Thanks for doing this for all the small schools that never had a chance. God bless from Tom, Sara, Tommy, Lauren, Sydney and William. - Thomas Antonucci
Supreme thanks to Kyle for a decade of nurturing new fans, red line
descriptions, sportz bashing, and the intangible human element of college basketball. - Ross Righter
Players come and go. Rules change. Coaches retire. But Our game remains the constant. Its blemishes never diminish its beguiling, beautiful moments, which is why it can be glorious and heart-wrenching from one instant to the next. Perfect? No. But that?s why I love it so. - Mike Miller
DUKE 34-5 (13-3) -- K. Singler 7-13 2-2 19; N. Smith 5-15 2-5 13; J. Scheyer 5-12 4-5 15; L. Thomas 3-5 0-0 6; B. Zoubek 3-4 2-4 8; M. Plumlee 0-2 0-0 0; A. Dawkins 0-1 0-0 0; M. Plumlee 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-52 10-16 61.
BUTLER 34-4 (18-0) -- G. Hayward 3-11 8-8 15; W. Veasley 1-9 0-0 2; S. Mack 5-14 0-0 12; R. Nored 3-8 0-0 7; M. Howard 3-8 5-8 11; A. Jukes 4-6 0-2 10; S. Vanzant 1-1 0-0 2; Z. Hahn 1-1 0-0 3; A. Smith 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-58 13-18 62.
Three-point goals: DUKE 5-17 (J. Scheyer 1-5; K. Singler 3-6; N. Smith 1-5; A. Dawkins 0-1), BUTL 7-18 (A. Jukes 2-3; W. Veasley 0-5; Z. Hahn 1-1; G. Hayward 1-3; S. Mack 2-4; R. Nored 1-2); Rebounds: DUKE 36 (B. Zoubek 10), BUTL 32 (G. Hayward 8); Assists: DUKE 12 (J. Scheyer 5), BUTL 7 (W. Veasley 3); Total Fouls -- DUKE 14, BUTL 18; Fouled Out: DUKE-None; BUTL-None.
Would things be any different?
Would that one made shot have started a chain reaction across Our Game? Would Butler use the 2010-11 season as a victory lap, each and every game telecast on ESPN, basking in constant adoration and overflowing ink? Would Butler fever border on obsession, and would every key injury be covered with life-or-death urgency?
Would national media outlets shift resources to cover the Other 25 as much as the biggest seven, in order to better cover the next romantic Cinderella story from start to finish? Or would there be a 96-team NCAA Tournament after all, in order to "screw" the mid-majors and keep this kind of thing from ever happening again?
Would "Too Big Yo" sell a million downloads on iTunes, making Boris Golubov and Gino Calderon as NBA-rich as featured spitter Gordon Hayward?
To be honest, I'm not so sure anymore. (Especially about that last part.) Two weeks ago, after Butler's 76-52 loss at Milwaukee, we went to Indianapolis for that big Friday night showdown against Cleveland State. We'd been to last season's Bulldogs-Vikings game too, and there was so much similar about the two contests. A Hinkle Fieldhouse that wasn't quite full, a press row full of many more local writers than national ones, and a good Butler win. The only way to truly tell what year it was was up in the rafters: a pretty, colorful new banner that was unveiled in November.
Since that epic blowout of Cleveland State, which elicited reports/demise/greatly exaggerated reactions from every corner, Butler won a close one they should have won easily against Youngstown State, blew Detroit out on the road (a team they barely edged out last season in that arena), and lost a second Horizon League game, at Wright State, on Sunday. It's been an epileptic, boolean week for Bulldog basketball, at least with the larger public. With the same beat reporters covering the team as always, and the lack of elevated national interest -- or even, perhaps, respect -- that one might expect a national runner-up might receive, general reaction has been short on nuance or creativity, long on quick-take bluntness. What's wrong with Butler? They may not make the Tournament now. Then, Wait, they're back! And then, On third thought...
So. How different would things really be right now if Butler were National Champions? Hereby, I posit: not much. The reason why is that the 2010-11 team, in whatever form, does not fit into any established media narrative except for one: can you do that again? Last year's fit into one too: it's just like Hoosiers, isn't it? Even if the eight-pixel difference between the right and wrong wrist angles was closed, Butler would likely still be a local story, one that others outside wouldn't bother rewriting the storybook template for. Duke's attempt at an undefeated season, failed as it ultimately was, would be framed as a comeback tale of redemption.
It's easy to get cynical about this stuff, I know. We've seen more of this stuff than our alloted share over the past seven years. We know how quickly Cinderella stories are forgotten and discarded long before happily-ever-after: Davidson, George Mason, Northwestern State, Southern Illinois, all of them. The grand parade only has room for teams like ours when they win all the time; as we know all too well, things don't work like that. Enjoy the memories, pull the book off the shelf every so often, wear the commemorative t-shirts proudly, and keep showing up at the gym. Hope against hope that it happens again someday. It just might.
Horizon League: We also went to Valparaiso two weekends ago. Their pinnacle came in 1998 on a buzzer-beating three against Ole Miss. It is not possible to leave the ARC without a passing reminder of that moment, and they even used to have a floor decal and a timeout contest where kids would try to knock down a superhoop from the exact location where former player (and current associate head coach) Bryce Drew did. When you stop by and visit his father, ageless head coach Homer, there's a button in his office that will play the radio call of The Shot. We used to make fun of this. Stop living in the past, all of that. As years go by, I understand that approach more. The world outside has distilled the entire history of the basketball program into one Shining Moment on an annual highlight reel, and this is reestablishment of trademark-ownership of The Shot, a reminder that greatness is possible. Move on too much, and you might lose its inspiration.
Anyway, the Crusaders (14-5, 6-1) are in first place in the Horizon League right now, having swept the same eastern road weekend at Detroit and Wright State that their travel partners at Butler could only split. It's a team that can shoot the hell out of the ball, but has a certain range. Over the last two games, they hit 60 percent of two-point shots at Detroit, and 56 percent at Wright. If there's a simple answer for the surge, it's that they're taking fewer dumb threes than they were in December, making the extra pass, and getting inside. With a stretch of home games coming up, UDM crumbling, Cleveland State playing Jekyll-and-Hyde and Butler managing expectations, it's a formula that might keep Valpo on top for a while.
Missouri Valley: We were out in the Valley over the weekend, in Cedar Falls and Peoria. While on magazine duty, we saw Missouri State keep the MVC record perfect with a 78-67 win at Bradley -- a venue the Bears were smoked at a year ago, by 18 points. Injuries have ripped apart the Braves starting lineup; their next home game, the Central Illinois rivalry tilt with the ISU Redbirds, might have an interesting twist: both might be Valley-winless.
Back up top, tough Wichita lurks at 6-1, and swept a road weekend at Creighton and Drake to stay a game back of Missouri State. And in Terre Haute, Tree Fever is in full effect. Indiana State beat Creighton on Sunday afternoon on an airballed three and a Carl Richard no-look tip-in. Just in case you haven't seen it yet:
MMBOW #8: Mike Muscala, Bucknell
Another beloved Cinderella school that had its moment and then disappeared from the national narrative: the Bison of the Patriot League. It's so odd to think that five years ago, we were fielding "is Bucknell the next Gonzaga?" questions in chats, and now they're an orange-colored blur on the memory map. It's not as if they didn't make two straight Rounds of 32 in 2005 and 2006 or anything. Now, after winning as many games in three years as Butler won all of last season (33), Bucknell is making a run at the Patriot title again, and they're doing it with a promising 6-foot-10 sophomore who's starting to put together some serious stats. Mike Muscala is our eighth Mid-Majority Baller of the Week for Season 7.
The Roseville, Minnesota native began his week campaign with a huge 33-point, 10-rebound performance in Wednesday's Game! Of! The! Night! at American. He shot 11-for-17, hit two #superhoops, and made nine of his 10 freebies in a 75-60 statement win. Then, on Saturday afternoon, he hit the highlight reel. Sure, his 23 points and 13 rebounds were key in the Bison's 74-72 win (their sixth straight and 10th of 11), but it was the last basket that was the bomb. It was a baseline job with 1.4 seconds to go that iced the win.
It was his second winning basket this month; Muscala took down Richmond of the Atlantic 14 on January 2 with a last-second jumper. But here in parenthetical play, Bucknell is all alone in first place at 3-0 (12-7 overall), and they've found an oversize contributor who has a full two and a half years of eligibility remaining. Sojka Pavilion just might be getting more psychotic again, thanks to our brand-new MMBOW.
Maine at Vermont (America East) Roy L. Patrick Gymnasium - Burlington, VT 7:30 EST
We can credit the poets with placing the word "madness" in a hooping context. Even back in 1939, when Henry Porter wrote "A little March madness may complement and contribute to sanity and help keep society on an even keel," he was talking about elimination basketball. AEMadness is something completely different, it's the actual crazy kind that does nothing to help anybody's sanity. And since it's a Northeastern United States thing, it's closely related to Cabin Fever. Up in the frozen corner of Hoops Nation, Maine (10-7, 4-1) ended the short first-place reign of Binghamton on Saturday with a resounding 77-51 win, riding the relatively warm hand of 6-foot-7 senior Troy Barnies, who's double his scoring average year-over-year with 13.7 ppg. Ted Woodward's team turned in one of the quieter 19-win seasons in the country last year, and struggled against a soft schedule. But since America East play began, they're shooting well, and have been forcing teams into slow-paced slogs. For their efforts, the Black Bears are a half-game ahead of the pack in first.
The Vermont Catamounts (12-4, 3-1), defending champions of this league, are tied with Hartford for second. Their most recent contribution to AEMadness was an 85-48 win over hapless UMBC that was a two-point game at the half. That's nuts! Mike Lonergan's first post-Marqus Blakely squad gets it done with defense (especially on the inside -- 38 percent two-pointers allowed in league play), and in 6-foot-8 senior Evan Fjeld (16.4 ppg, 57 percent FG), the Cats have the kind of bullish mid-size forward with whom this league tends to be won. And there's Joey Accaoui, the 5-foot-8 superhoop genius who has adjusted well to a vastly expanded role this year. He's made 29 of 74 from three, and hits 94 percent of his free throws... only two misses so far! So tune in tonight, and see what happens when mutant felines and bears collide in Ye Olde Cats and Dogs League.