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The Dagger: College Basketball Blog

Butler again stands on the precipice of an unlikely national title

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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When Gordon Hayward, Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard led Butler to its first-ever appearance in the national title game last spring, it seemed like the culmination of a once-in-a-generation Hoosiers-like run for the mid-major powerhouse.

Who would have thought then that the Bulldogs would be back just 12 months later?

For the second consecutive year, Butler will play the role of America's darlings against a big-name program in the national championship game. The Bulldogs earned a date against either Kentucky or UConn by winning a battle of Cinderellas on Saturday, ousting upstart VCU 70-62 in the first of two national semifinals.

They did it by punishing VCU on the glass, 48-32. They did it by limiting the streak-shooting Rams to pedestrian 36.4 percent 3-point shooting. And they did it by riding the offensive heroics of Mack, who scored 24 points on 8-for-11 shooting, hit 5 of 6 from behind the arc and set up a crucial Shawn Vanzant 3-pointer with a sweet pass out of a double team with three minutes left.

That Butler is back in the title game is difficult to believe considering how much the Bulldogs struggled the first half of the season adjusting to being without Hayward and versatile defender Willie Veasley. A brutal Feb. 3 loss to Youngstown State left Butler 14-9 overall and 6-5 in the Horizon League, records that hardly guaranteed a return trip to the NCAA tournament let alone a second straight Final Four run.

Butler has won 14 straight games since that defeat thanks to improved defense, increased contributions from role players and the brilliance of Howard and Mack. That combination has the Bulldogs on the precipice of an unlikely championship for the second straight year, this time with either Kentucky or UConn standing in their way. {YSP:MORE}

When Butler returned to Indianapolis following its overtime victory over Florida in last Saturday's Midwest regional final, guard Ronald Nored told Bulldogs fans he wanted to receive a call from President Obama as the champs this year rather than the runner-ups.

Butler is one victory away from fulfilling that goal. America will be watching on Monday night, and most of the nation will be pulling for the Bulldogs to make it happen.

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