This is my last installation of the RTC Class Schedule series. Here are the first nine:
The nightmare for mid-major haters out there has been realized: Butler will be a top ten- yes, top ten– team for the next two full seasons. Their starting backcourt of Shelvin Mack and Ronald Nored are both sophomores. One of the best frontcourts in the nation- post presence Matt Howard and inside-outside stud Gordon Hayward– is a junior and sophomore, respectively, with neither likely to enter the NBA Draft before four years at Butler. They lose two seniors who receive regular minutes after this season with swingman Willie Veasley (8.9 PPG, 4.3 RPG) and forward Avery Jukes (3.2 PPG) departing, but neither should pose a crippling loss. Sharpshooter Zach Hahn (41% 3pt) is just a junior and backup guard Shawn Vanzant is a junior, as well. Coach Brad Stevens has lured the #32 center in the nation Andrew Smith into the fray for this year and the #22 small forward in the country Khyle Marshall for 2010. The Bulldogs are loaded for the foreseeable future and should run roughshod over the respectable Horizon League, possibly beginning a historical conference run for the next two campaigns beginning with a visit from rival Valparaiso on December 5.
Butler has a realistic shot at a top-three seed in the NCAA tournament and backed up their high standing with a challenging non-conference slate coupled with a Horizon League schedule that has Hinkle Fieldhouse inhibitors wondering if undefeated is possible within the conference. Let’s dig deeper into the path Butler must take in hopes of being the first mid-major to reach the Final Four since George Mason in 2006.
Non-Conference Schedule Rank: 8.5. The Bulldogs will be challenged in mid-November when they make a trip to fringe-NCAA contender Northwestern in Evanston. The Wildcats return star forward Kevin Coble and his perimeter shooting along with senior point guard Michael Thompson. They have hopes of making the field of 65 for the first time in school history. Butler enters the most difficult preseason tournament this season in Anaheim with a tremendous first round game against Big Ten contender Minnesota (returns nearly everyone including freshman Royce White entering) and a possible second round contest against UCLA. Potential top-ten team West Virginia looms in a possible championship game along with Texas A&M and Clemson. Butler also welcomes a bolstered Ohio State team to Hinkle followed by a visit a week later from Xavier and new coach Chris Mack. Butler also faces Georgetown– featuring Chris Wright, Austin Freeman and Greg Monroe- to headline the Jimmy V Classic in NYC and travels to rebuilding UAB. Even with the high standards at Butler, that’s a hell of a non-conference schedule for a mid-major.
Cupcake City: The frosting isn’t too heavy for Butler. Stevens does have a return game from Davidson, who obviously won’t be nearly as lethal without Stephen Curry. Evansville has some decent pieces- and Butler must travel there- but the Aces shouldn’t challenge Butler too long. A short trip to Ball State also looms as less-than-imposing. That said, those 300+ RPI teams that most teams stack at least a few times on their non-conference slate is lacking from Butler’s schedule. Once again, give Brad Stevens tremendous credit.