Brad Stevens knows a thing or two about quality basketball teams and the Butler coach was heaping plenty of praise on Illinois after John Groce’s squad handled the Bulldogs in the championship game of the Maui Invitational.
Stevens, who led Butler to the national championship game in 2010 and 2011, told the Indianapolis Star that Illinois looks a lot like his first Butler team that went 30-4.
“They’re just bigger, stronger and more athletic than that team was,” Stevens said. “I think it’s going to be a heck of a year for them. That’s a really good basketball team that we got beat by.”
The difference between Stevens’ 2007-08 Bulldogs and this Illinois squad is the Illini will have to go through a meat-grinder of a conference schedule in a Big Ten that most consider to be the toughest in the country. Butler did its damage by going 16-2 in the Horizon League.
Stevens told reporters after the game: “Anyone who thinks that’s a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten team, I would argue with that.”
Illinois is drawing praise across the college basketball world, in large part because of the steady play of senior guard Brandon Paul. The Maui Invitational MVP, Paul has long been regarded as a pro prospect, and through six games this season, he appears headed toward realizing his potential.
ESPN.com senior NBA writer Chad Ford has said NBA scouts are taking note of Paul’s development.
Stevens was also impressed after the game, telling reporters: “Brandon Paul’s a pro, he’s a big-time pro. Not only because he shoots it, the way he shoots it, he creates distance on his drives. I think he’s as good of a pro prospect as there probably was in this tournament.”