By Matt Noonan
It wasn’t meant to be, let’s leave it like that. Butler University is not a school of champions, but instead, a college that defines the true meaning of the “student athlete.”
One would certainly not rank the Bulldogs as a school that is equal to Texas, LSU, University of North Carolina, Kentucky, Michigan, Duke, Florida or Alabama, but instead, they are the Division I equivalent to an Amherst College or Williams College, (Yes, I just compared Butler to two well-recognized New England institutions).
The college alone has watched their 19 intercollegiate teams earn 26 conference titles over the years, as well as witnessed their men’s and women’s basketball, soccer and volleyball teams compete in the NCAA tournament.
Yet, while they may not be known for their championships or banners that hang in their athletic department’s gymnasium, instead, they are and will always be recognized as the true underdog.
You have to wonder what the term “underdog” means to head coach Brad Stevens, who has led his young team of rag tag college students to the past two NCAA Division I men’s basketball finals, which resulted in two back-to-back loses. Stevens has watched Gordon Hayward’s desperation three bounce off the front rim against Duke, as well as endured a heartbreaking loss to Jim Calhoun’s UConn Huskies on Monday.
Although, is “heartbreaking” the right word to describe one of the sloppiest college basketball games ever? Probably not, but hey, I tried.
The Bulldogs game plan against the Huskies was dreadful, as they decided to forgo shots in the paint and only converted 12 of their 64 shots. They even finished the game, [9-33] from beyond the arc, which is something no coach would be pleased about, especially after that particular contest.
Let’s face it, that particular championship was ugly and downright boring. Did anyone truly stay awake to see if Butler could pull off the upset? I know I did, but again, who agrees that it was truly painful to watch?
The Bulldogs are indeed underdogs because no one expects them to succeed, but going toe-to-toe with two of the top basketball schools in the nation is certainly an achievement that they can be proud of, despite losing both times.
What Stevens and his team have proved is that anything is indeed possible, as long as you put your mind and effort to it.
Sure, they may have returned home to the great state of Indiana on Tuesday with no championship trophy in their hands, but the young men certainly have a lot of reasons to keep their chins up, especially after the past two seasons.
The may have finished their 2010-2011 campaign with a [28-10] record, but who truly predicted that the Bulldogs would once again make it back to the title game in Houston? Did anyone you know pick Butler to have another successful season and then dominate the March Madness tournament? If you did, congratulations, but I am sure that you jumped on their bandwagon just like the rest of the country did this past March.
Butler earned some impressive wins in the tournament, as they defeated Old Dominion at the buzzer, thanks to Matt Howard, as well as busted everyone’s bracket when they knocked off top seeded Pittsburgh, 71-70.
In New Orleans, their magic continued as they defeated Wisconsin and then rallied to beat Florida in the NCAA Regional Final.
After arriving to Houston and getting settled, the excitement continued, as they beat another surprise team, Virginia Commonwealth in the Final Four, but after their exciting win against the Rams, their luck ran out and the clock struck midnight, once again.
Sure, they played awful against Connecticut and looked like a Division III team at time that couldn’t play defense, but once again, they defied the odds and showed the nation that hard work does pay off.
The Huskies may have talented players, such as Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lamb, but seriously, has their hard work measured up to the Bulldogs? I’d say, no, but again, what do I know? Walker and Lamb could be shooting around in an empty gymnasium, while I sit here and digest the March Madness final.
Butler has proved that once again the underdog still matters, especially in sports and life. Whether one wins or loses, it’s not about the scoreboard at the end of the game, but instead, it’s about giving it your absolute best effort.
Why not root for the Bulldogs? Why wouldn’t you not want to root for a team that goes to class, studies the same in the same library and eats at the same table in the cafeteria. These are student athletes that want to be your friends, but also, represent the true meaning of their school and if one can read between the lines, they’ll understand that Butler is truly a school of champions and students that will never back down from a challenge.