Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Should Butler Bow Out?

It figures that only one game after I dedicate a blog praising Butler for their execution against Siena, they decide to pretend they do not know how to play without Ron Nored. It figures that everything that excited me about the Siena game was non-existent in the Evansville game. It figures that Matt Howard would get into foul trouble and Shelvin Mack would disappear for long periods of time. And of course, it figures that online message boards would become littered with "the sky is falling" mentality.

I mentioned in last week's blog that if we had lost Ron Nored to injury last year, not many of us would have been able to name a viable replacement. And although Shawn Vanzant stepped up in New York against Siena, the Evansville game brought back some of my previous concerns. With Nored's starting role being given to Senior walk-on Alex Anglin, it could be hypothesized that Coach Stevens may not have an answer either.

With Vanzant producing better coming off the bench, Anglin might have been the safest option to replace Nored in the lineup. A lanky guard that knows the system as well as anyone, Anglin was asked to put in vital minutes that he might not have been prepared to do. To his credit, Anglin was able to hold his own and contain Evansville's leading scorer Colt Ryan to 14 points and added a crucial bucket of his own at the end of regulation. What was missing however, was the drive and determination to not just score, but win. Nored has always seemed to play better when the game was on the line, but who steps up when he cannot play?

I find it interesting that what last year's team lacked - this year's team has, and what this year's team lacks - last year's team had. Take for example, the countless times last year we were told how our lack of athleticism was going to doom us against teams from the Big 6. Somehow though, our determination and drive to win allowed Butler to come out ahead. This year's team is by no means lacking in talent or athletic ability - in fact I would argue that this team is one of the most athletic teams we have had; however, as was present in the Evansville game, the drive to win is just not there - yet.

Now, I assume, and hope, that most Butler fans realize that the sky is not really falling and that the season is still very young, but unless someone on this team develops the drive to win a close game, it might not be the type of season that Bulldog fans are used to. The drive to win is something that cannot be taught, but it is something that I fully expect to see from Mack and Howard. It is something that I would love to see out of our talented freshman.

Many people have noted, and maybe rightfully so, that tomorrow's game against Loyola is much more important than the Duke game on Saturday, but lets not give up on our team yet. Yes, last year we were one shot away from a national championship, but not many would have pegged us to be there in November 2009. Think about this: What if Butler were to beat Duke on Saturday. Most people will say Butler has no chance, but how much of a chance did most people give Butler against Syracuse? Kansas State? Hell most people predicted Butler to lose against Murray State. If you are ignorant enough to believe that two loses can make or break an entire season in November, then you will have to agree that one win against Duke could change everything.

Regardless of the outcome of the Duke game on Saturday, Butler will continue to win games and prove its worth for the NCAA Tournament. Take a look at last year's results, do you think that the Selection Committee weighed our wins over Ohio State and Xavier (our two quality non-conference wins) or the undefeated Horizon League season more? Our non-conference record last year was 7-4. Had we not been preseason ranked in the top 10, we would have been having these same conversations following the loss to Clemson in Anaheim. In fact - I kind of remember hearing these same conversations.

My point, is that Butler has consistently won championships by proving everyone wrong - sometimes even its own fans - and that we should not be surprised if and when the Bulldogs begin to click and find the drive they need to win games.

If we had lost to Evansville last year, which we almost did, would it have mattered? Do you believe the team would have quit and stopped working towards the ultimate goal - winning a national championship?

Why, then, should we believe that now?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Louisville: Just What Butler Needed!

Following what could have been one of the ugliest Butler basketball games since the Bulldogs were neutralized by Minnesota last year in Anaheim, I cannot help to think that the loss to Louisville was a great thing. Don't get me wrong, the 15 point loss last week might have been the "worst" loss Butler has sustained in a few years, but it could not have come at a better time. Hear me out.

As most Butler fans have found out by now, we are not the same team that came one shot away from a National Championship. In fact, I think that this year's team (2010-2011) could be BETTER. Don't believe me? Just look how well the team has responded since the infamous loss. Four days after basketball's version of the valentine's day massacre, Butler turned its frustrations on a previously undefeated Ball State team and crushed them by 33 points. Three days after that, Butler walked into Times Union Center and did what only one other team has done in 40 games - win.

Although the 33 point dismantling of Ball State served justice for the rumored BSU fans' chanting "We want Butler" after a less-than stunning defeat of Indiana State, it is the Siena game that is the most encouraging. Despite being unable to watch the game on TV, I was following online thanks to Victory Firelight and was pleasantly surprised with the final result.

In just the second minute of the game, Ronald Nored, our starting PG and reigning Horizon League Defender of the Year, collided with a Siena defender and was taken out of the game to receive stitches. He would not return and is rumored to have sustained a concussion. Imagine if this had happened last year; who would have stepped up and defended star guard Clarence Jackson? Had this been last year, I would have chalked up the loss and immediately logged off of the computer. This however, is exactly why I am so encouraged by this year's team. Not only did Vanzant respond (he scored 12) but our entire bench stepped up when our normal starters were having off nights. In fact, Butler's bench outscored Siena 38-5 with huge contributions from Andrew Smith, Chase Stigall, and Garrett Butcher.

This type of contribution was exactly what was lacking in the earlier Louisville game. Say what you want about Louisville and how the environment was not welcoming to the visiting Bulldogs, but one cannot argue that Times Union Center is not just as hostile. Say what you want about Louisville and how their physical play took the Bulldogs out of our element, but take one look at Nored's eye and count the number of times players were on the ground tonight and one can see that Siena was just as physical as the Cardinals.

My point, is that Butler would not have beaten Siena tonight in New York if we had not gotten beat by Louisville last week. Not only was the loss an eye-opening event for fans and analysts alike, but it was also a time for the players and coaching staff to make an adjustment. Whether or not the hype and rankings were beginning to set in, we will never know, but it looks like Coach Stevens and the rest of the players have already responded.

We as fans should applaud the coaching staff who continue to schedule tough early games in November and December. Most of the major programs continue to schedule easy wins early in the season and may not find out that adjustments are needed until it is too late. Butler got the awakening it needed from Louisville and the remaining teams on the schedule should be worried.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Top 25 Reasons To Be Thankful You're a Butler Fan

As Butler students are packing up and getting ready to head home for Thanksgiving break, I thought there would be no better time to reflect on the last year of Butler Athletics than to create a list of things us fans can be thankful for. Seeing as how Butler Athletic teams are now being consistently represented in the Top 25 of their respective sports, I thought a top 25 list was appropriate.

Top 25 Reasons to be Thankful You're a Butler Fan this past year:

#25 - Hinkle Fieldhouse: Anyone who has watched a Butler game on the ESPN network has been reminded of the history that is Hinkle Fieldhouse. There are not 3 college arenas in the world that can boast such history and at every home basketball game, I am reminded how truly amazing the atmosphere can be.

#24 - Blue II: Not only is Blue II a great looking english bulldog, he has become a symbol of Butler seen all over the internet. There are not many live mascots left in the college/university ranks, and Blue II (thanks to last year) has become an icon for all of those young bulldogs aspiring to great things.

#23 - Dawg Pound: With this year marking my 4th year as a member of Dawg Pound, I can truly say that we have come a long way. Fans and students alike can be thankful for the involvement by the Dawg Pound at all sporting events this past year. It doesn't hurt that we have been blessed with great teams, but records were set for Volleyball and Women's Basketball just this past year and we have sold out the lower level at every game so far this year - including preseason.

#22 - Half-Court Shots: Is it a coincidence that Butler's Athletic success and the conversion rate of half-court shots during timeouts of basketball games seem to be related? I think not.

#21 - Athletic All-Americans: Shelvin Mack has already been selected this year on many different preseason all-america lists. Jessica Wolfe of the Volleyball team became BU's second AVCA All-American last season as well.

#20 - Cody Zeller: Even though Cody Zeller picked Indiana, we can be thankful that Butler is being considered with such high-profile recruits and that despite coming up empty in the end, we can be assured that the program will continue to do what is does best - WIN. Recruits will continue to watch our success and eventually want to be apart of it.

#19 - Xavier: We should be thankful that Xavier and Butler agreed to extend their contract and will play each other the next two seasons again. Not only does Xavier represent a quality midwest program (despite recent results), but they also provide another marque non-conference game for Butler to build its resume upon.

#18 - Khyle Marshall, Chrishawn Hopkins, Erik Fromm: These three freshman have shown extreme promise already in this early season and I am expecting more great things by the end of the season. Khyle and Erik have shown they have the skills to compete at a high level and Chrishawn "Hops" Hopkins has already shown his incredible vision of the court. It is only a matter of time before these three adjust to the college game and provide Coach Stevens with more lethal weapons.

#17 - IU Athletics: Wisconsin scored 83 points on IU football last week and the basketball team (despite Crean-the-savior) is still not good. Although several high profile recruits have committed to IU, we can still be thankful that Butler is currently a winning program and shows no signs of stopping.

#16 - Thunderdunks: We have already dunked more this season in 2 games than most of last year. Get ready message boards, the thuderdunks might be coming with Butler instead of against them. All of these dunks and Chrishawn is still yet to throw one down. I promise you when he does, ESPN will be all over it.

#15 - Fall Sports Dominance: I already dedicated a blog post to this topic, but the sheer domination by Butler Fall Sports teams the past two years proves that Butler is no longer just a basketball school. With conference championships from the mens and women's soccer team, the mens and women's cross country team, and a second place finish by Volleyball, not to forget the 11-1 finish and post season appearance by the Football team last year, the past few years have been the best Fall Sports finish that I can remember.

#14 - Louisville: We can be thankful that we lost that game on Tuesday. Not only did it allow the team to realize what we need to work on, but it was done early enough in the season to help us prepare for the rest of the season. Be glad that we do not schedule cupcakes early on in the season like most major programs. We are going to learn more about our team this next month than most will learn in late match.

#13 - Bobby Fong: What a great ambassador for our school. An avid follower of Butler sports, Fong represents all that Butler stands for. We will greatly miss him as our President, but with his unexpected departure, Butler may have a great opportunity to capitalize on the athletic success in a way no President has done yet.

#12 - Band Wagon: Man did the band wagon take off in March. What we need to understand and be thankful for is that the band wagon will come and go, but us fans can be proud that we have always been and will stay on the wagon.

#11 - The Butler Way: What an incredible motto that our students, faculty, staff, and athletes live by. There is truly a wide gap between our school and the majority of major athletic programs. The team above self motto is not only preached, but it is lived each and every day - from the Dance major to the All-American athlete. I am thankful for the Butler Way and how it is so much more than just a motto.

#10 - Water Fountains are replaceable: Enough said.

#9 - Roosevelt Jones, Jackson Aldridge, Andy Smeathers, Kameron Woods: We should be thankful for the four recruits who have already signed LOI's to come play at Butler next year. Not only are these four players incredible athletes and basketball players, they are also great students. Roosevelt Jones is a strong candidate for Mr. Basketball in Illinois.

#8 - ESPN "experts": Is it just me, or do I become thankful whenever an ESPN expert picks against Butler. Nothing satisfies me more than to prove experts wrong, and last year's Final Four run (after being written off following the Georgetown game) made it even more special.

#7 - Did I mention IU Athletics?: Gosh am I glad that I am a Butler fan.

#6 - Consistency: I mentioned it earlier, but Butler has been incredibly consistent. Butler basketball currently ranks 5th in weeks being in the AP Top 25 over the last 5 seasons. In addition, Butler has played invited to the NCAA Tournament for four consecutive years. Three of the past five NCAA appearances Butler has advanced to the Sweet 16 or later stages. This consistency of success by our basketball team is something to be thankful for.

#5 - Academic All-Americans: Butler Basketball has had four players earn six Academic All-American certificates in the past four seasons, with Matt Howard and Gordon Hayward earning the recognition last year. In fact for the 2009-2010 season Butler athletes claimed 5 Academic All-American awards. Joining those two, was Conner Burt from the Men's Soccer team, Grant Hunter from the Football team, and Andy Baker from the Cross Country team. Already this year, Conner Burt and Ben Sippola have been recognized with the award. Even our women's club laccross team claimed 8 Academic All-Americans (second only to UCLA's 9) this year. This commitment and recognition for our academics shows that the Butler Way is truly important to us.

#4 - Undefeated seasons: I am thankful to not witnessing a loss for the men's soccer team this year and the men's basketball team last year in Horizon League play.

#3 - Gordon Hayward: We can be thankful that Hayward showed that Butler can produce athletes for the next level and that by attending Butler and getting an outstanding education, you could also be getting prepared to play in the pros someday. In addition, here is to hoping that Hayward remembers Butler when he is making all sorts of money and gives back to where it all started.

#2 - Brad Stevens: I could dedicate a whole blog post to Brad Stevens and what we should all be thankful for, but many of you know this already. A class act coach and person in the community, Brad stands for all that is Butler. His pledge to stay at Butler following the Final Four run should give us all something to be thankful for.

#1 - National Championship Appearance: This was something special. No Butler fan will ever forget that April night and why should we want to? We might be the only team in the world that can truly claim that we WON without scoring more points than the other team. We proved to the whole world that hard work and teamwork can get you all the way to the national championship game. Had that shot gone in... wow, but the fact that it didn't and we are all better off because of it, speaks volumes to what was accomplished by that team last year.

I know that there are many more things about Butler Athletics that we should be thankful for and I hope that you share your top list. Have a great Thanksgiving with friends and family (those who are the most important) and GO DAWGS!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Dr. Fong Leaves Legacy and A Great Opportunity

On a day when most Butler fans will be depressed and utterly disgusted with a certain recruit's decision to attend a different Indiana school, I find it appropriate to focus on the future and the enormous opportunity that may be facing the Athletic Department. Just last week, Butler University President, Bobby Fong announced he was leaving to become President of Ursinus College in Pennsylvania. While many were surprised and others were saddened, I couldn't help but think that this was good news for Athletics at Butler.

Before I continue, I must stress that the opinion that follows is only that of me, Kyle Murphy, and not that of the Athletic Department, Dawg Pound, or any related Butler organization.

During Butler's magical run through the NCAA Tournament last March, I could not help but feel that Dr. Fong did not fully recognize the team for its unprecedented accomplishments. Don't get me wrong, Fong was on TV and in the newspaper plenty, but each time he seemed to be reserved towards the idea of giving credit where credit was due. Instead, Fong used the publicity and media to stress Butler's academic prowess. In each of his many interviews, Fong repeatedly referenced how Butler's students' first priority was to be a student first. Now, I commend Fong and the University for its focus on academics and cannot imagine it any other way, but for something of this magnitude I would have expected more from our leader on campus. Call it "The Butler Way" if you wish, but this reservation of gratitude might suggest that Dr. Fong did not like the idea of Butler being recognized more for its athletic accomplishments than its academic achievements.

Take a recent example of University funding: Many of you are familiar with the ButlerRising campaign that raised over $154.7 million over a 7 year period. Only 1.8%, or $2.8 million, went to Athletics with $1.7 million of that specifically given by donors. The money alloted was used for the turf, women's locker room and part of the recent bowl updates. The Athletic Department had to add another $1.7 million itself to make the Butler Bowl look like it does today.

In addition, the Horizon League average for scholarships is about 120 per school and Butler only funds 95 for athletic purposes. If that wasn't enough, the Athletic Department also paid for Hinkle roofing repairs, the new baseball hitting facility, the updated sound system in Hinkle, additional tennis courts, an updated softball stadium, the new electronic scorer's table in Hinkle, as well as updated football lockers. It has also been reported that the University did not give one penny more for Brad's new contract. (Thanks to "bernie44" on buhoops for the majority of this information)

I am not suggesting that Butler University should place more emphasis on athletics than it does on academics; I am simply saying that there is plenty of room for improvement. With all of the media attention and millions of dollars worth of free advertisement, a President who will embrace the athletic success along with academics could capitalize on enormous opportunities facing our successful teams.

My somewhat controversial hypothesis is that President Fong is leaving Butler due to the recent success of our basketball program that elevated our athletic profile. I cannot deny that Dr. Fong was a great President for our University and that he will be greatly missed by students and faculty alike, but with his resignation comes an opportunity to fill the open position with someone more willing to support our blossoming athletic programs. It becomes more clear each day that facilities are increasingly important among recruits and without financial backing, those facilities may never be built.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Butler's Fall Sports Dominance

As my first post of 2010, one would assume that I would be quick to talk about the Final Four and Butler Basketball's run to the national championship game last March. Although I will surely touch that subject soon, I am fairly confident that topic has already been talked about. Instead, I will use this post to bring to everyone's attention another potential Final Four appearance and the success of Butler's Fall Sports teams.

For those of you who have not heard, Butler Men's and Women's Cross Country, Women's Soccer, and Men's soccer have all claimed Horizon Regular Season Titles already. The Men's Soccer team has not even played its last regular season game (Senior Night.. well morning.. is at 10:00am on Friday) and clinched the league with an undefeated record of 15-0-1. For those who do not follow soccer closely, that is 15 wins, 0 losses, and 1 tie. There is only one other team in the country that can claim a similar record and that is Louisville (who has tied twice and actually lost an exhibition game to Penn State).

All of this Fall success is worthy of its own novel, much less a measly blog with 6 followers, but wait I am not done. The volleyball team is currently 2nd in the Horizon with an 11-1 conference record and plays first place Milwaukee Nov. 6th at 4:00pm in Hinkle Fieldhouse. Could Volleyball be the 5th Butler sport to claim a fall sports title? The McCafferty Trophy might be on its way to Indianapolis before Christmas break.

The Butler Bowl will be a busy place the next few weeks with both the Women and Men's Soccer Horizon League Tournament. As previously mentioned, the men still have one more regular season game before the Horizon League Tournament and it comes with some added hype. Butler faces a Cleveland State team that not only beat Butler last year 1-0, but is also coming off of a recent 2-1 upset over #1 ranked Akron. Although this game promises to be a dandy, it is unfortunate that not many fans will be able to watch it. The game time is scheduled for 10:00am on Friday morning due to a conflict with the Women's Horizon League Tournament game at 3:30pm. It would be so much easier if Butler just wasn't so good at sports.

Sports, as we all know, is not where it stops at Butler though. Joining Matt Howard and Gordon Hayward with Academic All-American recognition is Senior soccer star Conner Burt from Elkhart, Indiana. Burt has started every game this year for the Bulldogs and has been a vital component to the team's success. When I thought of updating this blog, I knew that hearing from Conner would be the icing on the cake.

The interview follows:

Me: First, I would like to congratulate you on your Academic All-American recognition. How have you been able to balance your school work with your athletic responsibilities? Without going too cliche on you - what does the Butler Way mean to you

Conner: I think the Butler Way is simply being excellent in all facets of your life. As a student at Butler goes through their four years, they learn a lot about who they are, what drives them, and how they ought to be a beneficial member of society--I think the The Butler Way facilitates this process and sets a foundation for future success. My individual success is simply a result of setting goals, not being complacent, and always putting forth excellent work--be it soccer or school.

Me: Butler currently is ranked #3 and #6 in two separate polls this week, how does that ranking speak to the hard work that the team has put forth during the off-season?

Conner: To be honest, the rankings are nice, but are just a snapshot of what's going on behind the scenes. As a senior, we've worked day in day out to arrive where we are now...certainly that does not come easy and a ranking in a particular week can't capture what we've put in to get to this point. I guess at the end of the day, we're going to remember all the work we put in and the trophies we raised, not our top 10 ranking for a few weeks throughout a season.

Me: When the season began was there any indication that the team had top ten talent? And more importantly did anyone think you could still be undefeated going into the last regular season game of the year?

Conner: I certainly think there was belief coming into this season. As opposed to past years, we feel like we can play and compete with any team in the country. If you look at our past two seasons (13-3,13-2 records)...we're a gritty team that doesn't like to loose. This difference this season is that we believe in each other and have confidence that we'll get a result every game. At the same time though, you don't look at a season and get ahead of yourself. We take each training session as an opportunity to get better and play the game we love, and don't take things for granted. Really the only thing we worry about is our next game and what we need to do to prepare.

Me: Lets talk about IU. Last year saw Butler getting an unfavorable draw in the NCAA tournament playing an IU team that you had already played (and beaten) in Bloomington. Was this years 4-1 thrashing pay-back?

Conner: I don't think it was necessarily a payback. As freshman, we all set a goal that by the end of our careers, we'd beat Indiana two years in a row. At the time, this was lofty, considering we hadn't beaten them in 10+ years. We all went into the game knowing the implications: we had been ranked fairly high so far throughout the season, and a lot of people considered this our first "real test" (which is not necessarily the case because our league games have all been tough, as have some other games like Loyola Maramount) and so I think the guys felt like we had something to prove. Not to mention as a soccer player from Indiana, you grow up hearing about the prestige and success of IU's program--and rightfully so. But as we've shown the past two years, we've built a program to be proud of.

Me: You have scored some crucial goals throughout your Butler career - a few game winners. How does it feel to score that last-minute goal to earn a victory for the team?

Conner: I tell you, its what you play the game for. When it's overtime, golden goal--its really about who has more guts. And as we've shown all season, we're determined to get results for 120 minutes. Scoring the goal is great -- and this season, our celebrations have really gotten a lot more elaborate (which makes it even better). In the end though, whether I get the game winner or its someone else, you always feel great that you got a result as a team.

Me: Cleveland State (your final test of the season) took down #1 ranked Akron last week. CSU has been a tough outing for you guys in the past - how do you overcome a team like CSU?

Conner: CSU is always a tough to play against. They're a quality team--and them beating AKRON is a testament to the quality and parody within our League...even though we don't get very much respect. At the end of the day, we treat each game similar, and focus on what we do well. Its what has gotten us to this point, and will continue throughout the season.

Me: Regardless of the result on Friday, you have already clinched the Regular Season Title and home field advantage for the Horizon League Tournament. What can we expect for the post season? Is a national championship out of reach?

Conner: First our sights are set on the Horizon League Tournament. Its one thing we've not conquered since I've been here, and is our primary focus right now. As for the NCAA's...I think we've got a bigger perspective this year. Last year, we were happy to be there and excited to get an bid. Since last season ended, I think there's been a bit of a bitter taste in our mouth. Now that we know what its like and are more experienced, everyone knows that this season could be something special. But you can't get to the National Championship without winning in the first round. So that's where our focus is.

Me: I appreciate your time and want to end this brief interview with some rapid fire one-two word responses.

1. What is next for Conner Burt?

Conner: Adventures

2. If you had to compare yourself with a professional soccer player who would it be?
Conner: John Terry (minus his personal life ha)

3. Funniest teammate?
Conner: Blake Lyden

4. Who would win in a number crunching battle - you or Matt Howard?
Conner: Depends on who has a mustache at the tim

5. What do you do when you aren't studying or playing soccer?
Conner: Fly Fish

6. Favorite food?
Conner: Avocados?

7. Band?
Conner: Right now--Freelance Whales or AudioDax