Butler down now, but future bright

Butler and shooting guard Shelvin Mack finished as national runnersup again. Can the junior help the Bulldogs remain a success next season?

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Butler and shooting guard Shelvin Mack finished as national runnersup again. Can the junior help the Bulldogs remain a success next season?

INDIANAPOLIS — Butler spent a year plotting its Hollywood ending.

The Bulldogs expected to play for a national championship. They expected to bring home the trophy that eluded them last season. And they expected to achieve all that despite their midseason stumbles.

Now, after a second straight loss in the title game, the Bulldogs will have to settle for being the gold standard for the mid-majors.

"(Butler coach) Brad (Stevens) has done an incredible job," Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said after winning his third national title Monday night. "Their kids compete. They run their offense full speed. They were a magnificent opponent."

Eleven other tourney foes over the past two seasons know exactly what Calhoun means.

The Bulldogs' list of victims in the past two postseasons includes Florida, Kansas State, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Syracuse.

But for the second straight April, Butler's players and coaches went home dejected.

The Bulldogs' first loss in two months, ending a 14-game winning streak, puts them on the short list of back-to-back national runnersup. The others: Ohio State with Jerry Lucas in 1961-62, Houston with Phi Slama Jama in 1983-84 and Michigan with the Fab Five in 1992-93.

And while Monday's title game will go down as one of the ugliest in history because of Butler's record-low field goal percentage (18.8), the team proved its run in 2010 was no fluke.

"It's really hard to put that into words right now 'cause we wanted a little bit more," Matt Howard, a senior, said after Monday's loss. "Maybe at some point I can look back and be proud of what this group has accomplished."

Butler loses five seniors. including former Wharton standout Shawn Vanzant.

"They're just good guys. People at Butler really like 'em, not because they're basketball players, because they're just good guys," Stevens said.

But don't count out the Bulldogs (28-10) next year.

If shooting guard Shelvin Mack returns, as expected, he and 6-11 Andrew Smith will form a strong foundation. Point guard Ronald Nored, who started in 2009 and 2010, will likely reclaim his starting job. Three-point specialist Chase Stigall and freshmen Khyle Marshall and Chrishawn Hopkins will return, and 6-7 Garrett Butcher and 6-9 Erik Fromm will add size and depth.

Perhaps the most important return would be Stevens, 34. He has led the Bulldogs to four straight Horizon League regular-season titles, four straight tourney appearances and consecutive title games. He doesn't appear to be in any hurry to leave.

"You hear people say this all the time, that the grass is greener somewhere else," Stevens said Sunday. "I think we recognize the grass is very green at Butler. We're happy."

"I think we've got really good players that really believe in the system," Howard said. "We've got great coaches that always have us prepared to play. When all the players buy in, and you believe in each other, I think you can achieve a lot of things."

rough trip back: Butler's flight from Houston to Indianapolis was delayed Tuesday due to maintenance problems with the plane. The Bulldogs stayed at the team hotel an additional five hours. About 20 fans were on hand when the Bulldogs arrived at Hinkle Fieldhouse.

Ratings: UConn's win on CBS earned an 11.7 fast national rating and 18 share, down 18 percent from last year's Duke-Butler final. The entire tournament, with every game televised nationally for the first time, averaged a 6.4/14, up 7 percent. Ratings represent the percentage of all households with TVs tuned into a program. Shares represent the percentage of all homes with TVs in use at the time.

Butler down now, but future bright 04/05/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 6, 2011 12:40am]

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