INDIANAPOLIS — The most riveting Saturday of college basketball's season so far was accentuated in the early Indianapolis evening where the temperature barely broke 0 degrees outside Hinkle Fieldhouse. Inside the gym, a sweltering and rare Butler shooting performance induced an upset which will shake up college hoops' national rankings.
Villanova is no longer atop the mountain and Butler is proving to be the Wildcats' Kryptonite.
The Bulldogs upset the No. 1-ranked, previously undefeated Wildcats 101-93. Besides catalyzing tumult atop the polls, more distinctly, the outcome serves as a reminder that this sport provides tremendous drama and relentless unpredictability long before March arrives. Conference season is here and with it comes the opportunity for frequent chaos.
The best court-storm of this season unfurled on the Hinkle hardwood after LaVall Jordan, a Butler alum all of 15 games into his head coaching tenure with the Dawgs, got the kind of win he'll never forget. Sure to come soon: A massive glossy photo of the floor-storm printed out and put under glass with BUTLER 101 VILLANOVA 93 adorned inside the frame. The photo might be hanging in Jordan's office within a week.
This is a win that validates a season, that establishes Jordan as the right man for the job. You knock off the No. 1 team, the class of your conference and a recent national champion? Jordan is providing undeniable proof in a hurry that he was the correct choice to replace Chris Holtmann after Holtmann was lured away by Ohio State in June.
We're in the Butler locker room after today's win over No. 1 Villanova.— Butler Basketball (@ButlerMBB) December 31, 2017
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Step back from the result, take a scan of the Big East and surrounding cosmic bodies in college hoops and you'll see it's a fascinating turn of events we've got here. The dichotomy between Villanova's reputation on Saturday morning vs. the reality of where the Wildcats seem to sit in the greater realm of college basketball on Saturday night warrants some reflection. Butler stripped the sheen off Villanova.
The Wildcats (who will be fine and probably are going to wind up finishing atop the league standings again anyway) were rightfully recognized as the most complete, dominant team in college hoops. Jay Wright's squad was facing a tricky road test, sure, but this was a Butler team that hadn't defeated a surefire NCAA Tournament-caliber opponent to date.
How would BU handle itself in a pressure-packed game against an undefeated team in a prime national TV spot on CBS? It was Jordan's biggest game as Butler coach, too. Had Butler come out and lost along the lines of a 77-70 ending, few if any would have given Jordan grief. Instead, he's giving Butler fans hope that this season will be more than just a rickety adjustment period post-Holtmann.
What we do know: Butler's program, no matter the coach, has a hold on Villanova. That's the burgeoning plot twist in the Big East. It's been Villanova's league, yes. Four consecutive regular-season titles and an overall record as good as almost any other program over the past four years in college basketball. It's been a league with Xavier in hot pursuit of VU. But Butler's now the foil for Villanova. Butler's got three consecutive wins against the Wildcats. Two of those wins have now come when Villanova was undefeated and ranked No. 1.
Butler's trifecta of wins over top-ranked teams is more than any program in college basketball since 2012.
This is great for the Big East, a league that's looking set up to send at least five teams to the NCAAs again, which would make for the fourth straight season that happened. Villanova is the flagship program but Butler is capable of taking out anyone. In that way, the Bulldogs are emblematic of how competitive and unpredictable the Big East has become. On Saturday, Butler shot an outrageously good 60 percent from the field and an unthinkably efficient 68 percent (15 for 22) from 3-point range. Villanova wasn't far behind. It shot 54 percent, had only four turnovers and was soundly defeated.
You realize how rare it is for a team to commit fewer than five turnovers and lose?
"This is the best offensive team we've played against, and it showed," Wright said. "We've just been outscoring people, and you weren't outscoring this team tonight."
The Wildcats gave up 100-plus points for the first time since the infamous 101-80 loss to Creighton in 2014, which came at the height of the Bluejays' power behind the Player of the Year campaign of Doug McDermott.
Here comes Butler, banging the door down on Nova, winning by barraging the Wildcats with 3s. Kelan Martin had 24 points. Paul Jorgensen, a career-best 23 including some Trae Young-esque long-range missiles. Kamar Baldwin had 19 points, plus nine boards and a career-high seven dimes. Some of what Butler pulled off was aberrational (this team still is nowhere near a top-100 club in 3-point percentage) but the high-level play of Martin, Jorgensen and Baldwin was a warning shot to the league.
Let it be known, finally and for all, that Butler is a national program and a team no longer playing the small-guy role. Jordan is Butler's fourth coach in six seasons. The program is proving to be sustainably successful in a league that's established itself as, statistically, one of the three toughest conferences in college basketball over the past three seasons. Butler could have easily dropped off the radar and become a filler program in the Big East. Instead, it's turned into the top foil for the conference's top team — and showing that it's got a coach ready for the rigors.
"Proud is the word," Jordan told CBS Sports, when asked to describe the win. "Proud of guys, proud of our staff, they were tremendous in preparation, proud alumni that is proud of our school and program."
Jordan shared some wine with his wife Saturday night, inside their kitchen, toasting to a tremendous end of 2017 for him, his family, their program. The year began with him contracting a rebuild in Milwaukee. He couldn't have possibly dreamed up that his life would bring him to the moment on Saturday, when his team celebrated -- then nearly 500 students darkened the hardwood in celebration. Life can come at you fast, and in basketball, sometimes beguiling ways.
Until this point, the Wildcats had looked — definitively — like the best, deepest, most well-rounded team in college basketball. Butler stripped Villanova of its reputation, its undefeated record and its claim to the No. 1 spot in the rankings.