While the season is now over for every college basketball team in Chicago I'm not going to start championing for Illinois - which defeated Stony Brook on the road in the NIT last night, or Notre Dame - which is a No. 6 seed playing a tough Old Dominion team in the NCAA Tournament. Instead, I'll be giving you important games to watch for the remainder of the national tournaments. It might be a random NCAA Tournament game that just happens to have big upset potential, but often it will be so much more.
This is a case of being so much more. No. 5 seed Butler and No. 12 seed UTEP will face off today in the exclusive 5 p.m. EST window. The game actually starts at 4:45 p.m. EST/3:45 p.m. CT, but if you're a DePaul fan you should find a way to get yourself in front of the television - or computer screen - no matter what. Why? Because one of these guys might be your next head coach, and both make a lot of sense.
I've already voiced my opinion about the reasons why I think Tony Barbee should be on the Blue Demons' short list. The fact that the Miners made the NCAA Tournament only bolsters his credentials. If UTEP was to pull the upset - which many don't think would be an upset - then he would become one of the hottest names in coaching. DePaul needs one of those guys.
But I think Butler coach Brad Stevens (above) is the guy to watch.
Yes, he looks like he's maybe 20 years old and should be playing for Butler instead of coaching the Bulldogs, but Stevens has already established himself as one of the top coaches in the country. He is 84-14 as a college coach and is making his third NCAA appearance in three seasons. Sure, Todd Lickliter - yes, the guy that was just fired at Iowa - didn't exactly leave the cupboard bare, but Stevens has shown an ability to sustain success that seems like it will translate to any school.
Stevens has Butler trying to secure some good talent from around the country. For instance, Khyle Marshall is going to leave the state of Florida to come to Butler after considering Old Dominion, UAB and Penn State. Last season Stevens brought in Andrew Smith, a 6'10" center from Indiana that also considered the Nittany Lions and a few MAC schools.
Now, if Stevens is going to succeed at DePaul he's going to have to bring in more than Marshall and Smith - and out recruit more than Penn State, but the fact that he's bringing that caliber of player to the Horizon League suggests he'll be able to do even more in the future. He's young enough too at 33 that he can relate to players and still be a presence on the court. I attended three games of Butler's this season in Chicago and Stevens makes it evident that he is in control.
Of course, my appreciation for Stevens comes from the fact that he also seems to understand the statistical future of the sport of basketball. While hoops are never going to be baseball, there is intelligence to be gleamed from the numbers. It seems like Stevens gets that. Every so often he'll make a remark that seems to be in tune with what advanced analytics suggest. It is probably his business background that brings out that side of him.
Stevens would be a good fit for DePaul. He's ready for the next step. After the 2000 season Xavier took a chance on a Butler coach that had been with the Bulldogs - with great success - for just one season. His name was Thad Matta. Since he's taken the Musketeers to 3 NCAA Tournaments and followed it up with 4 NCAA appearances - including a National Runner-Up season, with Ohio State. Stevens could be DePaul's Matta.