Butler Falls Short: If That's the Way You Want to Look At It

A shell of my former selfCorrespondent IApril 6, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS - APRIL 05:  Gordon Hayward #20 of the Butler Bulldogs shoots a last second shot from half court over Nolan Smith #2 of the Duke Blue Devils that missed during the 2010 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball National Championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium on April 5, 2010 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Duke defeated Butler 61-59 to win the championship. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The 2010 NCAA national championship trophy will wiggle its way into the trophy case somewhere at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, N.C. 

For the Duke Blue Devils, good things don't come in threes. They come in fours. 

Celebrating its first title since 2001, No. 1 seed Duke is on top of college basketball's infinity, yet again.

Well, kinda.

Duke has the title. But its counterpart in the NCAA championship game has the heart strings. And the lifelong recollections. 

Butler captivated. Those pesky Bulldogs from Indianapolis lost. By two points.

Two measly, contemptuous points.

At the end of the evening, Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith, and Brian Zoubek raised the hardware, while the hometown boys from Butler U. had the short drive home to contemplate "what if?" scenarios for the rest of their lives. 

Therein lies the beauty of the NCAA tournament. 

Sometimes, the loser is the winner. Sometimes, the winner is the loser. 

Ask any Butler player, coach or fan, they'd much rather take the most unforeseeable national title run in collegiate history than the pity party. 

Nobody likes a pity party, let alone a team a-few-inches-too-high-off-the-backboard. 

What if, right?

If that's the way you proceed to view the world you live in. Those who watched the 2010 NCAA tournament saw a small liberal arts school from Indianapolis take each and every opponent that came along and provide a 40-minute noogie. 

The trendy double-digit seed in the first round? UTEP was supposed to have too much athleticism and power down low for Butler.

All Butler did was sink 13 three-pointers and leave the Miners headed back to El Paso, Texas with all that burnt orange as its only solemn company. 

Butler barely survived Murray State, thanks to Gordon Hayward's heady and treacherous gamble to strip a Racer with the game under 10 ticks left. 

Syracuse. Yada.

Kansas State. Yada.

Michigan State. Yada. 

Coming into Monday's national title game, the Bulldogs had won 25 straight games. Twenty-five straight Ws. Not even Wes Johnson, Andy Rautins, and Scoop Jardine had an answer for Butler's kryptonite defense. 

Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente were forced into early retirement for the time being.

And for all the screaming, clawing, pissing, moaning, hugging, and loving Tom Izzo could do, Sparta had no answer for Butler.

Perfection set in motion, right? Wasn't this the way things are supposed to play out?

Butler knocking off the much-scorned national powerhouse Duke to top the improbable mountain on high. 

Sign here, please.

We, as sports fans, are suckers for the impossible. We enjoy being told we can't do it, or it can't happen. 

Who in their wildest of wildest reverie would have envisioned Butler University bringing the nation to its knees with one desperation half-court heave?

You wanna talk about puckering up? Pfft. Millions couldn't bother to find their own pulse, let alone bother to kick-start their lungs into working gear once again.

Hayward went from Horizon League multi-skilled rangy star to probable top-15 pick.

Shelvin Mack kept on shooting and making three-pointers.

Matt Howard kept on channeling his inner-70s alter ego and pouring in 100 percent effort, despite being saddled with foul trouble throughout the tournament.

Ronald Nored kept on anticipating drives to the hoops and swiping the ball. 

And Brad Stevens kept on keeping on. Keeping his cool when hell had frozen over. In every single tournament game, the Bulldogs had trailed sometime in the second half.

Stevens, the 33-year-old seemingly anti-typical NCAA college basketball coach, smiled and coached his players to a national championship game, and did so in historic fashion.

As Hayward muscled in after Zoubek intentionally missed his second free throw with 3.9 seconds left, the tournament's household name flung a half-court shot with repercussions so huge, Jimmy V. was up there in the hereafter screaming at the top of his lungs trying to guide the toss right through the twine.

The shot hit a few inches too high and to the right and came careening off the backboard and off the front of the rim. 

Stevens fell to his knees. So did I.

What made this team great was the fact that the Bulldogs continued to grind out wins and you looked back and didn't even know how they did it. No SportsCenter Top 10 plays or Diaper Dandies. Who knows. Maybe that's why they flourished for so long. 

No one could put a finger on it. They were consistently stable. 

I didn't know where Butler was before the season started. The only player I had heard of was Howard, and I, along with thousands of other smug, presumptuous sports fans, picked Butler to lose in the first round.

Boy, am I glad they didn't. 

Twenty-some-odd years from now, this team will be the subject of an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary. For all the right reasons, too.

And what about Stevens? Imagine him on recruiting trips now. 

"Hi, I'm Brad Stevens and I want to tell you about Butler University basketball."


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