The Secret To Butler’s Success

Butler’s success doesn’t rest on the shoulders of one man, not Shelvin Mack, Matt Howard, or even coach Brad Stevens. The Bulldogs are the quintessential team with their defense leading the way. On each possession, they play hard-nosed, physical defense. They show at the right time and rotate to leave no man unguarded.

It isn’t about controlling the tempo as much as it is, as Brad Stevens says, “prioritizing what is important” and being the aggressor.

Many an NBA analyst will argue there are no surefire NBA studs on this Bulldogs roster; I would disagree.

If a team can honestly believe Sebastian Telfair had what it takes to be selected in the first round, don’t tell me Shelvin Mack isn’t worth putting on the board.

With the right team, Mack’s quarterbacking at the point guard position can, and I believe will, translate at the next level. He has the right size (6’3″) and body build (a solid 215 lbs.), and a composure only matched by UConn’s Kemba Walker during this year’s NCAA tournament.

Mack plays physical, knowing when to bump his man off balance to get his shot (like he did VCU’s undersized Rodriquez). His decision-making is unparalleled. If a “star” can be pointed to on this Butler team, it would be Mack. But unlike most stars, there aren’t stretches within a game where he jacks up two or three bad shots; and in the close games, such as what Butler has played through March and now April, two or three bad shots would have already ended their second straight Cinderella run through the tourney.

That’s where Mack stands out. He doesn’t get rattled. The closer a game comes down to the wire, the looser he plays. Not that there aren’t exceptions: i.e. the poor foul he committed as the seconds waned down against Pittsburgh.

Nevertheless, Mack isn’t a one-man team. Neither is UConn. One man teams don’t make it to the championship – in the case of Butler, two years in a row; for UConn, two of the last three years.

Basketball writers, like anyone putting a pen to paper, want to make the tournament about a star.

Does FedEx employee Chuck Noland get off the island in Cast Away without Wilson? What if Forrest Gump leaves Lt. Dan behind in the jungles of Vietnam? Do we find him as endearing? What if Woody’s jealousy erupts to the point where he pushes Andy’s new space-ranger toy, Buzz Lightyear, out of the window? Okay, bad example. And enough with the Tom Hanks references.

The point is Butler knows The Secret, as Bill Simmons likes to put it. And that secret is sacrifice. With Butler, it really is about the name on the front of the jersey and not the back.

The Butler Bulldogs aren’t about one player and they know it (unlike BYU). They are about the pieces that make the whole. If Matt Howard doesn’t grab the rebound and attempt a desperation full-court shot against Pittsburgh, he doesn’t get fouled. Butler goes home. The end.

If Zach Hahn doesn’t go on an 8-0 scoring spurt against VCU, Butler goes home. The end.

If Ronald Nored doesn’t lock down just about every opposing player he’s matched up against (and we’ll probably see him checking Kemba), Butler probably doesn’t even make the tournament at all.

They know this. Brad Stevens knows this.

Not to say UConn doesn’t.

I just happen to believe this year the shot does fall for Butler and they leave the 2011 NCAA Champions.

What could be better than a true Cinderella, a mid-major school that enrolls just over 5,000 people, putting on her glass slipper and dancing – really, truly dancing?

Butler, to quote Lee Ann Womack, “I hope you dance.”

About the Author

Jeffrey Pillow Jeffrey Pillow is a former all-state first team selection in basketball and contributing writer for The Nervous Breakdown. He lives in Charlottesville. Visit him online at

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