As the Butler Bulldogs and Providence Friars, both #9 seeds playing in Raleigh later today, look to knock off #1 seeds Virginia and North Carolina, respectively, we at Big East Coast Bias thought it would be a fun idea to fire up the WayBack Machine and take you back to the last time these two teams faced off against #1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament.
What's that? You remembered that Butler faced #1 seeds in the past but not Providence? Well, good thing you're here! How about a history lesson?
Imagine, if you will, that it's March 1987. U2 has just released their fifth album, The Joshua Tree and you, a diehard Providence Friars fan, Still Haven't Found What You're Looking For. Not since 1973, at least, which is the last time the Friars had appeared in the Final Four. Luckily for you, your team had a great year under young upstart coach Rick Pitino and led by plucky point guard Billy Donovan, the Friars reached the NCAA Tournament as a #6 seed.
After disposing of UAB, Austin Peay, and Alabama, the Friars made their first Elite Eight since the aforementioned 1973 NCAA Tournament. The only thing standing in the way of the second Final Four in school history? The big, bad Georgetown Hoyas, a conference rival coached by former Friar John Thompson.
1987 was already Georgetown's fifth trip to the Elite Eight in the 1980s (they would add one more in 1989). This wasn't a typical Elite Eight matchup, however, as Providence had already defeated Georgetown once on the season, when the unranked Friars pulled off an upset at the Providence Civic Center over the #11 Hoyas. Georgetown would go on to win when Providence came to Landover, and then once again in the Big East tournament, but that victory proved decisive for the Friars.
Over 19,000 fans packed Louisville's Freedom Hall for this showdown. The game was essentially over before it began, with Providence getting out to an incredible start, and taking a 54-37 lead into the half. The second half proved similar, and the Friars punched their ticket to New Orleans, for their first Final Four in 14 years thanks to Billy Donovan's 20 points and six assists.
Unfortunately, the story doesn't have a happy ending. The Friars lost to another fellow Big East member, Syracuse, in the Final Four. Rick Pitino headed back to the NBA to coach the New York Knicks, where he was an assistant before becoming the Friars' head coach, and Billy Donovan graduated, got drafted by the Utah Jazz, was waived, got signed by Pitino's Knicks, and then found his NBA career over after two years, before becoming one of the best college basketball coaches of the 2000s.
We don't have to go back quite as far for the last time the Bulldogs faced a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Imagine, if you will, it's March 2011. You, a Butler Bulldogs fan, find yourself listening to Justin Bieber's newest single "Never Say Never". In a way, it's very fitting song for the 2010-11 Bulldogs. Midway through conference play, the reigning National Runner-Up found itself 14-9 on the season, and 6-5 in Horizon League play. Several pundits thought Brad Stevens and the Bulldogs had no chance at making the NCAA tournament, as they couldn't seem to figure out how to replace Gordon Hayward.
Then, something amazing happened. Butler won their final seven conference games, then rolled through the Horizon League tournament. Suddenly, the Bulldogs were on a nine-game winning streak and locked into the NCAA tournament. Unlike the year prior, however, they'd be a #8 seed instead of #5.
The Bulldogs found themselves matched up against the Old Dominion Monarchs in the 8/9 game in Washington D.C. The game was very evenly matched and down to the wire. And then, Andrew Smith and Matt Howard happened.
Suddenly, the Bulldogs had won ten straight games, and the nation was on alert. Next up for the Bulldogs, though? A meeting with the #1 seed Pittsburgh Panthers.
If the last game was down to the wire, I don't know how to properly quantify this one. The teams traded baskets, leads, and runs throughout the game.
With seven seconds to go, Butler inbounded out of a timeout down 69-68. The rest, is almost still too unbelivable to this day. Let's go to the videotape.
Butler vs Pittsburgh: End of Game (3/19/11) - Butler Radio Audio with Video from brandon gaudin on Vimeo.
Andrew Smith gives Butler the lead with a lay-up with 2.2 seconds to go. Pitt is out of timeouts Bulldog fans are, no doubt, feeling pretty great. One stop is all you need, just don't foul.
Wait. What was that last part? With 1.4 seconds to play, Shelvin Mack fouled Gilbert Brown. Brown, a 79% free throw shooter on the season made the first. 70-70. Bulldog fans are somewhere between sweating and vomiting now. The second shot misses, and ENTER MATT HOWARD, once again. Howard grabbed the rebound of the second free throw, and he was fouled by Pitt's Nasir Robinson. Howard made the first free throw, missed the second on purpose, and Pitt couldn't get a shot off. Just like that, Butler knocked off the #1 seed in their region.
Depending on your perspective, this story may or may not have a happy ending. The Bulldogs went on to beat Wisconsin in the Sweet 16, Florida in the Elite Eight, and VCU in the Final Four, before losing to UConn in the National Championship Game.
There's a strong case to be made that 2009-10 and 2010-11 made Butler a national brand and, thus, are partially responsible for the Bulldogs now being in the Big East.
This has been a strange NCAA tournament already. On Friday alone, we saw a 2, a 3, and a 4 seed all lose on the same day for the first time in NCAA tournament history.
Why not continue the craziness on Saturday and take down a couple #1 seeds, Butler and Providence? It's nothing you haven't done before.