What are the odds that Butler, a No. 8 seed that lost twice to Milwaukee, and UConn, a team that finished 9-9 in its conference, could meet in the national championship game? It’s hard to fathom.
But they are.
Both of these teams have refused to lose over the past few weeks. Butler, which lost three in a row and had its back against the wall after a Feb. 3 loss to Youngstown State, ran off 14 straight wins since then. UConn, which ended the regular season losing four of five, won five games in five days to win the Big East tournament.
The players and coaches for Butler and UConn have a mutual respect for each other. In fact, UConn’s Kemba Walker and Butler’s Shelvin Mack were teammates last summer on the USA Select Team.
“We text each other regularly about our games,” Walker said. “We pretty much gained a good friendship.”
UConn coach Jim Calhoun had nothing but kind words to say about Butler coach Brad Stevens.
“If he’s what college basketball is going to become, we’re in good hands,” Calhoun said.
How have these teams been so successful? For UConn, it’s the development of the young players.
“These guys listen,” Walker said about his teammates. “That’s why we’ve been so successful this whole year. They always come to practice ready to go hard, and they always come with their ears wide open.”
For Butler, it’s about believing in each other in the final minutes.
“I think you got to trust your teammates,” said Butler’s Matt Howard. “It’s a belief that, you know, whatever you talked about doing, you’re gonna do it, and whatever happens is gonna happen.
“But we have a belief in each other that we can get it done when it comes down to the end of the game.”
Stevens key to Butler
Butler’s second straight appearance in the national championship game is no fluke. Get used to seeing this team in late March for years to come.
Whether Butler wins tonight or not, as soon as the game ends, many will ponder when and if Brad Stevens will consider another coaching job.
As long as Stevens stays, this team will continue to make deep runs in the tournament. But how long will that be?