Once the disappointment wears off, Butler will be proud of what they accomplished

2 Comments

HOUSTON – The ending was far from story book.

If life were a movie, if the 2011 Final Four were to have happened in a Hollywood screenplay, the ending would have been quite different. Just one year removed from nearly taking down college basketball’s villainous empire and playing without quite possibly the only lottery pick that Brad Stevens will ever suit up in a Butler jersey in Hinkle Fieldhouse, the Bulldogs would have taken down the UConn Huskies and their superstar point guard and their sanction-riddled head coach.

It was perfect.

After nearly pulling off one of the greatest postseason runs in the history of the sport, Butler struggled through much of the season before hitting their stride in February, winning nail-biter after nail-biter in March, and cutting down the nets in April.

But Hollywood just wasn’t in the cards.

For the second straight year, Butler’s season came to a disappointing conclusion as the Bulldogs were once again the national runner-up, falling to UConn 53-41.

The disappointment in the Butler locker room was palpable. It was full of hung heads and reddened, swollen eyes that had recently been wiped clean of tears. Last year, the Bulldogs were disappointed, but they were playing with house money. They were the loveable underdog, a team from the Horizon League leaving a trail of destruction through the big boys en route to the national title game.

This season?

Butler truly believed they belonged. This was no longer a mid-major with a feel-good story. This was a powerhouse program that plays the game the right way while being led by one of the country’s best coaches, regardless of age. This was a team with a different swagger. In their eyes, they were a national championship program. Its why last season’s disappointment became this season’s devastation. Butler was, legitimately, crushed.

“We’re just coming out of a locker room that’s hurting, a locker room that’s got a lot of pride because of the way our kids carried us this year and the way our five seniors have acted their entire career, what they’ve done for Butler,” Butler head coach Brad Stevens said after the game. “It’s hard to talk about the game and really care about the intricacies of the game when you’re talking about the personal relationships and the things that you develop as a team over time.”

The Bulldogs have every right to be disappointed. They should be devastated. You aren’t a true competitor if you can lose a national title two years in a row and not be upset. Hell, I was hurting just being in that locker room.

But the Bulldogs have no reason to be ashamed. Once the hurt wears off, once the pain of the loss begins to subside, one can only hope that the Bulldogs can look back and understand what they accomplished. They played for a national title two seasons in a row. That’s an impressive accomplishment for anyone. For a team from the Horizon League, where getting into the tournament is usually considered a great season, its a truly remarkable and legendary feat.

“Its been really fun to be a part of these last two teams,” Butler’s junior leader Ronald Nored said after the game. “To be a part of a program that doesn’t even necessarily care about the result of a game but more about each other? We can talk about what happened in the basketball game, but the thing in this locker room is all about the seniors. We’re just upset that they have to go.”

This was a team that accomplished something that no one thought possible. This was a team that showed that you don’t need the budget of a power conference school to compete. This is a program that proved its not necessary to have a roster full of McDonald’s all-americans to play for a national title. More than anything Butler showed the college basketball world that deep tournament runs are possible for teams that do things the right way.

The Butler way.

“Being such a competitor, [this loss] hurts a lot,” Shelvin Mack said, just minutes after going 4-15 from the floor against a smothering UConn defense. “You work so hard to get to this stage and you’re not able to get over the hump, its a very humbling experience.”

“It’s really hard to put that into words right now because, you know, we wanted a little bit more,” Matt Howard said.

“Maybe at some point I can look back and be proud of what this group has accomplished.”

There should be no maybe in that sentence.

It may take a day. It may take a month. It may take a year. But eventually, every single member of this Butler program should hold their head high.

Because the Bulldogs’ two year run is one of the most incredible feats in college basketball history.

Syracuse’s Tyus Battle to test NBA draft waters

Abbie Parr/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Syracuse announced on Friday afternoon that sophomore guard Tyus Battle will be declaring for the NBA draft without signing with an agent, giving him until the NCAA’s May 30th deadline to withdraw from contention and return to school.

Battle averaged 19.2 points as a sophomore for the Orange, who made a surprising run to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.

He is a projected late-first round or early-second round pick given his size, shooting ability and skill with the ball in his hands.

Losing Battle would be a massive blow to a Syracuse team that is already going to be without Matthew Moyer, who transferred out of the program, and Dareus Bazley, who is heading to the G League instead of enrolling in college.

Maryland’s Kevin Huerter declares for NBA draft, won’t hire agent

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
1 Comment

Maryland wing Kevin Huerter announced on Friday afternoon that he will be declaring for the NBA draft without hiring an agent, giving him the option of returning to school by May 30th.

“This will be a great experience for Kevin to get honest feedback from NBA teams and executives,” said head coach Mark Turgeon. “Taking advantage of this opportunity will allow Kevin and his family to make an informed decision about his future.”

Huerter is a 6-foot-7 wing known for his ability to shoot from the perimeter. He averaged 14.8 points and shot 42 percent from three as a sophomore.

He is also the third player from Maryland to declare for the 2018 NBA Draft. Justin Jackson, a borderline first round pick who missed time last season with a shoulder injury, has signed with an agent while Bruno Fernando is testing the waters. Maryland, who has an excellent recruiting class coming in, will be a preseason top 20 team if Huerter and Fernando both return to school.

Huerter is a borderline first round pick.

Michigan’s Charles Matthews to test NBA draft waters

Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Michigan guard Charles Matthews announced on Friday that he will be declaring for the NBA draft, but that he does not intend to sign with an agent, meaning he has until May 30th to withdraw from the draft and return to school.

“After careful consideration with my parents and coaching staff, I am excited to announce that I will be declaring for the 2018 NBA Draft without hiring an agent,” said Matthews. “I give thanks to the Lord for this amazing opportunity, as well as the entire University of Michigan for their support. Go Blue!”

Matthews, a redshirt sophomore that averaged 13.0 points and 5.5 boards for the national runners-up, was a four-star prospect coming out of Chicago and spent his freshman season at Kentucky.

Matthews is a likely second round pick with the potential to climb into the first round should he prove to be a more consistent three-point shooter. He shot just 31.8 percent from beyond the arc this past season.

Virginia’s Hunter to return to school for sophomore season

Eric Espada/Getty Images
Leave a comment

De’Andre Hunter announced on Friday afternoon that he will not be entering his name into the NBA draft and will return to Virginia for his redshirt sophomore season, a decision that will have as much of an impact on the 2018-19 college basketball season as any that is made this spring.

Hunter, now a potential top ten pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, was one of the breakout stars of the 2017-18 season. A 6-foot-7 combo-forward with a 7-foot-1 wingspan, Hunter averaged 9.2 points and 3.5 boards while shooting 38.2 percent from three in just under 20 minutes a night for a Virginia team whose pace severely limits the kind of numbers a player like him can put up.

Throw in his ability to defend on the perimeter and in the paint, and Hunter is precisely the kind of player that NBA teams are looking to land as basketball becomes more and more built on positional versatility and the ability to space the floor.

And it’s that versatility that will make Hunter so important for the Cavaliers next season.

Let’s go beyond the simple fact that he is going to be the only guy on the Virginia roster that can create his own shot against length and athleticism and that there is a chance that he could end up being an all-american next season if things play out the right way. What makes Hunter so important to Virginia his that his defensive versatility is what allows Virginia to matchup with teams that want to try and play small-ball against them.

That’s precisely what UMBC did in the first round of the NCAA tournament, a game that Hunter missed with a broken wrist. We all know how that played out, and I’m not even dumb enough to pin all the blame of a 20-point loss to a No. 16 seed on a guy that played less than 20 minutes a night.

Virginia choked once they realized that there was a chance this could happen, but I would argue that a major reason they couldn’t ever truly assert their dominance was because they were unable to matchup with UMBC’s four-guard lineup without Hunter.

With Hunter back, Virginia is the No. 6 team in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25. If he had declared for the draft and signed with an agent, I’m not sure I would have had the Wahoos in the top 20.

He takes Tony Bennett’s club from simply being good to once against being a contender for the ACC regular season title.

Vanderbilt the sixth Kentucky player declares for the NBA draft

Michael Reaves/Getty Images
1 Comment

Jarred Vanderbilt is now the sixth Kentucky Wildcat to declare for the NBA draft this spring, joining P.J. Washington and Wenyen Gabriel in testing the waters without signing with an agent.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kevin Knox and Hamidou Diallo have all declared for the draft and signed with an agent.

Vanderbilt announced his decision on Friday afternoon.

“This season wasn’t easy for me,” Vanderbilt said. “At the end of the day, my goal has always been to make it to the NBA.”

“I know I have more to my game to show, but now I’ve got to figure out if the time is right for me to do it at the next level or if I would be better to return to school.”

Vanderbilt missed the first 17 games of his freshman season with a left foot injury, a foot that he had injured twice before during his high school career. He then missed all four of Kentucky’s postseason games with a left ankle injury, and there is a chance that he could end up needing surgery to correct this issue this offseason.

All told, the 6-foot-9 Vanderbilt played in 14 games as a freshman, averaging 5.9 points and 7.9 boards in just 17 minutes a night. But issues with his ability to shoot from the perimeter and a lower left leg that has proven to be extremely problematic, there is a good chance that Vanderbilt would go undrafted should he decide to turn pro.