There was no doubt that last season’s championship game run for Butler caught many people by surprise. Nobody predicted that Butler would make the Final Four and come just a couple inches away from winning the National Championship. But, this year’s run to the Final Four is even more impressive than last year’s by far.
Last year saw the Bulldogs in the preseason top 10 rankings. They won 20 straight basketball games going into the NCAA Tournament, including a dominant performance in the Horizon League Tournament.
They entered the NCAA Tournament as a number 5 seed. This seed is known for its upsets, and many people had UTEP beating Butler. They shook them off in the second half to win 77-59. Their second round opponent was Murray State. The Racers defeated Vanderbilt who was 31-3. Butler struggled with the Racers, but ultimately prevailed winning 54-52.
Syracuse was their opponent in the Sweet 16. They defeated the Orange 63-59. The Elite Eight brought on Kansas State and Head Coach Frank Martin. The Bulldogs prevailed yet again, 63-56.
Finally, it was time for the Final Four. They beat Michigan State to advance to the Championship game 52-50. Everybody knows how the final game ended against Duke. Gordon Hayward barely missed a half court shot that would have won the game, and the championship.
People might not have known that Butler was THAT good last season, but it isn’t like they came from nowhere. They were ranked in the preseason top 10 and settled around 15 throughout the course of the season. Also, winning 20 + games in a row should draw a little attention.
This season was different. Hayward was selected in the first round of the NBA Draft. Losing this piece to the puzzle was huge for the Bulldogs. Once he left early for the draft, it kind of felt like nobody was giving them a chance to make another run. But, with him leaving, Matt Howard moved to the four spot and has taken more threes in this season than in his career. This is a position that he may be more comfortable with. With the switch, Howard becomes a more versatile player which helps the team tremendously.
The Bulldogs were ranked in the preseason top 25, but weren’t close to the top 10. They won their conference tournament, but tied for the regular season title with Cleveland State. They won nine straight games going in to the NCAA Tournament rather than last year’s 20. Instead of a fifth seed in the tournament, they were given the eight seed.
Many people had Old Dominion beating Butler and advancing to beat Pittsburgh, but people forgot how good Butler is. Matt Howard put in the game winning shot against Old Dominion to win 60-58. Next in line were the Panthers. They outlasted the Panthers to win 71-70 in a wild finish.
The Sweet 16 saw the Badgers of Wisconsin. The defense of Butler was the reason why they beat the Badgers 61-54. Yesterday, Butler took Florida to the limit and prevailed 74-71 in OT.
Not many people honestly believed that Butler was going to the Final Four again. This team was supposed to be led by a guy who was a first round NBA talent but nobody else. This year we have learned (if we didn’t from last season) that Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard are gamers. Mack is the go-to guy down the stretch for the Bulldogs and Howard is a scrappy winner. Both will go the limits for Head Coach Brad Stevens. There are other guys on this team that fit the mold of “role players” and they fit that mold to perfection.
The number one reason why Butler is heading back to the Final Four is because of Brad Stevens. He is the youngest coach (34) to get his team to two Finals Fours. He is the motivator, in-game tactician and master mind that every program wants. He has outcoached everybody in this tournament thus far and it could continue next weekend.
Last year, the hot topic was Stevens leaving Butler to coach a big time program. Shortly after the season, he put those rumors to rest by signing an extension through the 2021-2022 season.
Butler is the new Gonzaga, but with a better and more established head coach.
About the Author
Written by Justin Welton
Born in Franklin, PA. Life-long Pittsburgh sports fan + Boston Celtics. Attending Clarion University of Pennsylvania. Working for WCUC - 91.7 and WCUB-TV. Clarion Call writer for two years.