Posts Tagged ‘Kansas State’

Weekly links out of hibernation …

 

Has it really been 29 years ago since Danny Manning led Kansas to the 1988 national title?

The Jayhawks are usually a high-seeded team that underperforms in March Madness. Think of all that tradition and the high number of great players and then ponder that the school has won just three national championships.

But Kansas was a major overachiever the year “Danny and the Miracles” won the national title. The Jayhawks were a No. 6 seed and weren’t even ranked in the final regular-season Top 25 poll.

The team that was 20-10 entering the NCAA Tournament crashed the Final Four. While everybody else pondered whether Arizona, Duke or Oklahoma would win the title, Manning carried Kansas to the crown. First the Jayhawks beat Duke in the Final Four and then they outlasted Oklahoma in the national championship game.

This famous occurrence is on my mind after writing the Wake Forest-Kansas State preview for Tuesday’s First Four game in Dayton.

Manning is Wake Forest’s coach and he has a long history with Kansas State. And it wasn’t always so memorable. Especially when you close your eyes and imagine this visual:

“One of my first games at K-State, that’s a very heated rivalry, they were throwing live chickens at us,” Manning said on Sunday. “I remember going in there and ducking some live chickens, also some not-so-live ones out of a KFC bucket or whatever.”

Yikes … live chickens landing on the court? … how about people bringing their buckets of chicken and slinging thighs and wings at Manning and his teammates?

That sure doesn’t happen in today’s college basketball world. And you know, I kind of miss the 80s era of college basketball.

Here is the stellar preview — http://www.upi.com/Sports_News/College-Basketball/2017/03/13/Kansas-St-vs-Wake-Forest-NCAA-Tournament-First-Four-preview-prediction/6181489433207/

 

One thing about March Madness is you learn some things you otherwise wouldn’t.

Like where the heck is Mount St. Mary’s? How would they match up with big-time schools?

Or the Pelicans aren’t the only basketball team from New Orleans? We got some Privateers crashing the big dance.

Mount St. Mary’s and New Orleans play each other in Tuesday’s First Four and there is no other time that any of us would even care if they played one another.

The winner gets to move on to Buffalo, where it gets to be trampled by defending-champion Villanova. But regardless, the winner gets to brag that it won an NCAA Tournament game. It will be the second in school history for the winner.

Mount St. Mary’s is located in Emmittsburg, Md. I’m not saying it is a town in the boonies (well, yeah I am) but it is closer to Gettysburg, Pa., than any town in Maryland you’ve heard of. Surely, they talk Civil War more than hoops.

As for the big boys, Mount St. Mary’s started 1-11 this season against a slate that included NCAA Tournament teams West Virginia, Iowa State, Minnesota, Michigan, Arkansas and Bucknell.

New Orleans recorded a road win at Washington State and the fact that the school is in the NCAA tourney is a stunner to the locals, who barely pay attention to the school’s team.

But that’s OK because both the city and university were devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and both have recovered. There were no expectations of the Privateers being part of the NCAA field because they went 10-20 last season. So nice turnaround indeed.

Here is the stellar preview — http://www.upi.com/Sports_News/College-Basketball/2017/03/13/Mount-St-Marys-vs-New-Orleans-NCAA-Tournament-First-Four-preview-prediction/6381489438322/

Looks like Johnny Manziel is en route to winning the Heisman Trophy on Saturday night.

I don’t have a major problem with the redshirt freshman quarterback from Texas A&M winning the award. “Johnny Football” came out of nowhere to have a spectacular season and his big-time performance when the Aggies upset then-No. 1 Alabama was certainly impressive.

Yet I can’t help but think that if Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o can’t win the award this year as the leader of the nation’s top-ranked team, then it is time to quit saying the Heisman goes to the “most outstanding football player.”

If a defensive player from an unbeaten Notre Dame team can’t win the Heisman – with all the hype around that school – then what defensive standout can?

Michigan’s Charles Woodson in 1997 is the only defensive player to ever win the award and the star cornerback’s candidacy was helped by his return abilities and the fact he occasionally played on offense.

Notre Dame is only in the national title game this season due to its strong defensive play in an era when offensive football theatrics have turned scoreboards into pinball machines. And Te’o has been outstanding all year as the prime reason for why the Fighting Irish lead the nation in scoring defense (10.3 points per game) and rank sixth in total defense (286.8).

Did I mention Te’o has seven interceptions? Only Fresno State safety Phillip Thomas has more with eight.

Wait, a linebacker recorded the interception total of a defensive back while playing for an unbeaten team that nobody can run against?

Should be Te’o winning by a landslide over Manziel and Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein, the latter being well-deserving of a third-place finish.

Yet the ceremonies will probably conclude with Manziel taking home the hardware. Again, I have nothing bad to say about Manziel’s season. It was spectacular and he would squash the stigma that a freshman can’t win the award.

But if Te’o doesn’t win the award and joins Pittsburgh’s Hugh Green (second in 1980) and Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh (fourth in 2009) as famous Heisman snubs, then please change the description of the award to a more accurate portrayal:

As in “most outstanding offensive player.”

The conference alignment shakeup in college football has sent the Mountain West Conference in the wrong direction.

A league that was creeping ever-so-closely to BCS-worthy status is now on the verge of solidifying that its future will revolve around being outsiders hunting for BCS crumbs.

Trading Utah and Brigham Young (if the Cougars do indeed leave to become an independent) for Boise State, Fresno State and Nevada is a major step downward for the lone non-BCS conference that had a shot of ever joining the big boys.

You can sense the six power conferences hysterically laughing inside over what’s occurring out West. That recent trend of a Mountain West or Western Athletic Conference team – or one from each league, like in 2009 – crashing a BCS bowl game is about to return to being a very rare occurrence.

If only the Mountain West had added Boise State a few years back. That football foursome of Utah, Brigham Young, Texas Christian and Boise State might have been enough to earn automatic BCS qualifying status.

Now what the Mountain West has assured is lifetime mediocrity, particularly once the Big 12 – now with 10 teams – decides to target TCU as a new member to get back to 12 and be eligible to hold a conference championship game.

Utah leaving for the Pacific-10 was a no-brainer but BYU’s decision to leave the Mountain West is a bit murkier.

BYU feels it can earn more money as a football independent and its plan was to join the WAC in other sports. But with Fresno State and Nevada leaving the WAC, that creates major issues per the Cougars’ plans.

BYU’s stellar basketball program would lose a lot of its luster and status, as would some of its highly productive women’s sports teams.  Scheduling for all sports will become a nightmare.

The WAC alignment would have given BYU the opportunity to play four or five WAC teams each football season as part of filling up a 12-game schedule. But with the WAC falling apart, where is BYU going to find a season’s worth of worthwhile games? Who will the Cougars play in November when everybody else is immersed in conference play?

I wouldn’t expect Mountain West teams to help the Cougars out with their scheduling issues if BYU follows through with the college football act of treason. And if BYU had to fill half its schedule with Top 25 teams, watch how quickly 6-6 seasons become the norm in Provo. Competing for a conference title in the Mountain West would suddenly seem like the good old days.

I’ll cut to the chase here: BYU needs to backtrack pretty quickly and say good-bye to its bold – but not sensible – plan and remain in the Mountain West.

BYU sticking around is also the only thing that keeps the Mountain West’s hopes of eventual BCS entry alive.

The current 10-team lineup would consist of just two top-flight programs in Boise State and TCU. Middle-of-the-pack programs like Air Force, Fresno State, Nevada and weak holdovers Colorado State, New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV and Wyoming don’t make for a BCS-caliber conference.

And think, when the Big 12 was teetering on collapse two short months ago, the Mountain West was close to lucking into schools like Kansas and Kansas State that would have strongly bolstered its football and basketball lineup.

But in mid-August, a league that is inconsequential to much of the nation – you know what I mean if you’ve ever tried to find a Mountain West football game on television while traveling in the Midwest or the eastern time zone – is about to become even more insignificant.

What BYU’s greed and this lightweight fight between the Mountain West and WAC over conference survival will do is reduce the chances of any non-BCS team sneaking its way into a BCS bowl.

And that’s exactly the way leagues like the Big Ten and Southeastern Conference like it.

Finally, some sanity could be returning to college football.

Texas decided Monday afternoon not to leave the Big 12 and head to the Pacific-10, meaning the domino effect that would have brought down the Big 12 and rendered it either defunct or a sad shadow of itself will not occur on Tuesday.

Texas A&M and Oklahoma reached similar decisions to stick with the Big 12 and that meant Texas Tech and Oklahoma State – two institutions riding the coattails of their more popular in-state rivals – would also be staying put.

There was legitimate concern that all five schools would leave the Big 12 on Tuesday, making seven departures in less than a week for the conference that had a stellar football season just two years ago. Colorado left for the Pac-10 last Thursday and Nebraska bolted to the Big Ten on Friday.

I’m glad to see that the conference won’t disband. The Pac-10’s quest for the unprecedented greed of a 16-team league wasn’t in the best interest of college football as a whole and certainly not for programs in the Midwest. (I’d also say in wasn’t in the best interests of women’s sports but universities don’t take the women’s tennis team into account when making these decisions.)

Schools like Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri and Iowa State suddenly don’t have to fear dropping down a level in terms of status. I’d say the same about Baylor but that school never has risen to the major-college level despite its Big 12 label.

It always seemed a bit unfair that the Kansas basketball powerhouse meant nothing in terms of expansion. It just shows that college football is no longer an amateur sport, no matter what deceitful athletic directors and university presidents claim.

All this expansion chatter was about money and football. And more money. Nothing else.

The Texas to the Pac-10 talks reportedly broke down because the Longhorns want to start their own television network but didn’t want to share revenues with the other Pac-10 members. Of course, Texas wants all the other benefits of being a member of a conference – you know, like getting a portion of Oklahoma’s BCS money, etc.

Greed, greed, greed.

Guess Texas just learned it’s not Notre Dame. You don’t see the Longhorns talking about becoming an independent, where they could then keep every dime.

It will now be interesting to see if the Big 12 sticks to 10 members or attempts to add two teams. Remember, a conference has to have 12 teams to conduct a big-money conference championship game.

Texas Christian would be a sensible program for the Big 12 to go after. The Horned Frogs were Southwest Conference mates of Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech for ages before that conference broke up in the mid-1990s.

The University of Houston, another former Southwest Conference school, makes sense as well.

Losing TCU would be a big blow for the Mountain West Conference. But of more concern to the conference has to be losing Utah. The Pac-10 is sitting at 11 teams and needs one more team so it can start holding a conference title game.

There’s no chance in the world that Utah declines a Pac-10 offer.

The Mountain West recently added Boise State but badly needs TCU and Utah to remain in the league to have a shot at eventually qualifying for an automatic BCS berth.

Anyway, the collapse of the Big 12 didn’t happen – at least, in 2010 – and that’s a good thing for college athletics.

Boise State has officially joined college football’s big time.

The school’s lengthy flirtations with the Mountain West Conference finally resulted in success Friday when Boise State joined the league. The move qualifies as a major step up from the Western Athletic Conference.

The shakeup of college football is in the midst of exploding and Boise State couldn’t afford to be left behind. The Mountain West was prudent to add the Broncos as well as protecting itself should the Pacific-10 come after Utah over the next few weeks.

The Big 12 is breaking up fast. Colorado left for the Pac-10 on Thursday and Nebraska accepted an invitation to the Big Ten on Friday. The landscape shifting toward mega conferences pretty much forced the hand of the Mountain West to invite Boise State now instead of waiting until later this month.

By the middle of next week, Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech also could be Pac-10 bound. Texas A&M also is considering a move to the Pac-10 but also has interest in joining the Southeastern Conference should the SEC opt to expand its 12-team league, which is currently the top football league in the nation.

If the Mountain West can keep all of its members, the conference has a shot at having a pretty good lineup after the Big 12 falls apart. Kansas and Kansas State will need homes and both schools would upgrade the quality of the league from both a football and men’s basketball standpoint.

Adding Boise State, Kansas and Kansas State to Texas Christian, Utah and Brigham Young gives the Mountain West six really good football programs. Air Force being the seventh-best program in a conference certainly isn’t a bad thing. The other conference members would be Colorado State, New Mexico, San Diego State, Nevada-Las Vegas and Wyoming.

San Diego State and UNLV are conference doormats in football but have strong basketball programs. Adding prestigious Kansas and recently strong Kansas State to four programs (BYU, New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV) that participated in the 2010 NCAA tournament would raise the stature of the league nationally.

Back to football – the addition of Boise State increases the chances of the Mountain West qualifying for an automatic BCS berth since the league can now use the Broncos’ recent success in terms of meeting the criteria.

It will be interesting to see how Boise State’s football program does playing Mountain West teams on a regular basis. The Broncos have done extremely well in head-to-head matchups over the past decade but it’s a bit different when you play eight or nine Mountain West teams in a season as opposed to one or two.

As long as Chris Petersen remains as Boise State’s coach, the Broncos will always have a solid program. But being in the Mountain West might mean some occasional 8-4 or 7-5 seasons and it will be interesting to see how the success-spoiled citizenry of Boise deals with such seasons.

Boise State had just two home sellouts (out of seven games) in a 33,000-seat stadium while going undefeated last season so it’s reasonable to wonder how fast the bandwagon would empty with a string of 8-4 records.

Another sore point in Boise will be television. Boise State has been ESPN darlings with their famed Blue Turf but Mountain West teams have played in relative anonymity since leaving ESPN and forming their own network (The Mtn.) that is a complete nonentity around the country. The conference’s other deals with Versus and CBS College Sports pale when compared to the exposure Boise State has enjoyed over the last decade.

But overall, it was a no-brainer for Boise State to finally see its goal come to fruition. Boise State needs the Mountain West and the conference needs the Broncos.

Call it a win-win deal for all parties.

The first domino has fallen in the greed-filled world known as college football.

Colorado has left the Big 12 to join the Pacific-10 and the Buffaloes apparently won’t be the only Big 12 school departing the conference this week.

Nebraska reportedly is prepared to jump ship to the Big Ten as soon as Friday.

It would have been better if the status quo had remained intact – the Big 12 was the talk of the college football world just two years ago – but money is what runs college athletics.

Anytime you hear coaches, athletic directors or university presidents spewing that it’s all about the student-athletes, just hold your nose and laugh. Remember, these same folks told you a decade ago that there couldn’t be a playoff because an 11-game regular season was long enough for college football players.

Then they went ahead and expanded the regular season to 12 games.

I’ll tell you the same thing most student-athletes of the major sports start figuring out in the latter stages of their college careers, it’s not about the student-athletes. Not at the major-college level. Not with all the money involved.

You’ll also hear presidents boasting about being a better academic fit. Really? And they somehow say it with a straight face.

Since when does Ohio State send its chemistry department to compete with Northwestern? When is Iowa’s political science department traveling to Penn State for a big debate? Gosh, can’t wait to see Florida and Alabama get together in the big psychology department battle to determine which school’s coach (Urban Meyer or Nick Saban) is the bigger egomaniac.

Let’s be clear here – expansion has nothing to do with academia.

Anything that creates more money is what these greedy folks are after. The Big Ten Network has been a major financial success for the 11 Big Ten teams and the other conferences want to receive similar riches with their own money-producing networks.

So for a conference like the Pac-10 that has all its schools located in Western states California (four), Oregon (two), Washington (two) and Arizona (two), it needs to grow eastward to be able to command a larger piece of the financial pie.

With the Big 12 sinking faster than Ben Roethlisberger’s reputation, the Pac-10 has reportedly targeted five other Big 12 schools – Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.

Texas and Oklahoma are two of the biggest powers in the history of college football. Texas, in particular, pretty much prints money and the Longhorns football team is the second most popular sports team in the state behind the Dallas Cowboys.

If the Pac-10 lands its other five targets, the Big 12 is history. The saddest thing is that a basketball powerhouse like Kansas has a strong chance of being left as an outsider or dropping down to the non-BCS Mountain West Conference or being part of a new league with Big 12 leftovers.

Schools like Kansas State, Missouri, Iowa State and Baylor also are in danger of going from being a have to a have-not.

It would be poetic justice for Missouri to learn how the college football plebeians live. Missouri has been lobbying for a Big Ten bid but doesn’t have the football cache of a Nebraska. Same goes for Baylor, a do-nothing football school that repeatedly attempts to ride the coattails of Texas and Texas A&M and was hoping state legislators would figure out a way to force the Pac-10 to invite Baylor instead of Colorado.

Can you imagine the Tigers and Bears in the same conference as say Wyoming and New Mexico? Or in a league with Alabama-Birmingham and Tulsa? The two schools would instantly be dreaming of the good old days of the Big 12.

But all these BCS-caliber schools have only themselves to blame. There was nothing wrong with how college football was faring other than the lack of a playoff system. But making fistfuls of money wasn’t enough for all the power brokers.

Some schools want wheelbarrows full of money.

Now that the first domino has fallen, chaos looms on the horizon. And I can tell all the greedy people involved exactly who is to blame:

Someone who is even more greedy.

In the middle of last week, it looked like a no-brainer: The Mountain West Conference needed to add Boise State.

Funny how as this week begins, there is no doubt the Mountain West did the correct thing in not offering Boise State membership to the league at Monday’s president meetings.

Too many expansion scenarios are looming among the nation’s power conferences as the never-ending push for money and greed – the two things that run college athletics – explodes once again. This time, one of the six powerful conferences (Big 12) could be on the verge of imploding.

Missouri and Nebraska are clamoring to be part of the Big Ten’s possible expansion. The Pac-10 has suddenly lost its mind and wants to include half of the Big 12 – Texas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M and Baylor – in a new 16-team league that makes little geographic sense.

If all those moves were to happen, suddenly Big 12 leftovers Colorado, Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State need new homes.

A 12-team Mountain West that includes Colorado, Kansas and Kansas State is a much better option than a 10-team league in which Boise State is the lone new addition.

Definitely makes for some awkward moments as things shake out over the next few weeks. Boise State has been pleading – begging? groveling? – to be admitted to the Mountain West for several years. Now when the school gets to the front door for entry, it finds out the door is locked and nobody is answering. Even the back door is padlocked.

It’s kind of like a teenage girl being excited for a Saturday night movie date with the high school football star and then finding out she was the fourth option.

If the Big 12 were to go away and the Mountain West added Colorado, Kansas and Kansas State, it no longer needs Boise State in its quest to become an automatic BCS qualifying conference in football. And the league, already strong in basketball, becomes a very fierce conference in that sport.

Adding the storied tradition of Kansas and a powerful Kansas State program to a league that sent four schools (New Mexico, Brigham Young, UNLV and San Diego State) to the 2010 NCAA tournament makes for a very solid basketball league.

Of course, one thing the Mountain West needs to do at the president meetings that end Tuesday is make sure that none of its current members are thinking of bolting to a better league should dominos start falling. The school’s top three football programs – Texas Christian, Utah and Brigham Young – all would be appealing additions to a league trying to keep afloat. You know, like a desperate Big 12 doing anything it can not to fold.

As for Boise State, the school badly needs to move up from the lower-tier Western Athletic Conference. The Mountain West was the perfect fit for the school less than a week ago. Now the Broncos are in a tough situation if this month ends without the Mountain West opting to include them in any expansion.

Boise State’s problem is that the landscape suddenly changed and it needs the Mountain West much, much more than the league needs the Broncos.

But Boise State can feel good about one thing – if the Mountain West suddenly finds itself in desperation mode, it knows there is a school with an elite football program just begging to join.

It’s less than an hour before tipoff and time for the big prediction.

Since my college basketball predictions this March haven’t been all that stellar, don’t fork the entire savings down on this prognostication. Actually, don’t even bet a fifth of it.

Sentimental favorite Butler against elitist program Duke in the NCAA tournament title contest is about as intriguing of a matchup as you can get.

The little program that could – and does – in Butler against Duke, the Atlantic Coast Conference powerhouse program playing in its eighth national championship game during the Mike Krzyzewski era.

The Blue Devils have played terrific basketball over their last 47 minutes – 40 dominating minutes against West Virginia in the Final Four and a spectacular final seven minutes against Baylor in the Elite Eight. Duke’s trio of Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith have been superb and big man Brian Zoubek has stepped up his game.

Butler has its own big three in Gordon Hayward, Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard. The Bulldogs received good news a few hours before tipoff when it was determined that Howard, the Horizon League Player of the Year in 2009, could play in the game after suffering a concussion during Saturday’s victory over Michigan State.

Howard looked slow against the Spartans while struggling to deal with Michigan State’s athleticism. Some of that was due to his injury and he will be a pivotal player Monday night in whether or not Butler can pull off the upset.

Butler (33-4) has won 25 consecutive games and has held each of its five NCAA tournament opponents under 60 points – including impressive victories over Syracuse and Kansas State in addition to beating Michigan State. The Bulldogs need to play the same style of game Monday night – think 51-47 or something like that – to beat Duke.

If the Blue Devils (34-5) hit their 3-pointers and get tons of second-chance points like they did against West Virginia and Baylor, it’s hard to see Butler keeping up with them. Particularly since Duke’s bench is vastly better than what the Bulldogs can offer.

The best thing about this game is that it is being played in Indianapolis. A program like Butler never gets to play programs like Duke in its own neighborhood – not that Duke ventures out much anyway. You may recall the Blue Devils didn’t even win their first road game of the year until January.

The deck is always stacked against the little guy in college basketball so you know where everyone’s hearts are. Just like so many people wanted to see Boise State beat Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl three-plus years ago, there are millions of people that want to the see the Bulldogs take down the Blue Devils.

Consider this factoid from a CNBC report: Duke spent $394,068 PER PLAYER last year in numbers filed with the government as part of the Equity in Athletics requirement. Butler’s expenses were $347,108 – for the ENTIRE TEAM.

Yes, this is certainly the ultimate David vs. Goliath type of national championship game, which is why it has captured the attention of the nation, not just college hoops fanatics.

It would be historic if Butler pulls out the victory and I would love to see it. The Bulldogs are at least the second best basketball team in this country this season and some of their players even attended class on Monday morning with the national title game looming.

You don’t think John Calipari’s Kentucky players would have been attending class if the Wildcats were in a national title game in Lexington, Ky., do you?

But unfortunately, I learned a long time ago you don’t make predictions with your heart. You make them with your head.

Duke is playing really well and I’m going to predict the Blue Devils win Monday’s game.

Do I want Duke to win? No.

Do I hope I’m wrong? Yes.

This truly is a no-lose situation for Butler so all the pressure is on the Blue Devils. Even more of it is on them now since I just hitched my prediction to their wagon.

Actually, this is really good news for Butler. I’ve had some struggles this March. I actually picked San Diego State to win an NCAA tournament game (dumb) and picked Ohio State to win the national title (dumber). I identified that Murray State should beat Vanderbilt in the first round and I went ahead and wrote down Vandy on my bracket (very stupid).

Now that’s some really bad March Madness.

So my pick is in – which means Butler can now start planning its title-winning celebration.

Just was thinking about Saturday’s Final Four games and have decided I will be dreaming about the Butler Bulldogs in my sleep.

As in the possibility of a Horizon League team actually winning a national championship.

No, this isn’t about to digress into one of those forced and very wrong “Hoosiers” comparisons. Anyone who has been paying attention closely to college basketball over the last decade is well aware Butler is no fluke.

Just because Butler’s homecourt (Hinkle Fieldhouse) is best known for being the place where the famous movie was filmed doesn’t mean we turn a program that has made three Sweet 16 appearances in the last eight years into a Cinderella, happy to be in the Final Four motif.

The Bulldogs have won 24 consecutive games heading into Saturday’s national semifinal contest against Michigan State. Good teams get upset all the time in college basketball and Butler hasn’t lost a game since the calendar still said 2009.

Let that sink in for a second, Butler has won two dozen consecutive games over the last three-plus months.

Most people can’t tell you how many teams are in the Horizon League and who they are – yes, even I had to look it up; the answer is 10 and I was only able to name seven of them – so Butler being in the Final Four is like Boise State reaching the Fiesta Bowl. The apple cart hasn’t only been turned upside down, it’s been ravaged and plundered.

The Bulldogs beat both the top-seeded team (Syracuse) and second-seeded team (Kansas State) in their region. They are 32-4 and have two stellar players in sophomore forward Gordon Hayward (the Horizon League Player of the Year) and sophomore guard Shelvin Mack, who had the audacity to pick Butler as his college choice over Kentucky.

Yeah, let that one sink in too – the Lexington, Ky., native could have stayed home and played for the famous Wildcats and instead picked Butler, a private university with just over 4,000 students.

A nice caveat for Butler’s first-ever foray into the Final Four is that the games are in Indianapolis at the new Lucas Oil Stadium, located just more than five miles away from Butler’s campus. The Bulldogs will be the prohibitive favorites of those in attendance when they battle the Spartans (28-8) on Saturday.

Butler’s coach, 33-year-old Brad Stevens, is so young looking he’d get carded trying to enter an 18-and-over club. But he’s a darn good coach with the big question being how long he remains at Butler before some major college comes knocking with a million-dollar-plus offer.

Probably the biggest hurdle for Butler on Saturday is Michigan State’s coach, the great Tom Izzo. This is the Spartans’ sixth Final Four appearance in 12 years – and the second in a row – and there isn’t an overabundance of national champion-caliber talent on the roster. Izzo is a master when it comes to coaching in the NCAA tournament and you know he’s been working overtime to come up with a plan that will end Butler’s run.

Saturday’s other game is Duke (33-5) against West Virginia (31-6). How funny is it that a Final Four matchup between an Atlantic Coast Conference powerhouse program and the best team the Big East has to offer is only the second-most intriguing day of the game?

But that’s what the presence of Butler has done to this year’s Final Four. The Bulldogs are overlooked all the time during the regular season but they are the stars of this year’s national semifinals — the best basketball-viewing day of the year.

And I’m ready to hit the pillow dreaming of scenarios that enable Butler to be playing in Monday’s national championship game.

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.