The Butler Bulldogs played in the National Championship Game for the second consecutive year this season. It has been one of the most consistent programs in college basketball in the past decade. However, many key players are graduating, such as Matt Howard, Shawn Vanzant, and Zach Hahn, and there is uncertainty about the possibility of Shelvin Mack leaving school early to pursue an NBA career. It begs the question: What is the future of Butler basketball?
Lets begin with the personnel for next season. Returning contributors include: Andrew Smith (C), Khyle Marshall (F), Ronald Nored (G), and Garrett Butcher (F). Of the returning players, only Andrew Smith averaged over 6 points per game (8.5). Much of the production next season will come from underclassmen who did not contribute this season, and their highly touted recruiting class. Butler’s recruiting class includes: Roosevelt Jones, Jackson Aldridge, Kameron Woods, and Andy Smeathers. Each of these recruits is rated above 85 out of 100 in most recruiting rankings. The Bulldogs have significant talent departing, but also have significant young talent joining the program. While it may take a few years, Butler will soon reproduce the talent of the past decade.
But how will recruiting capabilities for Butler change in the next 10 years? In the next 20 years?
Those questions will be answered, in part, by the resurgence of the Indiana University Basketball program. Indiana is one of the top 10 programs in the history of college basketball. The Hoosiers have won 5 NCAA National Championships, which is tied for 3rd and trails only UCLA (11) and Kentucky (7). Indiana has won 20 Big Ten Championships, including in 1976, when the team went undefeated en route to the National Championship. However, in recent years, Indiana has faltered. Kelvin Sampson, the head coach of Indiana from 2006-2008, committed five major NCAA violations in 2008. This resulted in loss of scholarships and other program restrictions that are still limiting the progress of the program.
So how does the Indiana basketball program affect Butler?
Both Butler and Indiana recruit heavily within the state of Indiana and in neighboring Illinois. In fact, it is a yearly battle between these two institutions for the best recruits in these two states. In the past few years, Butler has been winning the battle. Butler recruited Gordon Hayward, Matt Howard, and Andrew Smith, among others, from the state of Indiana during or just prior to the fall of the Indiana basketball program. Just this year, Butler recruited highly touted high school prospects Roosevelt Jones and Andy Smeathers from Illinois and Indiana, respectively. Butler is currently convincing highly talented local players to commit, most of whom would have chosen Indiana in the past. The question is, how long will this trend last?
The trend will not last for that much longer. Indiana is still feeling the limitations of the sanctions imposed upon the program in 2008, but the program is rebounding. Tom Crean, the head coach of the program who just completed his 3rd year with the Hoosiers, is the perfect person to restore Indiana basketball. His fiery energy on the sidelines and in the locker room permeates the rest of the program. The players love playing for Crean, the fans respond to the energy he brings, and the Athletic Department supports the integrity with which he runs the Hoosier program. Tom Crean is in the process of bringing this program back to glory, and it won’t be long before Indiana is again a top 10 program in the country.
Which school will the Indiana and Illinois recruits choose once Indiana basketball is restored? One would have to say Indiana. The combination of the program history, media attention, and fan support at Indiana is nearly unmatched by any program in the country. When Indiana finally escapes the hole it was put into by Kelvin Sampson in 2008, the Indiana and Illinois recruits will be eager to play for Indiana University, for Tom Crean, and in Assembly Hall. And everyone wants to wear the Candy Cane striped warmup pants.
Butler basketball will continue to succeed over the next few years. It has a very impressive incoming recruiting class this year, with a player from both Illinois and Indiana. However, as the Indiana Hoosiers basketball program returns to prominence, which it will in the next few years, more and more local recruits will choose Indiana, leaving Butler to settle for either out-of-state prospects or less talented in-state players. The long-term future of Butler basketball is not bleak, per se, but the school will soon no longer be the only game in town.