ROSEMONT, Ill. - Butler may be mired in its worst men's basketball season in 25 years, but when feeling depressed over how this winter has evolved – both outside of Hinkle Fieldhouse, as well as inside of it – the Bulldog followers can always hang their hat on this:
At least they're not followers of DePaul basketball.
The Blue Demons (11-20, 3-15 Big East Conference) and Bulldogs (13-16, 3-14) are battling to stay off the bottom of the league standings, but in Thursday's 79-46 demolition of DePaul, the two programs could not have appeared any further apart. And that goes for the future, as well.
“Our guys have done a great job of coming to work every day in practice,” first-year Butler coach Brandon Miller said. “To be able to practice, and get back, and focus on some of the fundamentals that have slipped throughout the year, we got back and had very good practices. Our guys' mindset was terrific in this game. We were ready to play from the jump.”
Therein lays the difference between these two programs.
Butler has a roster filled with energy and enthusiasm, regardless of its record; while DePaul has apparently checked out mentally on the 2013-14 season. And by the size and emotion within Allstate Arena, so has its fan base.
Butler entered Thursday's game as the next-to-worst shooting team in the conference, yet the Blue Demons allowed the Bulldogs – on DePaul's Senior Night, no less - to score 18 of the game's first 22 points.
“It was clearly a frustrating loss for us on Senior Night,” DePaul coach Oliver Purnell said. “Obviously, I would've have liked to see us compete harder and better.”
Or compete, period.
There are only two teams that this smallish Butler group has been able to outrebound within the Big East, but against the Blue Demons, the Bulldogs rebounded better than Bill Clinton post-Monica Lewinsky.
Butler grabbed 46 rebounds to DePaul's 29 (including a 16-6 advantage offensively).
The announced crowd of 6,206 was filled with fans in Butler gear, and this being the seventh consecutive year that the Blue Demons have posted a losing record (and sixth straight year they could finish last in the conference), why would this program have any level of strong following?
Purnell was hired four years ago after highly successful stints at Radford, Old Dominion, Dayton and Clemson, but he's been no better his predecessor, Jerry Wainwright, who was fired during his fifth season with the program. In fact, Purnell has been worse.
Wainwright won 52 games during his first four seasons, while Purnell has won 41, including just nine Big East games.
Mounting losses aren't going to be accepted by Butler fans, whose expectations for success need to be adjusted with each step up in competition by this program. However, they can at least be tolerated for a short time as long as there is effort, enthusiasm and competitiveness from the players and coaches.
DePaul showed none of those traits Thursday.
Purnell offered an explanation as to why his team was lethargic in its regular season finale, but it can't possibly sit well with the few Blue Demon fans remaining steadfast in their support.
“(Center) Sandi Marcius turned his ankle right before the game,” Purnell explained. “(Guard) Billy Garrett had a nose bleed right before the game. It just seemed like it was a little too much for our group.”
Butler fans have been frustrated beyond belief this season, but give this team credit, it's been done in by a lack of size, strength, depth, and talent in its first year at this level, in this conference. However, Miller's kids have never given in due to a sprained ankle to a guy who plays less than half the game and a nose bleed.
Those within the Butler program are adamant that the Bulldogs have hope for a bright future, and Thursday's performance was an indication of such.
“Our guys still come in every day to compete,” Bulldog senior Khyle Marshall said. “The record has never mattered for us. We approach every practice, every game the same way.”
Conversely, Purnell offered a less than convincing forecast for his program.
“We've got several more good players coming in next year,” Purnell said. “Clearly, we've got some good young players. Those guys will be more experienced. With a little good fortune, I think we'll be a lot better.”
Those “good young players” have never demonstrated the ability to succeed in this league, and relying on “some good fortune” to overcome adversity such as nose bleeds probably won't sell in this market.