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Butler moves into favorite’s role in Atlantic 10

Butler may not be in the Atlantic 10 for long as the Bulldogs feature prominently in rumors about which schools are likely to join the Big East Catholics when they eventually form their new conference.

But for now Butler is still in the A-10 and it’s carrying the league’s flag impressively. The Bulldogs upset then No. 9 North Carolina at the Maui Invitational last month and knocked off No. 1 Indiana 88-86 in overtime Saturday. On Monday, Butler debuted at No. 19 in the Associated Press poll and No. 25 in the USA Today Coaches Poll.

Usually an NCAA Tournament fixture, Butler entered the season coming off a down year. The Bulldogs finished 22-15 after playing in the College Basketball Invitational (CBI). The loss of projected starting point guard Crishawn Hopkins to a disciplinary dismissal only lowered expectations for Butler.

But Arkansas transfer Rotnei Clarke has lived up to expectations and delivered on his reputation as one of the nation’s best 3-point shooters (45.1 percent). The rest of the Bulldogs have more than compensated for Hopkins’ absence and are on track to return to the NCAA Tournament.

With conference play looming, Butler looks like not only a contender to win the Atlantic 10, but the favorite.

MY TOP 10 — 1. Duke, 2. Michigan, 3. Syracuse, 4. Louisville, 5. Ohio State, 6. Arizona, 7. Indiana, 8. Florida, 9. Missouri, 10. Kansas.

For the rest of my Top 25 visit the College Hoop Week Guide on Gazettenet’s UMass Sports Blog at http://www.gazettenet.com/Blogs/UMassSports/.

GAME OF THE WEEK: No. 7 Ohio State vs. No. 9 Kansas, Saturday, 4 p.m. — This is a great game in any year. This year it’s a matchup of two top-10 teams.

ATLANTIC 10 GAME OF THE WEEK: Temple vs. No. 3 Syracuse, Saturday, noon, Madison Square Garden — After Butler took down one top-five team, can another Atlantic 10 squad take down another?

PITINO vs. PITINO — A year ago, a game between Louisville and Florida International would have been a matchup of former disappointing New York Knicks coaches. But after Florida International fired Isiah Thomas, Wednesday’s game between the Cardinals and Golden Panthers now pits father vs. son as Richard Pitino will face his father Rick Pitino in the Billy Minardi Classic at the KFC Yum Center.

QUOTABLE — “Jim is one of the great coaches of all time, and he’s an even better man. It will be an amazing accomplishment when he reaches 900 wins. What is even more amazing is that he’s done that at one school. Jim Boeheim and Syracuse University are synonymous. He has built one of the great brands in college basketball, one that has withstood the sport’s most unrelenting test — the test of time.” — Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski talking with the Associated Press on the eve of Boeheim’s milestone 900th win. Krzyzewski and Bob Knight are the only other coaches with 900 career wins.

NEW NICKNAME PLEASE:George Washington — A school named after the father of our country can’t do better than Colonials? The potential list here is enormous. The Hatchets? The Generals? I cannot tell a lie, I’m going with the Presidents.

BETTER THAN EXPECTED — When UMass beat Providence in Puerto Rico, it didn’t feel like much of a victory. At the time, the Friars were riddled with injuries and a day later they lost to a bad Penn State team. But since then Providence has won five straight games.

Tonight Arizona transfer Sidiki Johnson becomes eligible and star freshman Kris Dunn is expected to make his debut after shoulder surgery as well. On top of that star guard Vincent Council will be back eventually.

The Friars could quickly become formidable. Every Providence win has a positive impact on the RPI for UMass.

ON THE ROAD TO — A repeat of the 1992 NCAA Tournament final — Duke vs. Michigan — 21 years later.

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Follow UMass coverage on Twitter at twitter.com/GazetteUMass. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.

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