About 15 minutes into the second half of the NCAA championship game between Butler and Connecticut, a friend turned to me and moaned, “This is the worst championship game I’ve ever seen in my life.” He wasn’t joking; he wasn’t playing; he wasn’t just saying it because he picked Butler to win it all. He was legitimately upset, angry and frustrated. Clang after clang after clang. Almost everything Butler pushed up bounced off the back and the front of the rim with gut-wrenching rhythm.

The Bulldogs sputtered to 22 first-half points then fell off the map with 19 in the second half. They shot a horrifying 18 percent from the field for the game and their bench? Yikes. Two points between five players and 0-for-6 from the field. As for their starters? They were even worse when you break down their 12-for-58 shooting performance.

But as Connecticut hoisted their trophy from their 53-41 laugher of a win, I couldn’t even find the room to complain. The Huskies weren’t really tested but what were people really expecting?

For weeks, Butler and Virginia Commonwealth have been the feel good stories of the tourney. They’ve become adopted sons and the favorites even though they were both made up of heavy underdogs. Connecticut didn’t play great by any means but in the end you saw what happens when you pit a team stacked with top Division I talent against a team mixed with mid-major stars and walk-ons. Butler wasn’t “supposed” to be in the final game but somehow they made it for a second year in a row. And for the second year in a row, they came up short against a prominent power. Coincidence? No, not all.

Last week I wrote that the mid-major phenomenon could become more fact than fluke in terms of seeing lesser seeds advance through the tourney. A team comprised of mostly juniors and seniors have the experience and the cohesion to surprise teams in late March. But when it comes to the grandest of stages, I’ll take talent over experience every time. Butler and VCU’s combined hit list is very impressive. You’ll find some top schools and headline coaches lying in their path of destruction but enough was enough. Even if Butler would’ve blown out Connecticut, most of us would’ve had a tough time convincing ourselves that the Butler Bulldogs finished the 2010-2011 season as the best team in college basketball.

It would’ve made for a nice story, however: Small school from Indiana slays top competition on the way to championship glory. I mean after all, who doesn’t love a nice story? But seriously, what were you expecting?


Stephen D. Riley

Special to the AFRO