Should Butler Be Labeled A Mid-Major?
Every year the NCAA men's basketball tournament has certainly provided for excitement and big time drama.
There are upsets and heroes in each tournament that make for this drama. The newest installation of that kind of team is the Butler University Bulldogs from, believe it or not, Indianapolis where the site of this year's final four will be held.
You could consider that Butler is the most unlikely team to be in this year's Final Four. Although there is only one number one seed (Duke) that is in the final four. But, the other two teams play in the big time conferences, Michigan State out of the Big Ten, and West Virginia out of the Big East.
Butler plays in a small, undersized conference called the Horizon League and you would not think they could compete with the big boys, because they are a mid-major team, right?
Wrong, the problem is Butler maybe should not be described as a mid-major team anymore, regardless of the size the teams and the conferences it plays every season.
I understand the perception the people have of Butler being from the Horizon League and plays teams or schools that probably a lot of people never have ever heard of. But, let's consider this, this is a very good team and is riding a 24-game winning streak, the longest streak in Division I, into the final four.
This team the past few seasons has been ranked in either The Associated Press Top 25 or USA Today polls. Year in and year out they play a very difficult non-conference schedule, and this season has been no exception.
These are the names Butler played in their non-conference this year: Northwestern, UCLA, Clemson, Georgetown, Ohio State and Xavier.
I don't know about you but I would consider that a tough non-conference schedule for a couple of reasons.
Northwestern was a team that many thought could make the NCAA tournament this year until its collapse in mid-February and UCLA, albeit they did not have a good team this year and missed the NCAAs, is still one of the most storied basketball programs in the country.
But, you could ask how did Butler fair against these teams?
Butler not only played these teams, they beat Northwestern, UCLA, Ohio State, Xavier and also Siena, a three-time NCAA tournament participant this past decade. So, if I have my math right, Butler beat three teams that made it to the NCAA tournament.
But, what about Georgetown and Clemson?
Both of those games came down to the wire with Clemson only winning by one point in the 76 Classic, 70-69, and Georgetown won 72-65, a seven-point victory.
So, why do I have a problem with Butler maybe not getting the respect the Bulldogs deserve?
Well, for starters, I don't care if Butler plays in the Horizon League, which many would think that is why the team is on a 24-game winning streak. This team has not lost a game since December 22 at UAB, another quality team that probably just missed out on the NCAA tournament and settled for a number two seed in the NIT.
I don't care what conference you play in, to be able to win 24 straight games and beat the caliber of opponents that Butler did in the non-conference, to me, is just about as good as anyone in the country. And the NCAA tournament has been even more impressive.
Butler started off this tournament by beating a very dangerous 12 seed in UTEP, that many thought would beat Butler, I among them. Not only did they beat UTEP but blew the Miners out.
Next was a matchup that not many expected , if any, with Murray State, a 13 seed that upset Vanderbilt in the first round. Oddly enough, this game came down to the wire and was a very good game I might add, but Butler prevailed in the closing seconds with a 54-52 victory.
But, that should have been the end of the road for Butler with mighty and number one seed Syracuse next, right? Wrong again.
Butler displayed physical and mental toughness that both Gordon Hayward and Matt Howard showed in its bruising victory over the Orange with a thrilling 63-59 victory.
By now, Butler did not care who they played and stamped their ticket to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis with another hard fought win over Kansas State, 63-56, in the West Regional final.
Could it be fate that this team is playing in the final four only five miles from the Butler campus?
Or is it a fluke?
This is no fluke ladies and gentlemen, this is a very dangerous basketball team, and honestly, it would not shock me if the Bulldogs not only advance to the national championship game but actually win it.
Wouldn't that be something for the "Hoosier" state that is steeped in basketball tradition and as matter of fact, parts of the Gene Hackman film "Hoosiers," was filmed in the gym, Hinkle Fieldhouse, that the Bulldogs play their home games at. Let me go back to this notion now of this team as a mid-major.
Like I said, this team beat quality opponents and one of those opponents Georgetown that Butler lost to by a narrow margin, was a team that was one of the hottest going into the NCAA tournament.
Although, Georgetown somehow stumbled big time against Ohio University in the first round of the tournament, it still beat Syracuse twice in a two-week span. Once at the end of the regular-season and then again in the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden.
Eventually the Hoyas made it to the Big East finals before falling to West Virginia. Why does this matter?
For one, Butler beat Syracuse in the Sweet 16, that many thought would win the national championship and a very explosive and dangerous number two seed in Kansas State in the Elite 8. Mid-major teams do not do this very often, if ever, but Butler is a different story.
When Todd Lickliter left for Iowa to try and rebuild the Hawkeyes program, Brad Stevens walked into already a winning situation.
All Stevens has done is continue the winning tradition of this Butler program, even if it is the Horizon League, and in my mind should be considered for Coach of the Year, even if he does not get to the national championship game.
It is time to through out the mid-major label on Butler and start considering this program as a good, not great, program.
But, that is not to say this program can't become great because I think if this program played in one of the big time conferences, for example, the Big East or Big Ten, I really believe that the program could do special things.
The Big Ten would probably be a better choice just because of the location of the school. But, that is if one of those conferences is willing to add or expand. But, that is for another day. It is time to live and enjoy the moment of the Final Four because it does not come around often.
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