NCAA Final Four: Seriously, Butler Could Be NCAA Basketball Champions

Doug UpstoneContributor IApril 3, 2011

It is impossible to know what lies ahead in the future. However, taking a look back in history is always a fascinating way to understand what happened or could be learned about events that shaped people’s lives.

Forget the Fab Five documentary about Michigan on ESPN; the Disney movie about the Butler Bulldogs will be far more entertaining.

In five or 10 years, will Brad Stevens be considered the smartest basketball coach since John Wooden? Will Butler have taken the place of DePaul in the Big East? Will Butler and Stevens make Gonzaga look like a quaint story, as they moved from mid-major to major powerhouse of the Big East and become perennial Top 10 preseason pick?

Can Stevens become such a force on the college basketball landscape that Butler replaces Duke and North Carolina as the place to play for the finest high school players in the country?

Those are all seemingly ridiculous questions to contemplate, unless Butler defeats Connecticut on Monday night for the national championship.

After five games of this NCAA Tournament, Butler has earned a movable label that every broadcaster and analyst wants to place a stamp on.

Some will chime in that the Bulldogs are a tenacious defensive team that offers no quarter, yet Pittsburgh shot 56.5 percent against this group and Florida scored at will in the paint until the Gators guards got nervous and started hoisting up threes like an Irishman drinking beer on St. Patrick’s Day.

Others will point to how fundamentally sound Stevens’s team is in rebounding the ball and controlling the glass, yet they were out-rebounded by 11 by Pitt and only had an edge of three over Old Dominion in the first game of the tournament.

Opposing coaches will lament how physical the Bulldogs are (despite a lack of fouls called on Butler), while they wish they could get their players to play as hard as this team from Indianapolis does game after game.

Steve Kerr is a very astute basketball analyst who made an early reference in Butler’s Final Four matchup against Virginia Commonwealth that the Rams were better at every position on the floor except for point guard Shelvin Mack. Kerr deserved to be forgiven for having a Tim McCarver moment for stating the obvious, since Butler is always facing a superior team with better athletes except for most Horizon League encounters and the occasional guaranteed win on the schedule versus a truly inferior opponent.

For my money, Brad Stevens is the best college coach in basketball right now. He made an up-and-coming Butler program a back-to-back NCAA tournament finalist. His genius lies in the fact that he does not get greedy as a tactician; he’s able to break down film expertly and take away the most important aspect of foes.

In this tournament alone, his club took away Old Dominion’s offensive rebounding, did not let Pittsburgh’s guards become a huge factor, had defenders contest each Wisconsin shot and made Florida hit the panic button with late comeback with superior execution.

On Saturday, Butler did what five other teams in the tourney could not do: stop VCU’s Joey Rodriguez from penetrating into lane area. And on the occasions when he did, they covered up the Rams' three-point shooters, making Rodriguez a reluctant shot-taker.

Can Butler really stop Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lamb from scoring and dishing assists? Will the Bulldogs Matt Howard and Andrew Smith really be able to hold off Connecticut bigs like Alex Oriakhi and Charles Okwandu from dominating the glass like they did against Kentucky? Will Mack be able to overpower defensive demon Shabazz Napier?

Connecticut is the obvious choice, favored by 3.5 points, having the more talented players on the floor, led by Walker, who’s become the most prominent name in this event since Danny Manning and the Miracles from Kansas in 1988. The Huskies are well-documented 13-0 on neutral floors this season (and 12-1 against the spread), and a win would elevate Jim Calhoun among the greats with three NCAA titles.

But betting against Butler is not practical, since it is roughly two to three inches on a 50-plus foot heave from defending its basketball championship. The Bulldogs are improbable 10-1 straight up and against the spread in this event the past two years. Stevens has cultivated what every coach, CEO of a corporation or sales manager would love to have: a team that is better than the sum of its parts.

Butler knows how to win close games and, barring unforeseen circumstances, will give UConn all it can handle and possibly a lot more on Monday night as they look for their one shining moment.