Returning from last year’s magical Final Four run, the Butler coaches, team and fans hoped that maybe, just maybe, this year’s team had it in them to make some more noise on the national stage.
That confidence, which was rightfully earned, allowed them to go out and schedule tough games like at Louisville, Duke on a neutral site, at Xavier and Stanford at home.
However, this team doesn’t seem like it can take on that tough schedule the Butler front office has put ahead of them. Maybe last year’s team could, but this is definitely not last year’s team.
The first time everybody saw that was November 16 when they traveled to the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville to take on the Cardinals.
Now, I’m not taking anything away from how good the Cardinals are, how tough it is to play in that stadium, or anything like that. On the other hand, there was a lot that let us know that the 2010-2011 Butler basketball team cannot compete with last year’s team.
For one, the 88 points the Cardinals put up was unheard of by Butler last year. They marched all the way through the NCAA Tournament by only allowing one team to score 60 or above (Duke scored 61 in the championship).
Even last year when they were losing early in the season, no opponent ever scored that many points.
Another aspect of the game to take away was the loss of Gordon Hayward. Sure, he wasn’t their only scorer last year, but he was critical.
There were times in the Louisville game where Butler went through periods of time where they could not get the ball in the basket. Players like Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard have had plenty of time to become those type of scorers, but replacing a guy like Hayward to bail the Bulldogs out of tough situations is going to be hard.
Even players like Ronald Nored and Zach Hahn have chances to become that player on this year’s team, but have a lot of work to do.
In all, I just don’t see them being able to accomplish that much. This year’s offense, defense and swagger is all different. They don’t walk on the court knowing they’re going to win this year. After the loss to Louisville, there’s been doubt going through the team and it’s showing up on the court.
Of course, the game this Saturday will give the Bulldogs another chance to prove themselves against No. 1 ranked Duke, but with a great new player in Kyrie Irving coming in to play a team with a lot of issues, I don’t see Butler coming within 15 points of the Blue Devils.
So, like I said, Butler has plenty of holes to fill, but Brad Stevens has shown he can do that. Expectations to return to the Final Four at the beginning of the season were way out of proportion; this team isn’t capable of that. However, they do have the talent to win the Horizon League Conference and move onto the second round or maybe even Sweet 16 come tournament time.c