Final Four Welcomes Butler To Its Own Hometown

In the NCAA men's basketball tournament, half of the Final Four is set. Joining West Virginia University is a school some people may not have heard of. Butler is an Indianapolis school that will make its first-ever appearance in the national semifinals, which, coincidentally, will be played in Indianapolis. Host Liane Hansen talks with NPR sports correspondent Mike Pesca about Saturday's games and Sunday's matchups.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

In the NCAA men's basketball tournament, half of the Final Four is set. Joining West Virginia University is a school some people may not have heard of -Butler, an Indianapolis school that will make its first-ever appearance in the national semifinals, which, coincidentally, will be played in Indianapolis.

NPR's Mike Pesca joins us now to talk about yesterday's game and today's matchups. The clock is ticking. Good morning, Mike.

MIKE PESCA: Hello.

HANSEN: So how did Butler manage to upset second-seeded Kansas State yesterday?

PESCA: On the heels two days before of upsetting the number one seed in their regional, the Orange of Syracuse. And they did it - the character trait that stands out is resiliency. They were resilient because in both games they jumped out to big leads and in the second half, these two excellent teams from big-time conferences - Kansas State and the Orange - they both made runs and Butler lost the lead in the second half.

And usually if there is a Cinderella team, a band of tiny upstarts, it's enough at that point. And psychologically theyll say, we got here, we tried our best, you know, and they kind of convince it was not meant to be. But Butler never did that. Butler just came back, they retook the lead and they outlasted a Kansas State team that had just played a double-overtime game.

One statistic to note is that now 10 teams in a row coming off overtime wins have lost the next day. So this is a physically grueling tournament and Kansas State was perhaps tired. But all credit to Butler, who's going back to Indianapolis. This will be a story thats going to capture a lot of peoples' imaginations because they're a small school from a small conference, and they're proving they're just as good as the biggest names in college basketball.

HANSEN: All right. Well, talk a little bit about West Virginia, who's also made the Final Four. And this is their first trip to the national semifinals since 1959. What was their route to the Final Four?

PESCA: Well, in 1959 it was Jerry West. But this year...

HANSEN: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: ...this year it was the craziest game, cause in the first half against Kentucky, West Virginia could not make a two-point shot. They could not make a lay up. They could not make a short jump shot. But they were great from the three-point arc. They hit eight of 15 of the three-point shots and none of their two-point shots, and they somehow had a two-point lead against a very talented but young Kentucky team.

And in the second half, West Virginia got rolling again. They really have good defense. And as good as West Virginia was at three-pointers, Kentucky missed their first 20 in a row. And the three-point shot is the big equalizer in college basketball. And West Virginia, I think, also had a better coached teamed or at least a team that played and stuck to their game plan a little better.

HANSEN: Address the idea thats going around that in the NCAA the 30th best team is very nearly as good as the number one.

PESCA: Right. So, you know, coming in people said, or the people who seeded said Butler should be about the 25th best seed, now they're in the Final Four. It's true. I mean, the best seeds in the tournament this year, there's always a number one seed but they have not been as strong as the number ones in years past.

Now, that doesnt mean that there isnt such a thing as an upset and upsets do happen. But more than in recent years, were really seeing that a lot of different teams have a shot at the national championship.

HANSEN: Right. And, of course, we have today's games - Tennessee vs. Michigan State and Duke vs. Baylor. I guess we're going to have to wait till the games begin. NPR's Mike Pesca, thanks, and enjoy the basketball. It's been a lot of fun.

PESCA: I will.

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