By: Nate Jervey
Assistant Sports Information Director
Is there anything more popular right now then the head coaches of VCU and Butler. I swear, if I have one more female friend tell me how “adorable” Brad Stevens of Butler University is I may just die. And Shaka Smart, the coach at VCU, has won over plenty of followers, though not as many of the lady variety, with his exuberance on the floor and his candor off the floor. While I never would have picked either of these teams to reach the promised land of college basketball, I must say that I have enjoyed the ride.
Stevens, looks as though he is 12 years old and has not business being on the sidelines of an NCAA Division I basketball game. But don’t let the boyish good looks and affable personality fool you. He is a stone-cold killer. It’s the perfect disguise really. He lulls his opponents into a certain level of tranquility and calm and then unleashes his Bulldogs on them who have proven that their bite is, indeed, as big as their bark.
Butler, behind its president of the high-school chess club doppelganger of a coach, has reached the Final Four for the second-consecutive season with what many perceived to be an inferior team to last season’s national runner up squad. They lost their best player, Gordon Hayward, to the NBA and Butler is not a team that boasts a great deal of blue-chip recruits a la Kentucky or North Carolina. So how did they do it. To be honest, you got me. I get that they have some talented players, and I would contend that they had a favorable route through the tournament, but how does this school of roughly 4,000 find itself once again at the epicenter of the American Sports? How does Butler accomplish something never done by Indiana, Purdue or Notre Dame?
Its simple…Stevens. And I can’t give you an answer, but whatever he is doing in Indianapolis is working, even if he looks like should be a librarian. So good in fact, that Butler is going to have to shed the Cinderella moniker. No longer is anyone totally surprised to see Butler’s name on the advancing line of the NCAA Tournament, they are no longer an unknown. I fell that Butler has moved into the Gonzaga territory. A once-feared mid-major school that made a few runs (albeit not as deep as Butler’s) that is now always-feared and on the cusp of becoming a big-time program. Butler has entered that realm and I think that Stevens has done very well to position himself and his program just far enough under the radar to be taken lightly and just far enough on the radar to not be discounted entirely.
On the other hand, Smart over at VCU has a chip on his shoulder and will let you know about it. He played at Div. III Kenyon and always felt he was good enough to play at the Div. I level. He gets his players to buy into the “they didn’t think you/we were good enough” mantra and his players, to me anyway, are a direct reflection of the personality of their coach.
I love that he takes his jacket off at the beginning of the game, knowing that it would only be a hindrance to the amount of chest bumps and arm waving and any of a thousand things that this ball of energy does on the sidelines.
He is the exact opposite to Stevens in this respect. While Stevens always seems calm, cool and collected on the bench, Smart looks as though he is about to explode. And I love that about him.
Smart makes no bones about the fact that very few believed in his team and that, quite frankly, only his 14 players need to believe and the Jay Bilas’ and Dick Vitales of the world can keep not believing all the way to New Orleans.
Now, while Stevens has put Butler in a position to assume a place among, if not basketball’s elite, then at least its very well respected. VCU on the other hand, despite its impressive run, does not have that kind of staying power (yet) in my opinion. Regardless of how VCU has done in the tournament, that does not make the arguments against the Rams making the field wrong. The field is not picked on how well you think a team will do, but how well they did in the regular season and, honestly, VCU did not deserve to make the tournament in a lot of people’s opinions. I just don’t think that VCU is in anywhere near the position that Butler is and while the run has been magical this spring, it does not figure to repeat next season. If for no other reason than four of the Rams’ top five scorers are all seniors.
While I like both coaches and what they have done, I see Stevens doing well at Butler for a long time while Smart would be smart to get out of VCU while his name is at peak popularity and see what he can accomplish with his coaching acumen at a bigger school on a large stage….as if the Final Four was not a large enough stage.