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INDIANAPOLIS – There were a lot of questions surrounding the Butler men's basketball program last May when the top 'Dawgs at the university announced that they were taking the next step in growing the Butler brand nationally and leaving the Midwestern-based Horizon League for the more nationally-prominent Atlantic 10 Conference.
So with today's announcement that Butler will be taking yet another step up in intercollegiate athletics and joining the new Big East Conference for the 2013-14 season, those questioning the intelligence of such a move will again be coming forth.
“This roster has been good enough (this year) to win a lot of good games,” Butler men's basketball coach Brad Stevens said recently. “That's important to maintain that focus from my perspective.”
Butler (26-8) was awarded the sixth seed in the NCAA Tournament East Regional and will face 11th-seed Bucknell (28-5) at Rupp Arena in Lexington at 12:40 p.m. Thursday (Tru TV).
Butler did finish 11-5 in its initial trip through the A-10. However, when facing some of the best of the best within the league, the Bulldogs often struggled. League champ Saint Louis beat the Bulldogs three times, conference runner-up VCU annihilated Butler 84-52 in Richmond, and Stevens' team lost on the road at both La Salle (without leading scorer Rotnei Clarke) and Xavier (in a non-league contest).
“Hey, I want to win every time out,” Stevens said. “And a two game losing streak, even though it's against two of the best 15 to 20 teams in the country, doesn't sit well with anybody.”
Butler will face even tougher tests in the future, as its new league will be comprised of Providence, St. John's, Villanova, Seton Hall, Georgetown, Marquette, DePaul, and also being added today, long-standing Bulldog-rival Xavier and Creighton.
Stevens' team will graduate Clarke, its best perimeter player, as well as Andrew Smith, its most effective post presence. So who will be able to elevate their game in order to ensure that the Bulldogs remain competitive within the new league?
The answer is everyone will have to. But one player in particular that has demonstrated his potential of late is Kameron Woods.
“He is playing really well,” Stevens said recently. “Kam is a very high-ceiling guy. We can all see that because of his length, and his bounce.”
The 6-foot-10 sophomore forward has well over a 7-foot wingspan and has been on a tear of late at both ends of the floor.
In the first 29 games of this season, Woods scored in double figures just one time. However, in three of the past five contests, he's totaled 17, 15 and 10 points, each time having resulted in a Bulldog victory.
“I've always said that his best attribute is his lateral mobility,” Stevens said. “It's starting to come together offensively. He's starting to pick his spots and feel it better.”
Stevens is beginning to show his belief in Woods by awarding more playing time. Through the first 21 games of this season, Woods was averaging just over 15 minutes per game. However, since Feb. 2 Woods has averaged nearly 21 minutes per game in the 13 outings.
“He's always been a guy, certainly on the defensive end that has been advanced with his understanding of where to be,” Stevens said. “But offensively he's really coming along.”