Rick Byrd would love to see his program follow in the footsteps of one such as Butler, which arguably has graduated from mid-major status to major.
For now the veteran Belmont coach will have to settle for going toe-to-toe.
Belmont will play at Butler next season in a one-time-only affair. The contest will be Dec. 28 at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis with no return game at Curb Event Center.
“There is not a program I would want Belmont to emulate more than Butler and what it has accomplished over the last seven or eight years,” Byrd said. “It’s moreso the overall quality of their program than just the wins and losses.”
Following a dramatic victory Saturday over Gonzaga, another program that straddles the line between mid-major and major, Butler is ninth in the latest Associated Press Top 25 poll, released Monday.
Under coach Brad Stevens, the school made the NCAA tournament five straight years capped by back-to-back appearances in the national championship game (2010, 2011). This season Butler has three victories over Top 10 teams, including then-No. 1 Indiana.
“We play two or three ‘guarantee’ games each year,” Byrd said. “With Butler’s move to the Atlantic 10 [this season] and the success they’ve had, their road games are now against the likes of Indiana, so there’s not an opportunity for us to play them in a home-and-home.
“We like to play tremendous programs in the best venues, and Butler and Hinkle Fieldhouse present a win-win in that regard. Plus, we recruit the state of Indiana and the Indianapolis area pretty hard. So it makes sense for us to go there and play a game.”
The current Belmont roster includes two players from Indiana.
Following a 78-66 victory over Tennessee State on Saturday, the Bruins (15-4 overall) are the only team unbeaten in Ohio Valley Conference play (6-0). They play six of their next eight games on the road, beginning Thursday at Morehead State.
Now they also have a road trip to which they can look forward next season.
“We haven’t backed off from playing anybody, even in the early Division I days for this program,” Byrd said. “This is another one of those opportunities.”