No Surprise: Butler Does It Again (and Again, and Again)

Step aside, Hoosiers. The Bulldogs are Indiana’s team

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Indiana, on the whole, is awfully set in its ways. After all, our official state beverage is “water” and we can buy it at the grocery store on Sunday, but cannot buy beer. (“Sunday’s for prayin’ and starchin’ our Bible trousers!”) Consider this as well: Our state’s annual Holy Day is named after the process that blends air and fuel in an internal combustible engine. That process is outdated and all but obsolete in modern cars, of course—not that Carb Day cares. It most assuredly does not. Carb Day pays no attention to automotive advancements, warrants out for its arrest, or the need to wear clothes. Carb Day is a boss.

Similarly, Indiana identifies itself as a “basketball state,” and for historical reasons has put the vast majority of those self-identifying eggs into its IU Hoosiers basket. Growing up, that’s what I did, like everyone else I knew. The Hoosiers were our everything, Chuck Marlowe our Vin Scully. Five national titles and Calbert Cheney’s inherent coolness tend to do that to a generation, right or wrong. But like carburetors and soda shops and archaic Blue Laws, those days are gone. Or they should be if we are being honest about it. IU’s last championship was 30 years ago, its last Final Four appearance 15 years later.

Yet IU Basketball remains King around here—at least in the media—Butler its fiddler. That feels … wrong.

Watching the Bulldogs out-rebound, out-defend, out-hustle and outplay the No. 1-ranked Villanova Wildcats this week as everyone knew they would, I kept coming back to one inescapable thought: why doesn’t Indianapolis appreciate Butler more than we do? Because we really don’t. And we really should. And not just because of last night.

Holy hell, that team. That program. That coach. That gym. That whole package is EVERYTHING big-picture “Indiana Basketball” is supposed to be—what it markets itself to be—and nothing that IU basketball is or has been for some time.

Butler has become IU as IU has become Wichita State or any other nondescript basketball program with a smattering of successes and Sweet 16s. And somehow it still feels like an anomaly—like Butler will return to its predetermined seat at the NCAA kiddie table soon enough, along with Wright State and Detroit Mercy and Valpo because that is the way of the basketball Universe. But that won’t happen, it’s not on the horizon; it only seems that way. And it seems that way, I think, because it’s Butler, hidden in plain sight, completely intertwined in our daily lives. It’s our cozy little civic center tucked away in the tiny, picturesque neighborhood where we walk the dog and take the kids sledding and jog along the canal. It’s where we go to see Wynton Marsalis play and hear Garrison Keillor speak and attend weddings in Holcomb Gardens … not where our state’s chosen identity lives.

But that’s exactly where it lives at the moment, and where it’s lived for the last decade. The Indy Star could have a thousand beat-writers assigned to the Hoosiers instead of their normal nine and it doesn’t change that fact.

Butler is a national powerhouse, Binkley’s its foyer—an emerging Duke-like juggernaut at 49th and Our Living Room. It hardly seems real.

So too did fuel-injected engines at first, I bet.

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