During its current 14-game winning streak, Butler is holding opponents to 59.8 points. Only two _ Pittsburgh and Florida _ have managed to crack the 70-point barrier.
“One thing that all small schools have is kids that buy into the program and play hard all the time,” Nored said. “We’ve done a great job of just playing our butts off. That’s what you have to do, and I think you really have to be about each other. There can be no selfishness going on because that’s a good way to get exposed.”
Butler is never going to have a BCS-school budget, but president Bobby Fong and athletic director Barry Collier have been willing to put up the cash necessary to keep the Bulldogs a first-class program. Stevens is the hottest thing in coaching these days, and Collier was quick to give him a new, 12-year deal after last year’s national title game that likely included a raise from the $750,000 Stevens had been making. Butler has plans for a $25 million renovation of Hinkle Fieldhouse.
“The school is committed to academics and their basketball program,” Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said. “Some of the people who think that their coach should do the same need to look to itself: Are you as committed as Butler is?”
Although Stevens said his phone isn’t blowing up with other mid-major coaches asking for the secrets to Butler’s success, its influence can already be seen.
Butler’s opponent in the Final Four was none other than VCU, another mid-major led by a smart, talented young coach who persuaded his players they could do pretty much anything as long as they stuck together.
Deemed unworthy of being in the tournament by just about everyone after losing five of their last eight games, the Rams knocked off schools from the Pac-10 (Southern California), the Big East (Georgetown), the Big Ten (Purdue) and the ACC (Florida State) before manhandling the Big 12’s top-seeded Kansas to earn its first trip to the Final Four.
That VCU lost to Butler takes nothing away from what the team accomplished. Or diminishes what it might do in the future.
“Of course it’s not a once-in-a-lifetime run. We’re going to try to do this every year,” coach Shaka Smart said. “Are we capable of doing it again? Sure. No question. If we’re capable of coming together as a group and playing aggressive, confident, loose basketball, and we have the right guys out there, it’s certainly possible.”
As more and more little guys show up to the party, the odds improve that, someday, one of them will go home with the title.
“I would have told you 10 years ago, ‘No way,’” Calhoun said. “But I would tell you, yeah, there’s a chance for it happening.”
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