For more on college basketball, follow Tom Davis via Twitter at Tom101010.
INDIANAPOLIS – Hinkle Fieldhouse was filled to its metal-and-brick brim Saturday night, as Butler hosted heated-rival Xavier in front of 10,000 fans.
The game marked the official first meeting of the two basketball powers as members of the Atlantic 10 Conference – and perhaps it was also the last such meeting. However, if reports regarding the two programs are accurate, that each will depart the A-10 for the revamped Big East Conference, which begins July 1, it won't be the last of the battles, which pleases both programs.
“The most important thing is to have an understanding of how hard both teams play,” Bulldogs coach Brad Stevens said after his team's win. “It wasn't that anyone was competing any less, but there is a mutual respect there. We've got a lot of respect for (Xavier).”
The two teams wouldn't meet in this week's A-10 Tournament in Brooklyn unless it was for the championship. Butler will open with Dayton (2:30 p.m. Thursday, NBC), while the Musketeers face Saint Joseph's four hours later.
Stevens said the series between the two teams has reached a point where regardless of league affiliation; these two nationally-prominent programs need to play each other regularly.
“I'm glad that we restarted the series before we were in the same league,” Stevens said. “We certainly would have continued it had we not been in the same league.”
Since 2004, Xavier has advanced to five Sweet 16s and a pair of Elite Eights. Meanwhile, since 2003, Butler has made it to four Sweet 16s and a pair of national title games. That level of success, as well as the geographic proximity, makes for the special atmosphere that Hinkle had last weekend.
“There is nothing like bringing your team to Hinkle Fieldhouse,” Xavier coach Chris Mack said. “It's everything that people talk about and more.”
Most reports indicate that both Butler and Xavier will be certainties to join the seven charter members of the new Big East, which include DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John's, Seton Hall and Villanova. However, the new conference is expected to be an all-sports league with up to 12 members, with possible additions including not only Butler and Xavier, but potentially Creighton, Dayton and St. Louis as well.