When asked about his opponent in the second annual Close the Gap Crossroads Classic on Saturday, Butler Head Coach Brad Stevens held nothing back in his evaluation of the number-one ranked Indiana Hoosiers.
"We have played great teams here before," said Stevens. "I don't know if we have played a team this good in a long, long time. I think you might go back to the Florida days when they had (Al) Horford and (Joakim) Noah. Even through our NCAA tournament runs, I don't know if we played a team quite this good. I think that they are loaded, and I think that they are the team to beat all the way through April."
In the Hoosiers victory Sophomore Cody Zeller led the way with 19 points and 19 rebounds, and is now averaging 15.4 points and 8.9 rebounds per game this season. However Zeller isn't the only player on the Hoosiers roster that Stevens feels he needs to worry about.
"Cody is obviously a great player, but I think they have four to five other guys who might play in the NBA," said Stevens.
"It is not just about stopping one guy. It is about coming up with a game-plan to slow them down as much as possible. But I think the best part about Cody, and I have known Cody for a long, long time, is that he is such a selfless star. I think any time that you have a selfless star that only works towards winning, that doesn't care about his individual stats, than your team has a chance to be good. That is what has shown itself to be true in my opinion."
Butler Senior Andrew Smith (10.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg) will have the duty of defending Zeller on Saturday, and Smith mentioned how impressed he is that Zeller is able to run up the floor so cleanly and efficiently with his size. Smith feels though that if anybody could come up with a plan to decelerate Zeller and the Hoosiers, Butler would be on that short list.
"I think that coaches have proved here in the past that if you give them a week to prepare for a game, they will have a great game-plan," said Smith.
"Even against a team like (North Carolina), we had like a fourteen-hour turnaround and I felt like we were very well prepared. Our coaches are some of the best in the country at having a scouting report, and telling us what we need to do. It's now kind of gotten to the point if we just go out and do that, we will have a great chance at winning."
So far Stevens and the Bulldogs have been very pleased with their season through nine games. Senior guard Rotnei Clarke has proven to be an asset to the squad, averaging 17.3 points per game, and players like Junior Khyle Marshall (12.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg) and Freshman Kellen Dunham (11.0 ppg, .969% from the free throw line) have stepped up nicely.
Which is why Saturday's game, which has no conference implications for either Indiana or Butler, is seen by Stevens as a test for the Bulldogs rather than a must-win game.
"In the big scheme of things for us, we are going to use it as a big building block moving forward," said Stevens.
"If you would have told me after nine games, and we have played five high-major teams either on neutral courts or the road, and if you would have told me we would be 7-2 sitting with the wins we are sitting with, then I would feel good as to where we can go. We can build on this. This is another opportunity to see where we stand, and regardless, it is just our tenth game that will mark that we are 30% done with our season. That is what it is. We have to get better from here regardless of the outcome on Saturday."