INDIANAPOLIS – Butler came into Tuesday's men's basketball game against Villanova with a 10-2 record and after falling to the Wildcats 76-73 in overtime, technically, the Bulldogs are now 10-3. So yes, Butler lost on Tuesday. Technically.
But you'd have a difficult time convincing me that anything associated with the Bulldog program was a loser of anything last night after witnessing the evening in its entirety.
Butler played its initial game as a member of the Big East Conference and as far as I could tell, it was a winning effort all the way around – with the exception of the score.
“The atmosphere here in Hinkle Fieldhouse tonight was electric,” first-year Bulldog coach Brandon Miller said. “The crowd was terrific. Having our students gone (on Christmas break) and still having the support that we had, Hinkle got really loud tonight.”
The 9,318 fans in attendance had a lot to cheer for both from a micro standpoint, as well as a macro standpoint.
First of all, the Bulldogs (10-3, 0-1 Big East) could not have debuted in its new and ultra-challenging conference any better. Butler did what Butler has done for the better part of a quarter century; it played hard, smarty, fundamentally-sound basketball and scared the bejesus out of a nationally-ranked team.
“It was no surprise to us,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “Butler is an outstanding team. We had to play really well to beat them.”
The 11th-ranked Wildcats (12-1, 1-0) got tested more by Butler than they had in victories earlier this season over the likes of USC, Kansas, and Iowa. So the answer to the questions regarding Butler's ability to compete at the highest level possible in college basketball was answered emphatically.
“That was just so much fun, man,” Wright said. “The whole thing. Us being (at Hinkle Fieldhouse) for the first time, this place is awesome, the fans are great, Butler is an outstanding team, we played really well, it was just so much fun to be a part of.”
Secondly, the evening gave Butler fans a glimpse of the Bulldogs' incredibly bright future.
Sitting sideline calling the nationally-televised broadcast on Fox Sports 1 was the network's number one announcing team of Gus Johnson and Bill Raftery. It doesn't get much cooler than those two personalities airing your product.
Hinkle Fieldhouse wasn't quite sold out, but given it was New Year's Eve and the students are on break, being a few hundred seats short of filled to the brim was a pretty solid effort on the part of the Bulldog Nation.
And the fact that Villanova and Butler showed tremendous ability and effort in their quest to win just added to the ambience.
Really good teams with really good players are on their way to Hinkle Fieldhouse on a regular basis. Players and teams that are as good as exist in college basketball line the Bulldogs' schedule now. The Big East has been “Big time” for decades and it continues to be so, and the Butler program is just going to add to the league's reputation for excellent basketball.
“Raftery after the game he said 'Same old Big East, right,'” Wright joked. “It was. It was exactly what every Big East game comes down to.”
A national presence, NBA-level talent (Butler sophomore shooter Kellen Dunham will certainly make money aside from his business degree in the near future), a packed Hinkle Fieldhouse, all were signs of a dawning of a new era for the Butler program.
“Us transitioning into the Big East didn't happen overnight,” Miller said. “But to be able to play this game, the first game in the Big East, I look back, our coaching staff looks back, our basketball program looks back, and there were a lot of special things done by a number of different people for us to be sitting where we are.”
Miller hasn't done much wrong in his first six months on the job, but “looking back” isn't what needed to be done following Tuesday's game. Now is the time to look forward and with great anticipation.
“It was just so much fun to be a part of this,” Wright said. “Man, that was really cool.”
It absolutely was.