- Associated Press - Monday, November 8, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Ronald Nored looks around Hinkle Fieldhouse and sees change.

The larger crowds are already more enthusiastic. Gordon Hayward, Willie Veasley and Avery Jukes have been replaced by three freshmen. Fans are clamoring to see the Bulldogs’ new NCAA banner and, of course, a nation is ready to watch Butler’s encore.

College basketball had best beware: No. 17 Butler has even bigger plans this season.

“I think we are a step ahead of where we were last year at this time,” said Nored, the junior point guard. “I think back then, we were kind of going through the motions because we all knew what we were doing. Now, I think we’ve had to focus a little more because we have three freshmen to teach. So I think we’re a little better.”


Better?

It’s hard to fathom this little school outdoing last season’s crowning achievement.

But just seven months after coming within inches of bringing home a national title, the team that won the hearts of a nation with their relaxed attitude and team-first approach is chasing the same goal they always do _ winning it all.

The only difference this time is that people outside the locker room think Butler can do it, too.

“I think you’re always talking about that, but ours was a long, long process to get there,” coach Brad Stevens said. “It wasn’t just a five-game run in March. It was a long, long run of good teams and players.”

That part hasn’t changed, though the Bulldogs (33-5 last year) must plug bigger holes than usual.

Hayward, their do-everything swingman who caused so many matchup problems, left for the NBA after just two seasons and landed with Utah. He is the first Bulldogs player ever taken in the first round, and had he returned, many expected Butler to open this season ranked in the top five.

The bigger loss may be Veasley. The 6-foot-3 senior was the glue of last year’s team, the guy who always seemed to be in the right place at the right time whatever the Bulldogs needed.

But when Nored says this year’s team could be better, he means it.

On paper, the Bulldogs are bigger, deeper and more athletic than last spring when national media types started making all those comparisons between Butler and the team in the movie “Hoosiers.” What most forget is that the real-life “Hoosiers” team, Milan, reached high school’s Final Four in 1953 before winning their famous state title in 1954.

Or that these Bulldogs didn’t find their groove until January last season.

Story Continues →