It is impossible to know what lies ahead in the future, however taking a look back in history is always a fascinating way to understand what happened or could be learned about events that shaped people’s lives. Forget the Fab Five documentary about Michigan on ESPN; the Disney movie about the Butler Bulldogs will be far more entertaining.
In five or 10 years will Brad Stevens be considered the smartest basketball coach since John Wooden, with Butler having taken the place of DePaul in the Big East and the Bulldogs playing before packed houses at the Conseco Fieldhouse, home of the Indiana Pacers?
Will Butler and Stevens make Gonzaga look like a quaint story, as they moved from mid-major to major powerhouse of the Big East and become perennial Top 10 preseason pick?
Can Stevens become such a force on the college basketball landscape that Butler replaces Duke and North Carolina as the place to play for the finest high school players in the country?
Those are all seemingly ridiculous questions to contemplate, UNLESS, Butler defeats Connecticut on Monday night for the national championship.
After five games of this NCAA Tournament, Butler has earned a moveable label that every broadcaster and analyst wants to place a stamp on.
Some will chime in the Bulldogs are a tenacious defensive team that offers no quarter, yet Pittsburgh shot 56.5 percent against this group and Florida scored at will in the paint until the Gators guards got nervous and started hoisting up three’s like an Irishman drinking beer on St. Patrick’s Day.
Others will point to how fundamentally sound Stevens’ team is in rebounding the ball and controlling the glass, yet they were out-rebounded by 11 by Pitt and only had an edge of three over Old Dominion in the first game of the tournament.
Opposing coaches will lament how physical the Bulldogs are (albeit, lack of fouls called on Butler), while they wish they could get their players to play as hard as this team from Indianapolis does game after game.
Steve Kerr is a very astute basketball analyst and he made an early reference in Butler’s Final Four matchup against Virginia Commonwealth that the Rams were better at every position on the floor except for point guard Shelvin Mack. Kerr deserved to be forgiven for having a Tim McCarver moment (stating the obvious), since Butler is ALWAYS facing a superior team with better athletes accept for most Horizon League encounters and the occasional guaranteed win on the schedule vs. a truly inferior opponent.
For my money, Brad Stevens is the best college coach in basketball right now. He made an up and coming Butler program a back to back NCAA tournament finalist. His genius is he doesn’t get greedy as a tactician; he’s able to breakdown film expertly and takes away the most important aspect of foes.
In this tournament alone, his club took away Old Dominion’s offensive rebounding, didn’t let Pittsburgh’s guards become a huge factor, had defenders contest each Wisconsin shot and made Florida hit the panic button with late comeback with superior execution.
On Saturday, Butler did what five other teams in the tourney couldn’t do, stop VCU’s Joey Rodriguez from penetrating into lane area and on those occasions when he did, they covered up the Rams three-point shooters, making Rodriquez a reluctant shot-taker.
Can Butler really stop Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lamb from scoring and dishing assists? Will the Bulldogs Matt Howard and Andrew Smith really be able to hold off Connecticut bigs like Alex Oriakhi and Charles Okwandu from dominating the glass like they did against Kentucky? Will Mack be able to overpower defense demon Shabazz Napier?
Connecticut is the obvious choice, favored by 3.5-points, having the more talented players on the floor led by Walker, who’s become the most prominent name in this event since Danny Manning and the Miracles from Kansas in 1988. The Huskies are well documented 13-0 and 12-1 ATS on neutral floors this season and a win elevates Jim Calhoun among the greats with three NCAA titles.
But betting against Butler isn’t practical, since they are roughly two to three inches on a 50+ foot heave from defending their own basketball championship. The Bulldogs are improbable 10-1 SU and ATS in this event the past two years. Stevens has cultivated what every coach, CEO of a corporation or sales manager would love to have, a TEAM which is better than the sum of its parts.
Butler knows how to win close games and barring unforeseen circumstances, will give UConn all they can handle and possibly a lot more on Monday night, looking for their one shining moment.