Sometimes You Eat The Bar, Sometimes The Bar Eats You.
Every person who’s ever played basketball has had one of those games where it feels like there’s a lid on the basket. Jump-shots that normally go in are rolling out, players are missing point-blank layups, guys are fumbling balls out of bounds. Eventually, it gets to a point where the team in question realizes “Tonight isn’t our night.” It happens to bad teams all the time, it happens to great teams maybe once a year, and it happens to mediocre teams on occasions. I think it’s pretty clear to any person with a passing knowledge of college basketball that the Butler Bulldogs were, by-and-large, a mediocre team. Definitely on the high-end of mediocre, but mediocre nonetheless.
That doesn’t take anything away from them. They do the following things really, really well:
1) Their half-court defense is very, very good, some might say excellent. Case in point: despite a shooting percentage that rivals a girl’s sixth grade team, they only lost by 12, and they held UConn to 51 points. They held Kemba Walker, arguably the best player in the country, to a quiet 16 points.
2) They are well-coached.
3) They execute very well down the stretch, and typically, do not beat themselves.
Everyone who was talking themselves into Butler being a “team of destiny” didn’t realize what they really were was a tough, scrappy group of guys with a very good coach who had a great tournament that was helped along by some fortuitous bounces. Think about it: against Old Dominion, a team known for it’s great rebounding, the Bulldogs grabbed 16 offensive rebounds. They ended up winning on a Matt Howard lay-up at the buzzer. Against Pitt, they played great, but nearly blew the game after a last second foul, only to have Pitt up the stupidity ante and foul Howard 75 feet from the basket. Against Florida, they gutted out a tough overtime victory. In the Final Four, they drew VCU, a team that lost to Northeastern.
I’m not saying that Butler didn’t deserve to be in the championship game. They put themselves in position to win every game by executing down the stretch while other teams (I’m looking at you, Florida) did not. But the ball bounces a little differently against Old Dominion, and they’re out in the first round.
I will say that this game was probably one of the more devastating losses in the NCAA Championship history. America was really pulling for the Bulldogs, and they laid an egg at the worst possible time. UConn has a long and storied history of basketball success. They’ve won three NCAA championships, been to the Final Four four times, and have a laundry list of former and current NBA players. They also, apparently, have a crooked program. Despite being cited for “failing to create an atmosphere of compliance,” the NCAA elected to hold off on suspending Huskies coach Jim Calhoun until next year.
UConn’s graduation rate of their black players is a complete joke. According to Dr. Richard Lapchick’s report on NCAA tournament basketball teams graduation rates (http://www.tidesport.org/Grad%20Rates/2011_Mens_Bball_FINAL.pdf), the Huskies program has a 31% overall graduation rate, 25% for black student athletes. What are you kidding me? I expect that from a school like Memphis or Arizona, but for UConn, a pretty strong academic school? Clearly the emphasis is on bringing in young men who are good at basketball, regardless of whether or not they should actually be at the school.
Pretty mind-boggling, but what are you gonna do? What’s super-awkward to me is that President Barack Obama, probably the first basketball loving president in U.S. history, is now forced to congratulate Jim Calhoun and the Huskies. Obama has done his best to make education a priority in the U.S.; judging by the numbers, Calhoun could care less about a kid’s education unless they win a couple games for him.