Unless you are a die-hard fan, it can be a bit hard to remember much about Butler before Brad Stevens led them to back-to-back National Championship Game appearances. However, before Brad Stevens took the reigns, Todd Lickliter, the man Stevens has said he considers his mentor, was laying the foundation for Butler to turn into a formidable program.
In May 2001, Todd Lickliter was named Butler's head coach after Thad Motta accepted the same position at Xavier University. Lickliter was successful right from the start, leading the Bulldogs to 26 wins and a Horizon League title in his first season on the sidelines. His second year, 2002-2003, saw him lead Butler to 27 wins which gave him the 3rd most coaching wins of any coach in their first two seasons in NCAA history, behind Bill Guthridge (58), and Everett Case (55), respectively.
The 2002-2003 season also brings us to Butler's best game of the 2000's.
Even with 27 wins and another Horizon League title, the seeding committee did not think highly of the 2002-03 Bulldogs. This turned into a blessing for the Bulldogs though, because they ended up with one of the most desired seeds in the entire tournament, the 12-seed. After upsetting fifth-seeded Mississippi State, Butler had a tough task between them and their first Sweet 16 berth in over 40 years: Rick Pitino and the Louisville Cardinals
March 23, 2003 was the date, and the BJCC Arena in Birmingham, Alabama was the venue, and armed with prolific scorer Reece Gaines, Louisville jumped out to an early 26-14 lead in the first half. However, the Bulldogs kept scratching and clawing and unleashed a three-point barrage, ending the half with a 34-33 lead after a 20-7 run. Once the three's began to fall, Butler never looked back, as you can see in the video below (sorry for the horrendous quality). The barrage continued into the second half. By the final horn, Butler had gone 14-22 from beyond the arc, and for their second straight game Butler had pulled off an upset and were headed to their first Sweet 16 since 1962.
Although the Bulldogs' Sweet 16 matchup saw them fall to the No. 1 overall seeded Oklahoma Sooners, the win over Louisville went a long way in putting Butler basketball on the map, and had Brad Stevens not been on Todd Lickliter's staff for these games, it is possible he never would have garnered the knowledge of how to pull off these massive upsets like we saw in the early 2010's.