In a crazy basketball year, full of upsets and unpredictable outcomes, it truly is anyone’s game when it comes to the NCAA men’s basketball National Championship. With twelve upsets in the first round alone, including pre-tournament favorite Michigan State, the title was up for grabs. One of these first round upsets was the nine-seed Butler Bulldogs over a solid Texas Tech team. Butler had just come out of a pretty stellar season with 22 wins, including some big ones over teams like, Purdue, Georgetown, Seton Hall, Temple, and Cincinnati; and with senior leadership as well as scoring from Kellen Dunham and Roosevelt Jones, Butler looked to be on the fast track to tournament success. These factors, along with the Butler program’s storied accomplishments and history paired with a wide fan base of the country’s most rabid basketball community seemed to ensure the team’s advancement in the tournament.
In true fashion of the tournament, five upsets occurred in the first round of the tournament in the Midwest region alone. With heavy hitters like Michigan State, Seton Hall, and Purdue out of contention (the same eliminations that allowed for the ten seed Syracuse to advance to the Final Four), it seemed that Butler had a paved path to the regional final. Instead, their championship dreams were cut short.
A devastating University of Virginia (the only real threat to Butler’s run after the first round of eliminations) team rolled over a 16 seed Hampton by nearly forty points in their tournament opener. Coming off of a season marked by hard nosed defense, Virginia was definitely the team to watch in the Midwest region’s round of 32. With talented athletes as well as scorers in Anthony Gill and Malcolm Brogdon leading them to a 28-7 season, the Cavaliers fully earned their rank as the region’s top seeded team. These two players are exactly what did the Bulldogs in.
In their second round meeting, Virginia and Butler were neck and neck for the first three quarters of play. A late game run ended up propelling UVA to a 77-69 victory over the Bulldogs. To beat the talented Butler squad, Virginia had to rely on their defense: and did they ever. The Cavaliers held Butler’s leading scorer (Senior forward Kellen Dunham) to just eight points on 2-7 from behind the arc: quite a drop off when compared to his season average of over sixteen points per game at a +40% three point clip. This advantage was just enough to push past the typically high scoring Butler club and allowed Virginia to move on to the sweet sixteen.
If Butler had pulled out the win against Virginia, and all of the other outcomes in the region remained the same, their route to the Final Four would have been a walk in the park. Their next matchup would have been against a notoriously turnover prone Iowa State team, who had a handful of more losses than the Bulldogs, as well as a history for choking in the big moments. After that win, Butler would take on the 10 seed Syracuse for their ticket to the Final Four, who, based on the seeding alone, Butler should have been able to oust. From that point on, and as mentioned earlier, it really is anyone’s game for the championship: truly displayed by the insanity at the end of the championship game between Villanova and UNC.
If it were not for that seemingly unbeatable Virginia team, Butler would have had a great shot at the Final Four, and thusly, the championship. But so the Bulldogs beat on, ready to continue their storied program and fight for a championship next season.