Cinderella teams typically don’t make it the NCAA tournament final, let alone win it. Fourth-seeded Arizona’s 1997 win is the last school seeded beyond third to lay claim to a championship over the past 20 years. So when the Butler Bulldogs face the Duke Blue Devils in the title game on April 5, the fifth-seeded Bulldogs will be aiming for the unlikely.
Although only four slots separate the top-seeded Blue Devils and Bulldogs, the classic David vs. Goliath label will be in full effect. Duke has been the model of consistency over the past two decades as one of the most recognizable programs of any collegiate sport. Led by legendary coach Mike Krzyzewski, Duke will be attempting to take home the school’s fourth championship since 1991, all under Krzyzewski’s guidance. Butler however, doesn’t possess quite as much notoriety.
Most fans couldn’t identify Butler’s location on a map if asked twice but when the crowd floods into Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium for the title game, it will be no question where Butler is from. The Bulldogs campus is just under six miles away from the site of the Final Four and its Indianapolis ties have helped label Butler as the new “Hoosiers” after the 1986 film that saw a small-town Indiana high school win the state championship.
The only difference between the two teams is that this year’s version will be playing for a national championship instead of a local one. The Bulldogs may have to rethink their small school battle cry. Butler’s win over Michigan State in the semifinals extended their win streak to 25 games, the longest in the country. Add that to their triumphs over Syracuse, Kansas State and Michigan State and Butler has now become one of the most popular schools in the country. A fact that even Krzyzewski has acknowledged.
“I think they’re one of the best teams in the country,” Krzyzewski told ESPN after Duke’s semifinal win over West Virginia on April 3. “I think Cinderella would be if somebody had eight, nine losses and pulled some upsets, stuff like that. I think they’ve won 25 in a row. They’ve beaten Syracuse and Kansas State and Michigan State tonight. I don’t really consider them Cinderella.”
Krzyzewski may have a point. Butler’s historic march to the Final Four has put them in position as the favorites. With the nation’s longest winning streak on the line and an arena that will most likely be filled with Bulldog supporters, it’s the Blue Devils that could be feeling like Cinderellas on championship night.