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Horizon League title sends message to NCAA

It sounds easy, and the odd thing is, it really has been that simplistic during the last decade or so for Butler basketball.

Tuesday night’s win against Wright State gave Butler (28-4, 18-0) its second Horizon League Tournament title in three years and the school’s fourth-straight ticket to the big dance.

Not too shabby for third-year coach Brad Stevens, the DePauw alumnus coach who has already amassed 112 wins at the Bulldog helm. Oh, let’s not forget the fact the guy is just 11 years out of college himself.

After two Sweet 16 appearances in the last seven years, some still want to pin Butler as a mid-major program.

Nay to the naysayers who continue to slam Butler by labeling it as the favorite in the 12-5 upset slot or as the heavily respected No. 7 or 8 seed.

Let’s get real here: Does a mid-major have four of its five starters, including the week’s MVP, selected to the all-conference team? Does it send its seniors out dancing four years in a row? Not in the college basketball game I know.

We saw St. Mary’s thrive on the play of Paddy Mills a year ago and Gonzaga’s string of regular-season success start with Adam Morrison’s monopoly in the West Coast Conference.

While what those types of teams have done during the years is a great feat and deserving of occasional at-large and NIT berths, the track record doesn’t lie. The Bulldogs have made noise then, but also in March, when the real ‘Dogs come out to play.

Coming in to Tuesday night’s Horizon League Championship, I had questions regarding Butler’s ability to compete with the elite this year.

But the balanced, sharpshooter-like attack witnessed Tuesday in historic Hinkle Fieldhouse proved the contrary.

“We felt sorry for ourselves and didn’t play as well as we needed to,” Wright State head coach Brad Brownell said following his team’s loss.

It’s easy to feel sorry for yourself when playing a team like Butler, especially when its two stars in Howard and Heyward combine for 10 first-half points and the rest of the team shoots almost 62 percent from behind the arc in the first 20 minutes.

Sounds to me like Butler should be playing its pre-NCAA tourney ball later this week.

“They’re going to be a tough out for someone out there,” Brownell said. “They’re not going to be afraid of anyone they play.”

I’ll say.

What will be interesting come Sunday after the nets are cut down at Conseco Fieldhouse is where exactly the selection committee places Butler, and thus whether or not they have come around and seen the light.

Butler isn’t just a fundamental, star-set basketball team. It’s confident. The Bulldogs not only believe they belong with the big boys, but they know they do.

Maybe it’s time everyone else jumps on the bandwagon.

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