The Bulldogs' journey began in Anaheim for a preseason tournament last November and they lost to Minnesota and Clemson. Both were NCAA Tournament clubs, but losing to them on a neutral floor didn't suggest emerging greatness. A loss to Georgetown followed. Before December was out, Butler beat Ohio State and Xavier to give at least a spark to the national consciousness. But they gave it back with a December 22 loss to UAB. That was their last defeat, but the rest of the schedule was a run through the Horizon League and the likes of Cleveland State, UI-Chicago and my old alma mater, UW-Milwaukee. Again, very impressive to run the table, but not something you use a basis for picking a team to reach the Final Four.
Opening weekend of the NCAA was more of the same. Butler beat UTEP, then caught a break when Vanderbilt lost to Murray State. It was last weekend, when they delivered an electrifying performance in suddenly taking out #1-seed Syracuse and #2-seed Kansas State in succession. No breaks in the draw were necessary on regionals weekend, as the Bulldogs became America's latest favorite team.
Butler has a good four-pronged attrack, although Shelvin Mack and Gordon Hayward stand a notch above. Both are scorers, while Mack also distributes the ball well. The swingman Hayward hits the boards with abandon. And they get able support from Matt Howard and Willie Veasley who are respectable scorers and rebounders both. The bottom line? They match up well with Michigan State and will have a homecourt advantage on Saturday. The ability to surprise people is long past, as the Bulldogs have been installed as a 1.5 point favorite by Las Vegas. As unbelievable as it sounds to say, a national championship is within this program's grasp.
Tomorrow we'll take a look at West Virginia. Over at The Baseball Notebook, a preview of the NL West went up earlier today, completing a three-day run through the National League. AL picks start tomorrow.