Each Friday, a writer from The Toy Department will offer their take on one of that week's biggest sports stories.

Chances are you've been in a losing locker room. You've probably even been sitting in one while trying to fight off the realization that you'll never play with this particular group of people again. Perhaps you even know what it feels like to lose in the final game, to come as close as you can without actually getting there.


Butler knows that feeling now. Several of the Bulldogs have felt it two years in a row.

Last year I covered the Final Four, and shambled on in to the locker room after Gordon Hayward's last-second heave so unforgivingly caromed off the rim at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Being there, then, was surreal. In a way, the Butler players wanted to be surrounded by anyone but teammates. They'd gotten there by believing in each other and creating a whole that was better than its parts, sure. But those moments following defeat feel only like failure, and the players couldn't avoid believing they'd let each other down. Well-coached athletes are conditioned to not make mistakes. They're taught that loses are compilations of miscues that weren't avoided. And so each one sat there, mentally rummaging through each play, re-conjuring this cut or that pass, trying to figure out where it slipped away. Imagine the pain they would have felt had any of them taken the time to look into another's eyes, blurred by tears, as the log of missteps played through their minds.

That loss came after a valiant effort, though, and the malaise quickly melted into hugs. The Bulldogs walked away still lovable, having come up only exactly as short as they were supposed to.

This year was different, of course. After meandering through the regular season, Butler roared through the tournament (spurred on, of course, by one of the most unfortunate fouls in Pitt history) and got us all to believe. If you're going to be a dedicated sports fan, you probably feel that there's some sort of magic behind the games that we can't understand. Even stat heads must admit this. John Gasaway of Basketball Prospectus breaks basketball down into its component parts as well as anyone, and even he called this "the most improbable Final Four of the modern era."

The fact that scrappy little Butler -- which still didn't look the part -- somehow found its way to the title game for a second-straight year intrigued the innermost sense of wonder we have as sports fans. Bobby Knight's Indiana teams never even did that. Butler, we were told repeatedly, did it the "right way," too. Every piece of evidence I've gathered, having talked to dozens upon dozens of AAU and high school coaches in the state of Indiana, points to that being true.

It's just unfortunate that, by comparison, UConn became so difficult to like. Watching them celebrate the title felt a little like Animal House being rewritten so the frat boys win. It simply seemed wrong. That's in large part due to the institutional corruption we know exists at UConn (as CBS' Gary Parrish pointed out, the Huskies are a fitting champion for a year besmirched by scandal.) But kids such as Kemba Walker -- an example of why more players should stay in college and develop over two or three years -- and former Walbrook star Roscoe Smith shouldn't be diminished by that.  Nor should they suffer because the championship game wasn't particularly aesthetically pleasing. (Gregg Doyel suggested that Americans, enamored with the absurdity of Charlie Sheen and The Jersey Shore, actually liked the way the game was played. There's probably too much truth to that.) Not enough people appreciate defense, and both teams were strong in that area. Every possession always matters, but you can't always tell that as a fan. This game made it clear, and there's value in that. Especially when you consider that UConn had to win 11 games in less than a month on its way to Big East and NCAA tournament championships.

Questions will surround Butler's young coach, Brad Stevens, from here on out. He's said that his recruiting won't change, and in many ways it hasn't. He's still not pulling only from the upper echelon of prospects, the way most top-tier teams do. And while these past two years have certainly proven that his system can work -- especially when you consider that Hayward bolted for the NBA after last year -- it's clear that Connecticut had a significant athletic advantage.

I happen to agree with those who've suggested that Stevens will only ever leave for one of the top college jobs (Duke, UNC, UCLA, Kansas, Indiana), although he could look to the NBA at some point (the same traits that make him a great tournament coach -- quickly finding and manipulating match-ups and his even-keeled professionalism -- would serve him well with pro players).  While winning a title at Butler and proving that it can be done might now be Stevens' white whale, he'll continue spending most of his seasons at Butler competing in the relative anonymity of the Horizon League. Few coaches who've been as successful as he's been have done so without having the sort of drive that pushes them to find new challenges that pit them against top contenders as frequently as possible. Yeah, he's an Indiana kid who doesn't at all seem concerned with the trappings of big-time college basketball.  But he also wants to test himself against the best there is.

Opinions have varied about what Butler's run (and that of VCU) mean for the game of college basketball. There's been a suggestion that traditional powers have lost ground because of their penchant for recruiting one-and-done players. Those teams lack the cohesion and fortitude seen in veteran teams, many purists say. Though it says here that traditional powers will continue to rule the game -- they've got too many built in advantages, from famous alums to powerful boosters that enable the building of shiny facilities -- Butler has certainly shown that a program built steadily over a few decades (Barry Collier began the process when he took over in 1989) can compete and become a point of pride for a university.

Towson, which like Butler is located in an area of the country ripe with hoops talent, and its new basketball coach, Pat Skerry, have surely noticed.