The Butler Bulldogs have a problem. Behind their never-ending search for a reliable offense, second-half breakdowns, and inability to stop anybody on defense is a common issue: they've never faced a gauntlet like this before.
The living was easy in the Horizon League. A string of Butler head coaches came and went, but the Bulldog dynasty rolled on to ten regular season titles in fourteen years. Ten NCAA Tournament appearances in the same timeframe put the program on the map and propelled the Midwest's favorite Cinderella into the same conversation as the big boys. Back-to-back national championship trips mean you're one of the best teams in the country, period.
Then came a quick stop in the Atlantic 10 and a 27 win season that opened the door to Butler's final destination: the Big East. Bright lights, big city, new conference, and tougher challenges.
With Brad Stevens going pro and the team's top returning scorer out for the season, expectations were deservedly tepid at the beginning of the season. However, a 10-2 nonconference slate, with two close losses to top opponents on a neutral floor, raised hopes dramatically for the Butler faithful. This program has slayed giants before, why not in the Big East?
Butler's past three seasons-
|Conference Opponents*||2012 (Horizon)||2013 (Atlantic 10)||2014 (Big East)|
|...in the KenPom Top 25||0||3||4|
|...in the KenPom Top 50||0||3||8|
|...in the KenPom Top 100||2||10||16|
*Regular season only, multiple games against the same opponent are each counted
No cupcakes. In a two-year span, Butler has gone from facing just one top 100 opponent (twice) and having six games against teams outside the top 200 to having just one opponent ranked worse than 87th. Even in the best of circumstances, most programs would fold from that shift.
Creighton's past three seasons-
|Conference Opponents||2012 (MVC)||2013 (MVC)||2014 (Big East)|
|...in the KenPom Top 25||2||2||2|
|...in the KenPom Top 50||2||2||6|
|...in the KenPom Top 100||8||10||14
What about Creighton? The Big East's new top team had a much tougher road to hoe in the Missouri Valley Conference than Butler faced in the Horizon League, but its schedule last season matches up pretty closely with Butler's A-10 opponents. Of course, its always easier to adjust when you have the best player in the country on your roster.
Butler's biggest problem in its new home? Its lack of continuity to past success has seemingly turned a rough stretch of games into a death spiral. Now at 1-7 in the conference without last year's coach or top scorers, the Bulldogs have been dropped into an Olympic pool without first learning how to tread water. In 2012, a good win over Illinois-Chicago could get Kellen Dunham's shooting touch back or help Khyle Marshall focus on crashing the boards a bit more. Last season, games against Forham and Duqesne provided a bit of a respite too. This year there are no guarantees. Once you're down in the Big East, its really hard to claw your way back to the top.