After losing Charlotte to Conference USA and Temple to the Big East, the Atlantic 10 Men’s Basketball Conference appeared destined to spiral down the crapper like a stale floater on a scorching hot summer afternoon. Alas, the clouds dissipated and two beacons of light shined down from the heavens in the forms of Virginia Commonwealth and most recently, the Butler Bulldogs.
Seemingly overnight, the A-10 went from down-and-out to being on the up-and-up. Temple will be missed but VCU and Butler’s programs are every bit as good as Temple’s, and in recent history, better. Both programs also represent a significant upgrade over the powerhouse that isn’t the Charlotte 49ers.
And while Butler moving to the A-10 in the future was already a done deal as of a couple weeks ago, on Tuesday night the school announced this gem: rather than wait until the 2013-2014 season as originally planned, the Bulldogs will join the A-10 immediately for the 2012-2013 season. Good news for the fans, good news for the Bulldogs, good news for the Atlantic 10… not so amazing for the Horizon League Conference, who in a fit of bitterness apparently lashed out at Butler and forced their hand on making the earlier-than-expected conference switcheroo.
Regardless of the inevitable sour grapes feeling the Horizon League is no doubt still digesting after losing its marquee program to bigger and better things, it’s still sad that the two parties will be leaving on such awful terms. Neither party is discussing the specifics, but according to whispers, the Horizon League was seeking to ban Butler from postseason play in the Horizon League Tournament had they returned as a lame duck team for the 2012-2013 season as initially planned. The Bulldogs raised the status of Horizon League Men’s Basketball to uncharted heights, so it’s beyond upsetting to see the conference go all “scorned woman” on Butler.
As a lifelong Bulldogs fan who attended the Butler Basketball Camp for several consecutive summers as a child – and even once beat then-coach Barry Collier in a game of Knockout (Not bad for an Elementary School kid, eh? Collier is now the Athletic Director at Butler by the way.) – I am giddy to see what kind of damage the Dawgs can do in the A-10. I live within jogging distance of Hinkle Fieldhouse, yet despite having been to many games over the years have never had Butler season tickets. (Dad, if you’re reading this, I’m already thinking of ways to butter you up so you’ll go “halfsies” with me on a pair of season tickets.)
Many pundits are already expecting the Bulldogs to contend for the A-10 title in their first season, and on paper these expectations seem fair. Butler returns 4 of 5 starters this season, the lone loss being that of awesome basketball player
out of control turnover machine Ronald Nored. Khyle Marshall and Andrew Smith both had somewhat disappointing 2011-2012 campaigns, but both players look ready to finally turn the corner this season.
Coach Brad Stevens is reloading the backcourt with two lethal shooting guards who can fill it up from deep: 4-star recruit Kellen Dunham, a 6’5″ shooting guard with a silky jumper and deceptive slashing ability, and Rotnei Clarke, a 6′ transfer from Arkansas who will be one of the best 3-point shooters in the country.
Butler’s biggest deficiency last year was shooting, so it’s not surprising that Marshall and Smith struggled. With the subtraction of Nored and the addition of two pure shooters, the paint should be much less congested for the Butler big men to operate this season.
All signs point to Butler contending for the Atlantic 10 title from the jump - just don’t tell Blue II about the longer plane rides - I hear bulldogs tend to get gassy when nervous.