The 2013 NCAA championship bracket was released yesterday. I would love to see my alma mater, Missouri, do well, but unfortunately Mizzou Arena is not the venue so I am not sanguine for the Tigers.
I am impressed that so many mid-major schools are participating in this year’s tournament, one of my favorite teams among them. The Butler Bulldogs first crossed into my radar three years ago. Laura’s middle school team, the Trinity Lutheran Lady Tigers, was making its second consecutive appearance at the Lutheran Basketball Association of America national tournament held at Valparaiso University. As one of 32 participating teams, we had some down time between games. Since we were in the heart of Basketball Central USA – Indiana – in the midst of the NCAA championship, the Butler vs. Syracuse (1st seed, West Region) game was broadcast on the local affiliate.
Butler’s undergraduate student body numbers just over 4000. Ten players – two thirds of their roster – came from Indiana high schools, as did their coach. I was charmed by the story of this team and their geeky 6’8″ forward Matt Howard (BTW he plays in France now). I was impressed by their young coach, Brad Stevens. He was calm, gentlemanly, and seemed always to bring out the best of his players without any drama. The game itself was a nail-biter with the Bulldogs upsetting Syracuse 63-59.
Two days later we watched Butler win again, this time vs. Kansas State (2nd seed, West Region), 63-56. The Bulldogs beat Michigan State by two points to reach the national championship game. Laura was rooting with me for Butler right up until the championship game, but she is a longtime Duke fan and bailed on me for the final. I truly thought Butler was going to win it all, but the final shot bounced back out and the Cinderella team finished second.
Then the Bulldogs did the same thing all over again in 2011, finishing second to Connecticut. They did not play in the 2012 tournament, but they are back in 2013, seeded 6th in the East Region. I remember senior Andrew Smith from the 2010 and 2011 tournaments but the rest of the players are new to me. Of special note, Butler is one of only two teams to beat 1st ranked and #1 West seed Gonzaga this season. Butler also defeated then top-ranked Indiana.
In closing, I’d like to compliment Butler University on its athletic mission statement. Wouldn’t it be great if all teams adopted this philosophy?
Go Dawgs! (And yes, go Mizzou!)
And finally a shout out to the TLS-Jeff City boys basketball team headed to the 2013 LBAA tournament in Valparaiso, the first Trinity appearance since the Lady Tigers in 2010. Go Tigers!