|Brad Stevens the Bulldogs pulled off something that likely won't be duplicated for decades. (US Presswire)|
By Matt Norlander
This sounds so trite, but you know it's so true. It wasn't until it the body was cold and the clock was officially out of countdown, until the schedule was out chances, that we could count Butler out. How many times had we done that in the past two years? Easily a half-dozen. And then the Bulldogs kept on winning, winning until the national title game and taking down a lot more than basketball nets and basketball programs with five times the spending budget. They never won a national title, but getting there is nearly the same level of accomplishment for a school like Butler.
Tonight, the chances of the Bulldogs entertaining us and making us doubt them once again officially extinguished, as Valparaiso acted like the top seed that it is, defeating Brad Stevens' Butler team 65-46 in the semifinals of the Horizon League tournament. They're the fun story, the new brand of underdog for fans to flock to -- and they won't be in this year's NCAA tournament field. It's not sad or anything, it's just a change of guard in the Horizon League for at least a year, and merely a hiccup of a season for Butler, which should be back in the thick of things next season when a very good recruiting class arrives and senior sharpshooting transfer Rotnei Clarke is eligible for his one year of sniper service.
Butler finishes its wobbly season with a 20-14 record. It's probably going to get an invite to some postseason tournament, but for all intents and purposes, the Bulldogs' campaign ended tonight. Valpo -- who a decade ago was the synonym for small guy success stories in the NCAAs -- gets to play for its first tournament appearance in eight years Sunday. The semifinal result was a nice way to dovetail the story lines of two programs who very well could build a new rivalry, what with the Crusaders have their own young coach (Bryce Drew) to build their program with, too.
The Valpo narrative can wait, though. After all, it still has to win one more. So here's my primary takeaway from the end of the Butler story, for now. Picture it. It's 2030, and we're all reading our news off of folding tablet screens that unlock by command of a face scanner. Something has replaced Twitter. Mike Krzyzewski looks the same as he did in 2005, which is the same as he did in 1988. Jeff Borzello wears a wig to hide his ever-thinning hair, because scientists still haven't found a way to reverse balding. Some things can't be overcome. The NCAA's adoration for the RPI falls under this category too, I'm afraid.
My point is, it's going to 2030 and we're going to remember and look back on Butler with more awe than what we had in 2010 and 2011. Because, while we're inevitably going to have another team from outside a major conference win a national title, we're not going to have a team come from a small league and make two straight national title games. Butler will have no peer in that regard for the next two decades. Brad Stevens will be there, Indianapolis, or at Indiana, or UCLA -- or maybe even Duke. He'll be climbing up the all-time wins list and cementing himself as one of the greats of all-time.
And he'll probably never come close to accomplishing something as unlikely as what he and his team did the past two years. Think about your impression of Butler the night it was two inches away from beating Duke in the most dramatic way in the history of the sport. And then how did you see this team in 2011? On the night Butler falls short of another chance at doing the improbable, our appreciation for that only grows. That appreciation will inflame, coincide and correlate with every team that falls well short of doing what this one did in the tournaments to come.