No Mystery To It: Butler Did It

There have been a lot of early-season surprises in college basketball. But the performance of the Butler Bulldogs certainly has to be near the top of them. And how about those efforts by a couple of point guards that helped Marquette and UCLA win tournament championships?

Score another one for the Missouri Valley Conference.


Missouri State's 66-64 victory over Wisconsin Friday was another resounding reminder as to why the MVC is one of the elite conferences in the country, not just, perhaps, the elite mid-major conference in the country.


It's also another example of how cool the November tournaments are. They provide opportunities to see teams hook up in neutral settings (in the Missouri State-Wisconsin case, in the South Padre Island Invitational in Texas), in more or less the same sense that the NCAA Tournament does.


Bradley's pasting of Big East member DePaul (by 20 points), Wichita State's six-point win at George Mason (the Shockers will carry the MVC banner into Baton Rouge Saturday night for a game at LSU) and a down-to-the wire loss by Northern Iowa at Washington have been other eye-catching moments by MVC teams so far.


Of course, on the debit side was Creighton's loss at a Nebraska team that is expected to finish near the bottom of the Big 12 standings.


Staying on the topic of "mid-majors", Butler's accomplishments so far make it just about the biggest "story" so far this season.


Regardless of what happens in the NIT Season Tip-Off final against Gonzaga Friday night in Madison Square Garden, the Bulldogs' consecutive victories over Notre Dame, Indiana and Tennessee to get to that final say a lot about what kind of team Coach Todd Lickliter has.


And it also speaks volumes about how strong the Horizon Conference must be if, in fact, the Bulldogs are its sixth best team, as they were projected to be by most prognosticators.



*Despite its convincing loss to Gonzaga Wednesday night in Madison Square Garden, don't make a mistake of haste and question North Carolina's ability to be the dominant team in the Atlantic Coast Conference and to be one of handful of squads with the best opportunity to play in Atlanta on the final weekend of the season.


Roy Williams is playing only two upperclassmen (seniors Reyshawn Terry and Wes Miller) and trying to integrate five freshmen into the world of college basketball, so defense, offensive patience and execution, not surprisingly, aren't nearly where they will be with this team even a couple of weeks from now.


*No one is suggesting that Gonzaga is a "better" team without Adam Morrison.


But, as evidenced in the Bulldogs' victories over Eastern Washington, Rice, Baylor, Texas-San Antonio and North Carolina to open the season (they were scheduled to play Butler Friday night in the All-Bulldogs' NIT Preseason Tip-Off final in New York City), Coach Mark Few's team is a better defensive team and is much better in the backcourt.


And, by the way: 6-11 redshirt sophomore center Josh Heytvelt has helped his NBA stock more than any other player in the country over the first few weeks of the season.


Look for a heavy, heavy NBA scouting presence in Austin on Dec. 2 (to see Gonzaga take on Texas) and in Spokane a week later, when the Bulldogs play host to Washington.


*Marquette provided another example of why too much shouldn't be made of what a team does – even at home – during its first couple of games in the season.


The Golden Eagles struggled against Div. II program Hillsdale (76-66) and then Idaho State (59-56) in their opening two games.


Less than two weeks later they polished off Texas Tech (87-72) and Duke (73-62) on consecutive nights in Kansas City during the College Basketball Experience Classic.


Sophomore point guard Dominic James (25 points, on nine of 15 from the field, seven assists, three rebounds and only one turnover in 34 minutes) certainly looked every bit the part of a potential first-team All-America and national Player of the Year during the victory over the Blue Devils Tuesday night.


*Any questions anyone might have had about UCLA's point guard play following the departure of Jordan Farmar to the NBA after his sophomore season should have had them answered after the Bruins' 4-0 start.


Sophomore Darren Collison, Farmar's backup last season, has averages of 14.0 points, 7.3 assists, 2.3 steals and 2.5 turnovers and picked up tournament Most Outstanding Player hardware after UCLA knocked off Chaminade, Kentucky and Georgia Tech on successive evenings during the EA Sports Maui Invitational.


And freshman Russell Westbrook is more than capable of providing Coach Ben Howland with the eight to 10 minutes of relief at the point than Collison gave the Bruins last season.


*Keys to the outcome of the Kansas-Florida game Saturday night in Las Vegas:


Can the Jayhawks post players (mostly sophomore Julian Wright and freshman Darrell Arthur) keep the best 1-2 post combination in the country, Joakim Noah and Al Horford, from mopping up inside?


And can sophomore wing Brandon Rush be as productive as he normally is for Coach Bill Self when matched against one of the best man-to-man defenders in the country in the Gators' Corey Brewer?


It might be a different story come March or April, but right now I'd say the answer to both questions is "no".


*I projected the Mountain West Conference's Air Force Academy, Brigham Young University, New Mexico and San Diego State as NCAA Tournament teams and nothing that has happened so far has made be second-guess those projections.


The SDSU Aztecs could be 9-0 when they play host to the University of Arizona Wildcats on Dec. 9.


The UNM Lobos might be 10-0 when they face Wichita State in Las Vegas on Dec. 22.


Air Force will take a 6-1 record into its game in Colorado Springs against Wake Forest on Nov. 29.


And BYU has had comfortable victories over Idaho State and Portland after leading host UCLA much of the way before losing (82-69) on Nov. 14.


Inducted into the USBWA Hall of Fame in April, 2005, Frank Burlison is's national basketball expert and is also a columnist for the Long Beach (Calif.) Press-Telegram. He can be reached at Read more of Burlison's pieces at

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