by Jerry Palm
Butler entered the Diamond Head Classic last weekend desperately hoping to come away with not just a tournament victory, but some quality wins too.
Last year at this time, the Bulldogs were 8-4 and 21st in the RPI as they were about to embark on conference play. They won their next 20 games to finish out the regular season, but only moved up seven spots in the RPI over that stretch. That was good enough to earn them a 5-seed in the NCAA tournament. I think we all remember what happened after that.
This year, going into the Diamond Head Classic, the Bulldogs ranked 52nd in the RPI. They came out of it with wins over Utah, Florida State and Washington State, and an RPI ranking of 9. That's a remarkable move, and one that can only happen this early in the season.
The later you get in the season, the less any new opponent will impact your RPI because each new opponent is a smaller portion of your overall schedule. Butler is now 8-4 (against D-I foes), so those three games represent 25 percent of their schedule so far. Adding three games in February has much less impact.
Now, Butler gets to start the meat of their Horizon League schedule from the top 10 in the RPI than outside the top 50, and that's a much better place to be. They are still lacking in the quality win department. Butler is 0-3 vs the RPI top 50, and has no wins over sure at-large quality teams, so it's not safe to assume an at-large bid is waiting if needed. There are only two games left on the schedule against the current RPI top 50 -- a home and home vs Cleveland State. The Bulldogs are rooting for FSU and WSU to look good for them in March.
So, while Butler isn't out of the woods yet, their weekend in paradise gave them a much-needed boost.