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?