Men's Basketball

Butler doing it for the have-nots

INDIANAPOLIS — Driving to Lucas Oil Stadium for the Sunday press conferences, flipped on local radio, and Butler basketball highlights from Saturday's Final Four victory were followed by Indiana's own, John Mellencamp.

The Seymour native was singing: "When the walls come tumblin' down."

The message was apropos.

Butler basketball doesn't have a basketball practice facility, a la Kentucky's Craft Center.

Butler basketball doesn't have an athletics dorm, a la the planned Wildcat Coal Lodge.

Butler basketball doesn't have a modern hoops arena, a la the one being built down the road at Louisville.

Butler basketball doesn't have a hoops mega-budget.

"I was reading a story that said Duke spends $350,000 on each of its basketball players," said Shelvin Mack, the former Bryan Station star, now a sophomore starter for the Bulldogs. "It said Butler spends $350,000 on its entire team."

What Butler does have is a chance to win the national championship when the Indianapolis private school with the enrollment of 4,200 plays traditional power Duke on Monday night.

To be sure, Butler is no Cinderella story. Forget that nonsense. The Bulldogs are no one-year wonder, no overnight sensation. Butler has been to the NCAA Tournament nine of the past 14 years. It has reached the Sweet 16 three times in the past eight years. It has won 120 basketball games over the past four seasons.

Butler has done all that without many of the advantages of the haves, which use their expense accounts to construct the walls designed to keep the have-nots out.

For instance, Butler has done it without McDonald's All-Americans, without five-star recruits, or even four-star recruits. It has done it without a garish athletics dorm or a luxurious practice facility or comfortable charter flights.

"I think, before the NCAA Tournament, we chartered three flights this year," Butler Coach Brad Stevens said.

Butler has also succeeded without the visibility afforded the major leagues. Pop quiz: Can you name one other team in the Horizon League? Didn't think so.

Consider that Butler had won 20 consecutive games, was ranked eighth in the final coaches poll and 11th in the final Associated Press poll heading into the NCAA Tournament. Yet the selection committee judged Butler no better than a No. 5 seed.

One more thing: Butler has won with a 33-year-old coach whose take-home pay is a drop in the bucket compared to that of a Jim Boeheim, or a Tom Izzo or a Mike Krzyzewski.

"They write books. I get to read them," cracked Stevens on Sunday. Countered Krzyzewski, "I've already put in a pre-order for his book."

The book on Butler is that the Bulldogs play fundamental basketball the way you are supposed to play fundamental basketball. The Bulldogs defend. They block out. They handle the ball. They do not turn the basketball over, while forcing turnovers.

"I think they have scored five times as many points in this tournament off turnovers as their opponents," Krzyzewski said. "(Against Michigan State) 40 percent of their offense came off turnovers."

Now, the Bulldogs have a chance to turn over the sport. It's one thing for a Butler to reach the Final Four. It's another for it to reach the championship game. It's another thing entirely for it to be hoisting the trophy come midnight Monday.

What would that sight do for college hoops?

"I have no idea how to answer that question," Stevens said. "Every year you get inspired by groups that come together and are willing to put aside their individual talent for the betterment of the team. If that can be the inspiration, then we're really honored to carry the flag."

If Butler wins it all, maybe that will inspire other programs without the colossal budgets and gleaming facilities that they can scale those walls, too.