If you go to a Butler basketball game expecting a blowout, you will likely leave Hinkle Fieldhouse disappointed.
“We’re always in close games,” stated Butler head coach Brad Stevens Monday. “People can argue margin of victory as a measurement of a team. I think then you’re going to have to get into a lot deeper issues and subjects to really figure out how good teams are.”
There are numerous statistics and power rankings used around the country to measure the overall ability of college basketball teams. While this Butler squad does not have a great points per possession average, and their rating in the latest KenPom poll is 51st in the country, those numbers do not paint the entire picture.
“With our defensive mindset, we’re going to try to keep the games as low-scoring as possible, so if we play well, we can play with anybody as we beat IU and Gonzaga. If we don’t play well, you can also lose to anybody and that just goes to show in the A-10 everyone can beat you on a given night,” said senior center Andrew Smith Monday.
The Bulldogs ranking in the latest Associated Press poll is much higher (15th) than the computer rating given by Jeff Sagarin (46th) which is frequently published in USA TODAY.
“For me, to be in close games and to win the majority of them is a really good sign. It means that you can play with anybody and on any given night you can win and you’ve been in those moments. That’s what we want to continue to try to do, every game that we play, we think is going to be close right from the start and we have to prepare that way,” added Stevens.
Last week is a perfect example of the kind of games Butler routinely plays. Wednesday’s match-up against Charlotte was not one of their better efforts. The Bulldogs shot just 39 percent from the field, trailed by 10 points late in the contest, and didn’t have the services of Andrew Smith. Despite all of that, the Bulldogs had the ball in the final seconds with a chance to tie or take the lead. While Butler did eventually lose that game, they won a similar final possession contest Saturday at Fordham.
“The game may not have gone exactly how we wanted to, it’s never going to be perfect, but in the end we won and that’s really all that mattered,” said senior guard Rotnei Clarke as Butler improved to 21-5 overall and 8-3 in the Atlantic-10 Conference.
With the exception of a stretch during the 2009-10 season, Stevens states that close contests are just part of Butler basketball.
“Every other year we’ve played mostly close games, all the way through. The margin between teams that have accomplished a lot wins-wise and have accomplished less, when you really put them out on the floor or measure them on paper, it’s not that much.”
The good news for Butler fans is the NCAA selection committee relies more on RPI during the selection/seeding process than ratings from sources like KenPom and Sagarin. In a recent CBS Sports RPI projection, Butler is 18th. That would seem to match where many of the bracketologists have slotted the Bulldogs. In Joe Lunardi’s most recent bracket prediction, Butler is a 5-seed.
However, in reality, the number before their name doesn’t really matter now or in mid-March to the Bulldogs. Butler has already defeated the schools currently ranked #1 (Indiana) and #3 (Gonzaga) in the Associated Press poll and there is no doubt they are confident in their abilities to beat anyone, anytime.
Butler may not ALWAYS win, but most of the time no matter who the Bulldogs play, the game will be close.