For the first time in six years, the Butler men’s basketball team will not appear in the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Championship tournament.
Needing to win the Horizon League tournament for an automatic bid, the Bulldogs instead were knocked out by a 65-46 loss to Valparaiso in the semifinals Saturday night.
The Bulldogs (20-14) will become just the fifth team since 1985 to miss the NCAA tournament after playing in the national championship game the previous year.
Coach Brad Stevens said Butler would accept a potential bid to the NIT or, more likely, the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament or the College Basketball Invitational.
“It’s still an honor,” Stevens said. “It’s not what you set out to do or strived to do, but we’re not an NCAA-tournament team. Our overall success this year is not worthy.”
Valparaiso junior forward Ryan Broekhoff helped deal a final blow to Butler’s résumé with 19 points and 16 rebounds before a near-capacity crowd in the top-seeded Crusaders’ home arena.
No. 5 seed Butler entered the game having won seven of its last eight. The Bulldogs lost for a third time this season to the Crusaders (22-10), who moved on to face Detroit for a bid to the NCAA tournament.
“Any team that’s the age we are is going to be inconsistent,” Stevens said. “We played like a green, young team [Saturday].”
Detroit defeated Valparaiso 70-50 last night in the conference championship game, which Butler won the past two seasons.
“It’ll be different,” senior guard Ronald Nored said. “Regardless of where we play, we’ll go out there and play as hard and as well as we can.”
Sophomore guard Chrishawn Hopkins kept the Bulldogs within striking distance until midway through the second half with 18 points. Sophomore forward Erik Fromm had 12 points and six rebounds.
No other Butler player had more than four points. The Bulldogs shot 33.3 percent from the field after starting the game 4 of 18.
Junior center Kevin Van Wijk and junior point guard Erik Buggs contributed 11 points apiece for the Crusaders, who shot 53.5 percent from the field.
Butler led 7-2 about three minutes into the game after Hopkins rattled home a jumper.
Valparaiso then went on a 17-1 run over the next 7:25 and never relinquished the lead.
Stevens dealt with a shortage of players he could rely on for offense.
Starters Nored, junior center Andrew Smith, sophomore forward Khyle Marshall and freshman forward Roosevelt Jones combined for eight points in 94 minutes of playing time.
“They really struggled,” Stevens said. “I don’t know why.”
The Crusaders dominated the glass by a 39-22 margin, which helped them to a 31-24 lead at the end of the first half. In the opening 20 minutes, 11 of Valparaiso’s 14 field goals were either layups or tip-ins.
Broekhoff, the conference player of the year, wouldn’t allow Butler to come back.
“He was the best player on the floor by far,” Stevens said. “You’ve got to be incredibly tough to win in an environment like this. We were thoroughly outplayed.”
The Bulldogs fell behind by as many as 21 in a game that reminded some of their 71-59 loss in the regular season finale at the Athletics-Recreation Center.
“The two frontline guys [Van Wijk and Broekhoff] killed us again,” Stevens said. “We really struggled to score in and around the paint again. It’s a loud gym.”
The Crusaders remembered the result from Feb. 24 when they raced out to an 18-4 lead.
“We were quietly confident we could repeat what happened,” Broekhoff said.
Butler’s lopsided defeat came on the heels of its victory over Milwaukee the day before.
The Bulldogs led the whole game in a 71-49 rout of the Panthers (20-13) Friday night.
Marshall and Jones each scored 17 points, and Smith added eight.
Over the weekend, Nored became Butler’s all-time record-holder for assists in a single season, passing Mike Green with 180 thus far.
A Horizon League official said he expects Butler’s postseason status to be resolved by the evening of March 12 at the latest.