Once again, Butler faces a college hoops powerhouse

4 Comments

Same storyline, new season. Some things never change for Butler.

Last year the Bulldogs prepped to face perennial college basketball powerhouse Duke during the NCAA tournament title game. This year, they face Connecticut.

Except … Butler’s looking for a different ending this time around.

“The way we look at it is we want to win. We don’t look at it as it’s a mid-major that wants to win,” senior Matt Howard said after a 70-62 win over VCU Saturday night. “Honestly, we don’t look at conferences. We don’t think about what conference somebody’s in.”

They might be in the minority.

The Bulldogs (28-9) are in a select group of teams who’ve made the title game in back-to-back years (the most recent being Florida in ’06-’07) and after knocking off the likes of Pitt, Wisconsin and Florida in this year’s tourney, shouldn’t be considered underdogs any more. They certainly don’t play like it.

But it’s a narrative that’s easy to digest for people who don’t pay attention to such things. Focusing on UConn (31-9), the team from the mighty Big East facing a private liberal arts school from the Horizon Conference, is much easier.

But it overlooks a few facts. UConn entered this season unranked, while the Bulldogs were 16th in the AP poll. The Huskies finished tied for 9th in the Big East and rely on four freshmen and two sophomores.  Butler won its league and features three seniors and two juniors, all of whom got major minutes during last year’s run.

There’s a talent gap – UConn features at least three future pros, while Butler has one – but the experience and success factor surely levels the field. Oddsmakers agree, too. UConn’s a 3.5-point favorite, hardly the stuff of David vs. Goliath.

And after watching Gordon Hayward’s last-second shot bounce off the rim vs. Duke last year, the Bulldogs are dying to do better.

“We’ve just got to be one shot better than last year,” Butler coach Brad Stevens said.

A Butler victory would mark a significant moment in college hoops, too. No mid-major team has won its biggest prize since … an age ago. The tournament expanded to 65 teams in 1985, but schools from the ACC, SEC, Big Ten and such were taking home the trophy long before then. UNLV won in 1990, but it featured NBA talent.

A Butler victory would be one for small schools everywhere. Oddly enough, UConn coach Jim Calhoun would love to see it. Just not this year.

“I think starting in 2012, 2013, it would be a wonderful idea,” he said.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.