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Another Group Of Bulldogs Has The Nation's Attention

Ryne E. HancockCorrespondent INovember 8, 2016

In 1999, as a 13 year-old recovering from an ankle injury, I watched my very first NCAA Tournament without my grandmother, who had died the previous October.

Back then, John Calipari was coaching the New Jersey Nets.

Bob Huggins was head coach at Cincinnati, marching towards another Conference USA title while Brad Stevens  and Josh Pastner were in their senior year of college (like yours truly).

And it had been 20 years since Michigan State made it to the Final Four.

That year, the darlings of the tournament went to a little school called Gonzaga, who was known mainly as the alma mater of John Stockton, which had only made the tournament once in their history up to that point.

But like another group of Bulldogs, Gonzaga went on a Cinderella run for the ages, first picking off Minnesota in the first round, followed by Stanford in the second round, and then introducing the world to an announcer by the name of Gus Johnson by beating Florida in the Sweet 16.

Although their run ended in the Elite Eight, Gonzaga, who was joined by fellow mid-majors Southwest Missouri State and Miami (Ohio) in the regional semifinals, catapulted overnight into the national spotlight and has remained there ever since.

Eleven years later, the nation was introduced to mid-majors like Northern Iowa, who was coached by a guy who was valedictorian of his North Dakota high school, and St. Mary's, which had one of the most colorful personalities I ever seen in an NCAA Tournament, Omar Shaman.

And oh yeah, there was that school who played in the same field house made famous in a movie from Indianapolis that was coached by a guy who looked like the kid that always shot hoops in your driveway.

Who once upon a time had a job in the real world, working in marketing for a firm in Indianapolis straight out fo college.

Now he goes from working for an investment firm to sitting two victories away from the national championship seven miles from Butler's campus.

From a suit and tie job to college basketball's biggest stage.

During this tournament, we've gotten to know Gordon Hayward, Willie Veasley, and Matt Howard as well as the notion that Brad Stevens has better jumping ability than most people think.

Regardless of what one would say, it would be a stroke of genius to see Butler win the national championship in their home city, in front of their fans in a building that was modeled closely after their historic venue.

Somewhere, Tony Hinkle is smiling.

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