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.