By DAN KELLY AND JOSH NEWMAN
Special to ZAGSBLOG
And what a short stay it was.
After a one-year stint in the A-10, Butler is reportedly headed off to the new-look Big East next season.
According to multiple reports late Friday and early Saturday, an announcement that Butler, Xavier and Creighton will be joining the Catholic 7 in the new Big East could come as early this coming week. A year from now, Butler is expected to play in the postseason a few subway stops away at Madison Square Garden.
“I don’t know about that, but I know this, this was a heck of a challenging year,” Stevens said after Butler lost to St. Louis, 67-56, in the A-10 semis at the Barclays Center on Saturday afternoon, “This is a heck of a league. To win 13 games (it was actually 11) and to win seven away from home (it was actually six) against the teams that we had to beat against our schedule?”
If Saturday was indeed his last game in the Atlantic 10, it will be remembered as a day where everyone was reminded how dangerous St. Louis is.
The Bulldogs shot just 38.9 percent from the field, committed 20 turnovers and lost all three meetings to interim head coach Jim Crews and the Billikens this season by an average of just under 11 points per contest. An older, veteran group, the Billikens are beginning to look like they can make a serious run once the NCAA Tournament begins next Thursday.
When Stevens quipped that he doesn’t want any part of the Billikens, he means it.
Entering the day, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi had the Billikens as the No. 5 seed in the West Region, while the Bulldogs were the No. 7 seed in the East Region.
“I’ve said all year to people that have listened, and some that don’t, how good they are,” Stevens said of St. Louis. “They are a legitimate contender for the whole thing and I believe that wholeheartedly.”
When Stevens left his job at Eli Lilly and Company to join the Butler coaching staff as a volunteer in 2000, he could not have possibly imagined that 13 years later he would be sitting at 165-48 as the head coach, on his way to his fifth straight NCAA Tourney appearance with a move to the Big East on the horizon and mentioned as one of the elite young coaches in America.
While this current Big East is losing some of the biggest coaching names in the game like Rick Pitino, Jim Boeheim, Mike Brey and Jamie Dixon, Stevens is set to join other big names in John Thompson III, Buzz Williams and Steve Lavin. With what Stevens has accomplished in six years at Butler, it’s not like he’ll play second fiddle in the coaching ranks in the new Big East.
Stevens has a .774 winning percentage since taking as head coach before the 2007-08 season, which makes Stevens one of the top seven winningest coaches of the last five years (his first five), along with names like Boeheim, John Calipari, Bill Self, Roy Williams, Thad Matta, Dave Rose and Mike Krzyzewski.
Butler’s record in the NCAA tournament (11-4), including improbable trips to the national title game in 2010 and 2011, and their performances against elite opponents (they defeated both Gonzaga and Indiana this season) are reasons to believe that Butler will continue to win when they arrive in the new Big East.
“You’re going to St. Joe’s and Dayton to open it up, you’ve gotta go to VCU, you’ve gotta go to St. Louis, La Salle and UMass,” Stevens said of his A-10 schedule. “Only St. Louis comes back to you, which, by the way, you don’t really want them to come back. It was a remarkable run for our team.”