Inexperience has not kept Butler from returning to the Top 25.
Without a senior on the roster, the No. 25 Bulldogs play as a ranked team for the first time this season when they host Alabama-Birmingham on Tuesday night in Indianapolis.
After its senior-laden squad spent 19 straight weeks in the poll in 2007-08, Butler (10-1) starts three freshmen and is ranked again after upsetting then-No. 14 Xavier 74-65 on the road last Tuesday.
It was the Bulldogs’ first victory over a ranked team since beating then-No. 18 Maryland in the 2007 NCAA tournament.
“I’m excited about the way our team played. I thought our guys played with pretty much poise,” Butler coach Brad Stevens said.
Through the first month of the season, Butler has had little trouble moving on without former stars A.J. Graves, Mike Green and Pete Campbell, who helped the Bulldogs go 59-11 over the past two seasons and reach the regional semifinals in 2007.
The Bulldogs, whose lone loss came 54-51 at then-No. 21 Ohio State on Dec. 13, are among the top defensive teams in the nation allowing 55.8 points per contest
Sophomore Matt Howard, the only returning starter from last season, and talented freshman swingman Gordon Hayward each had 19 points, while Howard added 14 rebounds and Hayward 10 against Xavier.
“I thought Matt (Howard) was unbelievable,” Stevens said. “He played so hard on every possession.”
The Bulldogs shot just 35.1 percent, but forced 17 turnovers, held the Musketeers to 29.2-percent shooting from 3-point range and showed good composure down the stretch, uncanny for a young team.
While Howard leads the team with 13.4 points and 7.5 rebounds per contest, the 6-foot-8 Hayward (13.2 ppg) and fellow freshman Shelvin Mack (12.5, 3.6 assists per game) have also been major contributors.
Hayward went 10-for-10 from the free-throw line against Xavier, and is averaging 17.5 points on 48.8-percent shooting in his last four contests.
Looking for its 10th straight victory at Hinkle Fieldhouse, Butler faces UAB (8-4) for the first time since losing 87-50 to the Blazers in 1980 in the teams’ only previous meeting.
It will be a homecoming of sorts for current UAB and former Indiana coach Mike Davis and leading scorer Robert Vaden. Davis will coach his first game in the state since leaving the Hoosier program in 2006.
Vaden, averaging 19.6 points and 6.3 rebounds, will play his first game in the state and his hometown since transferring from Indiana after the 2006 season to follow Davis.
Vaden had 22 points while fellow senior Lawrence Kinnard added 19 in the Blazers’ 82-62 loss at then-No. 19 Louisville on Saturday. Vaden has played well since coming to UAB averaging 20.7 points in 45 games with the Blazers.
The Blazers are 0-2 versus ranked teams this season, also losing to then-No. 11 Oklahoma 77-67 on Nov. 26.
“We need to come out in these contests and play with a purpose,” said Davis, whose team will try to avoid a ninth consecutive loss versus a Top 25 opponent since beating then-No. 3 Memphis in March 2006.