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The Butler Way

Mike Monaco | Tuesday, January 22, 2013

With ESPN’s “College GameDay” in Hinkle Fieldhouse for a primetime matchup between No. 8 Gonzaga and No. 13 Butler on Saturday night, the Bulldogs (the Butler variety) didn’t disappoint.

Sophomore forward Roosevelt Jones drained a floater as time expired to quiet the Zags.

But this was more than a pandemonium-producing, buzzer-beating victory. It was a testament to The Butler Way.

Think about the top programs in college basketball. Not historically, but in the past few years. Kentucky, Syracuse, Ohio State, Duke, North Carolina and Kansas come to mind. These schools have finished in the top five and garnered top seeds in the NCAA tournament.

But Butler has been just as efficient and proficient since head coach Brad Stevens took over the leash of the ‘Dogs prior to the 2007-08 season. Since then, Butler has gone 30-4, 26-6, 33-5, 28-10 and 22-15 in the last five seasons. And the Bulldogs are off to a sparkling 16-2 mark this year.

What is The Butler Way? What makes this private university of 4,034 students so unexpectedly good at basketball?

Well, forget about one-and-dones typical of schools like Kentucky. Forget about the high-profile recruits of Duke and North Carolina. The Bulldogs subsist on intelligent play by veteran leaders who have been in the Stevens system for years.

For instance, senior guard Rotnei Clarke leads Butler in scoring, averaging 16.3 points per game. Another senior, center Andrew Smith, is second in scoring at 11.7 points a night. And back during the championship appearances of 2010 and 2011, it was players like Matt Howard, Shelvin Mack and Ronald Nored, plus the exceptional Gordon Hayward, who uncharacteristically left Butler for the NBA after his storied sophomore season.

These Bulldogs have won with tight defense, a slow pace, efficient shot-making and a penchant for making big plays in crunch time. It’s something for Butler coach Brad Stevens to yawn at nowadays; he’s accustomed to these wins.

As for Stevens, need we say more than call him one of the elite coaches in college basketball. Stevens is a cool 155-42 in his time at Butler. Oh, and the guy is 36.

Butler has had more than its fair share of wins in games it probably had no business winning. But that’s exactly The Butler Way. And it all stems from a coach who is as even-keeled as they get.

When Jones hit the shot to beat Gonzaga, Stevens didn’t flinch. He immediately started walking to Zags coach Mark Few to commence the post-game handshakes while Butler’s student body stormed the court.