The Horizon League may well be one of the most underestimated conferences in all of college basketball. Few programs have had the success that Butler has enjoyed over the past few seasons. For some reason, the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee seeded the Horizon League regular season and tournament champions as a #5 seed.
Butler (28-4) finished the season ranked at #11. If the math is true, they should have gotten a #3 seeding. Instead they draw a quality first round opponent in UTEP, another underseeded team. The Bulldogs also just ran the table in the Horizon League (first time that has ever been done), and hold the longest winning streak in the country at 20 games.
Three of the Bulldogs losses came to teams in the Big Dance. Minnesota, Clemson (one point), and Georgetown all managed to beat Butler during the regular season. Butler, however, holds wins against Siena, Ohio State, and Xavier, three more tournament teams.
Coach Brad Stevens, in just his third season, has an overall 77-14 record. Stevens is trotting a young team onto the court to face UTEP with just one Senior (Willie Veasley, pictured), one Junior (Matt Howard), and three Sophomores (Gordon Hayward, Ronald Nored, and Shelvin Mack).
If the Bulldogs can defeat UTEP, they would face the winner of the Vanderbilt-Murray State contest. If they can win two games in a row, they will be in the Sweet 16 and in all likelihood have a date with #1 seed Syracuse. Butler can beat Syracuse. Write that down somewhere.
No matter how far Horizon League teams seem to go in the tournament (Butler, Cleveland State, and Valpo have all done well in recent years) the reality seems that a #5 seed is the best the selection committee can give the conference.
Good Luck Butler! Represent the Horizon League with pride and knock ’em all down a peg or two.
(photo of Willie Veasley courtesy of Ron Stevens)