If you feel the need for a touch of sanity during this mad March, look no further than Butler. Seeded fifth in the West, the Bulldogs survived the chaos by displaying their characteristic calm. "We pride ourselves on keeping our heads, no matter how the game is going," says sophomore point guard Ronald Nored. "If you beat us, it won't be because you rattled us."
This is an article from the March 29, 2010 issue
That coolness was put to the test during the first two rounds at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, first by 12th-seeded UTEP, which held a six-point halftime lead. Butler responded with a second half that was more efficient than spectacular, quieting an upset-thirsty crowd by holding the Miners to 37.5% shooting in a 77--59 win. "They never cracked," said UTEP coach Tony Barbee. "They never got those big eyes that teams get when they're worried." In the second round 13th-seeded Murray State put a bigger scare into the Bulldogs—or would have, if Butler ever got scared—by getting the ball with 18 seconds left, trailing 54--52. Even then the no-frills Bulldogs created the kind of March moment that suits them: not a miracle shot at the buzzer but a blue-collar defensive play. They kept the Racers, who had already knocked off fourth-seeded Vanderbilt, from pulling off a second surprise when forward Gordon Hayward deflected a pass, then dived on the floor to bat the ball downcourt as time expired.
The Bulldogs, whose 22-game winning streak is the longest in the nation, moved on to their Sweet 16 matchup with Syracuse having shown some of the qualities that could very well take them further. They have the ability to get defensive stops at crucial times, a patient offensive style and a scorer who can carry that attack when it stalls—sophomore guard Shelvin Mack, who was 7 of 9 from three-point range against UTEP. Beyond that, their confidence in their program's core principles, which they call the Butler Way, gives them a sense of serenity regardless of the situation. "It's about demanding commitment, constantly seeking improvement and putting the team above self," says forward Matt Howard. "We believe if we stick to those ideas, things will work out O.K."
It also helps to have a versatile player like Hayward, a 6'9" sophomore who can slash to the rim, score from the perimeter and, as Murray State found out, use his long wingspan on defense. The other Bulldogs weren't surprised that he got his hand on guard Isaiah Canaan's pass, but his headlong dive for the loose ball—well, that floored them. "I'm not exactly known for that kind of thing," Hayward says. Last season coach Brad Stevens coined the motto TGHT, which stands for The Game Honors Toughness. Hayward's teammates joked that it could also mean, "Teach Gordon Hayward Toughness."
Maybe that lesson is no longer necessary. Despite the challenge of playing a top seed, Hayward & Co. seem fully capable of advancing past the Sweet 16 for the first time in school history. Just don't remind them that the Final Four is in Indianapolis, less than six miles from their campus. "That's not something we think about," Nored says. "All we concentrate on is the next step." That, too, is the Butler Way.