"Will it be a Jimmy Chitwood/Bobby Plump kind of moment?" So said announcer Jim Nantz as if became clear that the mighty Duke Blue Devils, with their championship pedigree, will be facing the unsung Butler Bulldogs in Monday’s NCAA men’s basketball final. The Jimmy Chitwood/Bobby Plump reference is of course a nod to the classic sports film Hoosiers, where the tiny team from Hickory High wins the Indiana state championship against their mighty big city opponent. For the uninitiated, Butler University is located in Indiana and the finals are in Indiana just seven miles from campus. Therefore according to the script laid out by CBS, Duke, led by USA Basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski is the big bad Goliath as Butler plays David with little more than a prayer’s chance. It’s an attractive script. It’s also complete hooey.
Butler is no Hickory High and Monday’s final game is far more evenly matched than the announcers were letting on. As Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said before their excruciating two-point loss to the Bulldogs in Saturday’s semifinal, “Butler is no Cinderella.” He’s absolutely right. They were a top ten team in the preseason and finished in the top ten during the regular season. They also haven’t lost a game since December. They’ve busted brackets in offices around the country and in retrospect it’s our fault for overlooking them. As for Duke, despite the arrogance they wear as casually as a cardigan, the Blue Devils are no one’s Goliath. This is Coach K’s first trip to the Final Four since 2004 and they last won a title in 2001. This team in particular, while scrappy and workmanlike lacks players who can create their own shots and depends mightily on three pointers and second-chance opportunities.
Butler on the other hand will have the best, most NBA-ready player on the court Monday, in forward Gordon Heywood. They have an opportunistic team that shot only 31% against Final Four opponent Michigan State, and still eked out a victory. They will also have a hometown Hoosiers crowd cheering lustily after every basket. Duke might fancy itself as Goliath, but it’s Butler that knows how to shoot the rock when it counts. And that’s historically been bad news for Goliath.