Hendricks County Flyer, Avon, IN

January 21, 2014

Cash greener, but grass not so far for Butler

Brent Glasgow
Hendricks County Flyer

— Butler is still a long way from saving its 2013-14 men’s basketball season, but if the Bulldogs turn it around fully and reach the NCAA Tournament, it will have started this past Saturday at Hinkle Fieldhouse.

Butler ended its five-game skid in its first Big East slate with a 69-57 overtime victory over Marquette. It wasn’t just any triumph for the players.

“To say this was just a regular win would probably be a stretch,” Butler junior Kameron Woods said.

Butler (11-7, 1-5 as of press time) will have to go 9-3 the rest of the way to hit 20 wins before the Big East tournament, where they’d likely have to reach the semifinal round to make the Big Dance. That’s a tall order for the Bulldogs, who are playing in their third conference in three seasons.

In its previous two, this year’s Bulldogs would be a Horizon League champion and somewhere around the fourth-best team in the Atlantic 10. Right now they’re ninth out of 10 in the reshaped Big East.

Woods has played in each league, and said Saturday that the difference is quite noticeable this year.

“The Horizon was physical, the A-10 was physical, but the Big East is a step up,” Woods said. “I think we’ve learned, in a conference like this, if you don’t show up every night for 40 minutes or however many a game lasts, you can go on runs where it can get ugly.”

One of the best and most life-applicable lines in any sports movie is from Brad Pitt’s Bill Beane in “Moneyball,” when he says, “I made one decision in my life based on money, and I swore I would never do it again.”

Beane said that after turning down a $12.5 million general manager offer from the Boston Red Sox to stay in Oakland. It was rooted in his decision nearly two decades earlier to go pro instead of attending Stanford. Beane was a quick flameout in the majors, and always regretted not going to college.

After six games in the Big East, one has to wonder if Butler will have the same realization someday, that cash grabs aren’t always the best thing.

There’s no denying the immediate money and exposure gained by joining the Big East, starting with its estimated $500 million TV deal. Butler, which is a business, decided to go the Budweiser route instead of Sun King. It’s a line of thinking most enterprises follow, that you can’t turn down the fabulous cash and prizes when given the opportunity.

The jump was never going to be easy, especially after Brad Stevens left in July for Boston. As smart as he is, it’s easy to believe Stevens knew what this season would bring, and that his personal brand would only drop in value.

The Bulldogs made their bones by flying under the radar in the Horizon, then popping up in holiday and NCAA tournaments to smack people around with pressure-cooker defense, efficient offense and tremendous coaching. They had the depth necessary to be successful in the Horizon and A-10 night in and night out, but so far, it doesn’t look like they’re ready for the Big East grind.

Optimistic wisdom says with increased visibility, Butler will eventually be able to recruit better and be a consistent player in the conference. Based on its inability to attract top-level athletes after back-to-back Final Fours, with one of the best coaches ever at the helm, I think it’s unlikely that’ll happen. Truth be told, Butler can’t even get the best high school players in its own city.

The college ranks are filled with division- and conference-jumping cautionary tales. Very early on, Butler looks like it could be added to that list. If things continue to go south through next year, there’s no shame in admitting error, and going to a league more suited for what it is.

Butler hoops have provided me and my family with many of our best sports memories. It’s a program and atmosphere I love bringing my kids around. Despite me not liking the Big East move from Day 1, we’ll be there to support them no matter what happens. Still, I can’t stomach a slide to eternal mediocrity or worse. In my life, Indiana football already has that base covered.

Brent Glasgow is a sports writer for the Hendricks County Flyer and Westside Flyer. He may be reached at brent.glasgow@flyergroup.com or 272-5800 ext. 190. Follow him on Twitter @BGlasgow37.