It always seems a little odd that a tournament referred to as March Madness ends in April.
But really, the phrase is still apropos.
The “madness” of this tournament generally confines itself to March, with all of the major upsets taking place during the first two weeks and the underdogs bowing out before the monthly calendar turns its pages.
Since 1984, when the field expanded to 64 teams, 21 out of 24 national championships have been won by teams with a No. 3 seed or better, including 15 times by a No. 1 seed.
The bottom line is that no matter how busted the bracket may become in March, the cream almost without fail rises to the top in April.
Despite all of the upsets, Cinderella teams, and mid-major success tales of this March, the 2010 NCAA Tournament more likely than not will end tonight with a No. 1 seed as its champion.
Unless, of course, No. 5 seed Butler from the mid-major Horizon League can pull off one final upset and dethrone Duke in its quest for a fourth national championship.
History and logic dictate that the Bulldogs’ impressive run should end tonight.
Only two teams—Villanova in 1985 and Kansas in 1988—seeded worse than Butler have ever won the tournament.
A No. 5 seed has never won the NCAA Tournament.
A school from outside the six power conferences has not won the national championship since UNLV did in 1990, and that was with a dominant, top-ranked team filled with future professionals.
Even putting history aside, the matchup doesn’t look all that favorable for Butler.
Duke has a far more experienced coach with three national titles and 11 Final Fours to his credit in Mike Krzyzewski and a more experienced roster with five upperclassmen in the starting lineup.
Butler’s lack of size—with no players over 6’9” in the team’s main rotation—will be challenged more than ever tonight as they face a superior rebounding team and their toughest big man of the tournament yet in 7’1” Duke center Bryan Zoubek.
Complicating matters further, the Bulldogs may be without their own center, junior Matt Howard, who is said to still be a bit woozy from the “mildest of concussions” that kept him out of the end of the semifinal game on Saturday against Michigan State.
Any hope of a Butler upset could fall once again on the shoulders of sophomore sensation Gordon Hayward, who carried the Bulldogs with 19 points and nine rebounds against Michigan State, as Howard and the team’s second biggest scoring threat after Hayward, Shelvin Mack, sat on the bench with injuries during crunch time.
The good news for Butler is that Mack should be 100 percent tonight after suffering from cramps and dehydration caused by food poisoning in Saturday’s game.
The bad news is that Duke’s Kyle Singler is every bit Hayward’s equal in scoring, rebounding, and in the type of game he plays. Mack might be able to negate the points of one of Duke’s two stellar guards, junior Nolan Smith and senior Jon Scheyer, but probably not both.
Essentially, Butler has a two-headed scoring monster going against a three-headed one, and most of the other factors in the game, including size, depth, and experience, are all in Duke’s favor.
So can Butler win this game?
History would suggest not, but the Bulldogs have already exceeded expectations too many times in this tournament to count them out.
In the first round, UTEP was a trendy pick to upset the Bulldogs.
Butler was supposed to be no match for Syracuse, the No. 1 seed in the West region, in the Sweet 16.
Then that victory was supposed to be the team’s one shining moment, but Butler still came back two days later and outlasted the No. 2 team in the region, Kansas State, to reach the Final Four.
In Indianapolis on Saturday, Michigan State’s experience of being in six of the last 12 Final Fours, including last year’s championship game, was supposed to be too much for the Bulldogs once again. Yet for the fourth straight game the scrappy, undersized, mid-major squad survived to play another game by holding their opponent to under 60 points.
This one, win or lose, will finally be their last.
And it will be the toughest challenge yet.
Duke is not only the best team Butler has faced this year, but they face them at a time when the cream always rises to the top and the team with a top-seed line, having survived pesky challengers for the past three weeks, can finally almost touch its grand prize and almost never falters to snag it against a less talented or less respected opponent.
But it’s happened before.
In 1985, Villanova, as a No. 8 seed, pulled one of the biggest upsets in NCAA history by defeating No. 1 seed Georgetown in the championship game.
They did so with tough defense against a talented offense and by holding on to the ball for long periods of time to run down the clock on a superior team. They also happened to make an incredible 78 percent of their shots and missed just one shot in the entire second half.
Butler’s likely to miss more than one shot in the second half tonight, and they don’t have the advantage that the 1985 Wildcats had in playing in the final game of the pre-shot clock era (meaning a team could hold on to the ball seemingly forever on offense).
But expect the Bulldogs to play deep into the shot clock on offense, defend with all of their energy, and hope that they can hit timely three-point shots as they did in the first four rounds of the tournament (before struggling mightily with their shots in the second half against Michigan State in the Final Four) to try to follow a similar recipe for success against a heavily favored opponent.
Butler has shown that anything is possible in this tournament.
Yet it remains to be seen if they can bring some of March’s madness into April and, for a change, have the tournament go out as it came in—like a lion, rather than a lamb.
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