Just as the Badgers shouldn't be devastated from losing Butch's production, their pain came from the mounting difficulties that have come recently for this once mighty team.
There has been a growing level of disappointment since Wisconsin achieved their first ever No. 1 ranking. That great run that Wisconsin was building all season, including winning 22 of 23 games, is now all but gone. They head into the Big Ten Tournament as the underdog against Ohio State. As for the NCAA tournament, it's possible the Badgers might not even get a No. 1 seed. This feeling of despair is new to the team.
One reason for the winning streak was the Badgers had used the same five starters until the Ohio State rematch. That continuity allowed the team to build set roles where everyone had specific duties. Now with Butch's injury, other players will be doing things rarely asked of them.
"I think it hurts them some, but they have enough people that I think they'll learn to play without him," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said after losing on Saturday to the Badgers. "It's going to take a little time and they're going to have to use the Big Ten Tournament to adjust."
This adjustment means putting players in situations that they aren't accustomed to. The 6'7" sophomore duo of Joe Krabbenhoft and Marcus Landry now will have to guard bigger players and play more minutes than usual. Against Michigan State, Landry was playing center and guarding a player three inches taller and 15 pounds heavier than him. Yet, they also provide more versatility than Butch did.
"In some ways they are harder to guard," Izzo said. "I really like Krabbenhoft, and Landry really hurt us at our place."
In the regular season final against Michigan State they combined for 41 minutes, eight rebounds, seven points and only three turnovers.
Yet, the Badgers can only play with four players under 6'8" at the same time for so long before bigger teams take advantage of them. That is where the 6'11" Butch became more valuable to the team.
"Brian hasn't been known as the most physical player but he is still somebody that you have to shoot over," Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan said. "What I have always said is that when a player is injured, you look at their stats and say ‘OK, that's what we're missing.'"
What Wisconsin is now missing with Butch's injury is around nine points and six boards a game. But those numbers are somewhat inflated by playing against lesser competition. During Big Ten games his averages across the board are much lower. Against the conference he gets one less point, board, and assist per game. His field goal and free throw percentages also have taken a drastic hit.
The real key to replacing Butch comes from how well the Badger's other big men play.
Jason Chappell can hit the same outside shots Butch did for much of the year. He should be able to alleviate some of the offensive pressure now coming from Butch's departure, but he will have to increase his scoring beyond a meager three points a game. His presence in the paint becomes even more important now. During Wisconsin's one point loss to Ohio State, the first bucket Chappell scored would have been his first.
The wild card to replacing Butch is Greg Stiemsma. If he can contribute his normal work on the glass, reject a couple shots and occasionally make opponents respect his mid-range jumpshot the team should be fine. His problem is not being on the court long enough from foul trouble. In nine games this year, he has played less than five minutes. This is not going to cut it versus the teams who dominate in the paint. Stiemsma is the only player Wisconsin has who is capable of guarding bigger, more talented post players.
Another key to Butch's presence was he took pressure off senior studs Alando Tucker and Kammron Taylor. When Tucker was being double or triple teamed, Butch could stretch the defense outside. Or when Taylor has performed poorly, which he done in all four losses this season, Butch is needed to step up as the third option.
Butch has also become a leader on the team. After being redshirted his freshman year, he has started in 59 of 61 possible games. The four games this year in which he achieved a double-double, Wisconsin won by an average of 23 points. When Tucker, Taylor and Butch were all in rhythm, the team was nearly unbeatable.
"Losing Brian Butch as one player, his points and rebounds are pretty good with the number of minutes he averaged a game," Ryan said. "So, you have to make up for that and we're going to have to keep working to make up for that."
Other than Tucker, every player on Wisconsin is replaceable. Now, the team can't afford to replace anyone else. Replacing Butch means that other players are being asked to do things they normally wouldn't do.
When Butch fell horribly on his elbow Wisconsin's chances in winning a NCAA championship didn't get hurt that badly. The team is still one of the favorites to win the whole thing. Their most prized resource, other than Tucker, was their depth. That depth is what the Badgers will miss more than Butch.
As Butch was crying on the bench he realized Wisconsin's future is not as bright as it once was. Someone should have told Butch that unless the Badgers step up their play now, when it matters the most, the crying should have already begun.