As the Final Four draws closer, stories about what will be the most popular, and overused, storyline of the week are beginning to stream in. As soon as Butler beat Kansas State in the regional final, it began. Small school from Indiana? Check. Hoosiers filmed on their home court? Check. Competing with the big boys? Check. Jimmy Chitwood (the real one) played college ball there? You betcha. It's almost too easy.
Brad Stevens need not get the tape measure out to show his Butler boys that the court at Lucas Oil Stadium is the same as that fieldhouse in Indiana (or 6 miles down the street with one right hand turn, but who's counting). He doesn't need to show them the baskets are still 10 feet off the ground, either. His Butler Bulldogs are the big boys, not a small fish among them.
In this day and age, the term mid-major is thrown about and overused, especially near tournament time. Teams like Gonzaga, Butler, and Xavier are no longer mid-majors who are happy to be in the tournament and looking for their glass slipper. They come to play with the power conferences and expect to beat them. Butler has put together quite a year, culminating in what we've seen over the last two weeks. They didn't, however, do it as the underdogs from a small school in Indiana.
If you've missed it, Butler is 32-4. They aren't a team that snuck into the tournament or one that toiled in a small conference before winning the conference tournament. The Bulldogs haven't lost a game since December 22nd, three months ago. Butler ran through their Horizon League slate, sweeping the conference games and easily dispatching Wright State, for the third time this season, by 25 in the conference title game. In other words, they took care of business.
The fightin' Brad Stevens also are no stranger to big competition. In their non-conference schedule, they beat UCLA (yes, I know they're bad this year but that's the breaks of scheduling), Ohio State, and Xavier. They also played, and lost to, Minnesota, Clemson, Georgetown, and UAB. The lowest ranked of these teams, according to kenpom, was UAB at 64th. These were the only four games they lost all season. Butler not only scheduled the big boys, but also showed an ability to beat them.
Many point to Butler's small student enrollment of about 4,000 as a reason why they are a small-time school. I ask does that even matter? We're not talking about high school basketball here, where the talent onthe court is limited to what can be found among the existing student body. This is division one athletics, where a school can recruit 12 scholarship athletes to play basketball. A school of 300 can recruit 12 All-Americans if they had the ability to entice them. The size of the school sure doesn't determine how well the basketball team should be at this level. If it did, Wofford College, and their enrollment of 1,400, would be the Hoosiers of this tournament.
This also isn't Butler's first go around in the NCAA tournament, either. In fact, they've played in the tournament seven times since 2000, advancing out of the first round five of those times. They've been to the Sweet Sixteen three times in that span, including this years run to the Final Four. Butler is also a 5 seed in this years tournament, a far cry from the small-school underdog mentality in "Hoosiers". For the Bulldogs, it's their second time as a 5 seed in the last 4 years. Cinderella usually comes to the ball wearing a glass slipper made from double digit seeds, not from a 5 seed.
The point here is that Butler is making a name for itself not just among the mid-major schools, but among all schools. They have talent, good coaching, and can play the game at the highest level with anybody. It shouldn't be a huge shock that they are in the Final Four, and wouldn't be shocking to see them in the national championship game. The stories comparing them to "Hoosiers" will be around all week, but they are not Hickory High. They aren't the happy underdogs playing on the biggest stage in the NCAA. They deserve to be there and have proved it throughout the season and with their run through the tournament thus far.