.

Power conference schools balk at the idea of playing nonconference road games, especially ones they could lose. If they're going to play a Butler, it's going to be on a neutral court.

Other "mid-majors" view games against Xavier, Gonzaga or Butler as their chance to make headlines, and league games in non-BCS conferences become more competitive when you're carrying a Top 25 ranking.

What's the secret to success?

"We have an administration that has really placed a great emphasis on the basketball program. They want us to do extremely well because when we do, it benefits everyone at the university," Xavier coach Chris Mack said. "Second, we have really good players. The one thing we've managed to keep is balance among our classes. We've never really had that class where we graduate six seniors."

The consistently strong results have been just as impressive.

Gonzaga has played in every NCAA tourney since 1999, when it reached the regional finals, and has been to the regional semis four times since then. Xavier has 19 tourney appearances in 25 years, reaching the Sweet 16 four times since 2004, including two regional final appearances. Butler has made seven NCAA appearances since 2000, advancing five times, reaching three Sweet 16s and this year's national championship game.

And each of those schools compiled its resume knowing it would have been left out of the NCAA tourney without a conference tourney title.

It's no longer a fleeting trend, either.

Butler, Cornell, Northern Iowa, Saint Mary's and Xavier were among the last 16 teams in this year's tourney.

Three national runner-ups since 1998 — Utah, Memphis and Butler — and four of the last 11 national players of the year — Cincinnati's Kenyon Martin, Xavier's David West, Saint Joseph's Jameer Nelson, and Utah's Andrew Bogut — all came from non-BCS schools.

With conference expansion around the corner, some of these programs could find themselves entertaining offers from the power leagues.

Even if they don't, Stevens thinks the rise of the mid-majors is just beginning.

"I think there's a lot of people that can make that run, I really do," he said. "I thought the team we played in the first round, UTEP, was terrific. I thought Murray State could have made a run. I think there's a lot of teams capable of that. Kansas won the championship a couple of years ago and beat Davidson by two points, so they were right there, too."

Who's next? Perhaps Northern Iowa, with five NCAA tourney appearances since 2004. The Panthers won their first two tourney games in March and produced the biggest win in school history with a second-round upset of top-seeded Kansas.

Like Xavier, Gonzaga and Butler, Northern Iowa is following the plan by trying to upgrade its schedule and expand its recruiting base.

The Panthers now play Iowa or Iowa State every year, compete in the BracketBuster and are attempting to schedule home-and-home series with schools from similarly competitive conferences such as the Atlantic 10.

While recruiting still focuses primarily on the home state, it now includes Kansas City and St. Louis. Yet coach Ben Jacobson believes little has changed within the program.

"I feel like it's important that we continue to do the things that we've done, and at the same time take a hard look at ourselves and see if there are some areas where we can improve to help our program continue to move forward," he said. "Sticking to the plan, that is important, while at the same time taking a hard look at different things."

Reaching the next level, though, takes more than a solid schedule and 20 wins.

"You have to be able to be competitive in those (big) games," Xavier's Mack said. "You're not going to win every one of them. But if you're willing to play anyone at any time and be very competitive in those games, it gives your kids a sense of confidence they can play against the best. It hardens you for conference play."

That can be a big benefit to a school that knows not all leagues are created equal.

The biggest gap between the power conferences and the non-BCS schools, Stevens contends, is the pressure in non-BCS leagues. While the Big East, Big Ten and ACC spend three months beating up on each other, poll voters penalize Butler, Gonzaga or Northern Iowa more harshly for a stumble in conference play.

"The most difficult thing is being held to a perfect standard in January and February," Stevens said. "Every time Gonzaga loses in league, people throw up their arms and say how can that happen? The bottom line is there's not much difference between us winning the league and us finishing third in the league. That's the biggest thing that I'd love to see this run do is continue to open up doors for."

Don't count on it.

But the Bulldogs have certainly changed some perceptions.

Butler proved that a non-BCS school could win a national championship, and Stevens believes it will happen — if smaller schools devise a plan and follow it.

"I think teams have been knocking on that door for a long time," he said. "I really don't believe it's fair to put us in a separate category because we made a run to the Final Four. The hardest thing is winning your league and getting into the tournament and then in a one-and-done, anything can happen."

ADVERTISEMENT

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ on Facebook:
Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ's Tweets on these topics:
 
Subscribe to IBJ
  1. Good Day I am Mr (Victoria Wright) from United state of America, i stayed in NEW YORK, and i have a broke up business, until i found this company email who help me to gain a loan for business,, and now i want to used this short medium to congratulate the below company for the fast and safe money they loan to me without any form of collateral, i loan 500,000USD from the company to save my business and lots more, i saw their mail on the internet, everyone always give testimony for what they did, so i quickly contacted them and they all did everything for me without stress and my money was sent to my account just 3 days later, i was surprise and i feel so glad, now i have a standard business control agent who help me, now i will advice those who need urgent loan to contact him at the bellow email:zenithfirm12@gmail.com

  2. NOTICE:This is to inform the general public that Vampires are real. My name is James Franklyn.,am an agent of vampire,am here to introduce our new world trend to you,a world of vampire where life get easier,we have made so many persons vampires and have turned them rich,you will be assured long life and prosperity,you shall be made to be very sensitive to mental alertness,stronger and also very fast,you will not be restricted to walking at night only even at the very middle of broad day light you will be made to walk.In case you are wildly oppressed by some unscrupulous persons we can still help you fight them.Your protection is assured immediately you join.Just contact the bellow email if you are interested we are here to attend to you anytime you want us. Contact the bellow email for more details. Email:vampirescreed@hotmail.com Sincerely: James Franklyn.

  3. Bravo! Someone else that is willing to speak the truth! Bravo!_____NBCSN is available in almost 2 MILLION more homes than just a few years ago, but Indycar STILL gets less total viewers than it did just a few years ago when NBC took over Versus. Attendance and ratings cratered with the end of season races (just when the title battle got "interesting" HAH!__________And now...new race in Basilia, where Miles celebrated the "rich history" of Indycar racing there. Rich history? What, 7 events in the 100 years of AOW? Yep, some history. Well, at least its an oval. It's not??? Are you kidding me??? Gosh darn road racin furriners.

  4. PURITY RAY LOAN OFFER........ Have you been denied by your banks,or are you in need of of an urgent loan to pay of your bills we are capable of giving loans @ cheaper rate to interested individuals, student, companies and members of the public in need of finance to settle bills, we do offer considerable loans which you can count on. For more information on our various types of loan,then you will have to contact PURITY RAY LOAN FIRM, to help you achieve your desire LOAN APPLICATION FORM TO BE FILLED BORROWERS INFORMATION * Full name:………………………. * SEX * ……………………………. * Country………………………….. * State:……………………………. * Land:…………………………….. * Occupation:…………………….. * phone number:…………………. * Telephone: ………………………….. * Age:………………………………. * Amount needed as loan:……… * Loan Duration:………………….. * Propose of Loan:……………….. * Annual revenue:………………… * Monthly Income:……………….. * Guarantee:………………………. * Payment: monthly or annually Email.....purityrayloanfirm@gmail.com Thank you and God bless Mr Purity Ray PURITY RAY LOAN FIRM we tend to serve you better

  5. Problem: most of the people responding to this article don't know about this service AT ALL! Why? Lack of awareness. This isn't IndyGo. This is CIRTA: might as well be the mattress company because they are asleep at the wheel - something like 3 directors over the last year? Playing with federal grant money is great! This "region" wants commuter rail service, has spent MILLIONS on Transportation studies yet can't even support a commuter bus line? This is largely for suburban riders to get to downtown - not for "service people to work in our hotels and restaurants" ! Get your head out of your backside!! These are professionals, students etc. that don't want to fight traffic, save some money on parking, gas, stress.... if CIRTA would put their federal money into widely promoting the sevive to Greenwood, Fishers & Carmel instead of finding directors and studies - this would be a successful service. Our family uses(d) it daily for the last several years - but the recent uncertainty & now unreliability due to cuts from Carmel has been a problem. Now, costs us an additional $350/month for gas & parking ( $4200/year) plus vehicle wear, service, environmental impact ... YES - this REGION needs this this type of service in order to keep growing and getting the people it needs to fill skilled positions in downtown Indianapolis. Think outside of your own car !!!

ADVERTISEMENT