These aren't Gordon Hayward's Butler Bulldogs. Nor Matt Howard's. Heck, they're not even Brad Stevens' anymore.
The last four seasons have developed a Butler brand that has competed with the nation's best. The lovable Horizon League underdog found themselves inches from a national title. Then the even more lovable and unlikely underdogs almost did it again a year later.
Two years later, Butler isn't on top of the world anymore. Their coach has left for the NBA and the recognizable names are all gone. Perhaps it's time for a rebuilding process of sorts, and the program's first season in the much more powerful Big East is a nice time to start.
So who are the Butler Bulldogs of 2013-14? Many of us might not have much of an idea, but Dave McConnell from the Butler site Victory Firelight (@ButlerVictory) does. He was gracious enough to stop by to tell us more about Butler's roster turnover and how Bulldog nation is handling the program's transition to the Big East.
Rumble In The Garden: Explain where Butler fits in the national hierarchy - imagine you're talking to a hoops newbie who knows Duke, Kentucky, and North Carolina exist, but the person doesn't watch the tournament or really know conferences' reputation. Who is Butler? Think: "What is our team known for?" or "Why might someone have heard of the team?"
Dave McConnell: Where do Butler fans think the team is in the national hierarchy, or where does Butler actually fit into that hierarchy? Those might be two separate things in some worlds. To state the obvious answer, the Bulldogs are known for being the small, cute, cuddly, private, mid-major school who made the storybook run to the 2010 national title game in their hometown of Indianapolis before painfully falling to mighty Duke in the final seconds. Thanks for reminding us!
Oh, and then the following season, Butler made an even more unexpected run to the national title game before losing...again. In short, the program has become the epitome of what every mid-major program dreams of - minus the national title, and now minus that mid-major label thanks to the unprecedented move to the Big East.
In the hierarchy, Butler fits somewhere in between the blue bloods and run-of-the-mills. The new conference will go a long ways to figuring out that identity nationally in the next 4-5 years.
RITG: Add a fun fact about the school or the program - something that would impress a person who is loosely familiar with the school.
DM: Fun fact? Well, the fieldhouse Butler plays in is a national historic landmark. It's also where one of the best sports movies of all time was filmed - "Hoosiers" - which is the script based on the 1954 Milan High School basketball team's triumph in the one-class Indiana state tournament. Oh, you knew that already? Sorry. Not trying to beat a dead horse.
RITG: How do you feel about the new Big East - being in the conference, worries about the future? What are you most excited about/ to see? What worries you?
DM: I both love it and am worried about it. Some of that is no doubt tied to the fact that Brad Stevens just bolted for the League. The Butler program is bigger than just one guy, but Stevens is widely considered the single biggest reason the Bulldogs now find themselves in the Big East...and poof, he's gone. From an exposure, monetary, growth, opportunity standpoint - what's not to love? Butler was in the Horizon League less than a year and a half ago. Name me one school who was a bigger winner in all of the conference realignment? (That's a rhetorical question.)
The two things that excite me the most are the overall exposure (and how that will affect recruiting) and the opportunity to have some really sexy home games on the schedule every single year. The biggest thing that worries me is that Butler won't be able to elevate itself to a point where it's consistently competing for conference titles and becomes just another middle of the road team struggling to make the tournament.
RITG: Which other Big East team are you most excited to see in action next year?
DM: I'd have to say Georgetown, just from a "newness" standpoint. That name and brand carries a lot of weight in the college hoops world, despite coach John Thompson's ability to completely lay egg after egg in the NCAA Tournament in recent memory (Editor's note: The Rumble did not ask Dave to add this in.).
Other than the Hoyas, I really respect the Marquette program and Buzz Williams. Butler and Marquette got a nice little primer last year when they played two epic battles to book end their seasons, and I think that set the tone for an interesting conference rivalry. If you put Buzz and new Butler coach Brandon Miller alone in a room, there might be some grappling and/or a tornado.
RITG: What does next season look like? Who leaves the program? Who is new? Who returns? Who is expected to be the on-court leader(s)?
DM: It's safe to say next year is a bit of a rebuilding year in terms of who returns, on top of the coaching change and second conference change in as many years. It's pretty crazy to think about all that has happened to the Butler program following the two Final Fours. This coming season, gone are the two centerpieces of last year's team: leading scorer Rotnei Clarke and big man Andrew Smith.
There is a fair amount of experience returning from the likes of senior Khyle Marshall and the junior pair of Roosevelt Jones and Kam Woods. Senior Erik Fromm will provide some stability as well, but the real keys to how well this season will go likely will lie in youth. Sophomore Kellen Dunham has to develop and has to be counted on to score consistently, and the incoming freshman class will have to be ready to come in and contribute. It's arguably the best class on paper that Butler has brought in, so we'll see how the introduction to the Big East goes for those guys. Nolan Berry, a 6-10 stretch forward, and point guard Rene Castro are the two freshman to really keep an eye on, but forward Andrew Chrabascz could easily earn playing time and has the strength to garner immediate minutes.
Stevens always handled freshmen pretty carefully, partly because of the time it takes to learn the unique defensive system, so it will be interesting to see how Miller goes about it with this roster. Size and offensive production in the post could be an issue, which would make it all the more difficult for Dunham to take that next step as a scorer.
RITG: In 100 words or less, explain your last season (or last three).
DM: I've alluded to it a few times, but man, the last three seasons have seen a little bit of everything. Starting with the second run to the national title game in 2011, Butler then had an expected "struggle" to still win 22 games with a very young and depleted roster the following year. Last season, the Bulldogs moved to the Atlantic 10, returned to the tournament and fell to Marquette in the Round of 32. But winning two of the best games in hoops all season - against No. 1 Indiana and the buzzer-beater over Gonzaga - are the ones to remember.
RITG: What's the big concern about next season?
DM: Another step up in competition, without a roster or budget that has been set up for the Big East. I'm not at all saying Butler can't compete in this conference and doesn't have some talent worthy of the leap. What I'm saying is that this is going to take some time. On the court, the biggest concerns are how the new head coach navigates his team and developing the very high ceiling for Dunham and Woods in particular.
Thank you, Dave, for helping us get more familiar with Butler as they move from the Atlantic 10 to the Big East. How will the Bulldogs do in its first season without Brad Stevens? We don't know, but Hinkle Fieldhouse ain't a terrible place to watch it all unfold.