Butler, a mid-major is making a return trip to the Final Four. For many years Gonzaga was considered a nice little program, but has made about 10 straight “Big Dances”, making deep runs, though no FF. So, is Butler the new Gonzaga?
Butler has now gone much farther than Gonzaga ever did, and they’ve done it two years in a row. That means Butler is not a fluke like George Mason- they’re a legitimate championship contender now.
Will their coach, Brad Stevens, stick around? Well, obviously I have no inside information, but… the coach at Xavier probably thinks to himself, “I can have a very nice run, from time to time, but I can probably NEVER win it all here.” But Butler has now shown that they CAN win it all- they nearly DID win it all last year.
The only questions are:
Will some big state school offer Stevens TONS more money than Butler can afford to pay?
Now that Butler has shown what it can do, can Stevens attract elite talent to play for him?
Butler is going to win this year.
They better since several of their key guys are seniors. I’ll be interested in how long it takes Brad rebuilds the team. I don’t expect too much next season. Beyond that I’m hoping he can keep kicking big league ass.
I dunno. College basketball is impacted heavily by good players playing for a year or two and then leaving for the pros. These small schools also are getting much bigger budgets to spend on their basketball programs as well. Yeah, it might not be the hundred milion+ dollars that a powerhouse spends, but you can put up a good program with 15 or 20 million bucks, like a smaller school might get.
In my opinion, that just makes schools like Butler even stronger and likely to be good year after year. They don’t have much desire in playing the Top One-Year Recruit game, and focus on putting together a team that will stick around 3-4 years. Yeah, Kentucky and Kansas and North Carolina can attract a huge name talent for a year (year after year) - but that doesn’t necessarily translate as well in the college game.
That’d make me think that Butler isn’t the new Gonzaga, but that the difference between the small schools and large schools are MUCH smaller now. So, essentially, we agree.
In my opinion, two things have led to the success at Gonzaga.
Coaching consistency, Mark Few was hired from within after their first run, and though he is always talked about when there is a big name opening, he has continued to stay in Spokane.
League dominance, Gonzaga has been able to consistently dominate the WCC. That leaves them with a pretty big recruiting advantage. The NCAA tournament is such a big deal to players and a middle of the road Pac 10 team cannot guarantee a visit to the tournament the way Gonzaga can.
That leaves two big questions at Butler.
Can they keep the coach?
Gonzaga’s Mark Few, was a PE major, is an avid fly fisherman and likes the rural lifestyle. He lives in a large house on acreage while only having a 20 minute drive and one stop light on his way to work.
I have no clue about Brad Stevens. He seems very analytical, he likes to develop game plans around statistics, he was an econ major and worked in marketing prior to going back to basketball. It makes me think better quality players would be attractive to him; a way to change the variables in the equation and show his approach can work on a bigger stage. But, he is also an Indiana native, and left his high paying marketing job to volunteer in the Butler basketball office.
Can they win the league?
Gonzaga is almost a self-fulfilling prophecy. League dominance leads to tourney appearances leads to recruits leads to league dominance.
Butler is going to have a harder time in the Horizon league. The next few years will really set the tone. If Butler wins the tourney birth for a few more years in a row they may be able to establish a talent gap between themselves and the rest of the Horizon. This year, they came in second in the conference, and needed to beat a Milwaukee team in the conference tournament that had already beaten them twice. It seems like establishing a talent gap in the Horizon will be a lot harder, and it’s still only a one bid league.
Needless to say, if this is the end of their run, they have already gone farther in the tournament than any Gonzaga team and really done something special.
I think that’s it in a nutshell - the difference has completely shrunk.
Stevens made a really solid commitment last year to Butler after the Final Four, after Butler ponied up quite a bit of cash. I’m not really sure what his “dream job” is - he’s an Indiana boy and has been here his whole life. He worked under Thad Motta for a while when Motta was at Butler - but I don’t see Stevens as an Ohio State type of coach. He was under Lickliter as well - but Iowa isn’t exactly a destination coaching job.
And at this point, would Stevens really benefit by going to a “big” school? I guess they could pay more, and I can’t condemn anyone wanting a bigger paycheck. Does Stevens want to recruit one-year players? I really don’t think so. Can he turn the Butler program into Duke? That’s the next logical model. I wanted to say Notre Dame - they also avoid the one-year players. But Butler is much better than ND, despite Brey’s amazing job this year.
The problem with turning Butler into Duke is that Duke has a big advantage that Butler doesn’t: belonging to a perennially strong, multi-bid conference. That means it’s easier to make the tournament (Duke didn’t win the ACC in many of K’s Final Four years) and it’s easier to secure a high seed when you do (since your strength of schedule is much better).
He already has; he turned down big-money contracts last year to sign a long-term (still good-money) contract at Butler. Of course, the offers will just get bigger, but he’s from that area, and doesn’t seem to be the kind of guy who wants the biggest possible stage.
As others have said, he doesn’t need to. “Elite Talent” is one and done. If he can consistently get 3 and 4 stars, he has a job for life.
For a smart coach, there’s a lot to be said for staying at the mid-major. Yes, the talent is a step down, but you actually get to coach and develop players and use your system. The money is still going to be good, well into the six figures, and the pressure is going to be way, way less. Yeah, an ACC school can pay you $4 million a year – but that job will take everything you have, and odds are good you’ll be fired in five years.
The one job I’d guess would tempt Stevens would be Indiana - not that I think it’s opening up this year, despite Tom Crean’s struggles. He’s got connections there - his dad played football there - and one can only imagine how popular he’d become if he turned that program around.
I’d love it if Illinois backed the Brinks truck up to Steven’s door and got him to come a couple hours west.