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No. 18: Butler Bulldogs

Image (1) butlerbulldogs.png for post 318

2009-10 record: 33-5 (18-0), first in Horizon
Lost to Duke in NCAA championship
Coach: Brad Stevens, 89-15, 3 years
Last NCAA miss: 2006
2010-11 roster [click here]
2010-11 schedule [click here]

The good: “The Butler Way” should continue thanks to the return of Shelvin Mack, Matt Howard and Ronald Nored. They were three of the key cogs to the Bulldogs’ magical season, all of whom are primed for more in 2011.

Coach Brad Stevens doesn’t bring in top-flight talent, just guys who can hit outside shots, play defense and avoid dumb mistakes. Even if the transition to guys like Zach Hahn, Shawn Vanzant and Andrew Smith isn’t seamless, Stevens’ system ensures the bumps are small.

The bad: There’s nowhere to go but down.

That’s harsh, but it’s what Butler faces during the 2010-11 season. If it doesn’t run away with the Horizon, is that a failure? What if the Bulldogs can’t snag a couple of NCAA tournament wins? Or (gasp!) if they don’t even make it? That’s life after a dream season - expectations take the fun out of everything.

The unknown: Who’s the difference maker? Butler doesn’t play for the title without Gordon Hayward’s game-changing ability. Mack and Howard are good, but can’t take over a game, which means the Bulldogs have no room for error when they face elite teams.

Not that the Bulldogs mind.

Mike Miller’s also on Twitter @BeyndArcMMiller, usually talkin’ hoops. Click here for more.