Butler the latest darling
No. 12 seed pulls off big upset, reaches Sweet 16
By Jim O'Connell
A year after not even being invited to the NCAA tournament, the Butler Bulldogs are all the rage.
They beat Rick Pitino and Louisville 79-71 on Sunday to advance to the round of 16, pulling off one of the biggest upsets of the tournament -- so far.
"It's so hard to win these games," Butler's Joel Cornette said of the matchup between the 12th-seeded Bulldogs and fourth-seeded Louisville. "On paper, people think we're nothing. We watched TV and could barely even tell we were going to play."
There's no hiding now.
Butler (27-5) certainly won't sneak up on top-seeded Oklahoma on Friday when they meet in the East Regional semifinals.
Neither will Auburn, the only other double-digit seed to reach the third round.
The Tigers, the team many felt didn't deserve an at-large bid, beat No. 2 Wake Forest 68-62 on Sunday and will meet third-seeded Syracuse in the other East Regional semifinal.
Wake Forest wasn't alone as a No. 2 seed to have a tough Sunday as Michigan State beat Florida 68-46, the Gators' fourth loss in five games.
Teams seeded higher than 10th had been to the round of 16 21 times in the last five years. Butler may be one of the most surprising.
The Bulldogs, who won the Horizon League regular-season title and lost to Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the conference tournament, knocked off No. 5 Mississippi State to get to play Louisville. And Butler stunned the Cardinals with an awesome three-point shooting display.
"As Princeton runs an offense for layups, this team runs an offense for threes -- and they're great at it," Pitino said. "They're one of the best shooting teams I've seen."
Pitino should know. His Providence team used the three-pointer as its main weapon to reach the Final Four in 1987 as a No. 6 seed.
Butler, which was left out of last year's NCAA field despite a 25-5 record, was 14-of-22 from three-point range, including 9-of-13 in the second half.
Darnell Archey, the man known for his free-throw shooting, was 8-of-9 on three-pointers and made all six he took in the second half. He matched his career high with 26 points.
"I was in the zone. I felt like Michael Jordan in '92 against the Blazers," said Archey, who set the NCAA record this season by making 85 consecutive free throws. "My teammates just kept getting the ball to me with wide-open looks."
Butler and Auburn were two of the five double-digit seeds to reach the second round. Their chances to move along in the tournament now drop decidedly because only four of the 21 that reached the round of 16 during the last five years went to the regional final, including Kent State and Missouri last year.
"It means a great deal," Butler coach Todd Lickliter said of his team's accomplishment. "There was so much on the line and it's such a huge challenge."
It was just a few weeks ago that people from the Bluegrass State were dreaming about a possible Final Four matchup of Kentucky and Louisville. That can't happen now.
"Obviously, if you don't win a championship, you're going to end on a low note," said Pitino, who had won 12 of his last 13 NCAA tournament games. "To me, this is not a low note because of what our team has accomplished this year. And I'm not too disappointed, because Butler is a great team."