Lets be honest. It was BRUTAL to watch. And its likely the case that this is one of the worst teams to ever make the Championship game, joining the ranks of 2002 Indiana and 2004 Georgia Tech in history. But those facts are just the curmudgeon side of me. The other side, and the one you probably care about much more, recognizes the amazing story that is Butler being one game away from a National Championship.
This is simply not supposed to happen in college basketball. In fact, if you search the "modern era" of college basketball (which I define as the movement to 64 teams, creation of the shot clock and the three point line), only three teams from non-BCS conferences have ever made the Championship game. Two of those teams (1990 UNLV and 2008 Memphis) were legitimate powers, stocked full of NBA stars and potential Hall of Fame coaches. One team (1998 Utah) was an underdog, but also possessed three NBA players (Andre Miller, Michael Doleac and Hanno Mattola) on its roster. There simply has not been a team like Butler make it to this point.
For years, commentators have been crowing about the fact that "one day some team filled with Seniors from a mid-major is going to win it all." But this Butler team doesnt even meet that definition. Its best players are Juniors and Sophomores and its coach is 33 years old, the youngest to make a title game since 1940. It comes out of the Horizon League, but easily could have been eliminated in Round 2, when another minnow (Murray State) had the ball and the chance to win the game on the last possession. Yes this group is good, but was there any reason to believe THIS could happen?
On Saturday, they defeated Michigan State 52-50 in a game that may have set basketball back to before Butler Coach Brad Stevens was even born. Both teams played tight, and while they suffocated each other on defense, there were no "step up and make history" plays made down the stretch. Butler took a seven-point lead early in the second half, watched one of its two best players, Shelvin Mack, go down with cramps and basically gutted its way to a victory by giving out no easy baskets and making defensive stops. It wasn't glamorous and truth be told, it was unbelievably unentertaining. But Butler and its fans could care less. They are playing on house money, doing more with less than any team in the modern NCAA Tournament history.
Whats next? Well the smart money says that the Butler dream ends in front of its home fans against a vastly more talented and athletic major conference opponent. But the smart money said Syracuse, Kansas State and Michigan State would end the dream as well and the Bulldogs persevered. Objectively, if you played the NCAA Tournament 100 more times, it is likely the case that Butler would never get to this point again. But they dont have to. They are here now. They will be the decided underdog on Monday, and if it were a seven game series, defeat would be almost a certainty. But they dont need to win mulitple games. They need one win...40 minutes. That is certainly possible and if the magic can be harnessed one last time, we will see Butler Bulldogs, 2010 National Champion. Who would have ever imagined?