Must-see matchup: Butler, Gonzaga playing in ’11, ’12

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Butler and Gonzaga used to be two of college hoops’ most famous underdogs. Xavier ditched that label years ago. Butler buried it with back-to-back trips to the Final Four the last two years.

So they’re doing what every premier program should do – play each other.

The Bulldogs and Zags are set for a home-and-home series starting next December, David Woods of the Indianapolis Star reported Tuesday. Butler will be in Spokane on Dec.20. Gonzaga visits Hinkle Fieldhouse in 2012.

“It’s an exciting series, and it’s going to benefit both teams and help them prepare,” Butler associate head coach Matthew Graves told the paper.

They’re powerhouses, for certain. Gonzaga’s made the last 13 NCAA tournaments, five Sweet 16 and won the last 11 WCC titles. Butler’s been to 10 of the last 15 NCAA tourneys and reached four Sweet 16s and two Final Fours.

Adding to the intrigue? They’ve only played once before. Butler won the 2007 Preseason NIT title game 79-71. Gonzaga should have the better team next season to go with a home-court edge, but only a fool would count out Butler.

The quality matchup isn’t a surprise given both teams’ already brutal non-conference schedules. Butler has Purdue, Stanford, Xavier, Louisville and Indiana. Gonzaga plays Illinois, Arizona, Xavier, Notre Dame, New Mexico, Oklahoma State and Michigan State.

Take your pick for the more difficult slate.

The only thing that would make this setup even more impressive is to have Xavier and Memphis – the other two elite programs that happen to play in a mid-major conference – adjust their home-and-home series to make it a TV doubleheader. The Musketeers and Tigers are playing Feb. 4 next season.

That’s a doubleheader even non hoops fans would pay to see.

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