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Butler proves last year's Bulldogs were no fluke in NCAA Tournament

HOUSTON

Once, another basketball team, one from North Carolina State, shocked the University of Houston in a game that was something of a miracle.

Once.

Once, Buster Douglas beat Mike Tyson, and the United States hockey team beat the Soviet Union, and Jack Fleck beat Ben Hogan, and a horse named Upset — imagine that — beat Man o' War.

Once.

As for Butler University, well, the Bulldogs have miracled again.

They have reshocked the world. They have rediscovered the path to a magic journey. They have dittoed their way to the national championship game. They are the re-amazings. They are the re-incredibles.

What could possibly be more impressive than the way the Butler Bulldogs, the heartbeats of the Horizon League, have reached the NCAA championship game? Well, making it for the second straight year, that's what. Think of it like winning the lottery twice. Think of it like returning to Shangri-La. Think of it like Cinderella going to another ball.

Butler pulled off its return trip Saturday night, outmuscling a pesky VCU team 70-62 in the semifinals of the Final Four. It was brutal, it was cold, and it left a lot of people wondering this:

Do you believe in the Bulldogs now?

After a last-second tournament win against Old Dominion, after surviving a crazy finish against Pitt, after beating Wisconsin, after coming from behind to beat Florida in overtime, the Bulldogs are in the title game for the second straight year.

Even for the brand-name teams from the big-money conferences, that rarely happens. In the past 25 years, it has happened only five other times: Florida (2006-07), Kentucky (1997-98), Arkansas (1994-95), Michigan (1992-93) and Duke (1991-92).

You probably noticed this, but none of those guys came from the Horizon League.

They are a motley-looking crew, these Bulldogs, and sometimes they don't look as pretty as the teams they are beating. But they are willing to lean and shove and scrape on every trip down the court, and by the end of the night, the other team usually looks more awkward than they do.

You know, like last year.

Maybe this says something about college basketball, which has reached parity by having mid-major conferences that keep their players through their senior seasons while the big guys play rent-a-player with freshmen who then fastbreak their way to the NBA. Maybe it says something about dreamers and one-and-done tournaments. Mostly it says something about Butler, which is 11-1 in the tournament the past two seasons.

They are a big-moment basketball team, the Bulldogs. They are comfortable in big moments, and they live for last shots. Because of it, they exceed their abilities, the way special teams do. Often, they leave perfectly good teams wondering how defeat happened.

For instance, can you imagine being Florida's Billy Donovan today? Can you imagine him wondering what happened to that 11-point lead he had in the Southeast Region final? Can you count how many times he must replay those final shots of regulation and overtime? It is the same with Pitt's Jamie Dixon and all the other coaches who were shown out of the tournament by Butler this year.

Against VCU, there was no question as to what happened. The Bulldogs were simply too physical for VCU to handle. For most of the season, rebounding had been VCU's biggest weakness. Out of 336 teams in the nation, the Rams were ranked 298th in rebound margin. But when they were hot, they were able to shoot themselves past their problems.

Not against Butler, which was quick enough to defend the perimeter, strong enough to outrebound VCU by 16 and determined enough to pull away down the stretch.

Perhaps, just perhaps, there is a difference to this Butler team from the one that lost to Duke 61-59 in last year's title game. Maybe this time, the Bulldogs can find a way to the nets with scissors. "We just need to be one basket better," is the way coach Brad Stevens puts it.

If nothing else, what these Bulldogs have done is establish that last year's Bulldogs were no fluke. Butler really is this good. After all, fairy tales all start with "once upon a time." The reason is that none of them won their way back the next year.

Butler has.

Just a hunch, but don't be surprised if it leaves one more team wondering what happened to victory.

Butler proves last year's Bulldogs were no fluke in NCAA Tournament 04/02/11 [Last modified: Saturday, April 2, 2011 11:27pm]
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