The NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament begins tomorrow. It's a bittersweet time, promising three weeks of action, upsets, Cinderellas, and drama, followed by the tedium of baseball season. For the fourth year in a row, my beloved Butler Bulldogs will be in the tournament. Given their outstanding season (28-4, 18-0 in conference, 20 wins in a row) the 'Dogs have been given a "5 seed" in the first round of the tournament, where they will face a really good UTEP team (Texas-El Paso).
Part of the allure of Butler basketball is the old Hinkle Fieldhouse where they play their games. There's a great article in today's New York Times about it. For a link, click Here. My earliest memory of the fieldhouse dates to 1966 when I attended a game between Butler and the University of Michigan Wolverines. Butler was an unknown, and Michigan, featuring All-American Cazzie Russell, was ranked 2nd in the nation. My brothers and I sat near a professor from Michigan who spent the entire pre-game waxing eloquent about how powerful the Wolverines were, and how sad it was that little Butler was about to be humiliated by them. He said it really wasn't fair that such a mismatch had even been scheduled.
A couple hours later my brothers and I shook the hand of a devastated Michigan professor who had watched his Goliath get taken apart by the tiny Bulldogs. That story had been lived out many times before in that wonderful old barn, and continues to be lived out today.
I don't know how Butler will do tomorrow. UTEP is tough, and these are mostly 19-20 year old kids who are playing. It's also amazing what crazy bounces you can get out of a perfectly round ball. But no matter. I'm proud of them. Proud of the season they've had, but more so proud because, like at many small schools, Butler basketball is actually played by college students who attend classes, and who graduate with real degrees at a rate as high as any school in the nation. Real college students who play basketball too! Like the Hinkle Fieldhouse, that's little more than a tottering old keepsake. And a good one.