The beauty and fairness of the NCAA tournament will be firmly on display at next weekend’s Final Four as Butler of the Horizon League will be part of the basketball party in Indianapolis.

That doesn’t happen in college football, where the deck is stacked against smaller-conference upstarts like Utah, Texas Christian and Boise State. The BCS system – where the “C” stands for crummy – is set up to ensure two power conference teams meet in the title game and the outsiders (that’s you, Mountain West and Western Athletic Conference) are supposed to be happy with the scraps of playing in one of the other BCS games should they produce an unbeaten record.

But the NCAA tournament is open to the mid-majors and there’s no better storyline than a team like fifth-seeded Butler crashing the Final Four.

And with its campus located just five miles north of downtown Lucas Oil Stadium, the site of the Final Four, the Bulldogs will be recipients of unprecedented local support next Saturday when they battle the winner of Sunday’s game between Michigan State and Tennessee.

Butler (32-4) advanced to its first-ever Final Four with a hard-fought 63-56 victory over an immensely talented Kansas State squad. The victory was the Bulldogs’ 24th in a row since last losing three days before Christmas to Alabama-Birmingham.

But these Bulldogs aren’t like the surprise George Mason squad that cracked the 2006 Final Four. Butler is a top-notch program that has reached the Sweet 16 three times in the last eight years. Now the Bulldogs have gone two steps further and are certainly capable of winning two more games and claiming the national title.

Butler is a private school of around 4,500 students and its homecourt (Hinkle Fieldhouse) is famous for being the site where the hit movie “Hoosiers” was filmed.

There really isn’t any comparison to the movie theme when it comes to these Bulldogs. They have a ton of talent – in addition to the typical chemistry Butler’s past NCAA teams have all had.

They also outplayed the second-seeded Wildcats (29-8) and frustrated the guard combo of Jacob Pullen (14 points) and Denis Clemente (18 points). The two players combined for just two first-half points and Pullen, the sharpshooting star of Kansas State’s dramatic double-overtime game against Xavier two nights earlier, never found his groove, making just 4 of 13 field-goal attempts.

Gordon Hayward had 22 points and Shelvin Mack added 16 to pace Butler and now coach Brad Stevens’ team navigates uncharted waters in terms of the basketball stage and the intense amount of publicity that comes with it.

Something tells me the Butler Bulldogs will be up to the task and might even find themselves in the April 5 national title game.

West Virginia ousts Kentucky

Since my bracket had West Virginia beating Kentucky to reach the Final Four, I can’t say I’m the least bit surprised that the Mountaineers defeated the Wildcats 73-66 in Saturday’s other Elite Eight contest.

West Virginia (31-6) will be in the Final Four for the first time since 1959, when a fellow named Jerry West was the star player. You might have heard of that West kid, huh?

But not many people have heard of Joe Mazzulla, the kid averaging 2.2 points per game who tallied a career-high 17 points against the Wildcats. Mazzulla became a pivotal player when point guard Darryl “Truck” Bryant was lost for the season with a broken foot earlier in the week.

He was up to the challenge against the talent-laden Kentucky squad led by freshman John Wall. When you get a surprise effort like the one Mazzulla gave, it usually means life is going good and you’re going to win the basketball game.

Da’Sean Butler scored 18 points and made four of West Virginia’s 10 3-point baskets. Kentucky, meanwhile, missed its first 20 3-point shots and ended up just 4-of-32.

Wall scored 19 points in what was surely his final game for Kentucky (35-3). Wall is the consensus No. 1 overall pick in June’s NBA Draft if he opts to apply for the draft.

John Calipari’s first season at Kentucky ends three wins short of a national title. And on this day, Calipari was outcoached by West Virginia’s Bob Huggins, who is back in the Final Four for the first time since guiding Cincinnati there in 1992.

West Virginia’s Final Four opponent will be the winner of Sunday’s game between Duke and Baylor.


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