INDIANAPOLIS – It is a rite of passage for Brad Stevens in March. The weather lightens up a bit and he spends his spring days preparing his basketball team for the postseason.
The Butler men's basketball coach is completing his sixth season in guiding this program and he – and his coaching staff – is spending this week preparing for another postseason tournament for the sixth time.
“It's really hard to get here,” Stevens said. “You have to celebrate a little bit that you get here.”
Stevens just makes it appear easily accomplished.
Butler (26-8) was awarded the sixth seed in the NCAA Tournament East Regional and will face 11th-seed Bucknell (28-5) at Rupp Arena in Lexington at 12:40 p.m. Thursday (Tru TV).
It is the fifth time in Stevens' six seasons as a head coach that his program earned a trip to the NCAA Tournament. Last season, the Bulldogs won 22 games but had to settle for the CBI.
“You can't take (the NCAA bid) for granted,” Stevens said. “I don't care if you are at Butler. I don't care if you haven't been there in 30 years. I don't care if you're at Carolina or Duke. It's not a given. You have to earn it.”
Butler has had an extraordinary level of success in the NCAA Tournament under Stevens. The Bulldogs won their first game of the 2008 tournament in Stevens' first season, and then advanced to the national title games in both 2010 and 2011.
So what is it that makes the Bulldogs so difficult to battle at this time of the year?
“I know Brad used to work for Eli Lilly,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said earlier this month after losing to Butler. “He should've worked at IBM. The amount of set plays that cat draws up is off the charts.”
Mack spoke of the difficulty in trying to give his team an excessive amount of information to digest – and the Musketeers are very familiar with what Butler does. Imagine if you are a Bucknell coach this week and only have a couple of days to prepare for the Bulldogs.
“We are in our 'War Room' trying to figure out how to summarize (what Butler does) for our players,” Mack explained. “We are handing our players stacks of papers and they are looking at us with blank stares.”
That complexity proves even more challenging if your team is competing with Butler in the second game each week of the tournament. In that instance, the Bulldogs' opponent has just one day to prepare its players for them. But it isn't just the complexity of Butler that makes them a “tough out,” but also this program is filled with talent and toughness, as well.
“Brad does an amazing job with his kids,” Mack said. “They are so together. They play unbelievably physical. Our guys know what to expect when they play Butler. There are no free lunches. You are going to have to earn every single thing that you get at both ends of the floor.”