INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -Wasn't this supposed to be a rebuilding season for Butler?
The Bulldogs won 30 games last year but graduated four starters and their top reserve, leaving a lineup void of returning seniors for coach Brad Stevens. Funny thing, though. With a new cast, new roles and the same blue-collar style of play, Butler continued winning.
``I don't know that I'd call it a surprise, but I'm certainly excited for where this team is,'' said Stevens, the 32-year-old coach who has a 56-9 record heading into Thursday's NCAA opener against LSU.
No. 22 Butler (26-5) is seeded ninth in the South Regional; No. 21 LSU (26-7) is eighth.
``I don't look at this team as a one-season team. ... Obviously, you get a chance to maximize each season at a time, but I'm looking for continual growth,'' Stevens said. ``And I'm looking forward to the fact we get to continue to practice at least for a few more days and then see what we can do.''
e Bulldogs opened with a 20-point win over South Alabama before a 76-71 overtime loss to Tennessee in the second round.
LSU, like Tennessee a member of the Southeastern Conference, is in the tournament for the first time since 2006. The Tigers are led by Marcus Thornton at 20.7 points a game.
With sophomore Matt Howard the lone returning starter, joined by junior Willie Veasley and three freshmen, Butler's Bulldogs won their first eight games this season before a 3-point loss at Ohio State. They won their next 11, climbing as high as 11th in the polls, and won the Horizon League regular-season title by two games over Wisconsin-Green Bay.
The 6-foot-8 Howard averaged 14.6 points and 6.8 rebounds and was named the Horizon's most valuable player. Freshman Gordon Hayward, also listed at 6-8 but the team's top 3-point threat, averaged 13.4 points, and 6-3 Shelvin Mack averaged 11.5 points and became only the third Butler freshman to hand out more than 100 assists.
A loss last week to Cleveland State in the championship game of the Horizon League tournament cost Butler the conference's automatic berth in the NCAA tourney - and a higher seed - but the entire season practically guaranteed the Bulldogs an at-large bid.
Stevens said his players have remained ``even-keeled'' following the loss.
just have to get better.''
And he said the Bulldogs are approaching Thursday's game the same way they've handled each game so far this season.
``We've talked about that,'' he said. ``It's one of the benefits of being here before. We know what's coming, we understand the media attention, we understand the extra things you can kind of get wrapped up into the hype, and I think it's more important just to focus on what you do and continue to do it the way you've done it all year and try to do your best to prepare for a very good team.''
The winner of the Butler-LSU game will play either second-ranked North Carolina or Radford in the second round in Greensboro, N.C., on Saturday.
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