If Butler’s Final Four streak hits three next season, Brad Stevens should be immediately inducted into the basketball Hall of Fame. Hell, if they make the Sweet 16, the same might apply.
Butler junior Shelvin Mack decided to forgo senior season and stay in the NBA draft, leaving the Bulldogs without three starters and their best scorer and perimeter player from a 28-10 team.
He’s the second Butler player to leave early in the last two years, but unlike wing Gordon Hayward, Mack isn’t a first-round lock, which means he’s not guaranteed any money if he is taken in the second round. He’s OK with that, though.
“I think it’s a good time for me personally to go after my dreams,” he told David Woods of the Indianapolis Star.
There’s no reason to doubt Stevens will mold the Bulldogs into a winning team. “The Butler Way” hasn’t failed him yet. But it’ll be interesting to see how quickly players like Andrew Smith, Chase Stigall, Chrishawn Hopkins and Khyle Marshall develop into the program’s go-to guys when players like Mack and Matt Howard have filled those roles. (Not to mention incoming freshmen such as Kameron Woods, Andrew Smeathers, Roosevelt Jones and Aussie Jackson Aldridge.)
And that’s where Stevens comes in.
He helped develop Mack, Howard and Hayward into the players who helped the Bulldogs to two straight Final Fours. None of them were seen as game-changers when they arrived at Butler. Yet they turned into something special.
Now’s when Butler is tested most, similar to how programs like Gonzaga and Xavier have the last 10 decades. When players left, they reloaded without a significant rebuilding period.
Can Butler do the same?
The Bulldogs would’ve flirted with the Top 25 rankings again next season with Mack in uniform. Without him, they’ll be among the Horizon League contenders and a solid bet to the make the NCAA tournament. That may not sound like much for a team coming off back-to-back Final Fours, but it’s a start given that they lost two early entrants to the NBA draft.
That’s no small thing.
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