A dip was unavoidable for Butler.
After making the national title game two years in row, it was impossible to think this team was going to be able to remain as nationally relevant as they were the past two seasons. Title game or no title game, Butler is still Butler; a mid-major program in the heart of Indiana that doesn’t bring in one-and-done talent. That makes it nearly impossible to continue cruising when, as a program, you lose Gordon Hayward, Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard in the span of two years.
But I don’t think anyone expected to see that dip this early or this evident.
On Wednesday night, Butler lost an exhibition game to Northern State, a D-II program. They blew a 50-41 lead in the final 4:35, losing 53-50 when Alex Thomas hit three at the buzzer for the win.
“It’s going to take me some time to adjust to this team,” Butler coach Brad Stevens told David Woods of the Indy Star after the game.
“I guess we’ve got nowhere to go but up.”
If you are a Butler fan, I’m not going to tell you not to be concerned by this loss. But remember, this was just an exhibition, and this first one of the season to boot. Yes, the players are playing to win. And yes, the coaches are coaching to win. But the game itself is nothing more than a learning experience for the upcoming season. In these exhibitions, every coach in the country toys with lineups he wouldn’t normally trot out. He runs different offensive sets and calls unusual defenses. While the glorified scrimmages are used as a way to iron out wrinkles in the rotation and give the players some game experience, it also a chance for the coach to see, specifically, what works for his team and what doesn’t.
So yes, Butler lost an exhibition game to Northern State . And if you want to get worked up about it, I’m not going to blame you.
But remember, this was an exhibition.