VALPARAISO, Ind. -- Butler. Valpo. It's the rumble in, um, northeast Indiana! OK, that didn't rhyme. Is Don King available? Let's get him on the line. We need a better name for this thing.
A late-season Horizon League game might not seem like such a big deal given the gap in talent between the 25-4 Bulldogs and the 15-15 Crusaders, but tonight's game has some special implications. If Butler wins, they'll go to 18-0, extending the nation's longest winning streak and, even more impressive, becoming the first Horizon League team ever to achieve a perfect 18-0 record in league play.
College basketball is not really supposed to work that way. The game is rigged. Statistical probability lingers over superior teams at all times. There are no best-of-seven series here; better players are no guarantee of success. That's why the NCAA tournament rules. Now stretch that tournament over 18 games. It takes a special team, a smart coach and, yes, a little bit of luck to remain unbeaten through a regular season. Butler's accomplishment -- avoiding upsets, night after night -- is already special. Tonight could cap it off.
To do that, the Bulldogs will have to contend with the Horizon League's most prolific scorer, Valpo sophomore Brandon Wood. Wood averages 17.9 points per game, has led Valpo in scoring in more than half of its games, and had perhaps his biggest game (albeit in a loss) in a 30-point explosion at North Carolina on Nov. 15. (Not that it matters, but that was back when we thought North Carolina was the No. 4 team in the country. Ha. Not so much.) Valpo is a young team that can score with anyone in the Horizon League -- they're No. 66 in the country in KenPom's adjusted offensive efficiency. The problem? Defense. The Crusaders are in the high 300's in the country in just about every important defensive category. Just look at all that red. Eesh.
Fortunately enough for Valpo, Butler's offense, while good, isn't nearly as good as its defense, which is ranked 24th in efficiency in the country. Maybe Butler comes out cold; maybe Valpo comes out hot; maybe the score stays close; maybe the Athletics Recreation Center's crowd gets really rocking. Maybe.
More likely than not, though, tonight's game will serve as a coronation for the best Horizon League season of all-time. The Bulldogs are already impressive. In 40 minutes, they could be historic.