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COLUMN

Butler, Gonzaga show where they really are as programs

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For more on college basketball, follow Tom Davis via Twitter at Tom101010.

Both teams are as good as any in the country

Sunday, January 20, 2013 - 3:03 am

INDIANAPOLIS – Of all the NCAA legislation that needs to be passed, there might not be a more important rule than prohibiting the use of the term “mid-major” whenever discussing the men's basketball programs of Gonzaga and Butler.

That description, when paired with either set of Bulldogs, is as out of date as your VCR.

These two programs battled to the buzzer – and the officials had to make sure that it wasn't even after that – on Saturday in front of a raucous 10,228 fans at Hinkle Fieldhouse with the host Bulldogs prevailing on an eight-foot floater from Butler sophomore Roosevelt Jones as time expired. There was nothing “mid-major” about the electric atmosphere that gripped the national television audience.

The sell-out crowd got so loud at times it drowned out ESPN's Dick Vitale, who was calling the game from courtside.

The 64-63 Butler victory was the program's third buzzer-beater this season.

“These guys are just crazy enough to make me believe,” Butler coach Brad Stevens said. “Just the stuff they do, the way they play the game, the way they stay in the game, and the belief that they have in one another.”

If there are any basketball fans that don't share in that belief – in both of these programs – then they are the ones that are indeed crazy.

Butler is now 16-2 and ranked 13th in the country, while the 17-2 Bulldogs of Gonzaga were ranked eighth entering Saturday's game. Both will move in opposite directions with the unveiling of the polls tonight, and in the case of Butler, it very well may be placed in the top 10, as it should be.

There is nothing “mid-major” about that.

ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas said prior to Saturday's game that Butler “is good enough to beat just about anybody.”

In fact, the Bulldogs already have.

Butler has knocked off three top 10 teams this year (it also has wins over No. 9 North Carolina and No. 1 Indiana). Gonzaga is 5-0 against the Big 12 Conference, and has also beaten an ACC and Pac 12 teams. Can we just say that these programs are great, period; and not categorize them any longer as “really good mid-majors?”

Butler's three top 10 victories are the most by any program in the country. Only Duke can boast of the same level of success.

When you and Duke basketball stand alone in a category, you aren't a “mid-major” anything.

How has this occurred for both Butler and Gonzaga?

The truth about college basketball is that it isn't nearly as good as it was 20 years ago, due to the early exits of the best players to the NBA. But for programs like Butler and Gonzaga, that isn't a negative thing, it's tremendous.

Indiana coach Tom Crean will be crying by Easter of this year over the loss of his best player, All-American center Cody Zeller. Stevens can map out his 2015-16 roster and write Kellen Dunham into that lineup with a Sharpie.

Two decades ago, the best players in the so-called power conferences stayed at least three seasons with their programs and those teams and players dominated the national broadcasts.

In today's college basketball world, programs such as Butler and Gonzaga have amazing facilities, travel the country in style, and with the proliferation of cable television, their games can be seen all of the time and all over the place. Throw in their ability to match their 22-year-olds against other teams' 19-year-olds and you can see why they have so much success.

Butler has advanced to the NCAA Tournament 10 times in the past 16 years, including a pair of Sweet 16s to go with a pair of national championship game appearances. Six of the past seven seasons the Bulldogs have been nationally ranked. Stevens' program is 20-11 versus the power conferences over the past three seasons.

This program, as well as Gonzaga, is “major” in every measurable way. And with the way the sport works nowadays, both Bulldog programs will remain so.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Tom Davis at tdavis@news-sentinel.com.