It was last summer when I learned about Butler and Marquette facing each other in November in the first round of the Maui Invitational.
Unfortunately I determined that airfare, hotel, and tickets to the islands would be a little too pricey for that one. Not to mention it was scheduled for a Monday afternoon time slot, and so much for skipping work.
The finish of that game ranks among college basketball’s top buzzer-beaters of the season, along with Butler versus Gonzaga a couple of months later.
After Butler grabbed a rebound following a Junior Cadougan missed free throw with just seconds remaining and no time outs available, one-time Arkansas Razorback Rotnei Clarke weaved past a couple defenders at mid-court, and with a Marquette player still straight in his grill, launched a desperation one-handed heave in front of his own team’s bench. ESPN would use the video of that play all season to promote their Watch ESPN apps.
It found nothing but the bottom of the net, giving Butler a dramatic 72-71 over the team that nearly every studio host holding a CBS Sports (or CBS Sports Network) microphone still emphatically calls the Warriors.
Had it happened in March instead of during another of the endless pre-season tournaments, it would be replayed forever alongside Bryce Drew from 15 years ago, and it would not even be upstaged by an astronaut roaming the sidelines.
At the time, Butler and Marquette just seemed like two ships passing through the night in the middle of the Pacific. The two teams played out the rest of the Maui tourney then went along with their respective seasons. But then came word of the ‘Catholic 7’ (last time I’ll use the phrase) breaking away from their football-playing brethren to start a new ‘Big East’ Conference, to be joined by Xavier, Creighton, and Butler, all migrating from their various conferences.
And now two soon-to-be conference rivals are paired off in the Round of 32 in the East Regional of the NCAA Tournament at Rupp Arena, which fortunately holds a lot higher capacity than the Maui Convention Center.
Folks, a new rivalry is being born. Maybe the constant realignment of college sports isn’t all bad.
Of course, Saturday’s game should have been Butler versus Davidson. That’s because for 39 minutes and 45 seconds Thursday, Davidson had Marquette dead and buried and appeared ready to send MU to the rails in the Round of 64 just like they did to Wisconsin five years earlier.
Then came a three-pointer/Davidson turnover/Vander Blue driving layup – and thanks for playing Davidson. In poker parlance that would be called a one-outer on the river. But there was probably never a doubt for Buzz Williams.
The sheer beauty of March Madness.
Incidentally, I just hopped in my car and heard the Blue lay-up on the radio getting out of work, and cruised past the Marquette campus just in time to take in the wild post-game celebration coming out of the Student Annex.
‘Bring on Butler’, they all said…
By all accounts (at least told by Butler fans) this has been a horrible season for the Bulldogs, if you call 27-8, #6 seed in their region, and wins over top-seeded Gonzaga and then-number ranked Indiana at Assembly Hall as an awful campaign. I guess recent consecutive National Title Game appearances have indeed greatly increased expectations at Hinkle Fieldhouse.
This was also supposed to be a down-year for Marquette, but every year is supposed to be a down year for Marquette with the likes of mighty Syracuse/UConn/Georgetown/Louisville, etc. lurking in conference play.
Marquette would finish with a share of the regular-season crown in a 15-team league and be ranked 15th nationally. Yes, Buzz Williams’ program continues its downward spiral.
And P.S. to Jim Boeheim, Marquette and the local media will miss you dearly…
So, who ya got in the rematch?
The entire first meeting in Maui was a great game throughout, with MU holding a slim lead through most of the second half and getting the better of the offensive boards. Butler’s Khyle Marshall was at least the game’s co-MVP, going 11-15 from the field and adding nine rebounds. Vander Blue scored 21 for Marquette, giving an indication that he would be MU’s go-to guy this year.
The knock on Butler, compared to recent Matt Howard/Shelvin Mack teams, is that they cannot keep their best five offensive players on the floor at the price of sacrificing defense – former walk-on Alex Barlow has become a starter and provides much of the defensive glue.
Marquette lost the game, but came out of the contest ending all doubts that they could go toe-to-toe with quality competition. Same could be said for Butler, who would go on to defeat North Carolina the next night before bowing out in the Maui tourney’s championship game.
This time around, the stakes are much higher and you won’t be seeing Buzz or Brad Stevens in Hawaiian shirts.
Starting next year, the two programs will be playing at least twice per year. It’s quite a step up for the Butler program in just two years. They were used to annual trips up to Milwaukee, but it was usually to the old Milwaukee Arena (or even worse, the on-campus Klotsche Center) to play the Milwaukee Panthers in the Horizon League.
Make no mistake, Butler basketball is now big-time to stay.
And Butler/Creighton/Xavier joining the re-branded Big East is going to be awesome as well. Going back to the Al McGuire heyday, Creighton and Xavier were annual staples on a schedule when the old Warriors were playing as an independent. And if you think Creighton is a backwater institution, I got news. 18,000+ every conference game in downtown Omaha, it is a very tough ticket to get there, and one of college basketball’s best kept secrets.
The New Big East I am eagerly looking forward to, and the nation gets a sneak preview of what is in store in Lexington on Saturday.
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