They did it again, and it’s absolutely mind-boggling. Despite shooting 9-33 from beyond the arc, and playing one big man against three, the Butler Bulldogs pulled off yet another upset special in the NCAA Tournament, this time stunning the Florida Gators 74-71 in overtime.
You hate the overused reference to Clue, but I simply cannot have enough fun with how surprisingly successful the basketball team of this small private co-educational liberal arts school has been in the last calendar year.
The Bulldogs are the first non-BCS conference affiliated school since UNLV in 1990 and 1991 to reach two consecutive Final Fours, but the dichotomy between the programs couldn’t be more stark. Those Runnin’ Rebels were mean and vicious; boasting speed, quickness and future pros that made them look everything like a powerhouse team from any one of the Big Six conferences.
Butler is not that. Instead, it is the embodiment of a overachieving group of athletes dedicated to one single goal, led by one of the brightest and boldest coaches in all of sports. They defy everything that is elite, everything that is supposed to happen, everything that the numbers tell you is probably going to happen.
Four minutes into this afternoon’s game, it was pretty clear that the Bulldogs were outmatched. Vernon Macklin, nothing more than a serviceable big man for Billy Donovan, displayed an array of post moves against the inferior Butler frontcourt that was slightly similar to Hakeem Olajuwon. The Gators’ game plan appeared quite simple: bang it down low, rinse, repeat and then win. All for naught, Macklin finished with a career high 25-points.
But because they know how to leave us miffed better than any college basketball team in recent memory, Butler stuck around despite desperate shooting and limited offensive options. Unable to get into the Gators zone’ – they shot a lot of threes, and missed a good chunk of them. An astounding 55 percent of Butler’s attempted field goals were from beyond the arc, but the Bulldogs never really faltered – baiting the Gators into silly decisions of their own by pressuring the perimeter and making the anything-can-happen backcourt duo of Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker into having to make decisions. That’s where the game changed, as the Gators only got two points in the paint from their big man in the final 10 minutes of regulation.
From there, magic ensued. You don’t need all the details.
Brad Stevens said it best following last Saturday’s victory against Pittsburgh, and his frankness is much appreciated. Butler is not any better than any of the teams they have played en route to Houston – and that includes Florida. But they are smarter, savvier, close like your top regional salesman, and seem to have tinge more luck than their opponents.
Those sorts of intangibles apparently can take you very far in March.