KRAVITZ BLOG: Butler needs to win Thursday in the Big East Tourney, or it might get dicey

Butler coach LaVall Jordan call a play for his team during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Creighton in Indianapolis, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Bob Kravitz

Butler head coach LaVall Jordan is not a bracketologist. He knows where Butler stands in terms of NCAA Tournament inclusion, knows Thursday night’s Big East Tournament game against Seton Hall is huge, but ask him about the RPI and KenPom and whether the Bulldogs are on or off the bubble, and he’s not particularly interested in all the tournament permutations.

So I’m here to help.

If 6th seed Butler loses for a third straight time this season to third-seeded Seton Hall, this time at Madison Square Garden in New York City, the program will spend Sunday late afternoon watching the Selection Show with their stomachs in their throats. Lose again, and the Dawgs will be squarely on Joe Lunardi’s bubble and everybody else’s bubble, especially if some other non-power-conference teams steal bids this week.

Right now, Lunardi, the ESPN bracketologist, has them as seventh seed while playing in Detroit, and in a fascinating twist, he’s got them playing Purdue in the second round. Their grip on that spot, though, is tenuous at best. They’ve lost two in a row to finish the Big East regular season and have dropped five of their last seven, which speaks to a team that’s wheezing and stumbling to the finish line.

Now, if they win Thursday…they’re in.

They’ve got to be in, don’t they?

Unless, again, there are a spate of bid-stealing teams who pull upsets during conference-tournament week, in which case, it gets dicey once again.

They lose, and things get more interesting than they needed to be.

The Dawgs have a strong resume. Some bullet points:

  • They finished 9-9 in a conference that is second to the Big 12 in conference RPI rankings.
  • They have a neutral-site victory over Ohio State, which finished second in the Big Ten.
  • They beat Villanova, which is expected to get a No. 1 seed and is 27-4 heading into the Big East Tournament.
  • They knocked off Utah, which is tied for third in the Pac 12.
  • They are ranked No. 24 in KenPom and have played the 23rd toughest schedule in the country, also according to KenPom.
  • Of their 12 losses this season, nine have come to teams who are expected to reach the NCAA Tournament. Six of those losses came to teams ranked in the Top 25 at the time of the game.
  • They are ranked 24th in KenPom, 45th in RPI and 44th in KPI.

And yet, all those bullet points might mean very little in the end. Two weeks ago, the Bulldogs were an NCAA Tournament shoo-in, but they’ve collapsed recently and last week dropped games against St. John’s (without their top player, Shamorie Ponds) and Seton Hall (without Desi Rodriguez).

What’s gone wrong? It’s a little bit of everything. One night, it’s turnovers. Another night, it’s rebounding. Another night, it’s defensive breakdowns. It hasn’t helped that Kamar Baldwin, their second-best player behind Kelan Martin, has struggled down the stretch.

This is not what we’re used to seeing from Butler, a team that is usually playing its best basketball heading into March. But if the stretch run matters to the Selection Committee, they can’t be terribly bullish on the Dawgs after losing five of seven, and six of eight if they drop Thursday’s game to Seton Hall.

For all of Butler’s remarkable history in the post-season, it’s instructive to note they’ve never won a Big East Tournament game. Granted, it’s a smallish sample size; Butler joined the Big East in 2013. Clearly, though, Madison Square Garden has not been kind to the Bulldogs.

So it’s like this:

Win, and they’re in. They’ve GOT to be in. Right?

Lose, and they will sweat out Selection Sunday.

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