INDIANAPOLIS – As a player Butler men’s basketball coach Brad Stevens only advanced as far as winning a sectional championship at Zionsville High School, though to his credit, that was achieved under the old single-class system. However, as a coach, he has become top ‘Dawg (no pun intended) of the Hoosier State.
With the Bulldogs’ 75-67 victory over Evansville on Saturday in front of 9, 190 fans at Hinkle Fieldhouse, Stevens finished this season unbeaten in five games against Indiana programs (they have wins over Hanover, IUPUI, Ball State Indiana and the Purple Aces).
“It’s better than last year,” Stevens joked.
A year ago, Butler lost six of its nine games against in-state rivals, but this season – like most years’ past – Stevens has dominated.
Since Stevens was named to lead the Butler program in 2007, his teams have won 25 of its 32 games against Indiana teams.
“I didn’t really think about that,” Stevens said. “(But) It’s important to me. It’s important for these guys to play well against the teams that are in your state.”
What Stevens has demonstrated since taking over the Bulldog program in 2007 is that not only is he not fearful of challenging his team against in-state squads, he isn’t weary of scheduling any team in the country.
Depending on the varying rankings, the Bulldogs (9-2) are generally regarded as having one of the nation’s top 10 most difficult schedules through the first two months of this season. That trend will continue through this week, as Butler travels to Vanderbilt on Saturday (ESPNU, 8 p.m.).
“You’ve got to be up on you’re A-game for every game,” Stevens said. “When you play a schedule like we play, people don’t always look it that way.”
Unlike some programs in BCS leagues that pad their resumes with virtual certain victories over lower-level teams (and Butler did play Hanover), the Bulldogs have tested themselves beyond comprehension this season.
Stevens’ team has played at Xavier and Northwestern, as well as neutral court games with Marquette, North Carolina, Illinois, and top-ranked Indiana.
“I’m proud of the way of the way that we’ve managed the first 11 games,” Stevens said. “To be 9-2 after this first 11 (games) is good.”
Surprisingly, Stevens said that often the most difficult games can be against opponents such as Evansville, which battled the Bulldogs into the final minute before falling.
“The hardest part isn’t necessarily (the nationally-renowned teams), it’s Evansville,” Stevens said of his early schedule. “It’s Ball State, it’s teams that are long-standing teams that you’ve played against, rivals that you’ve played against in this state.”
That latest RPI rankings (which take into account strength of schedule) has Butler ranked sixth in the nation. That ranking will no doubt lower once Butler enters play in the Atlantic 10, but Stevens doesn’t expect the challenges to slow.
“I do think that when we get into the A-10, especially the early stretch in the league,” Stevens explained, “it’s going to be just as challenging if not more so.”