SALT LAKE CITY — One of the big dogs is gone.
And one of the underdogs — better yet, make that a tough little bunch of Bulldogs — will play on.
Butler University sailed into some uncharted territory, the rarefied air of the NCAA Tournament's Elite Eight, for the first time in school history with a tense 63-59 victory over West Regional top dog Syracuse on Thursday evening at EnergySolutions Arena.
By knocking off No. 1 seed Syracuse, the fifth-seeded Bulldogs (31-4) advanced into Saturday's regional final.
But standing in their way is another big dog — actually, it's a big cat — the second-seeded Wildcats of Kansas State, who turned back Xavier in a 101-96 double-overtime thriller in Thursday night's second semifinal showdown.
Kansas State and Butler will battle on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. in the West Regional final.
And Butler now finds itself just one more win away from a spot in the Final Four, which will be played next weekend at Indianapolis — the same city where the small school (enrollment 4,200) is located. That would turn a Final Four appearance into virtually a home game for the Bulldogs, whose home court is historic Hinkle Fieldhouse — site of the dramatic championship game in the classic hoops film "Hoosiers."
And now Butler is trying to write a little "Hoosiers" script of its own.
But first, the Bulldogs have to beat Kansas State, and that won't be any small task. The Wildcats displayed the eye of a tiger in outlasting Xavier in one of the greatest games in recent NCAA tourney history.
"It's going to be a dream come true," Butler's tenacious mini-guard, Ronald Nored, said of a possible trip to the Final Four. "... If we get back to Indy, it sure would be a lot of fun."
Third-year head coach Brad Stevens, whose boyish appearance makes him look younger than most of his players, realizes how close his team is into turning that glorious dream into a reality.
"I'm going home on Saturday night or Sunday morning, whenever the charter gets here," he said. "We're going to Indy. I just hope we still have season left. ... There's a long way away from playing in the Final Four."
And Kansas State will be a major roadblock for the Bulldogs, provided the Wildcats have anything left in the tank after Thursday's marathon 3-point shooting thriller.1 comment on this story
"That's March basketball at its finest," K-State coach Frank Martin said.
"Two teams refusing to give up and refusing to give in."
Expect more of the same on Saturday.