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Butler's title game runs rank among college hoops' top team feats

by | CBSSports.com Senior Writer
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Now that it's been a few months since UConn clipped the nets in Houston, it's time to reflect -- on where Butler's second consecutive appearance in the national championship game ranks among college basketball's most impressive team accomplishments.

How about right up there with just about anything that's been done in the history of college basketball.

"Definitely right up there," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "It's amazing.

"No question it's somewhere in the top five," added Syracuse's Jim Boeheim.

Brad Stevens' Bulldogs make the title game not once but twice. (Getty Images)  
Brad Stevens' Bulldogs make the title game not once but twice. (Getty Images)  
It's difficult enough to get to the Final Four out of a mid-major league. Just ask George Mason or even VCU. But to be competitive once you get there (see Duke) isn't all that easy.

And then to prove it wasn't a fluke -- and get back again the next year.

I'm not sure anyone else could have done what Brad Stevens and the Bulldogs accomplished.

Not John Wooden, Coach K or even Bob Knight.

Stevens did it with a fairly anonymous group. No one knew about Gordon Hayward or Shelvin Mack when they committed to the Bulldogs. In fact, Matt Howard was the only guy on the roster that got any high-major looks.

The young coach was a virtual unknown as well, but Stevens has helped orchestrate a run that we may never see again -- a mid-major program that reached the national championship game in successive seasons while doing it the right way -- clean and with high-character kids.

1. UCLA's Dynasty: John Wooden and the Bruins established a full-fledged dynasty back in the 1960s and 1970s, winning 10 national titles in the span of 12 years. Sure, I know the complexion of the NCAA tournament has altered dramatically since those days and Wooden's players were getting some "extras" from booster Sam Gilbert, but still. Seven consecutive national championships is an insane stretch. No school has won more than two straight since. Wooden's teams went undefeated in 1963, 1967 and also in back-to-back seasons in '72 and '73. No matter what you want to bring to the table, no college basketball accomplishment compares.

2. Butler's Return Engagement: The critics will point to the fact that the Bulldogs didn't win a national title, but for a team from the Horizon League to make consecutive appearances in the championship contest is almost unfathomable. They did it with a young coach in baby-faced Brad Stevens and with a group of mostly unheralded players. The Bulldogs were one shot away from toppling Duke two seasons ago, but were written off after Gordon Hayward left for the NBA and became a lottery pick. Butler struggled early in the season and even in league play, but put it all together when it mattered most -- and made a second straight appearance in the title game. I don't think I'm going out on a limb by saying something like this will never, ever happen again.

3. Coach K's Dukies: Some people forget how dominant Coach Mike Krzyzewski's Blue Devils program was from the mid-1980s through the mid-1990s. Duke went to the Final Four seven times in a span of nine seasons -- winning the national title twice, in 1991 and 1992. They became the team that many loved to hate because they were so dominant year after year. However, what is also remarkable is the way Coach K built the program in Durham. It's a team that won just 38 total games in his first three seasons at the helm and didn't have tradition to fall back on.

4. Gator Bait: No one saw this coming. Not even Billy Donovan. The Gators, with an unheralded group of players ignored by most of the elite programs coming out of high school, shocked the nation by winning the national title in 2006. Then Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Corey Brewer all spurned the NBA for a year, returned to campus and defended their championship, becoming the first school to go back to back since Duke accomplished the feat in 1991 and 1992. What adds to the impressive nature of Donovan's feat is that he did it at a "football school."

5. Izzo's Final Four Sparty: There's been some history in East Lansing over the years. Namely, Magic Johnson bringing a national title to Michigan State. But what Tom Izzo has done has been nothing short of amazing. The Spartans head coach made a half-dozen Final Four appearances within a 12-year span. Izzo won the national title in 2000, got there in 1999, 2001, 2005, 2009 and 2010 -- and again, he did it at a place that's not considered one of the elite jobs in college basketball.

6. Ivy Shocker: The Penn Quakers went into the 1979 NCAA tournament as the No. 9 seed in the East, but reeled off four victories to earn a spot in the Final Four. First came a win over Jim Valvano's Iona team, then an upset over No. 1 North Carolina in Raleigh, followed by victories over Big East powers Syracuse and St. John's. Tony Price led the Quakers' magical run -- which came to an end in the Final Four to Magic Johnson's Michigan State team. I just can't imagine a day when an Ivy League team makes another Final Four appearance.

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