Mid-Major Morning Mashups: Butler Falls In National Championship Edition

HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 04: Matt Howard #54 of the Butler Bulldogs walks off of the court after losing to the Connecticut Huskies in the National Championship Game of the 2011 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament at Reliant Stadium on April 4, 2011 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

In defeat perhaps there is some poetic justice for Butler - the preservation of innocence and myth. 

Would Indiana State be remembered differently had Larry Legend led them to a title in 1979? Would the Fab 5's legacy be significantly altered had Chris Webber not called timeout? The answer to both of these is undoubtedly and resoundingly yes. But would we want it that way?

A championship win for the Bulldogs would have been a watershed moment in the history of college basketball - but one that would forever undue the power of Cinderella in the NCAA Tournament. The seemingly impossible dream would have been realized, the realm of champions so long considered the domain of the power conferences would have been breached. Arguments would ring out for a more sound system, one that avoids crowning an "inferior" champion - the game would be turned upside down. Regardless, the novelty of it all would have died with a championship.

There are those who say the gap between mid-majors and major is shrinking and the evidence points overwhelmingly to this being the case. Yet, as Matt Howard walked off the court for the final time last night, head hung in agony after getting so close for a second straight March, it was hard not to feel like something bigger than simply Butler was coming to an end.

There will be other Cinderellas, maybe as soon as a year from now, but there won't be another Butler.

Mark Viera of the New York Times: "Butler arrived at the national championship stage because of its scrappy identity built on rebounding, defense and hard work. The Bulldogs were never that pretty. But they were never uglier than on Monday in the national championship game. The final score - Connecticut 53, Butler 41 - might have made for an exciting football game. But it was an unsightly evening of basketball. If Butler's play here is remembered years from now, it will be for all the wrong reasons. The Bulldogs saw layups rim out. They missed runners. They bricked jumpers. They made nine 3-pointers - on 33 attempts. The Bulldogs shot 18.8 percent. "We just didn't make shots," Butler Coach Brad Stevens said. "They had a lot to do with it, too." The question at Reliant Stadium for much of the second half was whether Butler would score again. The Bulldogs went scoreless for more than six minutes in the second half."

Jose De Jesus Ortiz of the Houston Chronicle: "After they retreated to the locker room late Monday night at Reliant Stadium, Butler coach Brad Stevens let his seniors address their dejected teammates. Through tears, senior guard Shawn Vanzant thanked his teammates and coaches. Like most of the Bulldogs, Vanzant hardly got a sniff from major powers like the Connecticut program that defeated them in the national title Monday. "I just told them thank you," Vanzant said. "I was always told I wasn't good enough to play Division I basketball, especially at this level. I just thanked my coaches for giving me the opportunity." Years from now, Vanzant and his teammates will appreciate the magical run that ended in an ugly 53-41 loss to UConn at Reliant Stadium. On Monday night, the pain was palpable, especially because the Bulldogs finished the season with one of their worst performances of the NCAA Tournament. The Bulldogs were dominated in every aspect of the game."

Eric Angevine of CBSSports.com: "Quick, tell me if you think UConn wins a national championship on a night when Kemba Walker -- the team's shepherd all season long -- shoots 5-of-19 from the floor, misses all of his 3-point shots and scores just 16 points. Your answer would have to be no, right? The shepherd appeared lost in the Houston night, but the Lamb knew where he was going. Jeremy Lamb, of course, because what's a post-mortem article without a horrible pun? Lamb's shooting was no joke (nor, technically, was anything I just wrote). The freshman from Georgia saw few opportunities, but he made every one of them count. Consider the disparity between the overall shooting numbers for UConn and what Lamb was able to accomplish: Team: 34.5 percent from the floor, and an absolutely astonishing 9.1 percent from behind the arc. Lamb: 50 percent from the floor, and 50 percent from the 3-point line for a total of 12 points. Granted, Lamb's 1-of-2 deep shooting mark was lemons from lemonade. His make was the one -- the only one -- that Connecticut could claim on an atrocious 1-of-11 night. But at least he had that one shining moment*. We have to find beauty in this game where we can."

Andy Staples of SI.com: "The visions came to Kemba Walker at some point during his historic comet-ride through college basketball's postseason. The Connecticut guard can't remember when they began, but he knows that by the time the Huskies arrived in Houston for the Final Four, he couldn't close his eyes without seeing them. Walker's mind had crafted a hoops fantasy slideshow. A ladder. Scissors. A net. His teammates standing on a stage, smiling and singing along to One Shining Moment. On Monday, Walker and the Huskies made those visions reality. As UConn's band blasted DJ Khaled's All I Do Is Win and workers moved ladders under each basket, the Huskies swayed back and forth wearing caps emblazoned with No. 1. They had rolled to a 53-41 win against Butler, denying America its Cinderella story and placing controversial, curmudgeonly coach Jim Calhoun in the most select of company. In the process, Walker capped a historic postseason run, averaging 24.6 points, 6.2 rebounds and five assists and willing the Huskies to 11 consecutive postseason wins. "As the season progressed, I definitely thought we had shot," said Walker, who led UConn with 16 points. "I knew we could be a special team. We definitely shocked the world and did something special."

Liz Clarke of the Washington Post: "But after losing their star forward Gordon Hayward to the NBA draft, few regarded the Bulldogs as a factor going forward. Butler, it seemed, would go down as little more than a footnote in college basketball lore - a team of plucky youngsters led by an earnest young coach that inched one step closer than George Mason in 2006 to toppling the sport's established world order and proving that a school from outside the cabal of power conferences could win its biggest prize. But while few were paying attention, Butler salvaged a season that just two months ago was utterly undistinguished, hitting a low ebb with a Feb. 3 loss at Youngstown State. After that defeat, their third in a row, the Bulldogs held a players-only meeting, took a hard look at themselves and decided their effort - particularly on defense - wasn't good enough. They didn't lose again until Monday - reaching their second consecutive NCAA championship game as a lowly eighth seed by toppling a No. 1 seed (Pittsburgh), a No. 2 seed (Florida) and a No. 4 seed (Wisconsin) along the way."

Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press: "Thank heaven for Butler. If only briefly, those feisty little Bulldogs from the little private school of about 4,000 students restored our idealism. It didn't matter that the dream ended in a thud like many of their jump shots against Connecticut Monday night. Butler offered a reassuring breeze amid the stench and stagnation of elite college athletics. It is possible to win at the highest level and still look yourself in the mirror without rationalizing your actions. Nobody's naïve enough to believe that Butler's advancing to consecutive national championship games will apply the brakes to the corruption that continually envelopes college sports. But the school's tale of resolve and resistance provided a desperately needed counterpoint to a litany of NCAA investigative and punitive blight over the last eight months. Remembering Butler makes it a little easier navigating the minefields of Reggie Bush losing his Heisman, Jim Tressel losing his mind and Cam Newton apparently losing his father/broker's telephone number. But it doesn't make the challenges facing the NCAA and its increasingly archaic mission statement for the "student-athlete" any easier. Butler won't dim the screams for institutional reform."

Jack Carey of USA Today: "There was no "Butler Way" to bail out the Bulldogs on Monday in a nightmarish offensive finish to a memorable tournament run. The 14-game winning streak ended with a thud as Butler shot an eye-blinking 18.8% from the field, lowest in title-game history, and was outscored in the paint 26-2. "Without question, 41 points and 12 of 64 is not good enough to win any game, let alone the national championship game," said Bulldogs coach Brad Stevens. "We got decent looks in the second half; we just missed quite a few. Credit UConn for defending the way they do. "You're not always going to make shots; that's part of the game. But very rarely will you go 12-for-64."

Eamonn Brennan of ESPN.com: "Two years. Two storybook runs to the national title game. Two brutal, demoralizing finishes. Butler's first run at glory ended with a just-this-close heave from Gordon Hayward. Instead, Duke took the title. This year, Butler's second chance at history was ruined by a score of misses -- 52 of them, to be exact -- as the Bulldogs shot themselves out of the mid-major record books and into the wrong kind of historical company in debilitating fashion. The Connecticut Huskies are your 2011 national champions, winning 53-41 on Monday. The Bulldogs' epic flameout will be the story of this game, of course; Butler's tale of back-to-back Final Fours -- both of which brutally ended without a title -- is too good to fade to the background. You can't shoot the worst field goal percentage in NCAA championship game history (18.8 percent) and expect to avoid the spotlight."

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