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Has it Sunk In Yet?

I'm writing this on the plane flight home from the West Regional, however, this ride, is far from over. True, we won't be catching a plane to cover the Final Four, there is no doubt this next week will be one wild and crazy trip for the Butler Bulldogs.

Butler is in the Final Four.

Despite having watched all four of Butler's NCAA Tournament games up close and personal, I think this is a good time to step back and try to allow this moment and this accomplishment to sink in.

Butler is in the Final Four.

In the moments following the Bulldogs 63-56 victory over Kansas State Saturday (by the way, I predicted a 63-52 win on TWITTER 30 minutes before the tip) the players grasping the magnitude of their accomplishment. The Bulldogs had just scaled a gigantic Mountain in the Rockies.

"It didn't really sink in until that buzzer went off. It's just surreal, it's magical, I can't wait to go home," West Region Most Outstanding Player Gordon Hayward told me.

Yes, Gordon, it was all of those things.

When the players spent about an hour answering questions from reporters like myself, when they got a chance to climb the ladder and cut down a piece of new while wearing a fresh t-shirt and hat that says, "Regional Champions" it started to sink in even more. And you could tell the the smiles every single player and coach flashed that they got itÂ…

Butler is in the Final Four

And the feeling could not be better.

"This is unbelievable. Going back home for the Final Four." said freshman Andrew Smith. Speaking of unbelievable, Smith played more minutes (12) Saturday than he had in the previous seven Butler games combined!

Think about how many times we've watched the NCAA Tournament. We always see some great story about a small-school team winning a game or two in first weekend. Those teams get the USA Today feature stories on Monday-Wednesday. Their fan base has a few days to start dreaming about what might happen if they win a couple more games. The instant fame often goes to players heads and all of they don't play with the same hunger or chip on their shoulder as they did earlier.

NCAA Regional weekend is usually where Underdogs die.

It happened again in this tournament. Cornell, Washington, and St. Mary's lost in blowout fashion in the regional semi-finals. Northern Iowa gave Michigan State a a game, but couldn't make enough plays down the stretch to advance to the Elite Eight.

In fact, I can remember and underdog group of Bulldogs giving #1 seeded Florida everything the Gators could want for 38 minutes three years ago in the Edward Jones Dome. In the end, the defending national champions kindly shoved the Dawgs aside and walked away victorious en route to their second consecutive National Championship.

But this weekend in Salt Lake City, the Bulldogs changed the script. And even though it probably isn't fair to call the 11th ranked team in the country an underdog, they really don't mind.

"It's okay to call us a mid-major, by the way, Cinderlla, whatever you want to all us, still get to play. That's good," said Butler Head Coach Brad Stevens.

Perhaps that attitude of not caring what their called kept this Butler team from following the path that the "underdogs" before had traveled. They weren't just happy advancing to the Sweet 16. They weren't intimidated playing against the region's top team. They didn't flinch when given the opportunity to defend the "best backcourt" in the tournament. They simply did what they've done throughout the entire 24-game winning streak.

They played relentless defense.

They landed the first punch.

They got knocked down, but picked themselves up with the game on the line.

They won.

Butler is in the Final Four.

There is a much smaller sample of teams from non-Big-Six conferences who've actually made it this far in the NCAA Tournament. Most, including Larry Bird's 1979 Indiana State Sycamores, have fallen short of the Ultimate Goal.

The Butler players are certainly grateful for the opportunity to play another week, but I don't think this team is capable of getting full of themselves. True, there might be more national newspaper articles written about Butler this week than in the history of the school, but this team is NOT satisfied.

Butler is in the Final Four.

And they just MIGHT win the whole damn thing!

"We're going to pack in Indianapolis for the whole weekend too. We're not there just to show that we can make it there, we're there to show that we can win it," said Nored.

Let the Madness continue!

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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