That is the last time a non-power conference team (UNLV) made back-to-back appearances in the Final Four. Butler has ended that streak, as the Bulldogs are now 9-1 in their last NCAA tournament games, coming one long 3-pointer away from being national champions.
The return has been even more impressive, considering the teams that Butler has had to knock off along the way. Starting from its second round matchup against No. 1 Pittsburgh, the Bulldogs have reeled off wins against No. 4 Wisconsin and No. 2 Florida.
Look no further than junior guard Shelvin Mack as the reason for the team’s 13-game winning streak, and success in this tournament. He’s averaging 21.3 points during the dance, including pouring in 27 points in its Elite 8 matchup against the Gators.
He did all that on a twisted ankle, and was named the Southeast Regional’s MVP.
Then, there’s also senior forward Matt Howard, who has been just as good. During the dance, he’s averaging 37 minutes, 16.3 points and 7.0 rebounds. The number of minutes played is an especially telling number, since he suffered through foul trouble during the early parts of Butler’s season.
All of those stats aside, the best thing Butler has going for it is its poise.
It seems somewhat cliché to say that one team has all of the intangibles on its side, but what else can be said about Butler’s run this year?
In Butler’s opening round matchup against Old Dominion, Shawn Vanzant tripped on his way to the basket and threw up a wild shot that ended up being tipped in by Howard to at the buzzer to send Butler to the third round after a 60-58 win.
Against Pittsburgh, a foul with under two seconds left allowed Howard to hit a free throw with 0.8 as Butler escaped with a 71-70 win.
After a relatively (again, stress on the word relative) stress-free 61-54 win over Wisconsin, the Bulldogs then needed overtime to edge Florida 74-71.
If you do the math, that’s a combined 13 points in all of Butler’s tournament wins so far. The team is as unflappable as head coach Brad Stevens is calm.
Combine that with the fact that the Bulldogs are 8-1 on neutral courts this season (the only loss being to Duke), and Butler has all the signs of a champion in the making.