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Friday, June 21, 2024
The independent student publication of The University at Buffalo, since 1950

Will To Win

If you are shocked that the Butler Bulldogs are headed to their second-consecutive Final Four appearance, I'm here to tell you that you shouldn't be. All you have to do is take a look at Butler's head coach, and it becomes clear why this team is able to do what it has done.

Before we get into talking about this unbelievable team, it's important to note that the Bulldogs are only the third non-major conference team since 1979 to make back-to-back Final Four appearances (UNLV 1990-91, Houston 1982-84).

The way the Bulldogs play with a never-say-die mentality, and the way they work for every rebound and loose ball can be directly attributed to Brad Stevens, their head coach.

Stevens' rise to the head-coaching job at Butler is almost a perfect parallel to his team's rise to national prominence. Stevens started out as a volunteer in the Butler basketball office in 2000 shortly after graduating from DePauw University, where he played point guard for the Division III squad. He then was named the coordinator of basketball operations. In 2001, Stevens became a full-time assistant coach and then was named head man in 2007.

What really made me a Stevens fan was what he had to say after one of the biggest wins of the 34-year-old coach's career on Saturday.

"[The guys] carried their coach today in a big way," Stevens said. "I got outcoached big time. Our assistants and players did a great job. It's a special group and we're really lucky that they're Butler Bulldogs."

It's really nice to see a guy that is humble and able to give others credit. Just watching him throughout a game and how he interacts with his players on the sidelines shows how much he cares about his players and the game.

Under Stevens, the Bulldogs have gone to the NCAA Tournament in each of his four seasons. His teams just play hard when it matters most, and that's a rare trait in Division I college basketball.

How many star players take a possession or two off from time-to-time? It seems like every guy on the floor for Butler is busting his butt on every play – that's all coaching.

No matter what happens the rest of the tournament, Stevens probably can have any job he wants.

I can't say enough about Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack, and how well they compliment each other. Howard's toughness is a joy to watch and takes me back to the old school mold of guys who just knew how to play sound, fundamental basketball. Mack is an assassin, and his 3-pointer response to Florida's back-to-back 3-point display in the closing minutes of the game was simply amazing.

Mack is the kind of player that steps up in big games, and he'll need to do more of the same as the tournament winds down.

Virginia Commonwealth did the unthinkable on Sunday when it eliminated No. 1 seed Kansas and will be the next opponent for the Bulldogs. I guarantee nobody had these two squads penciled in to face off in the Final Four, but what an amazing time to be a college basketball fan. Two mid-major conference teams will battle it out for the right to play for the championship.

Don't be surprised if Stevens and his warriors are standing tall at the end of next weekend.

Winning is just what Butler does.

Email: sports@ubspectrum.com


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