Tag Archives: brad stevens

They’re Baaaaaaaaack!

Butler proved that last year was no fluke.

Last year I wrote a blog stating that the Butler Bulldogs should now be perceived as a major program after their run to the Final 4.

 

This year they have more than proven me to be a prophet.

 

After Butler’s 74-71 overtime victory over Florida in the Southeast Regional final, the Bulldogs reached their second consecutive Final 4. In the last 11 years only Florida, Maryland and UCLA have done that exact same feat. Those are heavy hitters folks.

 

Funny thing about this year’s team is that they were on the verge of not making it back to the dance. After last year’s improbable run the team suffered a few setbacks. Super Sophomore Gordon Haywood went to the NBA and combined with their heartbreaking loss to Duke The Bulldogs suffered from a long Final 4 hangover.

 

They came out of the gate super slow going 4-4 with huge losses to Louisville and Duke and a close road loss to Xavier. After they seemed to pull it together by winning the Diamond Head classic in Hawaii they suffered a 24-point thrashing at the hands of Milwaukee-Wisconsin and then lost three straight conference games including an embarrassing loss to 9-21 Youngstown State. At 14-9 the Bulldogs were battered and bloodied and seemed destined for the NIT than the NCAA and winning the Horizon League title was their only sure bet.

 

So naturally they picked themselves off of the mat and kept going.

 

Just like last year’s 24 game winning streak, Butler has reeled off 13 straight games including their 4 wins in the NCAA tournament. Butler has become masterful in close game situations, as 9 of the 13 wins have come by 8 points or less including outlasting a much bigger and stronger Florida team.

 

Butler does it with defense limiting two opponents to over 70 in their last 14 games. Against Florida they outrebounded the Gators 36-33 and held them to 3-14 from behind the arc.

Brad Stevens might be the best coach in college right now.

This is a testament to Brad Stevens’ brilliance as a head coach. You can make the case that Stevens is currently the best coach in America after this four year run in Indianapolis.

 

After losing his star to the NBA and watching his team become the target of every mid-major program, Stevens just kept it moving and kept pushing his players. Once Haywood left, Shelvin Mack stepped in to take on the bulk of the scoring responsibilities. Matt Howard shook off a poor NCAA tournament last year and as been great down low, and Ronald Nored is still the defensive beast this year coming off of the bench.

 

While most coaches would have panicked after a mid-season lull, Stevens stayed the course and let his team figure it out and it paid off. In doing so Stevens now heads to his second Final 4 and is the youngest coach to ever reach two Final 4’s. He now has the same amount of appearances in the Final 4 as John Calipari, Gary Williams, and Bob Huggins and has more appearances than Thad Motta, Tubby Smith and Bill Self. That’s not a bad bragging point.

 

12 months ago after the shot that almost was, we wondered if we would ever see Butler come close to the opportunity that it had to win it all that night. We wondered could the little school from the little Horizon League conference, or any mid-major for that matter, replicate what had almost happened that night.

 

12 months later we get to find out.

 

Once and for all Butler proves their aint nothing small about their program. You can officially remove the mid from their vernacular. These guys are just major.


So Long 2010

The Blackhawks cup win was one of the many great moments in 2010.

So this is it for 2010. We watched the Blackhawks return Chicago to a hockey town, and the Bruins feeling the Yankees pain.

We saw the Giants of Baseball break long title spell since their days in New York, and the Giants of football have another meltdown against the Eagles.

We saw Peyton Manning and his legacy take a hit while Tom Brady rose up again.

We had the revival of Vick and the fall of Favre. The #2 at Auburn became everything the #2 at Columbus should have (though both have had their share of bumps in the road).

There were perfect games and imperfect calls (thank you Jim Joyce). There was Butler almost shocking the world, and Boise having there world shocked.

Then there was LeBron… pause.

Indeed 2010 was a year in sports that we haven’t seen in forever. The glamour in what makes sports great shone bright while the wolf in sheeps clothing  were revealed. The Favre’s and LeBron’s came out as snakes in the grass when all along they were made out to be deities and superheroes. The real heroes were the New Orleans Saints we revived a city and captured the heart of a nation, Sidney Crosby who lifted a country all the way back to the top of their, the Dustin Byfuglien’s and Duncan Keith’s who sacrificed their bodies and teeth to breathe life back into a once hockey crazed city. The angels spread their wings this year while the devils brought themselves down.

There were also some pretty interesting jesters and magicians that showed us how much fun sports can be and how silly we take the game. There is Derrick Rose cutting up point guards every which way, Steven Stamkos scoring at will welcoming all challengers, John Wall showing off his muscles on the dance floor and at the rim and Felix Hernandez crippling bats while his own team’s bats crippled him.

There was Ron Artest partying all night in his uniform after winning a title, Luis Suarez pulling a Diego Maradona, and John Isner and Nicholas Mahut unable to decide a match in the span of three days (no really it took three days to decide).

We had the torch passing from Roger Federer to Rafael Nadal as tennis’s best player, the rise of Kobe Bryant in the all-time rankings and Tiger Woods falling from the number one ranking.

Madison Bumgartner and Kyle Brotzman became household names for different reasons; Bumgartner the 21 year-old left handed rookie pitched the game of his life in leading the Giants to their first world title in 56 years and becoming the game’s next great lefty. Brotzman cost the Broncos a game, a possible title and lots of money when he missed two chip-shot field goals that cost the Broncos a season that what was hyped since the end of the Fiesta Bowl in January and cost Kellen Moore the Heisman trophy (no seriously. When Moore heaved that ball downfield and Titus Young somehow got ahead of the coverage and leaped to haul in a 50 yard grab I yelled out at the bar HEISMAN! That was Moore’s moment. He had it all in front of him and it got yanked from his grasp like The Dude’s rug that tied the room together. Moore may never admit it but you know he contemplated going into Brotzman’s room and stabbing him MacBeth style. And I’m serious).

World meet Madison Bumgarner.

A nation fell in love with soccer (again) as Landon Donovan saved team USA time and time again, and I fell in love with Blake Griffin. Scratch that, Youtube, ESPN, you, me and highlight fanatics LOVE Blake Griffin. There is an app on my phone where I get ESPN scores and highlights and there is always a dunk of the night caption and I swear nine times out of ten that I’ve seen its been Blake. Its so silly now that the other day the caption read “Dunk of the night: Guess Who?”, yep Blake. This guy has no comparison for ridiculousness of athleticism and awe-factor. The Knicks game was the best (yeah I know what you’re thinking), he had 44 points, 15 rebounds, 7 blocks and 4 dunks where his genitals were planted squarely on some member of the Knicks forehead. The worst was Tim Mozgov who took the full on T-bag where even I had to laugh. The guy is a freak, please god if you’re out there make him last 15 years at least in the league please I’m begging you.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg for this crazy year. Coming up with a top ten list is silly for this thing because there are is 12 months of craziness that I have to condense into ten moments that really stood out. There’s no way I can put this in any type of order except for number one which should be number one for all reasons necessary so without further ado here are my top ten moments of the year.

The John Isner- Nicolas Mahut tennis match

In particular the fifth set or should I say fifth set epic. Eight hours and thirty minutes, 138 games,  over 100 aces  and just absolute insanity. The match was already in its second day due to darkness concerns the night before and thanks to the third set barnburner it carried over into the fourth day of the tournament.

Besides the gaudy numbers and mind-numbing play on the court, the look of the players was just mesmerizing. Mahut and Isner played each point like it was their last. They ran down each ball until their legs were spaghetti and picked themselves up again and again. It was torture but neither player didn’t want to be the one to lose the longest match in Wimbledon history.

Unfortunately one person did have to lose and it was Mahut. When Mahut sent his return volley long Isner hit the floor like he just won a championship and held his head in disbelief. A roar from the crowd and a handshake between the titans brought a fitting end to an amazing match. Isner over Mahut 6-4, 3-6, 6-7, 7-6, 70-68.

Even though he lost the no-no, The way Armando Galarraga handled the situation should not go un-noticed.

The year of the pitcher

7 no-hitters (and yes I still am and forever will count Armando Galarraga’s 1 –hitter as a no hitter because that’s what it was wrong call or not), and all of them were done in ways that range from impressive to stunning to dull.

Ubaldo Jimenez walked 6 batters versus the Braves while throwing 128 pitches and only 72 strikes in his 4-0 no-no in April. It’s cool but he walked 6 guys so that dulls it down. However it doesn’t take away from the start that he had.

Roy Halladay pitched perfect game in the regular season and a no-no in the postseason. Both Masterful, both breath-taking adding to his case for the best pitcher in the game.

Dallas Braden became the newest guy you never heard of to throw a no-no joining A.J. Burnett when he was in Florida. Was it a great performance ? Yes. Is he still a bum for calling out A-Rod? absolutely.

Edwin Jackson, eight walks, 149 pitches… that’s all I’ll say.

Matt Garza finally showed us what he’s capable of his in his gem. Maybe now he can step up his game and fulfill the potential we all think he has.

Then there was the no-no that wasn’t, Galarraga’s. In less than two hours Galarraga pitched the performance of the year unmatched of any of the other pitchers. For 86 pitches in an hour and 50 minutes Armando Galarraga looked like Greg Maddux. He worked efficiently and fast. Yet it was the call by Jim Joyce that we’ll always remember when he called the runner safe at first base when he was in fact out. But Galarraga’s demeanor and class ruled over the missed call. Instead of screaming in horror he simply smiled, went back to the mound and finished off his one-hitter. Bud Selig doesn’t have to correct the mistake, I will, it was a perfect game and will be forever in my eyes.

The Blackhawks Triumph

Big Buff, Tazer, Kaner, toothless Keith and the whole gang brought hockey back to the Chi. I’ve written on this enough this year so I’ll keep it short. This is what the NHL needs, the original six teams back at the top of the standings and playing well. Hopefully the Blackhawks triumph can lead to similar stories in New York and Boston.

Rafa’s Reign Begins

It’s his world now. I love Roger Federer and everything that he has done for the game of tennis, but this is Rafa’s time now.

After returning to glory at the French Open he showed how far his game has come and that his knees should be ready for the long haul in the next 4 or 5 years that he’ll be at the top of his game.

His wins at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open brought his game together and officially shed his moniker of being just a clay court player. He dominated the Open and left no doubt that there is no one close to him in the game. It guarantees that unlike at the beginning of the 2000’s where men’s tennis had no dominant figure it will still have a gold standard now that Federer is in decline. Well done Rafa, well done.

The Blake Show

WOW!!! Not LeBron, not Kobe, not Kevin Durant, not none of em (yeah incorrect English) have the awe factor that Blake Griffin has. Kobe has aged, LeBron is now evil and Durant while ready to replace Kobe in the That Dude category nobody can draw a crowd like Griffin.

It’s similar to the effect Vince Carter had on the league after the dunk contest except we haven’s seen Blake in that type of stage yet, and we don’t need to.

Sportscenter is his stage. The Knicks are his props, and other players are blocks in his way of another highlight. I’m looking at Youtube right now for another silly Griffin dunk,

(God please get him out of L.A. May I suggest Phoenix, Dallas or New Jersey)

Thomas Morstead executed the gutsiest call in Super Bowl history.

The Gutsiest Call Ever

With the Super Bowl hanging in the balance early in the second half Saints Head Coach Sean Payton did the dumbest silliest most brilliant thing ever… he went for an onside kick… and it worked.

He grabbed the momentum and never let it go as the Saints took control of the game en route to a 31-17 win and completing a comeback of epic proportions in New Orleans. It was a call you’ll always remember and gave you more respect for a head coach than you would ever think off of one play.

The Revival of Josh Hamilton

The turnaround was completed. Josh Hamilton is now officially vindicated from all of the wrongs that almost ended his career in the early 2000’s. His MVP and World Series run brought him full circle from the drug addiction and alcoholism that plagued him in his Tampa Years.

Hamilton is now a role model, hero and one of the best outfielders in the game like it always should’ve been.

The Death of THe Boss

The Greatest owner in the history of the sport. He cared about winning and only winning. He did things his way and never cared about what anyone thought.

His passing left baseball without one of its greatest figures and the Yankees with a little less PR to deal with.

His Monument in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium is fitting of who George was. It was bigger than other plaque and towered over them all. Kind of how George hovered over Yankee Stadium with that watchful eye and towered over other competition. Thanks George, I’ll miss you.

U.S. vs. Canada- Game Of The Year

The most important hockey game since the Miracle On Ice 30 years earlier. Two of the biggest hockey nations battle to bring their nation to the front of the fold again.

It was a physical game that showed the best each country had to offer. ROberto Luongo and Ryan Miller shined in net, Patrick Kane was a monster with the puck skating in open ice, Jonathan Toews showed the poise that has made him the league’s most respected captain at 22, Jack Johnson became my new favorite American player with his physical play, and Zach Parise saved a nation with his late tally to send the game into overtime.

Then the king responded. Sidney Crosby did what he’s done ever since he entered the league in after the NHL strike, he game up big and took the sport to new heights. His goal on a redirect from Jarome Iginla placed him on a plateau that not even he thought was possible, national hero. He saved Canada, won the gold and never has to pay for a drink again. It was a fitting end to what was the best game of the year, even if the result made me want to drown myself in the Olentangy River.

What if...

#1 Duke vs. Butler

Imagine if Gordon Haywood takes a little off of that shot.

Imagine if it went in. Imagine the chaos, the pandemonium.

Imagine the story of the new Hoosiers with Brad Stevens playing Gene Hackman and Butler as the little guy that pulled off the greatest upset in the history of the game.

Imagine if Butler Beat Duke. Imagine the shockwave of finally seeing that the little guys are just as good as the big guys.

Imagine if that shot were two inches lower, because if it was all of this would have happened. Butler would have ushered in a new era in the NCAA, recruiting might be a little different but more so teams like Northern Iowa, VCU, Dayton and others could be logical national title contenders. They could get fair seedings, their conferences could get more teams in the tournament while bubble teams like the Clemson’s and Notre Dame’s of the world go to the NIT.

Instead the shot missed. The NCAA breathed a sigh of relief and everything was status quo like it should be in there eyes. But man, what if  that happened?

That was 2010 one the most imaginative, honest and fun sports years that we’ve had in a longtime. So many memories that will stick in the eyes and hearts of fans, writers and spectators everywhere. Here’s to hoping that 2011 can come close to matching what we witnessed this past year.


The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year (NCAA Basketball Preview)

The Dukies look to go back-to-back for a second time.

In all of my madness and melancholy of covering football from college to the NFL I almost forgot what time of year it was… THE START OF THE COLLEGE BASKETBALL SEASON!!!

It happened last night as I was watching the Bengals season go down in flames (still can’t believe I picked them to win it all), I look over and what do I see? Number 4 ranked Pittsburgh taking on Rhode Island. Hmm, I love the excitement of the crowds, the college kids from the Oakland Zoo to the Little Apple to The Kennel all going crazy with the prospectus of their team somehow going for the glory come March.

You see college basketball trumps the NBA to me in so many ways; 1. The atmosphere, there are no places in the NBA like Cameron Indoor Stadium, Rupp Arena or Hinkle Field house. The crowds are right on top of you and the energy is surreal. Even when watching it on TV at half volume you can feel buzz, the stadium shaking, and the kids going bonkers. Maybe Madison Square Garden and maybe Arco Arena do that in the NBA and that’s it.

2. The rivalries. It doesn’t matter if it’s Kansas-K-State, Syracuse-UCONN or Duke-Maryland, every time interstate enemies or inter-conference rivals go at it its must see TV. Last year I watched Memphis play Tennessee in a down year for both programs and t didn’t matter. The game was still full of energy and passion and don’t turn your head away action that made for an awesome night especially when you’re procrastinating as to stall yourself from studying for a meaningless exam. Not that I ever did that in college.

Kansas- K-State. One of the many rivalries that make college basketball so awesome.

(speaking of which, the greatest sporting event from my college years had to be the 6 overtime marathon between the Cuse and UCONN about 20 months ago. I was struggling through that quarter of school badly, I’m talking Carolina Panthers quarterback situation badly, and I absolutely needed to focus on getting at least a 2.0 that quarter and it was finals week. So what did I do instead of study for an Italian final or write my medieval poetry final paper, I watched Jonny Flynn, A.J. Price and a cast of thousands go hard for nearly 4 hours of grueling basketball that left my roommate Ian wanting to kill me for yelling so loud at 1230am and had me up until 4am watching highlights and trying to figure out what the hell just happened. That one game is the reason you watch college basketball, because the unexpected is always bound to happen. You never know when the next ESPN Classic moment will happen. Side note: I did pass all of my finals that quarter but it wasn’t pretty. I blame the referee for blowing the Eric Devendorf call on the three that was clearly good before the buzzer and the fact that St. Patrick’s Day fell during finals week.)

3. The fact that college basketball is changing. The elite programs are still there… sort of. Last year UCLA, Arizona, UCONN and North Carolina DID NOT MAKE THE TOURNAMENT. Yeah you read that properly, four of college basketball’s best programs didn’t even sniff the tournament. There was a point in the tourney where we were looking at a final four that could’ve consisted of Northern Iowa, Butler, Xavier (hi Sean Miller) and Baylor. Yeah that’s where we are at. Granted UNC won it all in 2009 and Duke took home the crown last year, but the game itself is no longer the top heavy huge program dominated juggernaut it has been for the last 20 years.

The top 3 teams expected to make a run at the crown for this year are Duke, Michigan State and… KANSAS STATE! Yes the same Kansas State who you couldn’t name one single player from their roster for a 20 year period. The same Kansas State who wasn’t even a factor in the BIG 12 until Bob Huggins convinced a guy named Michael Beasley to come to Manhattan, Kansas three years ago and then left before Beasley arrived. The same Kansas State that was Kansas’s whipping post for every season that I’ve been alive and they are now viewed as the best team in Kansas. Time’s they are a changing.

What Frank Martin has done at K-State is amazing, he got great results from Beasley and Bill Walker and he is now able to bring in excellent recruits to Manhattan and leave the folks in Lawrence feeling a little salty. Led by Jacob Pullen and his beard and guys like Wally Judge and Curtis Kelly, the Wildcats have what it takes to overpower the Jayhawks and get to the Final 4. Yep, Kansas State, believe it.

Then of course there is last year’s darling the Butler Bulldogs who were two inches away from pulling off one of the greatest upsets sports has ever seen against Duke in the title game. The Dogs proved that they belong in the hunt for the crown for a long time to come with a run that stunned everyone in the sport that included wins over K-State, Syracuse and Michigan State. They return with no Gordon Haywood but pretty much same team from Ronald Nored and his tough defense and Matt Howard and his inside post game. They have replaced Gonzaga as the best little guy in the game and will be a tough draw in the tourney for anyone.

(With that said Gonzaga is ranked higher and with Robert Sacre at center they still aren’t a team to be messed with. Also the recruiting class they have for 2011 is stupid silly good. You think Mark Few is happy he stayed at Gonzaga instead of take the Kentucky job a few years ago? Yeah, me too.)

So what about the big dogs? Oh they’re just fine thank you. Ohio State behind one of the silliest recruiting classes including Jared Sullinger since the “Thad 5” is primed to go toe-to-toe with Sparty for the Big 10 and the national title. They have a date in November with SEC rival Florida which finally seems to have shaken the title hangover of a few years ago and are expected to rule the SEC this year behind do it all forward Chandler Parsons. They still have Kentucky hanging around in the background however. Yes they lost John Wall, Demarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe and Enes Kanter is still awaiting eligibility pending an NCAA investigation (hmmm, another investigation involving John Calipari? No way), however they get another top flight point guard for John Calipari to groom in Brandon Knight and swingman Terrance Jones from Oregon. They’re young again but if anyone knows how to get the best out of a young squad then its John Calipari.

Now I know what you’re wondering, Kevin, you haven’t even begun to wax poetic over the Mighty Big East yet. You know the conference you love so much that you’re willing to through any other program under the bus when playing them. You know the conference that you think is so much better than everyone else but last year underachieved in mostly every big out of conference matchup. Yeah yeah yeah I know. I know they struggled last year with off years by UCONN, Georgetown and Louisville and honestly past Syracuse, Villanova and Pittsburgh every team is the same. G’Town, Marquette and Seton Hall all have shots to make an impact behind guys like Austin Freeman, Jeremy Hazell and others and Steve Lavin may finally bring St. John’s back to where it belongs in the picture of college basketball. Yet I’m not sold that the conference is better than the Big 10 who have 3 teams who could make a Final 4 run including Purdue who I think is getting undervalued because of the loss of Robbie Hummel. In the Big East I think only Syracuse and maybe Pitt has a shot at the Final 4. However, even though it might be a down year for the conference the games will still be a blast to watch.

Something about the words Melo and Syracuse just sounds good together.

(Side note: I really like this Syracuse team. They are deeper than last year’s squad and they have a guy in the middle that will be a huge problem for everyone in the future, Fab Melo. Hmmm, an impact freshman in Syracuse named Melo? Smiley face.)

However with all of that said, from the little guys to the big ones, from the “Thad 5” part two to the beard, from Indianapolis to Spokane the two teams to beat come from tobacco road and (ugh) the ACC, Duke and UNC.

Duke brings back everyone from last year’s team including the soon to be player of the year Kyle Singler and they get Kyrie Irving, a lightning quick guard, and Seth Curry, yep there’s another one of them running around. Plus the Plumlee twins return to roam the middle with their size and athleticism which is going to be a problem for anyone to handle.

As for UNC you knew that last year’s flame out was only an aberration. Roy Williams returns with a team that has a year of experience under its wing, a healthy Tyler Zeller and Harrison Barnes one of the most talked about freshmen in the nation. Barnes as well as Reggie Bullock should help shoulder the load left by Ed Davis and the Wear twins who transferred to Stanford.

Both Duke and UNC should have little trouble running the ACC with one exception, Maryland might be back. Gary Williams has escaped the firing that seemed eminent years ago and has his best team since the Steve Blake, Juan Dixon days.  Sean Mosley and Jordan Williams provide a great in and out game and Mychal Parker and Pe’Shon Howard will provide some pop off of the bench.  If he can find the right rotation for this team then it should be happy times in Gary-land for the Terps.

With all of this said who should be playing in the Final 4 come March? How about Duke, Ohio State, K-State and Syracuse with Ohio State winning it all. No it’s not a cop out because I went to OSU it’s because OSU has the best mix of under classmen and youth of any team in the nation. David Lighty, Dallas Lauderdale and Willie Buford all return to blend with the aforementioned Sullinger, Jordan Siebert and Deshaun Thomas. I think Michigan State is a tad overrated with no Kalin Lucas and the Buckeyes should steamroll through the tough Big 10 behind their talent level and Thad Motta’s defensive scheme.

So there you go, even in the changing landscape of college basketball where the little guys are getting bigger, the top dogs still reign supreme. However, don’t be surprised if everything I said gets blown to smithereens and the landscape changes again. That’s the beauty of the college game, and I’m so happy that it’s back.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR- KYLE SINGLER

BIG EAST WINNER-SYRACUSE (SLEEPER: VILLANOVA)

ACC- DUKE (MARYLAND)

BIG 12- KANSAS STATE (TEXAS)

BIG 10- OHIO STATE (ILLINOIS)

PAC 10- WASHINGTON (ARIZONA)

SEC- FLORIDA (TENNESSEE)

THE NEXT BUTLER- San Diego STATE

ATLANTIC 10- XAVIER (mark my words; you will take the A-10 seriously again. The league is too good to be considered a mid-major)


Big Time Butler

Yep Butler's in the final 4.

Thad Motta made them competitive. Todd Lickliter made them known. Brad Stevens has done something even more amazing, he’s turned the Butler Bulldogs into a national power.

No they’re not Duke, or Kansas, or even Arizona, but you can no longer call Butler a mid-major. Shed the mid, they are just major.

After beating Kansas State 63-56, Butler will now go to a place where only George Mason of the CAA has gone, the final 4 as a mid-major conference competitor. This wasn’t an overnight thing either. It started with Thad Motta in 2000-01 leading the team to a 24 win season and a second round tourney appearance. Then Lickliter came in and in 7 seasons pulled out a pair of Sweet sixteen appearances beating national powers like Florida and Maryland in the process. The bar for Stevens was set very high to keep the momentum going after Lickliter’s departure. All he’s done is reel off two 30 win seasons and bring Butler to within two wins of a national championship, and in the process they replace Gonzaga as the best team not from a major conference in the country.

Gonzaga never could shed the mid-major tag with their ridiculous runs in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Gonzaga was the school the always got close, but never could get over the hump. Butler however has found a way to go from a dangerous mid-major program, to becoming a player in the college championship race in the 3 seasons since Brad Stevens took over. His in your face man to man defense gave fits to some of the best players in the country and limited their effectiveness on the outcome of contests this year whether you’re Jacob Pullen, Wes Johnson or Derrick Caracter.

They did it with a team that most would consider to be half as talented as Kansas State or any other major conference team. A sharp shooting Gordon Haywood, and in your face Shelvin Mack and a threat down low in Matt Howard, who in this is junior season has deferred to the former two and become a great complementary player.

They did it by blowing through the Horizon league after a shaky start to the season where Butler lost 4 games before January and almost dropping out of the top 25 in the process. Coach Stevens at one point sat his team down and showed them their runner-up trophy from the Horizon league last year, which led to an early ousting in the NCAA tourney. He used it as a motivational tool to get his team going, boy did it ever.

After an embarrassing loss to UAB, Butler hasn’t lost since. They hold the nation’s longest winning streak at 24, mostly against foes from the Horizon league. However since Thursday night against Syracuse, a team picked by many to win it all just a month ago, the dogs proved the win streak was no joke. They shut down Wesley Johnson and controlled the tempo all game long making the Orange play into their hands all night. Similarly against the Wildcats Jacob Pullen and Dennis Clemente were non-factors going a combined 11-30 with Mack and Ronald Nored in their grills all night preventing any open looks. The Bulldogs beat up two of the nation’s top ten teams all year and when it counted, kept their composure late to stave off any late comeback attempts.

Now what awaits them is an eventual home game at Lucas Oil Stadium next Saturday. The Butler campus is a paltry 6 miles away from the stadium, which means Tennessee or Michigan State can expect lots of blue and white in the stands for that game much like what North Carolina faced in the title game in Detroit last year. What everyone can also expect is every “Hoosiers” reference in the book over the next week. It doesn’t help that Butler plays in the same arena that housed the classic basketball film.

However, don’t confuse this team with Hickory high school. This is a magical run by a team not many people picked to be here, but it is also a team with enough bite to scare all opponents from the Horizon to the big East and the Big 12. These guys are small in budget and funds only, like Kanye West said, “Come on homie we major!” Butler most definitely is.