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Butler’s step up to the big time signified by charter flights?

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Welp, I think we can officially say that Butler has made it as a high-major, nationally relevant program.

And it’s not because they hosted College Gameday on Saturday or have managed to climb into the top ten while missing their leading scorer. It’s not because they made the jump to the Atlantic 10 and are considering making the leap to the new league formed by the Big East’s Catholic 7. It isn’t even because the Bulldogs made back-to-back national title games and have the best, young head coach in the business running the show.

It has nothing to do with their success.

And everything to do with … their travel? According to David Woods, the Butler beat-writer for the Indy Star, the Bulldogs no longer take busses to every game. They fly, sometimes commercial but usually charter flights. They’ll be flying charter to La Salle for Wednesday’s game and will be taking a charter to every Atlantic 10 road game for the rest of the season.

That comes at a cost:

Depending on the destination and length of flights, charters can run from $20,000 to nearly $40,000. Butler schedules charters through Anthony Travel, the same company used by Indiana, Purdue, Notre Dame and about 30 other Division I schools. Tim Lindgren of Anthony Travel said the company acts as a liaison with travel brokers.

Butler once called on donors to help with fundraising so the team could fly by charter, but now the cost is budgeted. Butler coach Brad Stevens said the university recognized travel expense would increase when Butler left the Horizon League to join the Atlantic 10.

Stevens said the charters are “part of investing and doing it the right way.”

By “investing and doing it the right way”, Stevens is saying that this is how the Bulldogs go from being a blip on the radar to having longevity as a contender, something that can be sustained even if Stevens decides to leave for another job.

There’s a convenience level at work here as well.

Butler’s playing a more national schedule. The Atlantic 10 is much more spread out than the Horizon League. Longer trips mean more potential travel pitfalls. Flying coach means a flight could be delayed. Taking a bus means that the team may not make it back from a game until 4 a.m.

Chartering a flight not only allows the Bulldogs to schedule their travel around practices and classes, but it means that players will have that much more time to study, work out and sleep.

Being able to afford those luxuries makes you one of the big boys.

Butler won when there wasn’t a level playing field. Now they spend like a high-major.

So watch out.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

No. 1 Kentucky survives without Tyler Ulis in lineup

Tyler Ulis
AP Photo/Chuck Burton
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Less than a week after giving No. 2 Maryland all they could handle, Illinois State went into Lexington and gave No. 1 Kentucky fits.

The Redbirds never really threatened UK in the second half, but they went into the break tied and were within single digits down the stretch, eventually losing 75-63.

Kentucky was flustered. They turned the ball over 15 times compared to just eight assists, they shot 2-for-12 from three and just 29-for-46 (63 percent) from the charity stripe. They simply did not handle Illinois State’s pressure all that well.

And there was a reason for that.

Tyler Ulis didn’t play.

Sometimes it’s difficult to appreciate just what a player brings to a team until that player is not in the lineup, and that was precisely the case with Ulis on Monday night. It was crystal clear what he provides Kentucky. Beyond leadership and the ability to break a press without throwing the ball to the other team, he’s a calming presence. He doesn’t get rattled when a defender is harassing him and he doesn’t get overwhelmed by a situation like a mid-major threatening the No. 1 team in the country in their own gym.

He’s everything you look for in a pure point guard, and for as good as Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe have looked at times this season, it should be crystal clear who the most important player on this Kentucky team is.

LSU loses to Charleston, eliminates at-large bid margin for error

Ben Simmons
AP Photo/Kathy Willens
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Ben Simmons scored 15 points and grabbed 18 rebounds, the second time in his six-game career that the LSU freshman has collected that many caroms, but that wasn’t enough for the Tigers to avoid dropping a game on the road to the College of Charleston, 70-58. It was the third straight loss for Simmons’ crew, as they fell to Marquette and N.C. State at the Legends Classic last week.

But here’s the thing: LSU didn’t just lose.

The game really wasn’t close.

LSU was down by as many as 23 points. It was 39-17 at the half, and that was after Charleston had a shot at the buzzer called off upon review. They made a bit of a run in the second half but never got closer than seven. When LSU would cut into the lead, the Cougars would respond with a run of their own, killing LSU’s spirit while keeping them at arm’s length.

[RELATED: Ben Simmons’ one college year a waste?]

Now, there are quite a few things here to discuss. For starters, LSU’s effort was, at best, apathetic, and, at worst, regular old pathetic. The team has a serious lack of leadership that was plainly evident on Monday night; would Fred VanVleet let his team fold against a program picked to finish at the bottom of the SoCon? Would Tyler Ulis? For that matter, would Tom Izzo or Mike Krzyzewski or John Calipari?

Perhaps more importantly, does any of that change when Keith Hornsby and Craig Victor get back?

Simmons did show off his potential — 18 boards, four assists, he even made his first three of the year — but he also showed precisely why there are scouts that are trying to curtail the LeBron James comparisons. Simmons was 4-for-15 from the floor with seven turnovers against a mediocre mid-major team. There are so many things that Simmons does well, but scoring efficiently — particularly in half court setting — and shooting the ball consistently are not on that list.

But here’s the biggest issue: LSU may have put themselves in a situation where they aren’t a tournament team. As of today, they’re 3-3 on the season with losses to a pair of teams that, at best, seem destined to be in the bubble conversation on Selection Sunday in addition to this loss to Charleston. The rest of their non-conference schedule is ugly. The only game worth noting is at home against No. 6 Oklahoma at the end of January.

The NCAA factors in non-conference schedule strength when determining at-large teams. You need to at least try, and LSU didn’t try; they have one of the worst non-conference schedules in the country.

The great thing about being in the SEC — as opposed to, say, the Missouri Valley — is that the Tigers will have plenty of chances to earn marquee wins. Six, by my court: Kentucky twice, Texas A&M twice, Vanderbilt on the road and Oklahoma at home. They probably need to win at least two or three of those games to have a real chance, and that’s assuming they can avoid anymore horrid losses in the process.

The season isn’t over six games in, not by any stretch of the imagination.

But LSU has done a hell of a job eliminating their margin for error.