Inevitably, each year of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament brings another "Cinderella" team into the spotlight for the public to fawn over. Gonzaga held the spotlight several years ago with surprising wins in earlier rounds. Valparaiso has also been fitted for a slipper in previous years as the Crusaders ambushed a first round opponent in the "Dance."
This year, the Butler Bulldogs have become media darlings after a first round "stunner" over Mississippi State and Saturday's "shocking" win over the Rick Pitino led Louisville Cardinals.
But why is it such a surprise that a small school such as Butler can beat the big dogs in the tournament?
Granted, the Butlers of the world are quite unlikely to draw bunches of blue chip talent for their program. The Louisville Cardinals will get more McDonald's All-Americans in two years than Butler will see in two decades.
So what makes it possible for the "Milan's" of the NCAA world to down the king fish of Bracketville?
Mostly a combination of hard work, role players, experience and flat out overachieving.
Against Mississippi State, Butler proved why they are indeed one of the best defensive squads in the country, holding opponents under 60 ppg. this year.
Butler held their more heralded opponents under 50 points as they defeated the SEC Western Division champions 47-46 as Brandon Miller hit a runner in the lane with 6.2 seconds left.
The senior guard, who transferred from Southwest Missouri State, lead the team with 14 points and added four assists. But he was just one of three seniors who played more than 33 minutes in the game.
Darnell Archey, a senior guard from New Castle High School, scored eight points while providing an excellent defensive effort on Derek Zimmerman and Timmy Bowers of Mississippi State. Joel Cornette (6'10, 230lb.) also provided a workman-like effort in picking up nine points and six boards against the sizable presence of Mario Austin (6'9, 260lbs.).
Duane Lightfoot Jr. had 13 points and seven boards in the game and also provided solid defensive pressure.
Butler held Mississippi State to just 36 percent shooting from the field (16-of-44) and 29 percent (6-of-21) from 3-point range.
While that first win was impressive against another squad who likes to slow the ball down and win in the halfcourt, the win versus Louisville opened a few more eyes.
The Cardinals, who at one point were ranked in the top-five in the nation, pride themselves on withering defensive pressure and highlight reel offensive athletic ability. But Butler brought them back to Earth with sheer, clinical fundamental basketball.
Louisville frustrated the Bulldogs early with their press as Miller had trouble breaking the defense. But afterwards, Miller did all the little things right.
After falling behind by 15 points early, Butler never flinched in making an 18-4 run to lead by a point, 34-33, at the half.
Miller was a big reason why. He had six assists, took a pair of charges against high-flying Louisville senior Reece Gaines, and also drew several hand-checking fouls while bringing the ball up the court.
Instead of Louisville making another big run to start the second half like most fans thought. It was the Bulldogs who came out with a bite rather than a bark.
An early second half 13-0 run put Butler up 50-39 and forced a Pitino timeout and the Bulldogs looked like the predator rather than the No. 12 seed prey.
A fantastic shooting display from Archey (8-of-9 from 3-point range) and Mike Monserez (4-of-7 from 3-point range) captivated the fans in Birmingham. Archey hit all six of his shots from long range in the second half and the Bulldogs played to their strengths in halting a Pitino streak of 12 NCAA tourney wins in 13 games.
The Bulldogs also had assists on 21-of-27 baskets in getting open to hit 14-of-22 3-point shots leading Pitino to comment, "As Princeton runs an offense for layups, this team runs an offense for 3s, and they're great at it. They're one of the best shooting teams I've seen."
No argument here. Who knew that Cinderella could stroke the J?
Now the Bulldogs get their biggest challenge to date on Friday evening with a matchup against No. 1 seed Oklahoma.
Though an experienced Sooner club that advanced to the Final Four last year with virtually the same lineup is a tough matchup for anyone, don't count out the Bulldogs just yet.
This may not be Hollywood and Butler may not be Milan, the Indiana High School team that was the subject of the movie Hoosiers, though they do play in the gym in which the movie was filmed. But the Bulldogs are good, not just talented for a small school, but good on a national scale. These kids have spent their entire basketball lives grooming themselves for this moment, a chance to dance in the spotlight. Why stop the music now?