There are many, many legendary basketball stories in the state of Indiana, but Butler’s appearance in the Final Four could turn out to be the biggest Hoosier story of them all.
Butler has been building up to this moment for nearly 15 years.
In the mid '90s this small private school located in a comfortable northwest Indianapolis neighborhood began a winning tradition that many initially compared to the rise of another school with the Bulldog nickname—Gonzaga.
Like Gonzaga, it has been hard for Butler to shake the stigma of the so-called “mid-major” label and to be taken seriously as a legitimate basketball power.
But with each successful season, and every proving-ground victory, Butler is winning over the doubters.
By getting to the Final Four Butler has gone even further than Gonzaga.
With that said, the reality is that it will likely take winning the national championship for Butler to get its due.
Doubts notwithstanding, the stars may have finally aligned for Butler.
The team is riding a 24-game winning streak, and it gets to play the biggest game in school history just 15 minutes from campus at Lucas Oil Stadium.
While many around the country are just getting to know the Butler Bulldogs, Butler has long has had a place in basketball lore.
For decades, Hinkle Fieldhouse, Butler’s home gym which was built in the 1920s, was the nation’s largest basketball arena.
One of the most talked about basketball games in history happened at the fieldhouse 56 years ago, when tiny Milan High School, with all of 161 students, defeated the much larger basketball power Muncie Central High School to win the state championship.
That game inspired the movie Hoosiers.
While I’m an Indianapolis native clearly biased for Butler, I know it will take Butler’s best game to beat Michigan State. The Spartans have one of college basketball’s best coaches in Tom Izzo, who has led them to a second straight Final Four and their sixth Final Four appearance in his 15 seasons as coach.
Izzo’s Spartans won the national championship in 2000.
Still, Butler has several valuable pieces of its own.
Butler is led by two sophomores, both of whom may one day play in the NBA—Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack. Two other starters are also underclassmen. This means that you can expect Butler to compete for another Final Four perhaps as soon as next year.
As well, no coach has ever had more wins in his first three seasons than Butler’s 33-year-old baby-faced Brad Stevens.
Stevens has won nearly 90 games in those three years.
It will not be a fluke if Butler wins the national championship by beating Michigan State and then the winner of West Virginia-Duke.
They play lock-down team defense, are always in the passing lanes and in your face, and they have held all four tournament opponents to fewer than 60 points.
No, this is not just any Cinderella. Butler can actually win it all.