Hendricks County Flyer, Avon, IN

March 18, 2014

Uphill climb awaits Butler hoops

Westside Flyer

---- — A season that began with a lot of promise for the Butler men’s basketball team ended with a familiar thud in Wednesday’s 51-50 loss to Seton Hall in the Big East Tournament.

Butler was 10-2 entering its first Big East slate, but stumbled to a 4-15 mark the rest of the way. While the Bulldogs dropped six games by five points or less, only two came after Jan. 11. They also had six double-digit defeats in conference play, including a 28-point whipping at Creighton.

The season was handicapped before it even started, when junior Roosevelt Jones broke his wrist on a team trip to Australia. Jones’ presence, however, wouldn’t have gotten Butler close to an NCAA tourney bid. They might’ve won a couple more games, but for a team whose worst fundamental trait was foul shooting, Jones’ coin-flip rate wouldn’t have put the Bulldogs over the top any more than that.

While its size disadvantage and recruiting misses were other detriments, it was the absence of Brad Stevens that was felt the most. Stevens is one of the best coaches in history, especially out of timeouts and in the final two minutes. Brandon Miller couldn’t have lived up to that, and truth be told, likely never will.

Butler lacked poise and focus in the closing minutes in its narrow defeats, and Miller often failed his players. The tourney loss to Seton Hall was a microcosm, when he didn’t call a timeout with 10 seconds left to set up a best-look play, followed by Kellen Dunham inbounding the ball from full-court while needing a 3-pointer with just four ticks left on the clock.

After the season-ending loss, Miller said he was happy his team played its best at the end of the year. Most who watched the team since November would call that assessment inaccurate. They looked better in the first six weeks, with a win over Purdue and close losses to Oklahoma State, LSU and Villanova.

Worse than the on-court results, it appeared some of Miller’s players lost respect for him and the jersey they wear. Five different players served suspensions, including juniors Jones and Kam Woods in the final month. Jones wasn’t allowed to make the trip to New York for the one-and-done in the conference tourney, a sad end to an equally sad season.

Most of us aren’t blessed with Stevens’ kind of brilliance, thus we learn on the job. Miller certainly deserves another year to improve the program and his own coaching acumen, but if next year looks anything like this, especially on the disciplinary end, Butler has to cut him loose. It doesn’t have time to be patient. Other than Rotnei Clarke’s transfer in, Butler won no big-time recruiting battles after two Final Fours. What chance would it possibly have if it slides to virtual irrelevance?

Stevens benefited from being in the Horizon League, which Butler won four times in five years during his tenure. The Bulldogs finished third in the Atlantic 10 last year and made the NCAA tourney as an at-large. It’ll take a six-game turnaround next season to have a shot, and right now, it’s hard to picture where those wins will come from.

We’ll see what Butler’s made of quickly next season when it goes to the Battle of Atlantis, a Thanksgiving tournament filled with the likes of Florida, UCLA, North Carolina and Wisconsin. More than that, we’ll see if it’s more prepared and suited for Year 2 in the Big East.

Butler now enters what is arguably its most critical offseason in program history. It has a long way to go, and a short time to get there.

— Brent Glasgow is a sports writer for the Westside Flyer. He can be reached at brent.glasgow@flyergroup.com or 272-5800, ext. 173. Follow him on Twitter @BGlasgow37.