Butler’s back, baby.
The Bulldogs got 17 points apiece from Alex Barlow and Kelan Martin as they opened up a 13-point second half lead on No. 5 North Carolina, eventually holding on down the stretch to beat the Tar Heels by eight, 74-66.
Overstating the importance of a single win this early in the season can often times be hypoerbole, but that’s not the case in this situation. Butler has had a rough go of it over the course of the past 18 months. They lost Brad Stevens to the NBA last July, lost Roosevelt Jones for the entire 2013-2014 season, struggled to a 4-14 finish in their inaugural year in the Big East and then lost new head coach Brandon Miller last month to a medical leave of absence.
Miller may not be coming back. Ever.
And that’s to say nothing of the passing of the beloved Butler Blue II, Butler’s mascot.
So yeah, things have been tough for the Bulldogs of late.
And that’s what makes this win so important.
Look, beating a top five team for a program that is predicted to finish in the bottom of their conference is always going to be important, and that’s to say nothing of the fact that, in this tournament, it means that Butler is now in the winner’s bracket and almost guaranteed to get games against two more quality opponents. Winning your first game in an event like this can sometimes be the difference between being on the wrong side of the bubble and being a No. 10 seed.
But for this group? With all that they’ve been through? It’s an enormous boost of confidence, one that could reignite what looked to be a temporarily dormant program.
There’s more to it, though. This is yet another in a long line of statement wins by teams in the Big East.
I’m not going to lie, I was very down on the Big East heading into this season. I didn’t think there was a clear cut tournament team outside of Villanova, but through the first two weeks of the college basketball season, the league, as a whole, is 37-2.
And they’re not just beating up on nobodies, either. Creighton came from 18 down to beat Oklahoma, who is a sleeper to win the Big 12 this season. Villanova won the Legends Classic by pounding No. 14 VCU and knocking off No. 19 Michigan. Providence, who is ranked No. 25 in the Coaches Poll, blew out Florida State and knocked off a Notre Dame team that should make the NCAA tournament this season. Seton Hall won their preseason tournament. Xavier emphatically beat quality mid-majors Long Beach State, Murray State and Stephen F. Austin. Georgetown has looked impressive in their early season wins.
The Big East will eventually come back to earth, but these early season wins have not only proved that the league has more talent than we expected this season, it has put them in a position where their conference RPI will be strong enough that it could land them an extra at-large bid or two.
You can say these November basketball games don’t matter, but when those bubble watches start coming out in January, you’ll see why that simply isn’t accurate.