LaVall Jordan: The Man Who Wanted Butler

While the Butler Bulldogs may have regressed this year in terms of win total and regular season rankings, players, fans and the people who work around the team are optimistic about the future of the program after what they’ve seen from first-year helmsmen LaVall Jordan.

Jordan, the winningest player in Butler history, the two-time all conference player for the Bulldogs, three-time NCAA tournament participant, the coach who was a mere game away from bringing an 11-win Milwaukee team all the way to the NCAA tournament just last year, is now the coach behind Butler’s first-ever Big East Tournament victory.

The 75-74 win over Seton Hall demonstrated Ball’s coaching skill, as Butler trailed by seven in the game’s final minutes. The win is one Butler aficionados of the world hope is only the beginning of what will be a program-defining legacy.

“Jordan is a Butler man through and through,” said Butler Collegian sports editor Dana Lee.

Jordan made that evident at his introductory press conference.

“I can’t wait for the first game when I hear the chant: ‘BU – TLE – R U a Bulldog’…and I might stop coaching for a second and say, ‘Hell yeah,’” he said.

Jordan’s connections to Butler go beyond his playing days and in fact extend through most of his post-collegiate life.

After returning from a one-year stint playing overseas in Europe, he served for four years as an assistant on coach Todd Lickliter’s Butler staff before following him to Iowa, where he assisted Lickliter for three more years.

When Brad Stevens, Lickliter’s replacement, left Butler to lead the Boston Celtics in 2013, Jordan was one of the leading candidates to replace him, but was eventually passed up on in favor of Brandon Miller.

According to those who are close with him, he never stopped pining for the Butler job, and after missing out on it the first time was more than willing to lie in wait for another opportunity. In the meantime, he honed his coaching chops as an assistant coach at Michigan before eventually undertaking his one-year stint at Milwaukee.

Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said his three matches against Jordan this year have impressed him.

“I think LaVall has – the league is lucky to have him,” Willard said. “Obviously Butler is lucky to have him. And he’s done a phenomenal job.”

More specifically Williard pointed to Jordan’s superior usage of Martin Wideman and Kamar Baldwin down the stretch, something he believes Jordan improved upon from earlier in the season.

If the reaction of fans, team media and even his own rivals are anything to go by, Butler is indeed lucky to have him for any potential tournament run now, and for however many seasons his passion for Butler University basketball continues to light up Hinkle Fieldhouse and wherever else the Bulldogs need someone to steer them through it all.

Second half powers Villanova to blowout of Marquette

Villanova sent Marquette packing in a 94-70 blow-out win in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals Thursday night, but the first half of the game had peopler in the Garden thinking a different result was possible.

After facing off against one another twice during the regular season, with their last meeting yielding a razor thin 85-82 victory for the Wildcats, Marquette and Villanova faced off for the third time this season in the quarterfinals of the Big East Conference tournament.

The contest started off slowly with the conference leaders in field goal percentage, the Golden Eagles, missing their first three shots and the second basket of the game not coming until nearly two and a half minutes into the first quarter, when Markus Howard hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at 3. From there on out, though, the first half was a dog fight with the largest lead by ether team until the final two minutes being five, briefly held by Villanova.

The Golden Eagles strategy early in the game was evident, attempting to limit the depth of a Wildcats’ roster that led the NCAA in scoring this year at a clip of 88.0 points per game and features six players in double digit scoring figures.

Marquette was seemingly able to force the scoring burden squarely onto the shoulders of Nova’s two leading scorers, Jalen Brunson (19.0 ppg) and Mikal Bridges (17.6 ppg), both of whom were the only Villanova players with a field goal until nearly a quarter of the way through the game when Eric Paschall converted a layup with 10:13 left to go in the first quarter.

This surge of contribution from Nova’s secondary players didn’t faze Marquette much by the time the first half was drawing to a close, but the difference in depth between the two teams was apparent. Villanova went on a 8-2 run to end out the half and entered the locker rooms with a 41-34 lead.

Coming out of the half Marquette was able to hold off the inevitable for a little while, keeping the game to first half-esqe scores before Nova’s first big run of the game began. Villanova went on a 12-0 run that began with 18:00 left to play and lasted until Marquette finally responded with 13:11 remaining on the clock. This run was highlighted with what may have been the play of the game, a vicious block from Bridges that lead to a lightening quick fast break three pointer from Brunson.

By this point Marquette’s overreliance on its leading scorers Markus Howard (20.3 ppg) and Andrew Rowsey (20.0 ppg) and a lack of secondary scoring options was obvious. Howard and Rowsey combined for 30 points in the game’s first half, but by the second half a combination of Villanova’s improved defense of the pair and waning energy levels throughout the rest of the Golden Eagles squad led to a Marquette team that lacked little if any pop for the majority of the second half.

Following a few other high-octane put-away type runs, Villanova easily had the conference quarterfinal game in hand alongside some impressive individual performances, with the Wildcats boasting four players in double-digit scoring figures, led by Mikal Bridges, who paced all players in the contest with 25 points to go with his eight rebounds.

A major key for the Wildcats in this game was their efficiency, especially from the 3-point line, where they recovered from a weak by their standards 33 percent first half from beyond the arc to post a 52 percent completion rate from three to end the game.

Coach Jay Wright said that they follow the mantra of “Shoot em up, sleep in the streets” when it comes to the 3-point arc, and he said that he believes that his players are good enough that he has no problem with telling them to shoot more when he sees fit.

Wright and his Wildcats will be back in the Garden Friday at 9 p.m. to face off against the winner of the Butler and Seton Hall game in the Big East Tournament semifinals.