A piece of strange: Butler headed to the Final Four

Balanced scoring helped lead the Bulldogs to a berth in the Final Four in hometown Indianapolis. (Pic via Indystar.com)

To say the 2010 NCAA Tournament hasn’t exactly panned out the way most people expected is quite the understatement. Maybe that’s why Butler’s win over Kansas State Saturday felt so damn weird.

Butler is in the Final Four.

The Bulldogs aren’t your typical Cinderella. They played well in a fairly difficult non-conference schedule, stampeded through league play, and brought experience and balance to the NCAA Tournament. They didn’t go out and hit a bunch of 3’s; they won with grit and toughness. They won ugly.

A closer look back at Butler’s run to the Final Four might help explain the weirdness I am feeling.

Many people, myself included, thought UTEP was a difficult First-Round matchup for Butler. Not so much; the Miners looked like a team worried about losing its coach and dreaming about the NBA–or NBA Development League–and got pummeled.

Second-Round opponent Murray State played very well in the win over Vanderbilt, but was ineffective and nervous against Butler. Still, the Racers had a chance to win at the end, only to panic for 10 seconds before throwing the ball away.

Syracuse didn’t panic, but looked lost and sleepy against Butler. The Orange committed 18 turnovers in a halfcourt game and for some reason were hesitant to pass the ball to Wes Johnson until the second half.

Then came Kansas State, fresh off a grueling double overtime win over Xavier. The Wildcats looked like a tired team from start to finish. Jacob Pullen had been one of the best players in the entire NCAA Tournament, but didn’t score until the second half. Denis Clemente shot 7-of-17 and had only one assist. Butler’s defense had something to do with it, but so did fatigue.

Neither Butler or Kansas State played well Saturday. Kansas State just played a little bit worse.

That seems to be the theme for the NCAA Tournament this year. Survive not by playing better than your opponent, but simply by playing less bad than your opponent. And that’s exactly what Butler has done–all the way to Indianapolis.

The Bulldogs haven’t played anything close to a perfect game in the tournament. It’s crazy to think they might be able to claim a national title without even having to play their best basketball.

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