Mid-Major Morning Mashups: Butler Advances To Second Straight National Championship Edition

Years from now young college basketball fans will browse the list of college basketball national champions and find a few names that appear a bit more frequently than others. 

Patrick Ewing's Georgetown teams played for back-to-back titles in 1984 and 1985. The early '90's saw Christian Laettner Duke win a pair of national championships and Michigan's Fab 5 lose a pair. Kentucky pulled the rare trio of title chances from 1996 to 1998, winning twice, while most recently Florida won in 2006 and 2007 thanks to a loaded class that included three first round picks. That's it - for 27 years, those are the only teams that had played in back-to-back national championship games. A list of historically great teams, some considered among the best ever.

The Butler Bulldogs can now count themselves among the greats.

It seems out of place to a degree doesn't it? There's no single iconic player or a roster loaded with future pro talent. No one would ever confuse the Bulldogs as having flair or any semblance of swagger. Heck, even their national semi-final opponent (with all due respect to VCU) won't be remembered as a powerhouse, even though the Rams assembled a spectacular run of their own. No, nothing about Butler resembles one of the great runs of the past quarter century except for the end result.

No matter what the critics say about luck or a watered down tournament field, Brad Stevens and Co. have accomplished something so rare that only 10 others teams in the history of the NCAA Tournament have managed to duplicate it. The only question left to answer is will this team be remembered as one of the greatest to never win it all, or simply one of the greatest?  

Joe Posnanski of SI.com: "The wildest story in the history of college basketball might just come down to something simple. Like a simple fact printed at the bottom of the score sheet: VCU scored zero fast break points Saturday night. Zero. For 40 minutes in an insanely large dome in Houston, the VCU players wanted nothing more than to run. All the Rams players wanted was open space. Every time they got the ball, they pushed it up court - faster, always faster - this is how VCU plays, this is how their dynamic coach Shaka Smart coaches, this is how VCU won five games and made one of the more unlikely Final Four runs ever. Butler did not allow a single fast-break point Saturday night. For 40 minutes, the Bulldogs players got back on defense ... and got back on defense ... and got back on defense. All night long, VCU could not beat them down the court. Not even once. And Butler won the game 70-62. And Butler is going back to the national championship game. The absurdity of that last statement - "Butler is going back to the national championship game" - cannot possibly be overstated. It was already off-the-charts absurd when Butler went to last year's title game for the first time. Butler has only 4,500 students. The Bulldogs play in the Horizon League, which used to be the Midwestern Collegiate Conference, which used to be the Midwestern City Conference, which has had 21 different teams through the years. No team like Butler had made the national championship game in more than a quarter century, maybe since Larry Bird's Indiana State."

Dana O'Neil of ESPN.com: "The MVP of Butler's 70-62 win over Virginia Commonwealth didn't score a single point. Ronald Nored launched five shots and missed them all, but without Nored, Butler may not be doing the unthinkable: playing in a back-to-back national championship game. Ronald Nored's white lie inspired Shelvin Mack's 24-point effort in Butler's win over VCU. The playmaker and lockdown defender for the Bulldogs scored his biggest assist hours before the game even tipped off, concocting a devious plan that ended up being every bit as critical as Brad Stevens' game plan. As Butler gathered for its pre-game meal, Nored leaned over to Shelvin Mack, the Bulldogs' best pure scorer, and told him that he'd read that some of the Virginia Commonwealth players were dogging Mack, saying he wasn't anywhere near as good as some of the players they'd faced in this NCAA tournament. "Yeah it was a total lie," Nored said. "Nobody said that, but I'd seen that on a '30 for 30' about Reggie Miller. Marc Jackson told him some stuff and Reggie went off. I figured if it worked for Reggie, maybe it would work for Shelvin. I mean it couldn't hurt, right?" Mack swears now that he knew it wasn't true, or at least he figured it out when he went back to his room, Googled the information and came up empty. But the notion apparently stuck in his head anyway."

Mike Wise of the Washington Post: "Something about Saturday night's Little Teams That Could national semifinal didn't feel right in the beginning. Now that it's over - now that Butler is moving forward again and Virginia Commonwealth returns to Richmond with a tremendous tale but ultimately no trophy - it feels even worse. Rocky Balboa shouldn't be allowed to knock himself out. The good guys shouldn't eliminate each other. They should keep drumming the bad guys from Connecticut, which staved off Kentucky in the nightcap. When the most unlikely underdog Final Four matchup since perhaps Texas Western-Utah in 1966 happens, of course someone has to lose. And there will be plenty who argue that at least they bowed to one of their own, and weren't bludgeoned by 20 points or more by one of college basketball's traditionally elite programs. But from courtside, VCU being sent packing by Butler, 70-62, in a game of this magnitude - a mid-major program snuffing out the dreams of another a step shy of the title game - has got to be a little tougher mentally to digest for the loser. VCU only knocked out giants from the Pacific-10, Big East, Big Ten, ACC and Big 12 - before the Rams were undone by the pride of the Horizon League."

Tim Gardner of USA Today: "Coming into the Final Four, Butler guard Zach Hahn had scored nine points in the Bulldogs' four NCAA tournament games before heading to Houston. On Saturday night at Reliant Stadium, Hahn stepped up when the Bulldogs needed him most. With his team down two points with just under 15 minutes left in the game, Hahn scored eight consecutive points for the Bulldogs courtesy of back-to-back three pointers and an up-and-under layup along the baseline. When the layup was added to the scoreboard, the Bulldogs had a 44-43 lead -- a lead they would not relinquish the rest of the game as they went on to a 70-62 victory over Virginia Commonwealth and another appearance in the NCAA title game. "Not much to say about that," Hahn said after the game. "My teammates did a great job of finding me in transition and I just kind of made the plays to knock it down."

Bob Ford of the Philadelphia Inquirer: "In the end, when you lose there is only the losing that matters and not the winning that came before, however wonderful, however unexpected, however affirming of everything you have preached and believed. Shaka Smart and the Virginia Commonwealth Rams didn't have to be lucky enough to reach the Final Four this season, and that means them no disrespect. Getting this far requires luck, whether it is a first-time trip or a return appearance by an NCAA power. Things have to go right. Balls have to decide to roll in rather than rim out. Officials have to see a crucial collision your way. The kids have to keep doing what they are supposed to do. A lot has to happen. Maybe it would have felt the same way for Smart and VCU if that last-second shot against Drexel in the quarterfinals of the Colonial Athletic Association tournament had not gone in, and if the Dragons had beaten them in overtime. It would have been the same result. It would have been the end of things, the end of the NCAA tournament for the Rams - before it even began. But that didn't happen and, yes, despite everything wonderful that took place afterward, this one wasn't any easier. Losing the national semifinal game against Butler, another mid-major that always has to be twice as good to earn the same respect as the big boys, was more terrible because the view from this stage was so great and so fleeting."

Matt Norlander of CBSSports.com: "There is a litany of habit-related numbers to point to and use for explanation. But the numbers aren't the reason. One man is. All of these things, all that Butler does and resembles comes back to Brad Stevens, the 34-year-old head coach who is has become a rock star in college basketball coaching. He doesn't act like it, though. Stevens has the demeanor of a roadie who quietly owns his tasks rather than a front man basking in the glow of the brightest lights on the edge of the stage. But on the biggest stage, here's Butler again, back in the national championship game. Let's allow our jaws to hit the floor, because, you know, this isn't supposed to happen in college basketball. Here's Stevens, two parts of the man, in two parts of the quote. When asked what the locker room scene was like after Saturday night's win over No. 11 Virginia Commonwealth: "I told them I'm not doing the flying chest bump until we get through the weekend," he said. "In part because I'm older and it hurt more the last time."

Mark Viera of the New York Times: "Shaka Smart and his Virginia Commonwealth players passed a legion of newfound fans as they walked off the court Saturday night and stepped into an uncertain future. As life in Richmond returns to normal in the weeks and months that follow V.C.U.'s 70-62 loss to Butler in the Final Four, there will be one question hovering over the program: What is next? "In our program, we are going to continue to build," Smart said moments afterward. "We've got a lot of things that we still want to accomplish. This was a terrific run. Are we capable of doing it again? Sure." But among the uncertainties ahead for V.C.U. - including the complexion of the team after losing four key seniors - perhaps none is more important than Smart's future. Smart has avoided questions about opportunities that may arise from his success, but they surely will not subside in the near future."

Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports: "Last summer, when the sting of coming one half-court heave from winning the national championship was still fresh, the Butler Bulldogs assembled for open gym and decided to change things up. Shelvin Mack and the Bulldogs have been determined to get back to the title game since falling short last year. These were no lazy pick-up games, even with the season so far off. This wasn't about just getting a run in. It was about seizing the opportunity to improve and best prepare for the chance to go one step further this season. So the players increased the stakes of each dribble by shortening games from 12 points to just 8. "So it's (fewer) possessions in a game," guard Shelvin Mack said, arguing it helped the team in late, tight tournament games. Butler's epic Cinderella run a year ago was satisfying to most. It wasn't to them, at least not completely. From the moment they fell to Duke until Saturday when they beat VCU 70-62 to advance, once again, to Monday's championship contest, the focus has been exactly the same. "We've just got to be one shot better than last year," coach Brad Stevens said."

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