Surely most didn't see it playing out this way - who could have?
Half of the Elite Eight picture is set and when those lucky remaining teams battle it out for a right to go to the Final Four this weekend it will be Butler - not BYU or San Diego State - that is left to fight. If you didn't already realize the brilliance of Brad Stevens or the toughness of the Bulldogs, it's now impossible to miss. After being ruled out of every game along the way, the concept of "that little team from Indiana" sidestepping Florida on their way to the national semifinals for a second consecutive year is so palpable that it can hardly be called a surprise at this point should the cards fall in that manner on Saturday.
For those in earlier time zones, last night may ultimately be referred to as the day the Mountain West's dream died. Yes BYU fell in overtime, less than an hour after San Diego State was halted by Connecticut, but most, including many of the writers you'll hear from in a moment, are left only smiling in the wake of defeat. How can anyone not feel good about what 2011 was for the MWC? A pair of top ten programs, a two-seed and a three-seed in the NCAA Tournament (don't feel left out eighth-seeded UNLV), and the likely candidate for national player of the year in Jimmer Fredette. The Cougars notoriety has grown ten fold from a year ago and people now know the Aztecs as more than simply the school Stephen Strasburg went to.
The dream may have died, but what a ride it was.
Jim Mashek of the Glen Falls Post-Star: "He kept taking the ball up the court, sometimes shooting deeper than perhaps he should have, but making it exciting just the same. BYU's Jimmer Fredette is done with college basketball, but what a ride it's been. Florida made it tough for the Cougars' scoring machine. Stayed in his face. Pushed him toward the perimeter. Twelve players on the court got in the scoring column before Fredette scored his first field goal in Thursday night's NCAA regional semifinal at the New Orleans Arena. When it was over, and the Gators had advanced with an 83-74 overtime victory, Fredette had a bloodied bandage on his chin, perhaps a little wounded pride, and an eye toward the NBA. The Gators had an eye on a Final Four berth next week in Houston. "They were ready to go, especially in that overtime," Fredette said."
Linda Robertson of The Republic: "It was only fitting that Billy the Kid was the coach who figured out how to end the ballad of Jimmer Fredette. Billy Donovan has the soul of a shooter. His marksmanship got Providence to the Final Four in New Orleans 24 years ago. So, perhaps because Donovan saw a lot of himself in Fredette, he knew how to break the heart of the Brigham Young star with the folk-hero name and magic touch. Florida ended the NCAA Tournament run of sentimental favorite Brigham Young with an 83-74 victory in overtime Thursday. Fredette, college basketball's leading scorer with a 28.8-point average, was held scoreless in the extra period."
Dick Harmon of the Deseret News: "The Jimmer Show finally skidded to a halt here where the mighty Mississippi ends at the gulf sea. The end came in overtime against a talented SEC champion Florida squad that didn't do anything Jimmer hadn't seen before. Shots the All-American had converted against others in a season of glory, open looks from his patented launch pad from the top of his 36-inch jump, simply bounded harmlessly away at the end of regulation. And so did BYU's run in the NCAAs. Florida 83, BYU 74. It may not have been the way Fredette wanted it to end. But it was his flame to extinguish and he did it his way."
Kelli Anderson of SI.com: "Jimmer Fredette may have scored 32 points, but his last college game was one he'd probably rather forget. In BYU's 83-74 loss to Florida in the Sweet 16 Thursday night, the final three stats of the season's biggest scoring sensation were a turnover, one missed three-pointer and a foul. As he walked off the court to applause with 36 seconds left, Fredette shook his head in frustration, the waggling bandage on his chin -- earned when he hit the floor and cut his face after being tripped in the second half -- the badge of a physical, frustrating night. Fredette and his teammates, none of whom broke into double figures, fell victim to a far more balanced offense, a career night by senior Alex Tyus, and a team that had learned to love overtime. These teams last met in last year's NCAA tourney, specifically the first round in Oklahoma City. In that game, Fredette scored 37 points in a 99-92 double overtime win, launching his national celebrity."
Pete Thamel of the New York Times: "The qualifiers that have been attached to Butler's N.C.A.A. tournament success should be removed. As Butler storms toward a potential second consecutive Final Four and continues to mow down major programs with higher seeds, words like surprise, upset and Cinderella should be deleted from stories about the Bulldogs. After two heart-stopping, final-second victories over No. 9 Old Dominion and No. 1 Pittsburgh in Washington last weekend, No. 8 Butler methodically dispatched No. 4 Wisconsin, 61-54, in the Round of 16 on Thursday night. The Bulldogs ran their crisp and relentless offense, guarded the Badgers with fervor and annihilated Wisconsin so thoroughly that the only question was whether Wisconsin would put forth the worst effort of the N.C.A.A. tournament. With Butler, no one should be stunned anymore."
Shelvin Mack's Tweet says it best
Andy Katz of ESPN.com: "Butler coach Brad Stevens strolled toward his postgame interview, gave a little exhale and that was the extent of his emotion after the Bulldogs beat Wisconsin 61-54. Butler is in the Elite Eight for the second straight season. Ho hum. Stevens' postseason run at Butler's helm is becoming epic as the Bulldogs face Florida Saturday at the New Orleans Arena with a chance to go to the Final Four. OK. After last season's title game, did anybody have Butler in this year's Elite Eight but not Duke? I'd like to see that bracket. Butler dominated the Badgers for 35 minutes before Wisconsin mounted a furious rally to make it a one possession game. But once again it was Butler making plays, notably Shelvin Mack with a step-back jumper to push the Bulldogs to a six-point lead with 51 seconds remaining. Matt Howard came up with a key rebound off a missed free throw to ensure Wisconsin didn't get any closer with less than 30 seconds remaining."
Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star: "This isn't about magic, and never has been about magic with Butler basketball and its continued rerun to NCAA Tournament glory. In the end, there's nothing magical about Butler's toughness, about Matt Howard beating every Wisconsin player for loose balls, or Shawn Vanzant forcing the most efficient team in the nation into several turnovers, or Shelvin Mack muscling his way to the rim against a bigger Badgers team. All the Bulldogs did Thursday night in New Orleans was beat up the big, bad, mean Wisconsin Badgers from the Big Ten, making them look soft for most of the night, and moving within one victory of another Final Four. Butler 61, Wisconsin 54. They didn't beat them. They embarrassed them. Amazing? Yes. Remarkable? True. Unlikely? Absolutely. Magical? No."
Chris Dufresne of the Los Angeles Times: "Had Connecticut guards Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lamb missed the bus, called in sick, or both fouled out with 38 minutes left, San Diego State might have won Thursday's West Regional semifinal game by 30. But that didn't happen. You talk about a two-man game. Walker and Lamb combined for 60 points to lead Connecticut to a 74-67 win over the Aztecs at the Honda Center to advance to Saturday's regional final game. Walker scored 36 and Lamb added 24, which amounted to 81.1% of the Huskies' offense. Connecticut (29-9) survived and advanced. "We're 40 minutes away from where we want to be," Huskies Coach Jim Calhoun said. San Diego State's dream season came to a screeching halt, with the Aztecs losing for the first time this year to a team other than Brigham Young."
Diamond Leung of ESPN.com: "Moments after the best season in San Diego State history, coach Steve Fisher offered his team words of consolation. "The last thing I will say that I said to our team is give one another a hard hug and tell them how much you love them, and don't be ashamed to cry. Don't be ashamed to shed a tear," Fisher said. "You've done so much for San Diego State, the community, and for yourselves that when we reflect back on it, all of us will know that, the legacy that you've established." There will be plenty of what-ifs when the Aztecs ultimately think back to their 74-67 loss to Connecticut in the Sweet 16. What if Kawhi Leonard and Jamaal Franklin hadn't been whistled for technical fouls? What if the Aztecs hadn't missed more than half of their free throws? What if Kemba Walker was actually stoppable on Thursday? But immediately after the game, what the Aztecs did not lose was their perspective. "We went from nobody even knowing about San Diego State," senior Billy White said. "Everyone knew it as a party school."
Nick Canepa of the San Diego Union-Tribune: "Philosophers insist all good things must come to an end, but they never give us a reason why some of the good things must end badly and before their time. For many, this was like quaffing a great bottle of wine, only to find it spoiled near the bottom. There are times when the finish can be more indelible than the beginning and middle. But San Diego State's 74-67 loss Thursday to UConn in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tournament was a hard way to go out. It will be remembered for what it was, and for what it could have been. It's unfortunate, but this is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world, and the basketball moon orbiting San Diego isn't going to remember the Aztecs' fabulous 34-3 season, or the Mountain West Conference titles, or the No. 2 seed in the NCAAs. It will remember 74-67, UConn. Everybody doesn't just love a winner; they remember a winner. Me, I choose to recall more than the end. This did not play out in vain. This may have been the most important sporting season in the history of San Diego, and a loss shouldn't spoil this bottle."