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Butler's back-to-back success a direct result of Stevens

by | CBS Sports

HOUSTON -- Pick any facet from Butler's 70-62 national semifinal win that you'd like.

 Point to Shelvin Mack's team-best 24 points.

 Go to the fact Butler, again, controlled itself with the ball, only turning it over nine times.

 Look at the Bulldogs grabbing 84 percent of available defensive rebounds.

 Look at VCU going only 8 of 22 from 3-point range (diverting back to their regular-season efficiency).

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There is a litany of habit-related numbers to point to and use for explanation.

But the numbers aren't the reason. One man is. All of these things, all that Butler does and resembles comes back to Brad Stevens, the 34-year-old head coach who is has become a rock star in college basketball coaching. He doesn't act like it, though. Stevens has the demeanor of a roadie who quietly owns his tasks rather than a front man basking in the glow of the brightest lights on the edge of the stage.

But on the biggest stage, here's Butler again, back in the national championship game. Let's allow our jaws to hit the floor, because, you know, this isn't supposed to happen in college basketball. Here's Stevens, two parts of the man, in two parts of the quote. When asked what the locker room scene was like after Saturday night's win over No. 11 Virginia Commonwealth: "I told them I'm not doing the flying chest bump until we get through the weekend," he said. "In part because I'm older and it hurt more the last time."

The flying chest bump has become a bit of a signature for Butler's postseason success. Stevens broke it out last year when the team reached its first Final Four. It happened again in this tournament, when Butler defeated No. 1 Pittsburgh in the third round.

But now, the great-on-TV, fun-loving celebration waits. Stevens can taste it, but he's not allowing his team to get too high or too low. Plus, you heard the man: He's getting old.

With the wisdom acquired, nothing differs in the approach. The same thing Stevens did when he was 33, and Butler was in its first Final Four, he's doing this year. The man has guided Butler to be the first school in NCAA history to reach consecutive Men’s Final Fours as a No. 3 seed or lower in both seasons (the Bulldogs were a No. 5 seed last year).

He's not changing team habits or worrying about how loose or tight his players are. They'll just be prepared. Count on it.

"My day tomorrow starts when I get to the hotel," Stevens said. "I try to be as prepared as possible to play a game in our next practice. Our next practice is at 2 p.m. tomorrow. My focus will be on whoever wins."

At the postgame podium, Stevens, sitting with perfect posture, looked like he was penning a letter to someone as Matt Howard and Mack took questions from the media. Stevens wouldn't be asked direct questions until the student-athletes left the podium, so he took in the precious time he had to chart his team's statistics or trends before dealing with a few questions. I have never seen another coach do this.

Stevens credited VCU's run for being an inspiration to his team. He's pretty much the only coach in America who could say that and you would believe it. He says a lot, and you want to take it all down, because he's a coach who has incredible, genuine perspective for a guy who's only been on the head-coaching beat for -- wow -- not even five years. But there he was, rattling off scenario after scenario, first half and second, and retelling how his team won to the media. But that's Stevens. The man never loses composure. Never gets wild. Never overreacts with substitutions or diverts from the game plan. "We don't need to be on edge the whole time," Stevens said. "We just need to prepare like we always do."

Stevens isn't all business. In fact, assistant coach Micah Shrewsberry said his insistence that players are allowed to be kids is what makes the team play so hard for him.

They don't set curfews. They don't tell players when they need to eat their meals. "I think the belief that Brad gives these guys and the way he treats them, they really want to give their best for him," said Shrewsberry, also 34. "He lets them be students, be normal people. They enjoy their time to be free, do their own thing, and he trusts them to do the right thing when they're doing that."

Yeah, he's demanding of certain values, but it comes with the respect he demands without speaking a word of wanting it. "We're not always on them in terms of what they need to do and what they need to be," Shrewsberry said. "He gives them a lot of freedom. He earns players' respect like that. Kids embrace him for it."

It's all a blend, you see. Matt Howard was one of the highest-rated recruits to ever play for Butler … but have you seen the guy? Nothing about him is outside the mold of what a Butler play is. Heck, he's the definition of Butler Basketball Player.

"I think the first thing it comes down to is, he does a great job recruiting and getting the guys who are right for this program," guard Ronald Nored said. "He's not going to go after the big names if he doesn't think they're right."

Bottom line: none of this happens without Stevens. It is a mid-major marriage unlike anything college basketball's ever had. And with the Bulldogs' return to the title game, a return to form and character: underdog. Stevens will have this team prepared and ready, again. There's no one better for the task. He is the perfect coach for this program.


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