Butler's young men's basketball team will be tested early and often in 2008-09. The Bulldogs' 29-game schedule, released on Thursday (Sept. 18), includes a pair of games against teams from last year's NCAA Tournament, two games against Big Ten foes and an always-tough slate of Horizon League contests.
The Bulldogs are coming off the best two-year men's basketball run in school history, including a school- and Horizon League-record 30-4 campaign last season. Butler won the Great Alaska Shootout, captured league regular season and tournament championships and posted a first round win in the NCAA Tournament, while being ranked in the "Top 25" for a school- and league-record 19 consecutive weeks!
But five seniors, who helped Butler to a 59-11 record over the past two years, are gone. Second-year head coach Brad Stevens will enter the 2008-09 season without a senior on the squad and just one returning starter, 6-8 Horizon League Newcomer of the Year Matt Howard. Six freshmen will be part of Butler's 14-player squad.
"We have a very challenging schedule, especially for a young team, but we've always sought to play great teams in our non-conference games to prepare us for the rigors of our league schedule," said Stevens, who owns the fourth-best career start in NCAA Division I basketball history. "I think a big thing for our team and for our fans is having 15 home games and the chance to play some really good teams at Hinkle Fieldhouse."
The Bulldogs will open the season on Nov. 15 at Drake, the top team in the Missouri Valley Conference a year ago and a participant in the NCAA Tournament. Butler also will visit NCAA Tournament participant Xavier on Dec. 23. The Musketeers were formerly in the same conference with Butler, but the two teams have not me since 1998. Big Ten foe Northwestern will play at Hinkle Fieldhouse on Nov. 26, and the Bulldogs will visit Ohio State on Dec. 13.
Butler will play four consecutive home games in November, including visits from state rivals Ball State (Nov. 22) and Evansville (Nov. 29). That home stretch will lead directly into a rugged December schedule that includes consecutive road games at Horizon League power Cleveland State (Dec. 4), Youngstown State (Dec. 6), Bradley (Dec. 10) and Ohio State. The December slate also includes home contests against Florida Gulf Coast (Dec. 20) and a first-time visit from UAB (Dec. 30), coached by former Indiana University head coach Mike Davis and featuring former Pike High School and Indiana standout Robert Vaden.
The Bulldogs will face every league foe twice, and this year's league schedule includes a pair of Friday night games. Butler will host state rival Valparaiso on Friday, Jan. 30, and UIC on Friday, Feb. 13. Both games will be televised by ESPNU, and both will start at 7 p.m. (ET). Butler's remaining league home games will be against Wright State (Jan. 8), Detroit (Jan. 10), Green Bay (Jan. 22), Milwaukee (Jan. 24), Loyola (Feb. 15), Youngstown State (Feb. 26), and Cleveland State (Feb. 28). The Horizon League Tournament will begin with first round games on March 3.