For Butler, the ‘Madness’ of March is already here

Butler's Sean McDermott grabs a rebound against Seton Hall's Angel Delgado (31) during the first half of a game earlier this season in Indianapolis. (By The Associated Press)
Butler University men's basketball coach LaVall Jordan calls a play during the first half of a game against Seton Hall earlier this season in Indianapolis. (By The Associated Press)

The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament won’t get underway for another 25 days, but for many teams, “March Madness” is essentially already underway.

If you are a Villanova or a Purdue or a Virginia, then hey, your season speaks for itself and you’ll without question be receiving the coveted postseason bid on Selection Sunday next month. However, for a number of programs, take Butler for instance, there is still a lot of work to be done – or undone.

The Bulldogs (17-10, 7-7 Big East) will host Providence (17-9, 8-5) today at noon (FOX), and it is the second of five critical games to close the regular season, each of which will have a significant impact on the Bulldogs’ postseason.

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“This league is so good,” first-year Butler coach LaVall Jordan said following his team dropping the first of those important games (an 87-83 loss to Georgetown) recently, “if you get caught up in (thinking about the NCAA Tournament), Providence is coming in here, Georgetown is really good, St. John’s was here and they are really good, I think that it shows a maturity if we keep ourselves focused on the next day and the next one, because there is no time to look ahead.”

Jordan is correct, but the fact of the matter is, what happens today does indeed affect tomorrow at this point of the season in college basketball.

On one hand, Butler has a solid resume with impressive wins over Big Ten leader Ohio State and No. 2-ranked Villanova.

Butler also recently took No. 4-ranked Xavier into overtime before losing, which counts as a “good loss,” and adds to Butler’s strong strength of schedule, which is currently rated as the 12th best nationally.

The Bulldogs are currently projected as an 8-seed by ESPN.com with an RPI of 45 (and BPI of 27).

Jordan’s program would be safe if “Selection Friday” was today, but it isn’t.

However, Butler also has lost to a 15-11 Texas squad, as well as dropped home games to Georgetown and Seton Hall, both of which are below the Bulldogs in the latest Big East standings.

“Teams are too good, coaches are too good, and every body is playing better,” Jordan said.

And that is a problem for the Bulldogs.

The loss to Georgetown at Hinkle Fieldhouse this past week increases the importance of winning the remainder of the games, none of which are easy.

“The conference, as a whole, I am enjoying watching the competitive level in each and every game,” Jordan said recently. “There are no gimmes. You have to show up, you have to play well, you have to execute, and the demands are very, very high.”

The Hoyas (5-9 in Big East) are a great example of that.

Georgetown has almost no chance at making the NCAA Tournament, but it was good enough to have had Butler down 20 in the first half in Washington, D.C., before beating the Bulldogs in Indianapolis.

Providence has already beaten Butler handily (70-60) in Providence, and the Bulldogs still have games remaining with Creighton (which has beaten Butler 6 of its last 9 meetings), at St. John’s (which has won four consecutive games, including contests against No. 1-ranked Villanova and No. 4 Duke), before closing the regular season at Seton Hall (which won earlier this season at Hinkle).

It is not unfathomable to state that Butler could lose seven straight games to close its regular season.

“I think this is the best league in the country,” Jordan said. “The talent is at a high level and nobody is throwing in the towel. Everybody is still playing 40 minutes of competitive basketball, so every night you have to show up and bring your best.”

The calendar currently says “February,” but that sounds a lot like the month of March.

For more on college basketball, follow Tom Davis on Twitter at Tom101010 and on Facebook at Thomas Davis.

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