Posted on: April 6, 2010 12:28 am
Edited on: April 6, 2010 1:29 am

What Might Have Been


Gordon Hayward (Getty Images)Of All the Words of Mice and Men, the Cruelest Are 'It Might Have Been'

As Gordon Hayward's desperation halfcourt shot banked just a little too hard off the backboard, Kurt Vonnegut's famous phrase from "Cats Cradle" came into my mind.  Right now all over the country, people are praising Coach K and his Duke Blue Devils for their fourth title, putting the coach in rarified air amongst his peers and moving Duke past Kansas into sole possesion of fourth all-time in NCAA titles.  But I don't care about that.  Let the other writers celebrate the winner and crown Coach K the mightiest to ever walk the floor.

I will instead focus on the losers and how close they were to unmatched glory.  Think for just a second what would have happened if Hayward hit his shot.  It would have set in motion a celebration that would have likely never been topped in NCAA Tournament history.  72,000 in attendance would have joined every American who didnt have a personal connection to Duke University in an unadulterated glee ride celebrating the utlimate victory for the little guy.  A small private school in Indiana, filled with players who were not recruited by the big boys and were never considered able to make it this far, had found a perfect ride to the Championship game and in the process, taken down the evil empire of college basketball.  It is such a perfect story that it simply does not seem real.  But the joy that would have emoted from Lucas Oil stadium would have been real and might have been unsurpassed in sports since the 1980 Miracle on Ice. 

Disagree?  Think of a better example of an entire country rallying around a story and celebrating together.  I can't think of one.  In our territorial notion of sports, we celebrate victories over other areas of the country and loyalties are often split based on where you are.  We dont do much in the way of nationalism either and because the main sport in which the world competes against each other (soccer) isn't our bag, we dont get off on beating other countries very often. But this would have been the force of a collective nation, minus a few random Dukies, celebrating at the same time.  How great would that have been?

And that shot!  Had Hayward bankd that shot in, it would have immediately taken its place as the greatest shot in the history of college basketball.  Lorenzon Charles, Christian Laettner, Keith Smart and Michael Jordan would have had to scoot over and make room.  A new king of the mountain would have taken its place.  The circumstances (as the buzzer sounded, from half court, the underdog making it to beat mighty Duke) would have immediately catapulted it into discussion as the GREATEST play in history for any sport.  It would have been on commercials from now into eternity and there would never be a moment when its iconic image would have left the collective sports mind.

And the individuals involved.  It goes without saying that Gordon Hayward's life would have never been the same.  He would become a name that was remembered for generations and it is not an exaggeration to say that his life would have changed forever.  In addition to becoming a hero on Butler's campus for eternity, he would also have become a superstar in the nation as a whole.  He would have owned the Today Show, David Letterman and the White House and from now until the day he died, he would have been remembered as the guy who hit the greatest shot ever. 

And he isnt the only one.  Matt Howard would have been a hero as well, with his points down the stretch and a hard pick on the last play that would have lived forever.  His wispy moustache would have reached cult status and we would have seen middle school kids growing similar facial hair to be like Matt.  Coach Brad Stevens would have been more than just the Coach who looked young and took his team on a magical ride.  He would have been a national champion and on the path to be the greatest young coach in the nation.  His future is bright regardless, but a 33 year old coach who wins a national championship at Butler on the greatest shot in history would have had the world as his oyster.

Alas, none of this happened.  The shot was off just slightly.  Duke won and while college basketball fans will remember Butler, it will be as a part of something great, not something iconic and legendary.  Butler and its players have nothing to hang their heads about. They put together a magical run and were part of a great championship game.  They will forever be able to look back and remember being part of something special and unique.  But that doesnt mean that there won't be moments where Vonnegut's words ring true.  When it comes to a championship, it might have been.

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: April 5, 2010 10:30 pm
Edited on: April 5, 2010 10:33 pm

So you're saying there's a chance?

Thomas Beisner

We're just 20 minutes away from crowning the 2010 national champion and, to the surprise of many, the Horizon League representatives are close enough to taste the NCAA approved beverage locker shower, entering the half down 33-32.

A lot of the first half was the same old story for Butler as they got out-shot by their opponent (50% to 34%) and found their best post threat on the bench with fouls.  But, as the Bulldogs have done all tournament, they've pieced together just enough winning pieces to remain within striking distance.  Tonight, it's been team rebounding and 10 big points off the bench from senior Avery Jukes, much to the delight of the home crowd at Lucas Oil Stadium.

For the Devils, it's also been business as usual as their "Big 3" has combined for 26 of their 33 points and Brian "Jersey Muscle" Zoubek is on pace for double-digit rebounds with 5 in the first half.  Lance Thomas found himself in foul trouble early (per the usual) and neither of the Plumlee brothers were able to contribute much in his absence, probably frustrating their father, Plucky.  Plucky Plumlee. 

So, where might the game change?  Well, as in all close games, the free throw line can be the difference between winning and losing and both teams struggled in the first half.  For Butler, only Matt Howard got to the line (1-4) and Duke combined to go 4-9.  That's the stat you look at on Tuesday morning and either bow your head and shake it side-to-side or smile and sigh a sigh of relief. 

It's Butler and Duke and there's 20 minutes left until the end of incredible NCAA tournament and, at the very least, we're guaranteed no more sorry Diddy promos.

Let's do this!
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: April 5, 2010 9:53 am
Edited on: April 5, 2010 9:56 am

Butler Drive Draws Inevitable Movie References


When I look at this 2010 NCAA Tournament Championship, a battle between tourney juggernaut Duke and plucky cinderella Butler, being played only miles from Hinkle Fieldhouse and featuring an underdog group of Indiana basketball players in an unbelievable but inspiring run to the trophy game, I can only think of one memorable film from the eighties to which I can compare the storyline of this exciting matchup.

That movie, of course, is Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors.

In that film, a group of school kids from a small town in midwestern America had all their dreams come to life – but unfortunately, a villain waited in the shadows.  Truly, the Butler Bulldogs are a worthy comparison to the confident kids in that film – Joey, Taryn, Kincaid, Will, Jennifer and Phillip. And just like this likeable team of determined teens at Westin Hill Psychiatric Hospital, they have a protector in Nancy Thompson (Brad Stevens) who realizes there’s a force much powerful than them who will stop at nothing until they are crushed. Nancy (Brad Stevens) also has valuable allies supporting her in Lt. Donald Thompson (Butler assistant coach Terry Johnson) and Dr. Neil Gordon (assistant coach Micah Shrewsberry), who also pinpoint the terrifying force stalking the kids and vow to assist Nancy in any way to help her (him) defeat it.

Nancy, Lt. Thompson and Dr. Gordon realize that the powerful monster Freddy Krueger (Duke University) has come back again from the dead to kill everybody, and he is successful for a while. Joey (Ronald Nored) is paralyzed as Freddy tries to keep him incapacitated, but he is saved by quick thinking from Nancy. Lt. Thompson and Dr. Gordon help Kincaid (Gordon Hayward) fight Freddy in a junkyard (Indianapolis). During a final battle Freddy gets the best of Nancy, but at the last second Kristen (Shelvin Mack) figures out a secret way to destroy Freddy and all the ghosts of all the people (teams) Freddy has killed all come to say thank you and a bright light grows overhead. One shining moment illuminates everyone.

This is how Butler will win. And you shouldn’t question it, because I am an accredited CBS sports writer.

Also, at the end while everyone is happy, a light will suddenly come on in Freddy’s house – meaning maybe he’s not dead and maybe he’ll be back.

But that’s Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (Duke vs. UCLA in a 2011 tournament Elite Eight matchup). And you’ll just have wait for that.


Category: NCAAB
Tags: Butler, Duke
Posted on: April 3, 2010 11:48 pm
Edited on: April 4, 2010 8:17 am

"Huggy Bear" makes an appearance

Thomas Beisner

If you're a West Virginia fan, things really couldn't have gone much worse for you on Saturday night.  Your team got beaten on the boards and their usually stout defense suddenly disappeared, allowing Duke to shoot 53% from the field and their "Big 3" of Kyle Singler, Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith to combine for 63 points, 17 assists and 12 rebounds.  And, worst of all, your All-American senior Da'Sean Butler put up one of the worst stat lines you could have hoped for:  10 points, three rebounds and one awful knee injury.

It was that knee injury, though, which occurred about midway through the second half, that gave West Virginia something they could smile about on a night that they'd been waiting for since 1959.

Bob Huggins.

Mountaineer fans don't have to be told what a great coach they have in Morgantown.  They've seen it on the court the past three years as the homegrown coaching titan has racked up 80 wins, 31 of which came this year.  But, outside of West Virginia's state lines, Bob Huggins' name doesn't quite carry the same reverence.

Few coaches in the game get as much flack from fans and media as Bob Huggins (including the devilish one on the opposing sideline for this game).  Some of it's because he's short with the media.  Some of it is because of the physical nature of his teams.  Some probably stems from his DUI arrest and, honestly, some of it is probably because the guy has more track suits than Carl Lewis.  But, as his star player laid twisting in pain after his leg gave out on him, Bob Huggins was as far removed from that "monster in a track suit" reputation he's found affixed to himself.

After taking a verbal shot at the referee in defense of Butler, Huggins huddled over the senior, held his head and tried to calm him down by whispering closely.  He wiped tears off of Butler's eyes and clutched him as if he was his own child.  When it was time for Butler to leave the court, Bob Huggins stood, visibly shaken and teary-eyed.

It was a glimpse into a close bond that Huggins so famously develops between his players and, I'm proud to say, it's the type of kindness that I've been privileged to experience.

When I was 13, I attended the Bob Huggins Basketball Camp at the University of Cincinnati and, despite being about 6'5" and in the eighth grade, no one was mistaking me for a prospect.  I was one of the kids who was there just to step on the floor at the Shoemaker Center and see Danny Fortson up close.  You didn't have to pass a skills test to get into the camp and I can promise you that none of the coaches were starting a "Thomas Beisner" file. 

I learned pretty quickly, though, that that didn't really matter much.

On one of my first nights at the camp, stuck without a roommate or a television, I left the dorm and wandered over to the gym, figuring that I'd just shoot around and kill some time.  After messing around for awhile, I heard someone walking through the gym behind me and turned to see the man whose name was printed on my t-shirt in size-52 font.  Yep, Bob Huggins was in the building.  And I was terrified.

I figured this encounter would end with me either getting in trouble and getting kicked out or with Cincinnati's head coach completely ignoring the most awkward evening workout in Bearcat history and just walking away.  Instead, much to my 13-year old surprise, I got an introduction and a private 20-minute instruction session with a coach who was just a few months removed from the Elite Eight and surely had something better to do at 9pm than work with a talent-less eighth-grader. 

For those twenty minutes, he was a lot more "Huggy Bear" than he ever shows on TV and he helped me with mechanics on my jump shot, making me flick my wrist and bend my Osgood Schlatter knees more.  Not realizing what a hopeless endeavor it was, he had me fire off jumper after jumper, observing and rebounding (when they came close to him), giving me the attentiveness one would show their own kid.  He made small talk with me about my Texas high school and I think he even smiled a few times.  He seemed to be enjoying working with this lanky, acne-faced teenager as much as this lanky, acne-faced teenager enjoyed working with him.

As you might expect, my basketball career didn't work out too well.  Despite Huggins' best efforts that night in the Shoemaker Center, I never got a sniff of a D-1 scholarship and I never ended up in Rivals' database.  I'm pretty sure that I didn't even get to meet Danny Fortson that week.  But, for the past 13 years, I've carried an incredible memory and a great deal of respect for Bob Huggins that has nothing to do with his wins and losses.  After watching his touching moment with Da'Sean Butler on Saturday, I think the whole nation just might too.
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: April 3, 2010 8:52 pm

Butler to the Finals


Lets be honest.  It was BRUTAL to watch.  And its likely the case that this is one of the worst teams to ever make the Championship game, joining the ranks of 2002 Indiana and 2004 Georgia Tech in history.  But those facts are just the curmudgeon side of me.  The other side, and the one you probably care about much more, recognizes the amazing story that is Butler being one game away from a National Championship.  

This is simply not supposed to happen in college basketball.  In fact, if you search the "modern era" of college basketball (which I define as the movement to 64 teams, creation of the shot clock and the three point line), only three teams from non-BCS conferences have ever made the Championship game.  Two of those teams (1990 UNLV and 2008 Memphis) were legitimate powers, stocked full of NBA stars and potential Hall of Fame coaches.  One team (1998 Utah) was an underdog, but also possessed three NBA players (Andre Miller, Michael Doleac and Hanno Mattola) on its roster.  There simply has not been a team like Butler make it to this point. 

For years, commentators have been crowing about the fact that "one day some team filled with Seniors from a mid-major is going to win it all."  But this Butler team doesnt even meet that definition.  Its best players are Juniors and Sophomores and its coach is 33 years old, the youngest to make a title game since 1940.  It comes out of the Horizon League, but easily could have been eliminated in Round 2, when another minnow (Murray State) had the ball and the chance to win the game on the last possession.  Yes this group is good, but was there any reason to believe THIS could happen?

On Saturday, they defeated Michigan State 52-50 in a game that may have set basketball back to before Butler Coach Brad Stevens was even born.  Both teams played tight, and while they suffocated each other on defense, there were no "step up and make history" plays made down the stretch.  Butler took a seven-point lead early in the second half, watched one of its two best players, Shelvin Mack, go down with cramps and basically gutted its way to a victory by giving out no easy baskets and making defensive stops.  It wasn't glamorous and truth be told, it was unbelievably unentertaining.  But Butler and its fans could care less.  They are playing on house money, doing more with less than any team in the modern NCAA Tournament history.

Whats next?  Well the smart money says that the Butler dream ends in front of its home fans against a vastly more talented and athletic major conference opponent.  But the smart money said Syracuse, Kansas State and Michigan State would end the dream as well and the Bulldogs persevered.  Objectively, if you played the NCAA Tournament 100 more times, it is likely the case that Butler would never get to this point again.  But they dont have to.  They are here now.  They will be the decided underdog on Monday, and if it were a seven game series, defeat would be almost a certainty.  But they dont need to win mulitple games.  They need one win...40 minutes.  That is certainly possible and if the magic can be harnessed one last time, we will see Butler Bulldogs, 2010 National Champion.  Who would have ever imagined? 
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: April 3, 2010 4:05 pm

Hank Williams Jr. Should Have a Song for This

In almost two hours, one of the greatest televised events of 2010 tips off. I am, of course, talking about Get to the Heart: The Barbara Mandrell Story, airing at 6:00 on CMT. There is also, of course, a little game called Michigan State vs. Butler followed by another matchup called Duke vs. West Virginia. Yes, it's Final Four time in America, that beloved moment every division 1 school in the country wishes it could experience right now. 

These are games, by and large, which could go either way. It's almost pointless to truly try to project anything that will happen. But just for kicks, let's do a little prognosticating of our own: 

Tom Izzo confounded by Butler.
Izzo is one of the most resourceful, quick-thinking coaches in NCAA history, a virtual Napoleon of X's and O's. Will he figure out a Butler team that has shifted thus far to make adjustments to beat some of the best teams in the country? This Spartan team hinges on Izzo's mind for unraveling a team's mysteries -- but if Butler can keep switching things up and disallow Izzo to figure out a game plan, the Bulldogs could leave Michigan State confused and spinning its wheels.

West Virginia may not have the magic they did against Kentucky. Part of Kentucky's loss to Huggins' squad was good old-fashioned out-coaching, to be sure, paired with an unwillingness to concede to the number one seed Wildcats. But from the Big East tournament finals magic to a pack of Mountaineers who simply couldn't miss and a bench that had an almost Angels In the Outfield-esque magic in the Elite eight, if all the pieces aren't there tonight, Duke may well walk away with the game. 

There will be a lot of people at Lucas Oil Stadium who have never cared about Butler at all this season until this game. Mark it down. If you think all the Indianapolans (Indianapols? Indianapolians?) filling the stands rabidly for the Bulldogs today have been there all along, you're crazy. The biggest bandwagon in the country is parked six miles off Butler's campus right this second. 

There will be more hair product in the Duke locker room tonight than an episode of Tabatha's Salon Takeover. The Blue Devils know that to be a winner, you have to look like a winner. That's why every Faux Hawk and front-spike will be in full effect tonight. 

Hope you like Hoosiers, 'cause a huge helping of it is going to be crammed right down your throat. You know why. Don't make me tell the story that every sportswriter in the nation has attached himself to over the past week. Yes, we see all the parallels. Please, shut up.

Bob Huggins will continue to dress like your unemployed uncle. There's something to be said for dressing comfortably. And I'm all for that. But if we keep encouraging Huggins to wear whatever he wants, in the finals he's just going to wear an old Iron Maiden tour shirt and some tighty-whities. 

The beauty of this thing is that anything can happen. Especially this year, for some reason. So let's get this party started. 
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: April 3, 2010 12:52 pm
Edited on: April 3, 2010 12:54 pm

10 Questions for the Final Four


Here we are, just hours away from the Final Four.  We have seen 61 teams fall off the path to the championship and only four remain.  No, Kansas is not one of them.  No, Kentucky lost too.  Yeah, and Syracuse.  It has been crazy.  Anyway, here are 10 questions that are on everyone's minds as the 2010 NCAA Tournament winds down...

Will the Blue Devils find revenge?

#7 West Virginia upset #2 Duke 73-67 in the second round of the 2008 NCAA Tournament.  Duke will certainly have vengeance on its mind tonight.  All five Duke starters played in that '08 West Region game in Washington D.C.  West Virginia's Da'Sean Butler and Joe Mazzulla combined for 21 points in the upset.

Can the Spartans keep rolling without Lucas?

When Kalin Lucas went down with a torn achilles tendon late in the first half of Michigan State's win over Maryland, everyone wrote the Spartans off.  Then Korie Lucious shocked us all with a three-pointer at the buzzer to beat the Terps.  The Spartans then moved on to a win over Kansas Northern Iowa and another late miracle to beat Tennessee in the Elite Eight.

Did you know Butler is only 6.02 miles from Lucas Oil Stadium?

And, did you know Hoosiers was filmed at Butler's Hinkle Field House?  Did you know that?  Of course you did.  And, like me, I'm sure you're tired of hearing about it.

Will Darryl "Truck" Bryant return for West Virginia?

The Mountaineers' point guard broke his foot in practice before the Sweet Sixteen and is dying to get back on the court.  Bryant is listed as "highly unlikely" which basically means "he definitely won't play but it's the Final Four so everything is a storyline."  

Gordon Hayward can't really be that good - can he?

Yes, he can and he is.  I know he doesn't pass the looks test but Gordon Hayward is a future NBA pick.  The Horizon League Player of the Year averaged just under 16 points on the season and has been even more impressive in the tournament.  He scored 22 points in Butler's win over Kansas State and 17 in the win over Syracuse.   Hayward's the real deal.  (Insert Hoosier's reference)

Does anyone outside of Durham like the Blue Devils?

It certainly doesn't seem like it.  Even the Indianapolis Star got in on the hate.  No one can really explain why (other than Coach K's facial expressions and the flopping) but it seems that the entire nation can agree on one thing - everyone despises Duke.  Everyone.

Hey, did you know Butler is only 6.02 miles from Lucas Oil Stadium?

Oh, you did?  Well, it's also where Hoosi... I did?  I said that already?  I'm sorry.  Just making sure you knew that.  Carry on.

Can Huggy Bear finally get his ring?

Love him or hate him, Bob Huggins is one of the best to do it and he finally has the chance to win the grand prize  The Huggy Bear is in his first Final Four since 1992 and he has his alma mater there for the first time since 1959.  It's easy to point out graduation rates, his players' off the court issues, and his classic D.U.I. video with vomit on the driver's side door - but let's not forget that Huggins is a hell of a basketball coach.  Add to the fact that he is facing Coach K, and he is finally that guy we can root for.  Plus his mafia style tracksuits say, "I want to win, but I'm here to party."

Who will win it all?

Many believe the Duke-West Virginia semifinal game is the national championship game.  The Blue Devils and the Mountaineers are undoubtedly the two best teams left and if Dick Vitale had his way, the committee would reseed the Final Four.  While it's certainly not impossible for Butler or Michigan to win it all (never doubt Tom Izzo,) whoever advances between Duke and WV will be feeling good heading into the title game.

Is Jennifer Hudson singing "One Shining Moment?"

Yes she is.  I don't agree with it, either.

Posted on: April 2, 2010 8:55 pm

Meet the Mountaineers of West Virginia


West Virginia University

Dub-V, as it’s called by the local hooligans, is a public university in Morgantown, WV where classes are attended between hangovers and happy hour. At one time, WVU was the #1 party school in the nation.

Location: Morgantown, WV

Morgantown consumes 1% of Anheuser-Busch’s alcohol sales ever year. I’m not even mad. I’m impressed.

Notable Alumni

-- Billy Mays - Halloween 2009's most played out costume
-- Don Knotts -Actor most famously known for his role in Air Buddies, the sixth film in the Air Bud series.
-- Pacman Jones - Specialist of aerial Federal Reserve Note disbursement, dealing mostly with single mothers
-- Jerry West - The silhouette in the NBA logo

Mascot: The Mountaineers

The Mountaineer was adopted in 1890 as the official school mascot and unofficially began appearing at sporting events in 1927. The new Mountaineer is selected each year by the Mountain Honorary during the final two men's home basketball games. Candidates must have at least a 2.5 GPA, write an essay about why they want to be the Mountaineer, attend an extensive interview process and garner the most cheers during the home basketball game.

Cheerleader Scouting Report

Bob Huggins, Head Coach

Bob Huggins is a 1977 graduate of West Virginia.  He is in his third season as the Mountaineers head coach after a roller coaster career that included stops at Walsh, Akron, Cincinnati, Kansas State, and Liquor Barn.

The Starting Five

#21 Joe Mazulla, 6-2, G, Junior

2009-10 stats: 2.2 ppg, 2.3 apg

#1 Da'Sean Butler, 6-7, F, Senior

2009-10 stats: 17.4 ppg, 6.3 rpg

#3 Devin Ebanks, 6-9, F, Sophomore

2009-10 stats: 12.0 ppg, 8.3 rpg

#35 Wellington Smith, 6-8, F, Senior

2009-10 stats: 6.5 ppg, 4.1 rpg

#5 Kevin Jones, 6-8, C, Sophomore

2009-10 stats: 13.7 ppg, 7.2 rpg

Category: NCAAB
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or