The Beauty of Butler
The field for the Final Four has been set, with perennial powerhouses UConn and Kentucky lined up to play in one Semi-Final, while upstarts Virginia Commonwealth and Butler square off in the other, thereby ensuring that the Championship Game will have the always-attractive David v Goliath story line.
The one constant between this year’s Final Four and last year’s is the inclusion of the (former) Cinderella team from America’s heartland, the Butler Bulldogs.
There are other teams around the country with better athletes---at least the sort who can dunk more powerfully and make the highlight reels.
And they’ll be the ones at home watching the Final Four on TV with the rest of us, wondering how a bunch of little-recruited kids with a bookish-looking coach managed to take everybody’s lunch money in the playground for the second straight year.
What Butler managed to accomplish last year was amazing. Small school from a secondary league, playing most of their games against lesser-level competition, they still managed to make the giant leap in competition level to win five games before falling to Duke in the Finals.
The Bulldogs’ story is particularly admirable due to their style of play, the precision with which they execute their offense and defense, and the depth of respect they seem to show their sport.
In baseball, the purpose of every at-bat, simply put, is to get on base. If that happens, the inning never ends. No truer words have been spoken then the time-worn cliche ‘a walk is as good as a hit’.
The basketball equivalent of an at-bat is a possession, and the object of each offensive possession is to get a good shot. Conversely, on defense, preventing the opponent from taking a good shot is the goal.
It stands to reason…..if one team gets better shots more often, chances are they’ll come out ahead, absent an off-night either shooting the ball or rebounding their foes’ misses.
The concept sounds so simple, yet watch any basketball game and see how often teams are either careless with the ball or needlessly take an ill-advised shot, and you realize their odds for success are diminished when their opponents get better shots and play harder on defense, each and every time down the floor.
What sets them apart is subtle, not sexy. Highlights of their games are more likely to include someone knocking down an open twelve-foot jumper or working hard to get into position to pull down a rebound, than a rim-rocking thunder-jam (that is still worth, at last look, the same two points as the unspectacular twelve-footer).
Butler, more than any team we’ve seen in March Madness the last two years, seems to treat each possession as preciously as they would if the game was tied with ten seconds left to play.
Which makes the Bulldogs, in my book, a beautiful team to watch.
There’s no question about it.