Butler beat Wisconsin Thursday night, 61-54, returning to the Elite Eight for the second straight year. At some point, what they call The Butler Way in central Indiana will make sense to the doubters everywhere else.
Back home, the folks seem to have gotten it.
But even in the Hoosier State, embracing The Butler Way was years in the making.
A year ago, I was sure that a near championship would lead to national respect. Sadly, I was wrong. Butler is still Cinderella, but hopefully not for much longer.
Respect is hard to win when you play in the Horizon League, lose your star player to the NBA and drop a game or two to teams like Youngstown State and Evansville. To a lot of the naysayers, it doesn’t matter that the Bulldogs went to the national championship game last year. They have yet to earn a pedigree.
Case in point: Despite a nine-point Butler halftime lead, Charles Barkley sat on his ever-expanding can in the TV studio and insisted that Wisconsin would come back and win the game.
He was almost right, as Butler squandered a 20-point lead, but I do hope he’s enjoying his crow right now.
While I’m tired of seeing and hearing the doubters, I do understand. Most of our sports reference points don’t have little schools like Butler staying in the winning column for very long. Every instinct tells the so-called experts, and just about everyone else, that this must be an aberration.
For some teams, that might be true. But I’ve come to believe that there really is something to The Butler Way.
The Butler Way starts with players who actually believe in team. No one player is bigger or better than the whole. The Butler Way is also about defense—swarming, suffocating, in-your-face, annoying defense.
Butler held Big Ten powerhouse Wisconsin to just 27 points for the first 30 minutes of the game. Butler defends the passing lanes better than any team in the nation. The Bulldogs also lead in floor burns.
The Butler Way is also about its coach. Brad Stevens has won more games than any Division I coach in his first four seasons.
There is a reason for that.
Stevens, who looks like the Boy Wonder, is the master of the game plan and preparation. He’s a coach who doesn’t need to yell at and berate his players. He’s cool, cerebral and focused on the sideline, and his players stay intense, even intimidating on the court.
So Butler moves on. The Bulldogs will play second-seeded Florida on Saturday. Of course, they will be the underdogs. But don’t be surprised if The Butler Way mesmerizes the Gators and finally convinces the country.
It's not like they haven’t done this before.
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