This is the sixth post in our ongoing series of the Top 10 What Ifs in college basketball history.
Number five on our list is definitely the most recent What if on our countdown, so it may be a little more difficult to truly gauge the ramifications of what might have happened had Butler beaten Duke for the national championship in 2010.
Difficult or not, that is what we are going to do.
Gordon Hayward’s shot against Duke hadn’t rimmed out?
First, let’s relive what Andy Bottoms ranked #10 on his list of the most memorable moments in the history of March Madness.
Compared to some of the other hypothetical situations that we’ve already talked about, it might seem crazy to have this What if ranked so high. Would a Butler win really have changed basketball more than a Fab Five victory over UNC?
I believe it would have.
First of all, we would have been gifted with the greatest highlight in sports history.
Ok, maybe this isn’t that important, but be honest. Would any replay from any sport even come close? Consider the following:
1) You have Butler – one of the biggest underdogs in Tournament history – playing against Duke, the biggest fish in the pond of college basketball.
2) Butler is playing a virtual home game at Lucas Oil Stadium. The whole world and the entire stadium would have instantly erupted.
3) The play itself was nearly impossible. Not only did Zoubek have to miss the free throw, but Butler had to cleanly pull down the rebound, race down court, and get off a clean look at the basket – with only 3.6 seconds left. Amazingly, Butler runs the play to perfection. Two guys box out the lone Duke rebounder, Matt Howard makes sure that Hayward (Butler’s best player) pulls down the board and then sets a vicious pick for him near midcourt. And if you look closely, Butler’s best shooter, Zach Hahn, is wide open on the far end for a corner three. Had there been just one more second, Hayward may have been able to fire him the ball for a much easier chance of victory. The entire sequence is incredible.
4) This all came after Butler was down by 5 with less than two minutes left. The improbable comeback by the improbable champion would have been completed.
5) For Hayward, it would have been instant redemption. We always forget that his fadeaway over Zoubek the play before should have gone in but missed by 2 inches.
6) It was for the National Championship. It’s the equivalent of a walk-off home run in the World Series or a game-ending Hail Mary pass in the Super Bowl. The latter has never been done, and game-winners in basketball offer more instant satisfaction and replayability than do walk-off home runs, even though no replay could have done the moment justice. It may have ended “One Shining Moment” every single year from now until 2043 (and beyond).
More importantly, the real-life Hoosiers would have come to fruition, and college basketball may have been forever changed.
One of the beauties of basketball, and the NCAA Tournament in general, is that supposedly anyone can win on any given night, so long as you play as a team. Unfortunately, this doesn’t exactly hold water when you look at actual results.
Just look at every Tournament Champion of the past thirty years. How many championship teams didn’t have at least one superstar or multiple great players? You have to go all the way back to 1985 and Villanova before you find a winner that didn’t have a first round pick on its team.
The reality of basketball is that even the original Hoosiers had Jimmy Chitwood. And without Jimmy Chitwood…coach doesn’t stay. And if coach and Jimmy don’t stay…then Hickory doesn’t win.
Of course, any true basketball fan would point out that Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack were both eventually first round draft picks as well, but they were from a different ilk than the college basketball superstars who usually populate Final Fours. They weren’t McDonald’s All-Americans. Hayward played tennis most of his life before converting to basketball. Mack, a Kentucky native, was so under-the-radar that both Kentucky and Louisville told him he wasn’t good enough to play for them.
This would have been the upset to end all upsets, and in the minds of many fans, it would have confirmed something that they’ve always wanted to believe: namely, that a small school with less advantages than everyone else can still win it all.
Unfortunately, it ended like it seemingly always does. Cinderella only actually wins it all in the Fairy Tale. When it comes to basketball in real life, there is always a Duke, or a UConn, or a Kentucky to stand in the way.
In basketball, Goliath usually pummels David into the ground.
In 2010, and even today, college basketball was and is in a dangerous place. The one-and-done rule has challenged the integrity of the sport. The talent pool is shallower than it’s ever been. The only players that actually stay for four years are the players that weren’t good enough to leave earlier. College basketball needed another NC State. It needed another Villanova. It needed a reminder that sometimes, sheer talent doesn’t win. It needed Butler to shove it in the face of John Calipari, and Roy Williams, and all of the other guys that have sold out in search of cheap wins. (This is not necessarily reality…but it is the perception of a lot of fans.)
But Hayward’s shot rimmed out. By this much:
And really, college basketball missed out too.
Top 10 College Basketball What Ifs of All-Time Series (All)
10. What if Hank Gathers hadn’t died in the middle of a game?
9. What if Christian Laettner had been suspended for stomping on Aminu Timberlake?
8. What if Houston hadn’t been upset by NC State?
7. What if the NCAA rules had been different for Pete Maravich?
6. What if Chris Webber hadn’t called timeout?
5. What if Gordon Hayward’s shot hadn’t rimmed out?
4. What if Coach K had been fired from Duke after 3 seasons?
3. What if LeBron had gone to college and the one-and-done rule was never instituted?
2. What if Kentucky had beaten Texas Western?
1. What if there wasn’t a snow storm to keep John Wooden from going to Minnesota?