Men's NCAA Final Pits Butler Vs. UCONN

This year's NCAA basketball finals feature some unlikely contenders. On the men's side, there's Butler and the University of Connecticut, neither of whom were expected to be playing for the championship.

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MIKE PESCA: This is Mike Pesca in Houston, where on Saturday night, after Butler earned a place in their second consecutive finals, one reporter turned to another and said: If they win it on Monday, it'll be the biggest sports story since the miracle on ice.

It won't be the biggest upset. The University of Connecticut is only a modest favorite. But we all know the lore around Butler: the cast-off kids who were likely recruited by big-time schools, the small campus, the cerebral coach. They're, in the words of Butler student Chris Clarke...

Mr. CHRIS CLARKE (Student Coach, Butler University): I still think we're America's team.

PESCA: I found some other undergrads hanging out in Houston who admitted to rooting for the Bulldogs.

Did you watch last year's national championship?

Unidentified Man: Yeah, I did.

PESCA: Who were you rooting for?

Unidentified Man #1: I was rooting for the underdog. I was rooting for Butler.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Man #2: I was rooting for Butler, 'cause they was the underdog.

Mr. BENJAMIN STEWART (Basketball Player, University of Connecticut): I was going for Butler...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEWART: ...the underdog

PESCA: Those, in case you didn't guess, were all UConn players. Benjamin Stewart, the last one there, was asked to make the case for UConn to a 10-year -old from Erie, Pennsylvania, which is halfway between Indianapolis and Connecticut's home of Storrs. This 10-year-old needs a team. Why should he root for UConn?

Mr. STEWART: I don't see why you wouldn't root for us.

PESCA: Left unaddressed was one reason why a lot of college basketball fans are not fans of UConn: Some think their coach, Jim Calhoun, is tyrannical. But his players all love him, and even Calhoun showed a softer side yesterday. He told me he loves Broadway musicals. He's seen "In the Heights" three times. And he roots for underdogs, like, say, Butler.

Calhoun says he'd love to see a smaller school win the national championship.

Mr. JIM CALHOUN (Coach, University of Connecticut): I think if it starts around 2012, 2013, it would be a wonderful thing.

PESCA: Of course, he demands that other schools do their winning on his timetable.

Mike Pesca, NPR News, Houston.

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