Tomorrow all eyes will be on Butler as the Bulldogs attempt to be the first true "cinderella" team to ever make the finals of the NCAA Tourney. That's pretty impressive, and you have to hand it to Butler. For several years now they've been creeping around, preparing to make their run; and as the fates would have it, not only are they making their run now, but they're making their run at a time when the championship is perfectly winnable for them.
I agree, it's a great story. How can you not like Butler? It's an extremely likeable program from coaching staff down to the bench players, they've been trying to get over the cusp and into greatness for a few years now, each time punked back down as if they don't belong, and this year they not only offed number two Kansas State, which was no slouch, but also dismissed number one Syracuse. It's no wonder they're the talk of the town.
The problem is, they're playing Michigan State, a team who -- if they hadn't appeared in seven of the last twelve elite eights and six of the last twelve final fours -- would probably qualify to be a cinderella team itself. After all, from not only did the Spartans lose their star player Kalin Lucas in the second round, they also saw injuries to Chris Allen and Delvon Roe. And they have to play Butler practically at home (Butler's campus is a mere six miles from Lucas Oil Stadium).
It's easy to, from afar, call this is a "big guy versus little guy matchup." But the truth is that Michigan State is a bigger underdog, "pull yourselves up by the bootstraps" story in this Tournament than even Butler. After all, Butler is firing on all cylinders, looking solid and fantastic as they took out the aforementioned Syracuse, Kansas State, former belle of the ball Gonzaga and a not-terrible Vanderbilt. Michigan State, on the other hand, has struggled with almost everyone they've played, from New Mexico State to another cinderella team Northern Iowa. Tom Izzo's master strategies have pulled the Spartans out of the fire throughout this tournament, leaving them bruised and hobbled but with as much heart as any team in this tournament.
Mind you, I'm not saying that it's more shocking that a program like Michigan State's is here than Butler's. Michigan State is a perennial tourney team -- and Butler's the new kid, sure. All I'm saying is that tomorrow you're going to hear a lot about Butler. And you're going to hear a lot of people say they're pulling for Butler by insinuating that Michigan State is some sort of juggernaut this season. But the Spartans are far from a steamroller -- they're dusting themselves off and pressing on as much as anyone. Don't let the historical stats fool you -- Michigan State is fueled by energy and heart this year, defying odds and figuring out as they go along just how to pul together enough to get to the next round. I don't know about you, but that sounds like many of the same qualities we look for in a cinderella team. By that rationale, whoever emerges from tomorrow's game should be the rootable team; both have fought tooth and nail to get here and either would be the underdog versus Duke or West Virginia. So root for Butler or don't, either way you're gonna get a team that's earned it in the final game.