Monday, April 04, 2011

04/04 (One Shining Butler) Quickie

Butler. That Butler has already accomplished the largely unthinkable -- making two straight national-title games -- is impressive enough.

But tonight Butler is going to win a national championship. It will be unprecedented in the modern history of college basketball. And it will become one of the most amazing championships in the history of sports -- it is heresy, but the odds of this are far longer than the US hockey team beating the USSR in 1980 in a one-game, anything-can-happen miracle.

I appreciate that some folks think that UConn will continue its own unlikely run -- as I said yesterday, there is a probabilistic argument that UConn's 10 straight in '11 is even less likely than Butler's 5 straight one year, 5 straight the next.

But after watching Butler the past three weeks -- defensively dismantling everyone from Old Dominion to Pitt to Florida to VCU and showing a rebounding prowess that belies the "mid-major" status -- I would be shocked if they didn't win.

Mostly -- and predictably -- I'm ready for the instant history of the most unlikely (and most compelling) champion in the history of college basketball, if not all of college sports. If not all of sports. It is so syrupy-sweet that you almost kind of want to feel a backlash, to hate them. But they are entirely likeable.

Not because they are "scrappy" -- ugh -- but because they are stone-cold assassins. They are better coached than everyone else. They are better prepared than everyone else.They execute on the things that matter -- defense and rebounding -- better than everyone else.

They expect a championship -- anything less than a title is a failure. That is a champion's mindset. And that's what makes them closers in the final minutes of every game they play.

It's not that things like this don't happen -- it's that they aren't supposed to happen. The system is rigged to preclude an outcome like Butler winning the national title.

This would be a victory for the underdog, yes. But it's also a victory for people who love worthy champions.

***

I was totally stunned by the double-dip of upsets at the Women's Final Four last night.

There is a good chance that the expected UConn-Stanford title game -- the rematch after Stanford snapped UConn's endless winning streak earlier this season -- would have been one of the most highly anticipated women's college hoops games of all time.

Will casual fans appreciate the upset storylines from Texas A&M and Notre Dame to settle in on the couch and watch? Or, alternatively, is this the worst thing that could happen to the women's tournament this (or any) year?

This is the dilemma: Upsets -- particularly staggering upsets like we saw last night -- are the lifeblood of college basketball's postseason. Just look at the love for Butler and VCU (or even UConn and Kentucky, who almost certainly weren't supposed to be in the Final Four).

And yet women's hoops relies heavily on those big brands -- UConn, Stanford, Tennessee. Notre Dame is great (and Texas A&M has proven themselves more than worthy), but I'm not sure either resonate with casual fans yet.

But there is this: Why does women's college hoops have to grow its fan base? Why can't it simply exist for its passionate fans -- no different than NASCAR or the NHL or, dare I say, men's college basketball, where "niche" status (at least from November to February) is only a matter of degree, not kind.

For passionate fans of women's college hoops, this is a stunning, exhilarating, refreshing turn of events last night -- something to be celebrated. Even if most of the rest of the country tunes out because the biggest names were bounced out.

-- D.S.

1 comment:

Oliver said...

The system is not rigged to preclude the smaller guys; that's the BCS.