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New challenges facing Butler basketball

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For more on college basketball, follow Tom Davis via Twitter at Tom101010.

New league raises level of competition for Bulldogs

Friday, September 7, 2012 - 3:27 am

It didn't take long for Butler men's basketball coach Brad Stevens to realize what he and his team were in for once the Bulldogs began play in the Atlantic 10 Conference this winter.

"It sunk in the day we joined," Stevens said recently. "Because I knew what was coming."

Now Stevens knows not only "what is coming," but when it is. The league released its conference schedule on Thursday and it will definitely appeal to the Butler fans that want to see high quality hoops.

"The non-conference portion of the schedule is, and always has been, terrific," Stevens siad in a release. "And when we get into league play, without a doubt you can look at it and say that this is as challenging a conference schedule as Butler has played in a long, long time."

In addition to the difficult Atlantic 10 schedule, Butler will face at least 16 teams that advanced to postseason play last season, including NCAA Tournament teams Indiana, Marquette, Gonzaga, Xavier, Virginia Commonwealth, Vanderbilt, St. Bonaventure, Saint Louis and Temple. Additional 2012-13 foes Northwestern, Dayton, La Salle, Massachusetts and Saint Joseph's each played in the NIT, while Penn and Evansville were in the College Basketball Invitational (CBI).

"I want to play a schedule that energizes our players and gets them excited about the challenges they'll face," Stevens said.

The Bulldogs will play Indiana at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis on Dec. 15, while the November schedule is highlighted by a trip to the Maui Invitational on Nov. 19. where they will battle Marquette in the first round. That tournament field also includes NCAA Tournament teams North Carolina, Mississippi State and Texas, plus Illinois, USC and Chaminade.

The rest of Butler's non-conference slate includes home games against Elon (Nov. 10), Hanover (Nov. 27), Ball State (Dec. 1), Evansville (Dec. 22), Penn (Jan. 2), New Orleans (Jan. 5) and Gonzaga (Jan. 19), and road games at Xavier (Nov. 13), Northwestern (Dec. 8) and Vanderbilt (Dec. 29).

A twist in the non-conference schedule will include a game against Atlantic 10 rival Xavier in the ESPN Tip-Off Marathon. It will be regarded as a non-conference game due to it being scheduled prior to Butler joining the A-10.

A special day at Hinkle Fieldhouse will be the Jan. 19 date with Gonzaga, as the crew of ESPN Gameday will visit Hinkle Fieldhouse for the first time.

Butler will be introduced to the A-10 with a pair of rugged road games. The Bulldogs will visit Saint Joseph's on Jan. 9 and then travel to Dayton on Jan. 12. Butler's first A-10 home game will be against Richmond on Jan. 16.

Other conference foes to visit Hinkle Fieldhouse will be Temple (Jan. 26), Xavier (Mar. 9), Saint Louis (Feb. 22), Charlotte (Feb. 13), Duquesne (Feb. 19), St. Bonaventure (Feb. 6) and Rhode Island (Feb. 2). The Bulldogs will play conference road contests at Fordham (Feb. 16), George Washington (Feb. 9), La Salle (Jan. 23), Massachusetts (Mar. 7), VCU (Mar. 2) and Saint Louis (Jan. 31).

"This year we have road games in great places, like Maui, New York, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, etc.," Stevens said. "Our guys are going to have a chance for some great experiences, and that's the best part of this."

Butler returns four starters and 12 letterwinners from last year's 22-15 squad, which advanced to the semifinals of the CBI. Included among the returnees is 6-11 senior Andrew Smith, who was the team's leading scorer last season, and 6-4 sophomore Roosevelt Jones, who was the squad's leading rebounder.

Stevens also has added four newcomers, including 6-0 senior guard Rotnei Clark who sat out last season after transferring from Arkansas. Clark averaged 15.2 points and earned second team All-SEC honors in his final season with the Razorbacks.