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

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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.

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.

UConn’s Tyrese Martin granted waiver to play this season

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn swingman Tyrese Martin, who transferred from Rhode Island in April, has been granted a waiver that will allow him to play for the Huskies this season.

The 6-foot-6 junior averaged 12.8 points and 7.1 rebounds and started every game last season for URI, where he was recruited by current UConn coach Dan Hurley.

NCAA rules require undergraduate transfers to sit out a season, but the organization has been more lenient in granting waivers during the pandemic.

Martin, 21, is expected to compete for playing time at UConn on the wing as both a guard and small forward.