When Gordon Hayward let go of the shot, college basketball fans jumped out of their seats. As the ball neared the basket, it felt like the end of a Hollywood movie, only without the corny music playing in the background. To the disappointment of many, except Duke fans and gamblers, Hayward’s shot clanked off the rim.
Duke, the mighty No. 1 seed, won the game 61-59 and took home the National Championship.
Although Butler did not win the game, the effects of this tournament run will not soon be forgotten.
As many sports analysts compare this Butler basketball team to a modern-day “Hoosiers,” it is important to recognize that this is not a movie, but reality.
The championship matchup featured the NCAA basketball powerhouse Duke versus the mid-major Horizon League opponent Butler. It was 2008 Olympic gold medal coach Mike Krzyzewski against 33-year-old former pharmaceutical salesman Brad Stevens. According to rivals.com, every member of Duke’s starting lineup was at least a four-star recruit.
With every advantage leaning toward the Blue Devils, how did Butler only lose by two points?
The truth is, Butler’s flair for the dramatic was a common tournament occurrence. The Bulldogs reached the championship because they excelled in two facets of the game. First, they played extraordinary defense. Their tenacious and gritty play helped them limit each NCAA Tournament opponent, except for Duke, to fewer than 60 points.
Second, Butler was the better team under pressure. Its first test was in the second round when it inched out a two-point victory against No. 13 Murray State.
The Sweet 16 didn’t get any easier as the Bulldogs faced No. 1 Syracuse. After the Orange went up by four points with 5:23 remaining, the Bulldogs kept their composure and did not allow another field goal until 35 seconds left in the game, securing a 63-59 victory.
In the Elite Eight, Butler led the game most of the way until No. 2 Kansas State tied it at 54 with 3:09 remaining. Butler scored the next nine points to advance to the first Final Four appearance in school history. The Bulldogs then edged out fifth seed Michigan State 52-50 to reach the championship.
Each game tested Butler’s strength. On paper, Duke should have rolled away with the victory easily, but Butler’s improbable run was fueled by heart and desire. The team would not go down without a fight.
Butler’s journey to the championship game sends a message to mid-major students all across the nation. In the words of Kevin Garnett, “Anything is possibleeeee!”
All jokes aside, the reverberations from this tremendous run should impact incoming high school recruits. Not only should it be easier for Butler to lure top prospects, but it might be easier for other mid-major schools to gain some legitimacy, as well.
Butler was not only playing for itself, but for all the other smaller schools who could only dream to be in their position. In one of the greatest championship games ever, Butler gave mid-majors hope that they, too, can one day achieve such a goal.
It is easy to assume Butler will not be overlooked by tournament time next year. Andy Katz of ESPN.com predicts Butler to be ranked preseason No. 3. The Bulldogs’ tournament run will force sports analysts to pay more attention to smaller schools. In addition, many brackets next year will inherently be filled with many more upset picks than in 2010.
The small schools now have the media spotlight to shine on a national stage.