No matter their size (less than 5,000 students) or stature (they had never previously been to a Final Four) the Butler Bulldogs have forever put themselves into the record books – with two thrilling victories where they had the lead, gave it up and then got it back for good again – by earning a spot in the Final Four in their hometown of Indianapolis. They will be the first team since UCLA in 1972 to play in the Final Four in their hometown.
And they find themselves in this position primarily because of their effort at the defensive end of the floor. First, in the Sweet Sixteen they responded to an 11-2 run from Syracuse by stifling the Orange down the stretch, limiting them to just one basket in the final 5:23. Then against Kansas State in the Elite Eight they led the majority of the way – keyed by their defensive coverage assigned to K-State guards Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen who combined for just two first half points, after the duo netted 46 in their victory over Xavier – only to see the game tied with just over three minutes to play. Undeterred though they responded with a 9-0 run to seal the victory and the only other basket they would allow was an inconsequential shot at the buzzer that only served to make the margin of defeat slightly more palatable for Kansas State.
While Butler is going to make their first appearance in the national semi final, West Virginia will make its second trip but it will be the first time they’ve made it since 1959. Their calling card was defence as well, with an assist going to Kentucky who struggled to find their range – at the free throw line, striping just 16 of 29 attempts and from deep with just four of 32 dropping and none of them coming before to the final four minutes of the game.