I’m safe from the thunderstorms inside Lucas Oil Stadium, killing three hours before tipoff of the national championship game. This is the first time I’ve had a chance to stop and let it sink in: Butler is playing for a national championship. I have been so busy just covering the day-to-day road to the Final Four that I sometimes don’t really fully comprehend the magnitude of what the Bulldogs have accomplished.
Butler is my alma mater. I like to think the Dawg Pound really started when I was a student there in the early 1990’s and Barry Collier became coach. I can’t tell you how proud I am of this team. They have taken the basketball program to a new level most people never thought possible. They have done it with class. The Bulldogs go to class, graduate, speak well, represent the university with dignity and win a lot of basketball games along the way.
But to be playing for the national championship is more than remarkable. Playing here at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis just a little dramatic twist to the storyline. This is a very good basketball team. Cinderella is not an appropriate tag for Butler, not for a team that has won 25 games in a row and started and finished the season ranked 11th in the nation. But the likelihood of a school from the Horizon League with 4,200 students and a basketball budget less than what many head coaches make at other schools actually reaching the title game is about the same as a 16 seed beating a 1 seed in the first round (which has never happened).
It has happened. And now Butler has the chance to do what Indiana State and Larry Bird could not in 1979, win a national championship for a little mid-major from the Hoosier state. They will have to beat one of the giants in college basketball. When Butler was just starting to turn its basketball program around, Duke was starting to build one of the dominant programs in the game.
The Blue Devils won their first national championship in 1991, right here in Indianapolis. Since then, coach Mike Krzyzewski has led Duke to two more titles and the best winning percentage in the NCAA tournament of any school (minimum 50 games). This year’s version may not have the future NBA stars of some of the other Duke squads, but is still one of the best.
The Blue Devils have won more games (64) over the past two seasons than any team in college basketball. The Blue Devils allow just 61 points a game, the best defensive average at Duke since 1950. Duke led the ACC in rebounding. The Blue Devils are an experienced bunch with all senior and junior starters. Butler has knocked off some really good teams on this magical run. But Duke will be the biggest challenge yet. And I mean big. The Blue Devils have size across their starting five and down the bench.
A Butler win would rank as one of the top 10 stories in Indianapolis sports history, maybe top five. It might rank as the biggest story in NCAA tourney history. Whatever happens, the ride has been incredible. The Dogs have been this man’s best friend.
-Rich Nye, WTHR Sports Reporter
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