While cursing myself and my netbook for not saving my "Plan Your Road Trips" article (memo to self - "Mr IT guy, make sure you have set your Word 2007 automatic backup for 2 minutes"), I decided to start my regular run of articles with "Questions and Answers". I will have the "Plan Your Road Trips" article this weekend.
The questions are entirely mine, but I like to think many people might be thinking the same questions. As for the answers, their mine too, but are they right? As Asia would sing "Only Time Will Tell". Hey, any excuse to get a great 80's song via Youtube into the mix. And yes, I went with an Asia with Greg Lake 83 Tour version.
Question - Is Butler on the verge of being "The New Gonzaga"?
Answer - Folks, they already are.
I submit to you the following, Butler's record for the past nine years as evidence.
2001-02 - 24-6 - NIT Second Round
2002-03 - 27-6 - NCAA Sweet 16 (defeated #21 Miss State and #13 Louisville, lost to Oklahoma)
2003-04 -16-14 - No Postseason
2004-05 - 13-15 - No Postseason
2005-06 - 20-12 - NIT Second Round
2006-07 - 29-7 - NCAA Sweet 16 (defeated ODU and #22 Maryland, lost to Florida)
2007-08 - 30-4 - NCAA Second Round (defeated South Alabama, lost to #6 Tennessee in a ridiculous seeding arrangement )
2008-09 - 26-6 NCAA First Round (lost to #20 LSU)
2009-10 - 33-5 NCAA Finals (defeated #25 UTEP, Murray State, #8 Syracuse,#7 Kansas State and #4 Michigan State lost to #1 Duke in final)
Overall Record Last Nine Years- 218-75 (74.4% Winning Percentage). Five NCAA tournaments, one NIT. One Second Round appearance, Two Sweet 16 appearances and one NCAA Finals appearance. A postseason record of 11-6 during that span (10-5 in NCAA Tournament games). Overall Butler has made ten NCAA appearances with an overall record of 13-10.
Now, take a look at the other Bulldog mid-major darling, Gonzaga, during that same time.
2001-02 - 28-3 - NCAA first round (lost to Wyoming)
2002-03 - 24-9 - NCAA Second Round (defeated Cincinnati, lost to #2 Arizona).
2003-04 - 28-3 - NCAA Second Round (defeated Valpo, lost to Nevada)
2004-05 - 26-5 - NCAA Second Round (defeated Winthrop, lost to Texas Tech)
2005-06 - 29-4 - NCAA Sweet 16 (defeated Xavier and Indiana, lost to UCLA)
2006-07 - 23-11 - NCAA First Round (lost to Indiana)
2007-08 - 25-8 - NCAA First Round (lost to #23 Davidson - I was there for that game).
2008-09 - 28-6 - NCAA Sweet 16 (defeated Akron and Western Kentucky, lost to eventual national champion North Carolina)
2009-10 - 27-7 - NCAA Second Round (defeated Florida State, lost to #8 Syracuse)
Overall Record Last Nine Years - 238-56 (81% winning percentage). Nine straight NCAA appearances. Four NCAA second round appearances, Two Sweet 16 Appearances. A NCAA postseason record of 8-9 during that time. Overall, Gonzaga has made 13 NCAA appearances with a 15-13 record.
Though Gonzaga has a better overall record and made four more NCAA appearances than Butler during that same nine year period, the Hinkle Fieldhouse Bulldogs actually have the better NCAA postseason record during that time. Also if you look at the last four seasons, Butler's overall record of 118-22 compares quite favorably with Gonzaga's record of 103-32.
If that's not enough proof that Butler has reached the Gonzaga stratosphere, take a look at the ESPN Bracketbusters list of teams. Notice a glaring omission from that list. Yup, Butler. Butler was the major attraction the last two Bracketbusters, winning a home game vs. Siena last season, and winning on the road vs Stephen Curry and Davidson in 2009. In fact Butler had been in the past four Bracketbusters.
Finally, I submit to you the piece de resistance to my argument that Butler is on par with Gonzaga. December 4th, Izod Center, Meadowlands. The rematch vs. Duke on ESPN. Then, there's another nationally televised game on December 18 at home vs. Stanford (and yes, there is the annual matchup vs. Xavier, this year a road game on December 9). Finally, Butler heads to the Diamond Head Classic, where they get Utah in the first round, and potentially matchups with Florida State, Baylor or San Diego State, all NCAA tournament teams from last season.
Despite the loss of Gordon Hayward, the Bulldogs still have Shelvin Mack, Matt Howard and Ronald Nored back, plus a talented highly recruited freshman in Khyle Marshall, so they are still a very talented team. And with a highly touted 2011 class coming in next year, plus the great coaching of Brad Stevens, the Bulldogs should be good for years to come. But Butler will no longer sneak up on anyone thanks to their incredible run that was one Gordon Hayward bank shot away from winning it all. The spotlight is firmly square on these Hoosiers, along with a tough schedule this season, to live up to the standard the other Bulldogs from Gonzaga have set for a longer period of time.
Question - Excluding Butler and Gonzaga, (and since we at the College Hardwood don't include A-10 teams as mid-majors), what other mid major teams that made the NCAA tournament last season are most likely to give us an Sweet 16 encore this season?
Answer - Old Dominion and Murray State
The Monarchs won at Georgetown, then won the very competitive CAA regular season and the CAA Tournament, coming from behind to knock off VCU in overtime in the semifinals, then ending the NCAA posteason hopes of William and Mary in the final. Then as icing on the cake, ODU came out and knocked off Notre Dame in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, before losing to Elite Eight member Baylor in the second round.
Four of the five starters from that team return - guards Kent Bazemore and Darius James, guard/forward Ben Finney and forward Frank Hassell. They did lose their best player, All CAA First Team, Gerald Lee. But super sixth man, Keyon Carter now joins the starting lineup. The Monarchs always have a deep team, with usually eight players averaging about 10 minutes or more per game.
Plus they have one of the best in game tacticians in Blaine Taylor, perhaps one of the most underrated coaches in the NCAA. Under Taylor, the Monarchs have made the NCAA Tournament three times in the past six seasons. The Monarchs have won 20 or more games in five of the past six seasons, with an overall record of 148-60 (71 percent winning percentage). If Hassell can step up and fill the scoring void of Lee (Hassell did shoot 54 percent from the field last season), then the Monarchs have a legitimate chance of not only making the NCAA Tournament, but doing serious damage in it. The home games vs. Richmond and Dayton, plus a road game at Missouri will be good indicators of how good this team is.
Meanwhile, Murray State last season nearly ran the table in the Ohio Valley with a 17-1 record. They followed that up by winning the OVC Tournament. Despite a 30-4 record, the No Clue At All gave the Racers a #13 seed which they took out on #4 seed Vandy, beating the Commodores on a Danero Thomas buzzer beater. Then Murray State gave Butler its toughest test of the tournament, outside of the loss to Duke (sorry Cuse, K- State and Michigan State fans, it's true - Murray State played them better than your teams). The Bulldogs had to rally late to knock off the Racers 54-52.
And here's the scary thought for the Racers' opponents. Ten players averaged ten minutes or more per game for Murray State last season. EIGHT of those ten players are returning, including their three top scorers - B.J. Jenkins, Isaiah Canaan, and Ivan Aska, each of whom scored over ten points per game. But it's not just balanced offense. The Racers led the OVC last season in scoring defense, field goal percentage defense, three-point percentage defense and blocked shots.
The Racers and college basketball fans are going to find out very quickly how legit they are. A road game vs. Mississippi followed later with three games in the 76 Classic. In the first round of the 76 Classic, the Racers face Stanford, followed by potential games vs. UNLV, Oklahoma State, Virginia Tech or Tulsa. Just one thing to note - Another mid major team cut their teeth in the 76 Classic last season before making a major NCAA Tournament run. That team was the Butler Bulldogs. Coincidence? Well, I am just saying...
By the way, both Old Dominion and Murray State are again in the Bracketbusters game. Both know you can never have enough exposure for that wonderful NCAA Tournament Committee.
Question - How does the Kanter Situation Play Out?
Answer - There is a good chance Kanter never sees the light of day with Kentucky and declares for the NBA Draft in 2011.
If you don't know by now, Kentucky and The Antichrist, John Calipari, recruited Enes Kanter, the #3 rated center prospect in the country who is originally from Turkey but played prep school basketball in California. He originally committed to Washington, then reopened his recruitment in February 2010 and two months later he signed a national letter of intent with the Ashley Judds. Now if only Kanter had just played prep basketball in California.
Based on several news articles, we know with certainty that Kanter played in nine games for the Turkish team Fenerbahce Ulker in the 2008-09 season, four in Euroleague play, and five in the Turkish league. In fact, my guess is that this was the reason why he had to leave two other prep schools - Findlay Prep in Nevada and Mountain State in West Virginia, because the other prep schools in the league refused to play them if Kanter was on those teams.
Now by current NCAA rules, if you play for a professional league, though you weren't paid, you have to sit 2 games for every one game you played (see the Brad Kelleher saga for details). That means Kanter would sit 18 games, or a good part of his freshman season.
But if it were just that, then Kanter would be able to eventually play with Kentucky. But whenever the Antichrist is involved, you know it's more than just that. The general manager of Fenerbahce Ulker, Nedim Karakas, said the club had given banking and housing records to the N.C.A.A.that show Kanter "received more than $100,000 in cash and benefits over three years from the professional team." But if that was not enough, Kanter has been "advised" by Max Ergel, who was described by a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article as "the agent" for former Milwaukee Bucks forward Ersan Ilyasova.
Of course the Antichrist has been defending his signing of Kanter. He is quoted as saying the following in a Sporting News article;
“You can’t have a contract before 18. You can’t be professional — you’re not allowed to be unless they’re violating FIBA rules,” Calipari said. “We know that, as in any other club, he received apparel. But there was no money, from what we’re seeing, what the kid is saying and the family, and what Nike is saying. There’s a lot of misinformation out there. You’ve got people talking about it that don’t know, just heard a rumor.”I guess the Antichrist considers Karakas a rumormonger. But it sure seems like the club's banking records are not just for "apparel". Also, if several prep school teams won't play teams that had Kanter on them, chances are those schools knew something fishy about Kanter's background. And those prep school coaches do their homework on foreign kids.
The reason I think that Kanter won't see the light of day with Kentucky is that the last thing the NCAA needs is bad press about them ruling lightly on this situation. Especially after the news came out about Josh Luchs' story on how he paid several college players a significant amount of money over several years. In light of this, the NCAA has to crack down on anything suspicious and someone is going to pay the price for that. Thus I think the NCAA will declare Kanter ineligible and he declares for the NBA draft in 2011. Anything less and the NCAA will be hammered on this.
And in sort of fitting end to this last story, the Antichrist stated on Tuesday that he figures his team will lose a lot of games early in the season. Needless to say that, outside of the Kentucky Blue fan base, no one will be shedding a tear for that. Especially John Chaney. However, Ashley, if you need a shoulder to cry on, I am sure plenty of guys, including Pat Forde are available. Me? Hey, my wife reads this column.