No. 10: March Madness

The team came from a smallish private school from Indiana. It played not in the Big Ten but in the Horizon League. Its home gym, Hinkle Fieldhouse, was the location of both the real-life and the movie versions of “Hoosiers.” (The guy who hit that real shot — Bobby Plump of Milan High, in 1952 — is an alum.) The coach was a boyish-looking pharmaceutical sales rep. Virtually none of the players was considered a top recruit. And they darn near won the NCAA men’s basketball tournament anyway.

Butler’s Bulldogs came a buzzer-beating, rim-rattling, three-pointer away from upsetting Duke in what would’ve been one of the great stories in American hoops history. The Blue Devils and their coach, Mike Krzyzewski, were worthy champs for the fourth time, but the story of college basketball was the Little Team That Could.

There is nothing flashy about what coach Brad Stevens calls “the Butler Way.” It’s about finding good students who also want to be good players and good teammates. Stevens kept noting that things like budgets and football stadiums have “no impact on a five-on-five basketball game.”

In a sport awash in corruption and cutting corners, this was beyond a breath of fresh air.

Butler isn’t new to the national scene; the team has been making NCAA tournament noise for almost a decade. Yet it never had a season like this. The team bulldozed through the midmajor Horizon League and then brushed off critics who said it was too small and too weak.

En route to the title game, held just miles from its Indianapolis campus, Butler knocked off big-name, big-budget programs Syracuse, Kansas State, and Michigan State. By the end, few saw the Bulldogs as underdogs: They were favored to beat mighty Michigan State.

“If you don’t believe it, you can’t achieve it,” Stevens kept saying.

Butler got most of America to believe and came one rim bounce away from achieving the ultimate glory.

–Dan Wetzel