So I guess I can watch the Final Four now.
Traditionally in the years when KU goes out of the tournament early, I stop watching basketball. When I was younger, it was pure pouting. My team wasn’t playing anymore, so I was taking my remote and going home.
Now it’s more to protect my circulatory system. I don’t need to watch Northern Iowa miss seven free throws and shoot 25% from three point range against Michigan State. Nor do I want to sit around and strongly root against teams just to see them lose. If I don’t have a positive force to balance out that negatively, nothing good will come of that.
So other than a minute or two here-and-there, I didn’t watch basketball this weekend.
Fortunately, two of the minutes I did watch were the closing moments of the Butler – K-State game Saturday. We went to Dick’s to buy M. her first pair of soccer shoes. I had been following the score on my phone, and at last check Butler was up by 10. When we walked into the store, the game was tied. Uh oh. As most of you know, Butler closed the game out strong to advance to their first Final Four. I’ve watched a ton of Butler games this year.* I knew they were good. But Final Four good? Nah.
Surprise, surprise. And now I have a bandwagon to ride!
(They are on ESPNU all the time, which is nice if you have ESPNU. I think our cable company only added it because they picked up so many Butler games two years ago.)
Most fans of the game know Butler’s had a solid program for most of the last ten years. They’ve made a couple Sweet 16s, beaten some good teams along the way, and generally become the Gonzaga of the midwest. But that’s all they were supposed to be: a solid team that was dangerous for a win or two in the tournament, but nothing more. Unlike Gonzaga, Butler has continued to recruit close to home, not going after big time recruits as their name recognition grew. They went for the solid players that are in abundance in Indiana. They stole a couple kids who were more than capable of going to Purdue, IU, or Notre Dame away and built around them.
Now, they’ve taken the leap that Gonzaga’s never been able to take. And they get to play a National Semifinal less than six miles from their home court.
Butler is always a nice story. A small school in the heart of basketball country that has slowly built itself into power. A team that plays their home games in the same gym where both the final game of Hoosiers was filmed and where the game that inspired the movie was played. A program that, in its early days, played an important role in making college basketball the game it is today.* In the era of mega-millionaire coaches and one-and-done players, Butler stands for what many people wished all of college basketball stood for.
All of a sudden, Butler isn’t just a good story. It’s a great story. It should be a fun week here in Naptown.
(Tony Hinkle was one of Phog Allen’s major partners in creating the NCAA tournament.)
And for the record, West Virginia was my only correct Final Four pick. I haven’t even bothered to look at my brackets since KU lost.