Tonight, the Connecticut Huskies and Butler Bulldogs meet to determine 2011's college basketball king. Seeded third and eighth in their respective regions, both squads have endured atypical seasons compared to teams that would normally meet in the national championship game.
UCONN, unranked to begin the 2010-2011 season, took the college basketball world by storm in November by overcoming a stacked field to win the Maui Invitational, as G Kemba Walker staked his claim as the country's best player. What followed was an up and down regular season that ended with Jim Calhoun's team tied for ninth, with a .500 record in a loaded Big East.
Facing the daunting task of having to win five games in as many days to win the conference tournament, Kemba and company did just that. After Saturday's 56-55 nail-biting victory over Kentucky, the Huskies find themselves on a season-long 10-game winning streak heading into tonight's national title tilt.
The Butler Bulldogs, fresh off a near championship season in 2009-2010, had high expectations coming into the year. Led by star returnees Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack, the Dawgs were ranked 18th nationally in the preseason Coaches' Poll. Just three months later, in the heart of Horizon League play, BU went on a three game losing streak, culminated by a two point loss to Youngstown State, one of the worst teams in the country.
His team on the verge of missing the NCAA Tournament altogether, wunderkind coach Brad Stevens tweaked the starting lineup and made changes that have spurred his team to a 14-game winning streak and an unprecedented second straight chance for a national championship.
Consider this: Connecticut hasn't lost a game in tournament play–Maui, Big East and NCAA–this season, while Butler–should they come up short–would be the first program since Michigan and the Fab Five in 1993 to lose two consecutive title games.
Clearly, something's got to give.
At 9:23 ET, an irresistible force meets an immovable object. Connecticut and Butler. Huskies and Bulldogs.
I'm Jack Winter, one of B/R's college basketball Featured Columnists and I'll be your guide to tonight's title action.