This mystique isn’t anything new to Butler. It’s been traceable ever since Stevens took over the program, which former caretaker Todd Lickliter left in pristine condition.
The Bulldogs, if you’ll recall, rode the cardiac approach to consecutive national title game appearances. During the program’s first magic carpet ride in March 2010, five of its six NCAA tournament games were decided by single digits, four were settled in the game’s final minute and three were decided by just two points, including the team’s tantalizingly close loss to Duke in the championship game.
That same flair for the dramatic, which has epitomized the Stevens tenure in Indy, carried over into the Big Dance the following year, when all five of Butler’s wins en route to a forgettable title game came by single digits. Three of the five games, including the Elite Eight showdown with Florida that spilled into overtime, were decided by three points or fewer. None lacked last-minute theater and intrigue like the postseason finale.
No Division I team over the last five years has won a higher percentage of games decided in the last minute than Stevens’ own. Nor has any rival program played a greater percentage of games—won or lost—settled by single digits since 2007. The Stevens effect indeed.
Butler’s Saturday night heist drips of fantasy when you consider the obstacles the Bulldogs had to overcome: No Rotnei Clarke. No answer for Sam Dower. No viable scheme for slowing Elias Harris in crunch time. No material, basketball-related reason to win that game at all.
Except the laws of the universe don’t apply to the small private school in the heart of Indiana. Butler may have traded in its Horizon League IDs for new A-10 garb, but the magic that makes Butler worthy of a conference promotion isn’t going away as long as Mr. Stevens is roaming the sidelines, jaded by what he sees.