Showcase programs dominate marquee
Annual tournament darling Butler joins basketball bluebloods.
Three of college basketball’s bluebloods, along with a blue bulldog from Indiana that has had lots of success of its own, have gathered in Memphis for a marquee showdown in the Sweet 16.
North Carolina, Kentucky and UCLA are joined by upstart Butler in the South Regional — the only region where the top four seeds all advanced after the opening weekend. Top-seeded North Carolina plays Butler tonight, followed by No. 2 seed Kentucky and third-seeded UCLA facing off in the second game.
“The glamour names are” here, North Carolina coach Roy Williams said.
At stake is a spot in the Elite Eight and chance to earn a berth in the Final Four. These iconic programs have plenty of championship banners hanging from the rafters as they look to add yet another, with Butler hoping to capture its first.
UCLA (31-4) has the most national championships with 11 — 10 from legendary coach John Wooden. Kentucky (31-5) of the Southeastern Conference has eight — a quartet from Adolph Rupp with one each from Joe B. Hall, Rick Pitino, Tubby Smith and John Calipari. North Carolina (29-7) of the Atlantic Coast Conference is tied for third with five championships and has been to more Final Fours (19) than any other school.
And then there’s Butler (258) of the Big East. The Bulldogs may lack titles, but they have become the tournament darlings in recent seasons reaching the national championship game in 2010 and 2011.
“I happen to think right now, Butler is better than any of them, and that’s the team we’re getting ready to play,” Williams said.
The Bulldogs’ battle against the trio of historic programs is only one of the subplots of this region. There are well-established coaches, like Calipari and Williams. Then there is Steve Alford, who hopes coach UCLA to its 12th title, but won a national title playing at Indiana.
There is Chris Holtmann, 45, in only his third year as a head coach at Butler.
“Between (Williams) and I, we have eight Final Fours, two national championships, about 15 Sweet 16s and a ton of conference championships and over 900 wins,” Holtmann quipped. “So, somebody is going to be really calm come opening tip, and somebody is going to be really nervous. I’ll let you figure that out.”
There’s a possibility of some high-scoring games tonight with three of the top 10 teams in points scored part of the South Region. UCLA leads the nation in scoring at 90.2 points a game, while Kentucky is ninth at 85.2, only slightly ahead of North Carolina at 85.1. Butler averages 76.2 points a game — 105th in the nation.
Coach Chris Holtmann, 45, has maintained the winning tradition at Butler.