Not many people thought the Butler Bulldogs would be a contender this season. They lost their heart and soul in head coach Brad Stevens to the NBA and hired a first-time coach Brandon Miller. No one knew what to expect out of a Miller-coached team as he could have brought a new style and method to the Bulldogs.
Then in the offseason, junior forward and leader Roosevelt Jones went down with a season-ending injury which most experts thought would be devastating for this Butler team. No one thought they’d be an NCAA Tournament team as they were supposed to be on an NIT level.
They also switched from the Horizon League to the Big East where they joined teams like Georgetown, Marquette, St. John’s, Xavier, Villanova and others. Gone was the easy conference schedule as the new era of Butler basketball was going to get started with a first-year coach and a loss of their on court leader as well.
But, this Butler team is doing exactly what they did under Stevens. They’re outplaying their opponents, playing tough fundamental defense and slowing the game down to their style.
Miller is a candidate for Coach of the Year right now given what he’s done with this team as they’re once again among the best in the nation. They’re 8-2 coming off of a 76-70 victory over in-state rival Purdue in Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Saturday. They will face off against another in-state team in Evansville on Saturday, and then host NJIT in Hinkle Fieldhouse next Saturday before conference play begins on New Year’s Eve with Villanova.
The only two losses this year were both by two points. They nearly upset the fifth-ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys in the second round of the Old Spice Classic. If it wasn’t for missed free throws at the end, they would have won. That took a lot out of the Bulldogs as they lost the next day in overtime by two points to LSU.
That was the last time they lost as they’re on a roll this year. This team is not only going to compete in the Big East, but they’re a solid threat to win the tournament in March. No one has emerged as a clear title favorite as most teams are up and down this year. With how well Butler is coached and their style, they can beat anybody on any given night. I like this Butler team.