INDIANAPOLIS – The banners hanging from Hinkle Fieldhouse’s dusty rafters are a constant reminder of achievement at Butler.
More national championship game appearances than any school in America over the last three years. The first Indiana school to reach back-to-back Final Fours. Four trips to the regional semifinals in the last decade.
It’s enough to make the even the best-known basketball programs jealous, and the Bulldogs are at it again.
After beating three top 10 teams for the first time in school history and moving into the top 10 this week for the first time in nearly five years, Butler is trying to show the college basketball world that beating the big boys, winning games late and making the impossible look plausible isn’t all that unusual around here.
I think you can teach what Butler is teaching, but I think more goes into it than just teaching it. It’s the entire environment, said Todd Lickliter, the coach who led Butler to the regional semifinals in 2003 and 2007 before taking the Iowa job.
He is now at nearby Marian University, an NAIA school.
As a coach, you send messages with everything you do in the program, from the top down, he said. The message Butler has sent is that it has fierce competitors who have a joy for competition and a joy for the game. Let me tell you, nobody had more joy in the game than Butler did the other night when it beat Gonzaga on a buzzer beater.
This season, stories include having a walk-on make a spinning 6-foot jumper to beat No. 1 Indiana, a sharp-shooter bank in a three-pointer to beat Marquette and Roosevelt Jones’ incredible steal with 3.5 seconds left and his 14-foot floater to upset No. 8 Gonzaga last weekend on national television. It’s not even February yet.
The Bulldogs don’t win them all, as Wednesday night’s loss in the closing seconds at La Salle proved.
On Friday, Butler said it expects to having leading scorer Rotnei Clarke back for today’s game against Temple. The guard missed the last three games with a severely sprained neck. He was injured duringthe first half Jan. 12 at Dayton
Team trainer Ryan Galloy said Clarke has been cleared for the game after returning to full-contact practice Thursday and remaining symptom free.
If there are no changes Friday night or today, Clarke will be permitted to play, Galloy said in a statement released by the team Friday. Clarke is averaging 16.3 points.
Those around the Butler program understand this is more than just good luck.
We believe that our strength lies in the group and not the individual parts, Butler alum and athletic director Barry Collier said. We had to work our way up to the upper division by trying to have a winning season, then having a winning conference season, then being in the championship hunt, then winning a championship and being in the NCAA tournament.
Collier is the architect of this program’s renaissance.
He took over as head coach of a beleaguered program in 1989. In 1997, he had the Bulldogs back in the tourney for the first time since 1962, and by 2000, they came within a whisker of upsetting Florida in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Since then, the names and faces of coaches and star players have changed, but the growth of Butler has remained remarkably steady for one reason: Everyone here believes in the system, the style and the ability to do things nobody else thinks possible.
Already this season, Butler (16-3, 3-1 Atlantic 10) has beaten teams from the ACC (North Carolina), the Big East (Marquette), the Big Ten (Indiana and Northwestern) and the SEC (Vanderbilt).
The Bulldogs won 13 in a row and have debunked the myth that they needed better athletes to compete in the Atlantic 10 by beating preseason favorite St. Joseph’s on the road and traditional contenders Dayton and Richmond.