This, of course, is the one game this weekend where court neutrality has been thrown out the window. The #1 seed is tasked with defending their home court on national TV. This is another one of those defining moments. The trash talking, posturing, and prognosticating are over. It is time to toss the ball in the air and get it on.
The first half started with some rusty play by Valpo, but before too long, they found their rhythm and started giving Butler nightmares for the second weekend in a row. Broekhoff was blocking shots, driving for layups, grabbing all kinds of rebounds. Van Wijk started handing out the migraine headaches, though not quite as much as last Friday. Butler started missing. Erik Buggs drained a 3 - you know when that starts happening it's going to be a long night. Still Butler made a 4-0 run including a steal while Valpo was holding for the last shot, to go into halftime down only 31-24 after being down by as many as 14 (I think).
The second half turned out to be the big blowout half. Final score: 65-46 Valpo. 3s rained down, monster rebounds were grabbed out of thin air, daggers were administered. It's hard for me to break it down, I was so pumped by what I saw. The one time sharpshooter Will Bogan was wide open, he airballed a 3. Valpo committed 15 turnovers to only 10 for Butler, and some of them were unforced errors. And yet this was the difference between a 19 point Valpo victory and an even bigger blowout. This was another statement win by this bunch. Their message to the Titans for Tuesday: Bring It On.
After 3 game reports extolling the virtues of neutral court basketball, for this game I was absolutely biased in my feeling about the game. I was nervous before the game - playing Butler in March will do that to you - and super elated after.
Actually, my super elation is due in large part to the fact that this is Butler we're talking about. The utter joy felt in the ARC tonight was a backhanded sign of utter respect for a program that still has done something no other mid-major program has done, let alone what no other Horizon League team has done: make it to back-to-back national championship games. This year always seemed like a down year for them - then again, so did last year after losing Gordon Hayward and Avery Jukes, and we all know what happened to that prognostication. Matt Norlander over at CBSSports.com has already written an article that I wholeheartedly endorse: 20 years from now we will look back on 2010 and 2011 and appreciate even more than we do now just what an historic accomplishment Butler has achieved. It will stand out in our minds, at least those of us don't view College Basketball like NBA vultures, interested only in who will be drafted into the league. What Valpo did tonight came at the expense of the program that cannot be counted out until they are out officially. The Sportz Bubble panels are littered with pundits who by all rights should have egg on their faces for prematurely writing Butler's epitaph - over and over and over again. Santayana would have a field day with these rubes. I rooted on Butler all the way to the national title game both years, and I make no apologies to the vultures who piss and moan that the NCAA tourney is broken, nor to my fellow Valpo fans who still hate Butler. I don't. They are still the gold standard in the HL until they aren't anymore, and it is far from clear right now that they aren't anymore.
And it was glorious to take down the gold standard so convincingly, especially when Butler had built up their momentum again while Valpo had been cooling its heels. If that 7-2 early lead had been sustained, there's no question in my mind that Butler could have found some way to hold on and stun a huge partisan crowd. Make no mistake, while Butler's fan support was the best of the five visiting teams, it was absolutely dwarfed by Valpo fan support tonight. But Butler is not fazed by such pressure, they've been dealing with it on a regular basis. Every time Valpo administered another dagger, I pumped my fist in ecstasy. It was an awesome win.
The only caveat: I can't help thinking that part of the mastery of Valpo in this game was due to the double-bye. Somehow that takes a smidge of the magic away from it. Yes, I still prefer the neutral court tournament, in spite of how it has helped us. But I am also super impressed and have gained a new appreciation for 1 seeds that hold serve on Saturday night: With huge privilege/benefits comes huge responsibility. What a 1 seed faces is the humiliation of not defending its home court, especially on Saturday night. Valpo did not psych themselves out. They grabbed hold of the advantage and made it count - emphatically.
VALPARAISO 65, BUTLER 46 03/03/2012
BUTLER 20-14 (11-7) -- C. Hopkins 6-15 5-8 18; R. Nored 1-4 2-4 4; R. Jones 1-3 0-0 2; K. Marshall 1-4 0-0 2; E. Fromm 5-11 2-4 12; A. Smith 0-4 0-0 0; J. Aldridge 1-3 0-0 2; K. Woods 0-1 0-0 0; C. Stigall 0-2 0-0 0; A. Smeathers 1-3 0-0 3; G. Butcher 1-1 1-1 3; A. Barlow 0-0 0-0 0; E. Kampen 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 17-51 10-17 46. VALPARAISO 22-10 (14-4) -- R. Broekhoff 6-9 5-6 19; J. Harris 3-7 1-2 9; E. Buggs 4-7 1-5 11; W. Bogan 0-2 0-0 0; B. Boggs 1-2 3-4 5; M. Kenney 1-3 0-0 2; K. Van Wijk 4-7 3-4 11; R. Edwards 4-6 0-0 8; N. Shelton 0-0 0-0 0; N. Stegelmann 0-0 0-0 0; H. Vucic 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-43 13-21 65.
Three-point goals: BUTL 2-11 (R. Nored 0-1; C. Stigall 0-2; E. Fromm 0-1; C. Hopkins 1-3; A. Smeathers 1-3; J. Aldridge 0-1), VALP 6-16 (W. Bogan 0-1; E. Buggs 2-3; B. Boggs 0-1; M. Kenney 0-2; R. Broekhoff 2-3; J. Harris 2-5; R. Edwards 0-1); Rebounds: BUTL 20 (E. Fromm 6), VALP 37 (R. Broekhoff 16); Assists: BUTL 9 (R. Nored 4), VALP 11 (M. Kenney 4); Total Fouls -- BUTL 20, VALP 15; Fouled Out: BUTL-None; VALP-None.