Uphill fight for Butler, Gonzaga

Shelvin Mack and Butler have had a disappointing season so far. Kyle Terada/US Presswire

The Butler Bulldogs are in trouble.

Last April, you'll recall, Butler played the most significant game in school history. Suddenly, this Thursday's visit to Xavier may have risen to No. 2 on that list. Such are the vagaries of the NCAA tournament at-large picture.

Here we are, just seven games into the "season after" and Butler is staring at a near must-win nonconference matchup. Having dropped both of their marquee contests to date -- at Louisville and at the Meadowlands against Duke in a rematch of last season's NCAA championship game -- the Bulldogs need a win to start building a credible at-large resume for 2011.

Throw in a home-court loss to an Evansville team that's typically a bottom-feeder in the Missouri Valley Conference, and Butler has some heavy lifting to do both out-of-conference and certainly within a vastly improved Horizon League. Opportunities still remain for the Bulldogs, but their margin for error is nearly gone.