Butler Among the Best?


Posted by John Antonik on Wednesday, March 10, 2010
(11:17 a.m.)

 
  Da'Sean Butler

The way Da'Sean Butler sees it, last year he got caught up in a numbers game. The forward averaged 17.1 points per game, hit 35 percent of his 3-point field goal tries, grabbed more than 200 rebounds and didn't make the all-Big East first team.

His 43 points scored against Villanova on Feb. 20, 2008 were the most by any player in conference play since 2003.

So why was Butler caught up in the numbers game?

Well, the Big East decided to once again reduce the all-conference first team roster to five players (six were picked both last year and this year due to ties in voting) for the first time since 2005.

"I was like, 'Oh yeah, I'm doing so well' and I get picked on the second team," said Butler. "I was like, 'Why are they only picking five or six players?' I kind of got discouraged, but that kind of made it a point of emphasis for me to come out and work hard every day and continually strive to get better and more consistent."

Da'Sean's hard work is finally paying off.

He's averaging 17.2 points per game, shooting 35.1 percent from 3-point distance, grabbing an average of 6.3 rebounds per game, and he is tied for the team lead in assists with 99. This year, those numbers were good enough to make the all-Big East first team.

"Kudos to my team and coaches for helping me get the opportunity to be first team," Butler said with more than a touch of modesty. "I have respect for everyone in the conference. This is the toughest conference to play in and coach in. It's a struggle every game just trying to perform and play as hard as I can and help my team win."

A strong case could be made that making the all-Big East first team is just like making the all-district team, considering the number of teams in the conference and the large number of great players that play in the Big East.

That is actually what happened. Eight out of the 10 selections on this year's District II basketball team released Tuesday afternoon by the USBWA were from the Big East. One came from the Ivy League (Cornell) and the other came from the Atlantic 10 (Temple).

Butler made that team as well.

"Just the talent and the area the Big East covers … I was overwhelmed just seeing the names of the players around me - not even just the first team but the second and the third teams as well," Butler said. "I have so much respect for each and every team and each and every player. We play the same teams, the same schemes, the same coaches, and so on and so forth, and I'm just happy that I was selected."

Butler is the seventh player in school history to earn first team all-Big East honors, but only the third to make a five-member all-Big East first team (Damian Owens in 1998 and Calvin Bowman in 2001 are the others) since the Mountaineers joined the conference in 1996.

What separates Butler from Owens and Bowman a little bit is the fact that Butler’s career has been spent in a 16-team league. There were 13 teams when Owens played in the Big East in 1998 and there were 14 when Bowman made the all-Big East first team in 2001.

Butler is going to end his career third in scoring behind a pair of consensus All-Americans in Jerry West and Hot Rod Hundley.

West scored 2,309 points in three seasons without the benefit of a 3-point shot or a shot clock. Hundley, too, played three years without a 3-point shot or a shot clock, finishing with 2,180 points.

Butler, who has made 189 career 3s heading into the 2010 Big East tournament, needs only 43 points to join West and Hundley in the school's very exclusive 2,000-point club.

Wil Robinson, Rod Thorn and Fritz Williams would have also made the 2,000-point club if they had played four years. Robinson scored 1,850 points and averaged 24.7 points per game for his career. Thorn finished his three-year career with 1,785 points and a career average of 21.8 points per game. Williams scored 1,687 points and had a career average of 20.1 points per game.

It's impossible to make a comparison of the players' career statistics because of the differences in eras, rules and styles of play. And whereas Butler has played his entire career in the best conference in the country, West, Hundley, Thorn and Williams benefited by playing against much weaker competition in the Southern Conference.

Robinson's West Virginia teams played an independent schedule in the early 1970s and the Mountaineers struggled as a consequence, going 37-38 during Robinson’s three seasons in 1970, 1971 and 1972.

West's teams won 81 of 93 games, Hundley 65 of 90, Thorn 70 of 88 and Williams 57 of 84.

Butler's four-year record so far is 100-40.

And most impressively, Butler has played 37 career games against nationally ranked teams - West and Hundley each faced 11 ranked teams, Robinson 9, Thorn 8 (all of them Top 10 teams because AP only ranked Top 10 during Thorn's career) and Williams just 2.

When folks begin talking about the best basketball players in school history, at the very least, Da’Sean Butler has earned a spot in the conversation.

***

 
  Bob Huggins

Speaking of national rankings, I went back and looked at the number of ranked teams West Virginia has faced in the regular season since 1950. The numbers are telling.

In the three years Bob Huggins has coached at West Virginia, the Mountaineers have played 25 regular season games against nationally ranked teams. That’s four fewer than Fred Schaus and George King faced in 11 years at West Virginia during the school’s Golden Era, or one more than the combined 13-year coaching tenure of Bucky Waters, Sonny Moran and Joedy Gardner from 1966-1978.

During a 15-season period from 1971 to 1985, West Virginia only played 20 regular season games against ranked teams, producing a 2-18 record during that span.

Put another way, before West Virginia joined the Big East Conference in 1996 the Mountaineers played 89 regular season games against ranked teams (winning 21). In the 15 years since joining the league, West Virginia has played 94 games against ranked teams (winning 31).

And not only is West Virginia playing much tougher basketball schedules, the Mountaineers are winning more frequently, especially since 2005 with a 70.9 winning percentage. Before joining the Big East, the Mountaineers had an overall 62.0 winning percentage.

***

When Bob Huggins came to West Virginia in 2007 he talked about going into other people’s gyms with no fear. He wanted his teams to have the mindset that they can win anywhere.

This year’s team has taken that to heart.

West Virginia set a school record with six Big East road wins in 2010 and has also matched Villanova with 12 wins away from their home venue.

“I think it’s a mindset of going in thinking that you can win,” said Huggins. “Too many times guys are convinced that it’s going to be so hard and it’s actually not all that much harder than it is winning here.”

Huggins’ teams have already had 14 Big East road wins during his three seasons at West Virginia.

***

The best way to determine which teams are best equipped to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament is by studying matchups. Bob Huggins is a firm believer that team matchups are what it all boils down to.

“Sometimes you get people that their strengths are maybe your weaknesses and I think other times maybe you don’t get as high a seed as maybe you felt like you deserved, but something kind of happens and you end up not having to play maybe who you thought you were going to play,” Huggins said. “There are a lot of things that happen in the NCAA tournament that kind of affect things.”

That happened to the Mountaineers during their Sweet 16 run in 2006 when Northwestern State upset No. 3 seed Iowa in the tournament first round in the Atlanta Regional. West Virginia then had little trouble with Northwestern State in the second round to reach the regional semifinals.

“People will say, ‘Well, this is a really strong bracket and this is not a strong bracket’ and some people in conceivably the strongest bracket get beat. Then all of the sudden that bracket becomes a little weaker than they thought,” said Huggins. “I’ve never seen a weak bracket, personally, but I’m not as smart as those guys either.”

***

With no clear cut dominant teams in college basketball this year could a team like NC State in 1983 or Villanova in 1985 emerge to win the national title?

I think so.

NC State was a six-seed in 1983 and needed two overtimes to beat 11th-seeded Pepperdine in the first round. State then got by third-seeded UNLV by one in the second round, beat 10th-seeded Utah in the Sweet 16, edged No. 1-seeded Virginia 63-62 to reach the Final Four, knocked off fourth-seeded Georgia 67-60 to reach the finals and then upset No. 1 Houston in the championship game.

Villanova’s path was just as treacherous. The eighth-seeded Wildcats beat ninth-seeded Dayton by two in the first round, got past No. 1-sseded Michigan by four in the second round, outlasted fifth-seeded Maryland by three to get to the regional finals where they beat second-seeded North Carolina by 12.

Villanova topped second-seeded Memphis 52-45 to reach the national championship game where they knocked off top-ranked Georgetown 66-64 in the title game.

***

 
  Chris Beatty

New football recruiting coordinator Chris Beatty is beginning to make his imprint on the Mountaineer program. Beatty was promoted to recruiting coordinator when Doc Holliday became Marshall’s head coach earlier this winter.

“We’ve already gone about the process of changing people’s areas a little bit and changing some areas of focus,” Beatty said recently. “I think there are some areas of the country that we’ve done very well in, and there are some areas that we haven’t done as well in for different reasons. We’re going to move around some people and try and attack it that way.”

West Virginia had two players from Georgia in this year’s recruiting class, but Beatty said Georgia will continue to remain a secondary area for the Mountaineers.

“It hasn’t been an area that’s been a great area for us because it’s been hard,” Beatty explained. “There are a lot of schools that people have to fly over to get to us. We have some coaches that have some ties there so it will make a good little secondary area, but it’s not going to be a primary area.”

The one territory West Virginia will continue to recruit heavily is South Florida.

“That area has been good to us,” said Beatty. “We’re going to dedicate David Lockwood down there to help, Lonnie Galloway will be down there some; obviously Kirlav has done well with his area.”

Beatty said the coaches and their ties to particular areas have also factored into the equation. For instance, Dave McMichael has strong ties in New York and was successful on Long Island in the past for the Mountaineers. With McMichael back on the staff that area has been reopened to West Virginia.

“That’s really the only reason we’re going back there is because he’s done so well in the past there,” Beatty said. “In New York we kind of got away from recruiting there but we felt with the ties he has up there it gives us a better chance of getting some guys up there.

“New Jersey is an area where we only had one guy before and now we’ve split that up with McMichael taking the northern part and David Lockwood taking the southern part,” said Beatty. “There have been a lot of great players coming out of New Jersey and when you look at it statistically, we get so many students from New Jersey that you’ve got to hope that translates into being able to get some student-athletes from New Jersey.”

West Virginia has become more of a national program with its streak of nationally ranked seasons and the large number of games on national television. That has opened up other parts of the country such as Texas and Memphis where West Virginia signed its two quarterback prospects.

Beatty said the Mountaineers will continue to recruit non-traditional regions on a case by case basis.

“We will separate that out by one, the position, and two, who has the best access to get to those guys,” Beatty said. “We have had a couple of plays like Jeremy that have come out and showed some interest from areas that we’re not normally sending guys in. We will continue to get guys from areas of the country that are not necessarily assigned to a coach.”

One region Beatty hopes to reestablish is Western Pa. West Virginia did not sign any prospects from that area this year, partly, because the Mountaineers couldn’t convince the good ones to come to Morgantown and partly because it was a down year in the region this past year.

“I think Pitt had a little bit to do with it,” said Beatty. “They’ve kind of come back the last couple of years and so they’ve changed some local guys in that area. The players they had available were also ones that we really didn’t have a need for - then you swing and miss on a couple, that’s just the way the business is. It’s hard to get guys to come, wherever it is, no matter how good you are. There are people turning down Florida and USC. It’s tough.”

Another place Beatty wants to strength is Washington, D.C. The proximity to Morgantown makes the D.C. metro area a natural place to go.

“As far as I’m concerned every year I want to try and at least get one player out of D.C., and then that player can help build the next season and etc., etc.,” said Beatty. “It’s a big thing to be able to build and piggyback off the class you had before and those places where you have a pied piper who can go back and say, ‘Hey, West Virginia is a great place, come check us out.’ When you get them on campus and then you have a shot.”

***

 
  Sean Cleary

Women’s track coach Sean Cleary is all in at this weekend’s indoor national championships taking place in Fayetteville, Ark. Cleary is taking a school-record seven competitors covering seven different events this year.

The previous best was five participants covering three different events. West Virginia’s best finish at the indoor championships was 11th in 1999 when Kate Vermeulen won the mile and the distance medley relay team placed fifth to earn the Mountaineers 14 team points.

Cleary believes all seven competitors have the ability to bring home All-America citations this year. If that happens, the Mountaineers will easily be looking at a Top 10 finish.

West Virginia is ranked 15th in the latest USTSCCA national rankings.

Have a great week!




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