A little after 9 ET on the evening of Feb. 3, Butler coach Brad Stevens walked to midcourt and shook hands with Youngstown State coach Jerry Slocum. Stevens' 14-9 Bulldogs had just lost to Slocum's 8-14 Penguins by the score of 62-60. The team that had captivated much of the nation by reaching the 2010 national championship game had blown a 10-point lead in the last six minutes and lost to the Horizon League's last-place team.
It was Butler's third consecutive defeat, coming on the heels of overtime losses to Milwaukee and Valparaiso. And as Stevens sat in a sparsely attended media room at the Beeghly Center in Youngstown, Ohio, there was absolutely no reason to think in less than 60 days Butler would be wearing home whites in a national semifinal. Quite the opposite, it seemed probable the Bulldogs wouldn't even make the field of 68.
We know how this story ends, of course, which is why I'm writing about Butler in late March. Since that night in Youngstown, the Bulldogs have gone 13-0. On Saturday, Stevens' team will take the court at Reliant Stadium in Houston and play Virginia Commonwealth. If it wins, Butler will make its second consecutive appearance in the national championship game, a feat that can only be termed staggering for a Horizon League university with a total enrollment of fewer than 5,000 students.
You may have noticed that some of the Bulldogs' wins in the NCAA tournament have been rather close, dramatic and perhaps even incredible. Such outcomes have raised the question of whether Stevens is as good as his now-glowing reputation or he's just been on the fortunate side of fate. Let's briefly recap the highlights: