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Once the disappointment wears off, Butler will be proud of what they accomplished

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HOUSTON – The ending was far from story book.

If life were a movie, if the 2011 Final Four were to have happened in a Hollywood screenplay, the ending would have been quite different. Just one year removed from nearly taking down college basketball’s villainous empire and playing without quite possibly the only lottery pick that Brad Stevens will ever suit up in a Butler jersey in Hinkle Fieldhouse, the Bulldogs would have taken down the UConn Huskies and their superstar point guard and their sanction-riddled head coach.

It was perfect.

After nearly pulling off one of the greatest postseason runs in the history of the sport, Butler struggled through much of the season before hitting their stride in February, winning nail-biter after nail-biter in March, and cutting down the nets in April.

But Hollywood just wasn’t in the cards.

For the second straight year, Butler’s season came to a disappointing conclusion as the Bulldogs were once again the national runner-up, falling to UConn 53-41.

The disappointment in the Butler locker room was palpable. It was full of hung heads and reddened, swollen eyes that had recently been wiped clean of tears. Last year, the Bulldogs were disappointed, but they were playing with house money. They were the loveable underdog, a team from the Horizon League leaving a trail of destruction through the big boys en route to the national title game.

This season?

Butler truly believed they belonged. This was no longer a mid-major with a feel-good story. This was a powerhouse program that plays the game the right way while being led by one of the country’s best coaches, regardless of age. This was a team with a different swagger. In their eyes, they were a national championship program. Its why last season’s disappointment became this season’s devastation. Butler was, legitimately, crushed.

“We’re just coming out of a locker room that’s hurting, a locker room that’s got a lot of pride because of the way our kids carried us this year and the way our five seniors have acted their entire career, what they’ve done for Butler,” Butler head coach Brad Stevens said after the game. “It’s hard to talk about the game and really care about the intricacies of the game when you’re talking about the personal relationships and the things that you develop as a team over time.”

The Bulldogs have every right to be disappointed. They should be devastated. You aren’t a true competitor if you can lose a national title two years in a row and not be upset. Hell, I was hurting just being in that locker room.

But the Bulldogs have no reason to be ashamed. Once the hurt wears off, once the pain of the loss begins to subside, one can only hope that the Bulldogs can look back and understand what they accomplished. They played for a national title two seasons in a row. That’s an impressive accomplishment for anyone. For a team from the Horizon League, where getting into the tournament is usually considered a great season, its a truly remarkable and legendary feat.

“Its been really fun to be a part of these last two teams,” Butler’s junior leader Ronald Nored said after the game. “To be a part of a program that doesn’t even necessarily care about the result of a game but more about each other? We can talk about what happened in the basketball game, but the thing in this locker room is all about the seniors. We’re just upset that they have to go.”

This was a team that accomplished something that no one thought possible. This was a team that showed that you don’t need the budget of a power conference school to compete. This is a program that proved its not necessary to have a roster full of McDonald’s all-americans to play for a national title. More than anything Butler showed the college basketball world that deep tournament runs are possible for teams that do things the right way.

The Butler way.

“Being such a competitor, [this loss] hurts a lot,” Shelvin Mack said, just minutes after going 4-15 from the floor against a smothering UConn defense. “You work so hard to get to this stage and you’re not able to get over the hump, its a very humbling experience.”

“It’s really hard to put that into words right now because, you know, we wanted a little bit more,” Matt Howard said.

“Maybe at some point I can look back and be proud of what this group has accomplished.”

There should be no maybe in that sentence.

It may take a day. It may take a month. It may take a year. But eventually, every single member of this Butler program should hold their head high.

Because the Bulldogs’ two year run is one of the most incredible feats in college basketball history.

Illinois State ends No. 21 Wichita State’s 12-game win streak

Fred VanVleet
AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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Having won 12 straight games, No. 21 Wichita State entered the weekend one of the hottest teams in the country. And with a four-game lead atop the Missouri Valley standings, clinching the regular season title was more a matter of “when” as opposed to “if.” But none of that mattered Saturday night at Illinois State, as the Redbirds managed to hand the Shockers their first conference loss by the final score of 58-53.

In addition to the 12-game win streak, which was second to Stony Brook (15 straight wins), Wichita State also saw its 19-game win streak in Valley regular season games come to an end. Illinois State was the last Valley team to beat Wichita State, eliminating the Shockers in the Arch Madness semifinals last March, and they played with the confidence of a team that believed it could win.

And after a rough first half the Redbirds found a way to come back, erasing a 16-point second half deficit in the process.

Wichita State’s issue in the second half was the fact that they couldn’t make shots. The Shockers shot just 26.7 percent from the field and 1-for-14 from three in the second half, with Fred VanVleet going scoreless and Shaq Morris scoring just one point. And just two players, Ron Baker and Conner Frankamp, managed to make multiple field goals in the game’s final 20 minutes. Illinois State certainly deserves credit for that, as they took away the quality looks Wichita State was able to find in building its lead.

And on the other end of the floor Paris Lee took control of the game during Illinois State’s comeback, scoring 13 of his 19 points in the second half with Deontae Hawkins adding 11 second-half points. Illinois State was even worse from the field, finishing the game shooting just over 27 percent from the field. But they were able to attack the Wichita State defense and get to the foul line, outscoring the Shockers 22-9 from the charity stripe. And in a game in which neither team could get much going offensively, the ability to get points from the line proved to be the difference.

This defeat doesn’t help Wichita State, but did anything really change? Maybe the margin for error when it comes to an at-large bid gets a little smaller with the loss in the eyes of some. But when considering injuries to the likes of VanVleet and Anton Grady in non-conference play, those early season losses are understandable. Saturday was a rough night for Wichita State, but given the maturity and talent on at Gregg Marshall’s disposal the Shockers will be fine moving forward.

VIDEO: New Mexico loses game on blown call by officials

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Nothing like a nice, controversial finish to get the blood flowing.

New Mexico was on the receiving end of a rule misinterpretation on Saturday afternoon, and that interpretation likely cost the Lobos a win over San Diego State and, arguably, a shot at the MWC regular season title.

Here’s the situation: New Mexico is up by three with 12 seconds left and the ball under their own basket. Their allowed to run the baseline, so Craig Neal calls a play where the inbounder throws the ball to a player running out of bounds.

Totally league as long as the player establishes out of bounds before touching the ball. The referee rules that he doesn’t.

Here’s the video:

The problem?

According to the rules, Xavier Adams — the player receiving the pass from Cullen Neal — only needed one foot on the floor out of bounds in order to establish himself as an inbounder that was able to catch that ball. He got one foot down (see the picture above), but the referees appeared to rule that he needed to have both feet down.

That was incorrect, according to the Mountain West office.

“While this was a very close judgment call made at full speed, it has been determined after careful review of slow-motion video replays the call was in fact incorrect,” the league said in a release. “The New Mexico player did get one foot down (two feet are not required) out-of-bounds before receiving the ball, thus establishing his location in accordance NCAA Basketball Playing Rules 4.23.1.a and 7.1.1.  By rule, the officials were not permitted to go to the monitor during the game to review this play.”

And here’s the kicker: When SDSU got the ball back, they hit a three to send the game into overtime, where the Aztecs won. But if New Mexico had won this game, they’d be sitting at 8-2 in MWC play, one game behind SDSU in the loss column with a return game against them in The Pit.

Instead, they’re now three games back with seven to play, meaning that the race is effectively over.

It’s tough to blame the referees here — it was a bang-bang call that is only clear in slow-motion replay — but man, that’s a big call to miss.