Let’s just get a few things out of the way:
Connecticut is an incredible basketball team. What they accomplished over the past month is truly something to be admired. They played with an almost unmatched intensity at both ends of the floor, and are certainly worthy champions.
Kemba Walker – not Jimmer Fredette, Nolan Smith, or Jared Sullinger – is by far the best player in college basketball. He is offensively breathtaking, and always gives his all on both ends of the floor. He was an awesome leader on a worthy champion.
Jim Calhoun is a great coach. Even though this championship may not count some day, and his ethics have always been questionable at best, you can’t argue with the numbers: 850 wins, .700 winning percentage, 3 national titles and 11 Big East Championships.
Go ahead and compare those numbers with Bobby Knight…you will be stunned. And trust me, I don’t throw around Bobby Knight comparisons lightly.
Really, I don’t want to take anything away from the Huskies today. They beat Butler at their own game: they won ugly.
All of that said, this loss hurts worse than most.
Basketball is my favorite sport. I have literally studied it since I was six years old. Name any basketball book, and I can almost guarantee that I’ve read it. I am a fan, first and foremost, of the NBA, especially my beloved Indiana Pacers. The Purdue Boilermakers come in a distant third, but they are my favorite college team. So who is in second place?
I mean that. While most of you might disagree, if any one of probably ten NBA teams are playing at the same time as Purdue, I’m watching the NBA game in a heartbeat. In my opinion, it is just better basketball. If Purdue is competing with another college game, I’m tuning into Matt Painter’s squad right away; but I have to say that I enjoy good basketball even more than I enjoy my favorite collegiate team.
For two years, they have been playing not good, but great basketball.
The teamwork. The defensive chemistry. The hard work. The big shots. The fundamentals. All of it. They have been at the top of the collegiate basketball world.
They didn’t rely on just one guy, but they still had some great individuals. They had fantastic mottos like, “Drawing charges is our way of blocking shots.” And throughout it all, they found ways to do what mattered the most: WIN.
I had prepared myself for a number of different outcomes going into the game:
Butler could win in a close game. Butler could lose in a close game. Butler could pull away at the end like the did against VCU. Kemba could take over the game and single-handedly win it for UConn. Howard or Mack could hit a buzzer beater. Jeremy Lamb could be the difference maker.
All of them, I would have accepted.
Never in a million years did I think that kids from Indiana would just forget how to shoot.
That’s what killed me last night.
I listened to Clark Kellogg and Steve Kerr – two of my favorite announcers in basketball – lie to us.
They called Butler “inept”; they said Butler didn’t come to play; they praised UConn’s defense; they said everything except what really happened:
Butler simply couldn’t shoot.
If Butler made just three of the dozens of lay-ups they didn’t convert, just one more three pointer, and three more free throws (they were only 8 of 14 from the line), perhaps the game is tied.
Just think about that for a second. If Butler only shot TWENTY percent from two, TWENTY-FOUR percent from three, and SEVENTY-EIGHT percent from the foul line, the game is close!
On the other side of the floor, Jeremy Lamb played great defense, but he only made four shots. The amazing Kemba was only 5 for 19, his worst shooting performance of the season.
Butler had four MORE offensive rebounds than UConn. More steals. Fewer turnovers. In fact, you could argue that even though the Bulldogs often win ugly, they didn’t play THAT ugly last night.
Go back and watch the game again. Their offense looked great. They moved the ball and got layup after layup, open three after open three.
Clang. Clang. Clang.
Every March, I look forward to three things more than any other:
First, I want to see how far Purdue can go. Second, I want to see upsets. But third, and actually most importantly, I look forward to watching “One Shining Moment” after the nets have been cut down.
For me, it is the most emotional moment in sports. It was one of the few things my dad let me stay up late to see when I was growing up. It didn’t matter who won, he always MADE me stay up to watch the Grand Finale with him. I have more than one of them on VHS, and two more on my DVR. I’m not ashamed to admit that I have shed many a tear while watching it.
This year, I was even more excited than normal, because after a trainwreck that was Jennifer Hudson in 2010, Luther Vandross was finally going to be back. As Butler made it further and further into the tournament, I looked forward to “One Shining Moment” more than anything — even more than Butler winning it all.
Because I felt like it was a lie this year.
The ball is tipped and there you are
You’re running for your life, you’re a shooting star.
And all the years, no one knows
just how hard you worked but now it shows…
In one shining moment, it’s all on the line. One shining moment, there frozen in time.
It didn’t seem fair. I was sure that last night would be Butler’s coming out party. The entire nation was going to see just how hard they worked. It would show on the court. They would finally be appreciated, and it would be Butler’s shining moment.
But time is short and the road is long
In the blinking of an eye ah that moment’s gone.
And when it’s done win or lose
You always did your best cuz inside you knew…
That one shining moment, you reached deep inside. One shining moment you knew you were alive.
This is the part that hurts the most. I was among the few people that thought Butler could make a run this year. Anyone that watched them closely last year would say that Gordon Hayward was a great player, but more often than not, it was Howard and Mack that were making the big shots for them.
They had a great coach and senior leadership; they played impeccable defense, and they had scorers. I thought they could make a run deep into the tournament, and they did.
But as exciting as the NCAA Tournament is, it is hardly the best way to determine who really is the best team.
It’s one and done. Win or go home. In the NBA, the best team nearly always wins in a 7-Game Series. Sure, for a lot of you it might not be as exciting, but at least there are no flukes.
I didn’t think this Butler team was a fluke, but it seemed like everyone else did. I thought that they were legitimately better than every team they beat on the way to the Championship except for maybe Pittsburgh, and Butler beat them at their best!
Butler deserved to be in the championship. They earned it.
But you just never know if you will be able to make it back. You have to play four perfect games on four different nights. Just one night off, and you go home, no matter how good you were that year. Just ask Ohio State, Kansas, Duke, Notre Dame, Purdue, and every other team that was better than their tournament record showed.
I know that Butler will have a solid team next year, and it’s possible that they could make it to more Final Fours in the future, but in the blink of an eye, that moment is gone.
I didn’t want to think about that. I couldn’t bear to watch the song while thinking about the possibility that they would never get back.
But then I remembered that last verse.
Feel the beat of your heart, feel the wind in your face
It’s more than a contest it’s more than a race….
And when it’s done win or lose,
You always did your best cuz inside you knew…
That one shining moment, you reached for the sky. One shining moment, you were willing to try. One shining moment…
Butler made an incredible run in every sense. America should be proud of their story the past two seasons. Unfortunately, they picked a bad night to forget how to do the one thing that most of them have probably been able to do well since grade school: shoot the rock.
To my surprise, the lasting image of the tournament in many people’s minds on the radio was of Butler beating Pitt.
Butler beat a #1 and #2 seed in back to back years. Has that ever happened with a team that was never ranked higher than #5?
This was a 5th place Horizon League team two short months ago that ESPN and the entire media mocked as “the biggest disappointment in the nation.” Then they won 9 straight conference games, received an eight seed – and it probably should’ve been a 9 or 10 – and everyone quickly picked against Butler in ROUND ONE, as they did all tourney, where Butler won five more to make it 14 in a row.
The entire country doubted Butler for two straight Marches. The majority of the media, experts, and analysts picked against them in nearly every game. Even last year, as a #5 seed, they weren’t supposed to beat UTEP!
Oh sure, there are still haters. ESPN, Seth Davis, UConn fans, and Big Conference supporters want you to look at last night, just one game, and point out that Butler didn’t belong. They want you to believe, like they do, that talent always wins, bigger is always better, and the underdog is always supposed to lose, eventually.
To them, no sane person would ever want to stay at Butler.
To them, no sane person would ever say that Shelvin Mack or Matt Howard deserved to be on the same floor as Kemba Walker.
To them, no sane person would believe that Butler deserved to be there.
And you know what, they were right. Finally. Just like last year. After picking against them in every single game, the media got it correct one measly time…in April.
Matt Howard, Shelvin Mack, and the rest of the Bulldogs feel lousy right now. I did too. But then I remembered this: the Butler Bulldogs didn’t just have ONE shining moment; they had TEN.
Ten fantastic moments where the world doubted them, and their star still shone brightly.
The ball was tipped, and there they were, winning on the court, and our hearts. Repeatedly.
[Editor’s note: Co-Editor AJ Kaufman contributed to this article.]