An inch from history |

An inch from history

Dale Shrull
Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Dale Shrull

They came armed with jump shots instead of slingshots, but make no doubt, this was a David and Goliath matchup of the most daunting kind.

Butler, a school 4,200 undergraduate students, came within about an inch of securing the lead chapter in NCAA Tournament lore.

But that one inch just wasn’t to be, and the 2010 tournament ended just like they all do – the big guys beat the little guys.

Butler became the smallest school to reach the NCAA tournament final since the tournament was expanded to 64 teams in 1985.

This wasn’t your traditional Cinderella. The Butler boys came in with a 25-game win streak and were a No. 5 seed. But come on – Butler versus Duke? Yes, Butler was a Cinderella and they had no chance against the all powerful Duke Blue Devils.

Duke was bigger, deeper and loaded with six former McDonald’s High School All-Americans. Butler has a bunch of guys who eat at McDonald’s once in a while.

This was Duke’s 15th Final Four. Butler was making it’s first appearance.

Butler’s tenacious sophomore Gordon Hayward had two chances in the final 4 seconds. His first was a 15-footer that rimmed out, and his second was the shot that would have been legendary.

Woulda, coulda, shoulda … his shot rimmed out and Duke was victorious again.

This final score is what makes the annual rise of the Cinderellas so great. Most of us want to see the little guys beat the big guys.

The game will be remembered as one of the best of all time. If Hayward’s shot would not have been a little wayward, there would be no argument that it would have been the greatest title game ever.

Candy and nuts.

Duke once again reigns supreme in NCAA men’s basketball. Its fourth title since 1991. Yadda, yadda, yadda. Same story, different year.

When that half-court shot clanked out, it wrapped up what was arguably the greatest tournament of all time.

For fans, March Madness is a rite of spring where conversations center around the underdogs. Brackets are inked, predictions are made. All we experts try and guess which 12th seed will win, which top seed will fall, which Cinderella might make the Sweet 16, Elite 8 or Final Four.

But seldom do those brackets have an underdog as their final pick. Number one seeds and two seeds nearly always take the crown. Since 1990, with two exceptions, when No. 3 seeds won the title (Syracuse in 2003 and Florida in 2006), the NCAA hardware has gone to a No. 1 or No. 2 seed.

But every year, all the focus slips to the Cinderella stories early in the tournament. Every year, these underdogs, with no chance to win it all, stun the nation with huge upsets.

This year, Northern Iowa beating Kansas, Saint Mary’s getting the V over Villanova, the Ivy League brainiacs of Cornell making the Sweet 16. We love Cinderella and we have a ball rooting for them to topple the mighty Goliath.

And Butler beating No. 1 seed Syracuse, No. 2 Kansas State, winning by a deuce over a fellow No. 5 Michigan State, and falling an inch from puling off perhaps the greatest upset in NCAA history, was indeed an amazing Cinderella story.

But when the shot didn’t fall, this became just another bully crashing Cinderella’s party.

As special and memorable as this tournament will remain, it was just another day at the office for the tournament final.

Upsets are part of the tournament, it’s what makes this one of the greatest annual sporting events. But when the Final Four arrives, order is restored.

Back in 2006, when not a single No. 1 seed made the Final Four and No. 11 George Mason was the talk of the tournament, the Patriots were dispatched in semifinals.

The Final Four and the title game is about the big basketball powers that annually snare the best players in the land. That leaves the Butlers of the nation to recruit the leftovers.

But this Butler team showed that leftovers don’t equal chop liver.

As the title game progressed, fans of the underdog grew more and more excited. It could happen. This is the year. This is the year Cinderella kicks the evil stepmother on the shin.

This game wasn’t good versus evil, it was just big versus small. And that’s what it’s always about.

And when the final horn sounded and some 40,000 Butler fans went silent, it was the same old story.

Since 1990, and even further back, the NCAA crown has gone to a college basketball powerhouse, with a roster packed with All-Americans and future NBA stars. Duke has won four, North Carolina three, Kentucky, UConn and Florida two and the rest to basketball Goliaths like Syracuse, Maryland, Michigan State, UCLA, Arizona and Arkansas.

Even if Butler would have downed Duke, they wouldn’t have been the lowest seed to win it. In 1985, Villanova was an 8 seed when it stunned Georgetown.

As the lone No. 1 seed in the 2010 Final Four, Duke was supposed to win and they did. Butler provided the greatest scare to a Goliath since Tiger’s wife found his text messages.

But coming close does not count. It’s a great feel-good story, but it’s still a powerhouse ruining the ball for Cinderella. Duke won, again denying the little school from penning an epic and historic chapter.

Duke 61, Butler 59, a game for the ages, a tournament that stoked the Cinderella spirit in us all, but it still had the usual, predictable ending.

What could have been if that half-court shot would have found twine?

A great game, a great tournament – Butler was so close, but still an inch away from making history.

Maybe that’s why Cinderella is just a fairy tale.

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