The NCAA tournament couldn't have written a better script.
All that's left is the final act.
It will be tiny upstart Butler, the hometown college that has never been on such a stage, taking on the blueblood Blue Devils of Duke, a school which already has three title banners hanging from the rafters at Cameron Indoor Stadium and has played in the final nine times before.
Forget for a moment about "Hoosiers," the sappy based-on-a-true-story movie that just happened to be filmed at Hinkle Fieldhouse, which the Bulldogs call home. Just appreciate the story for what it is: Two teams with plenty of veterans who each have overcome their own obstacles to reach Monday night's final in Indianapolis.
There aren't any one-and-done players here, and these are no flash-in-the-pan programs. Just a bunch of kids who share a love of the game competing for the biggest prize in college basketball.
Sixty-three teams have gone home. One more will join them.
And one will be left standing.
Duke will be playing for another national championship game, this time against the most unlikely of opponents.
The No. 1 seed Blue Devils got big games from Jon Scheyer, Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler in a 78-57 rout of West Virginia, sending the South Regional champions into the title game Monday night against unheralded upstart Butler.
The hometown Bulldogs beat Michigan State earlier in the night.
Scheyer finished with 23 points to lead all scorers, and Singler had 21 points, nine rebounds and five assists after an 0-for-10 shooting performance in the regional finals against Baylor. Smith hit four 3-pointers and finished with 19 points.
"We were not going to beat West Virginia without a great performance," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said after the game. "West Virginia is a very good offensive team. They really run a very complicated offense, with a lot of cuts. We had a lot of preparation time."
Duke never seemed to be in trouble against the Mountaineers, building an eight-point lead at halftime that swelled as the second half went on. West Virginia couldn't defend the Blue Devils' hot hands on the perimeter, allowed far too many second-chance opportunities and never got into its offensive sets.
The loss was made even more painful for West Virginia after star guard Da'Sean Butler collapsed on a drive to the basket midway through the second half. He immediately grabbed at his left knee and writhed on the ground in pain, and coach Bob Huggins enveloped him in a hug, trying to console one of the best players ever to wear a Mountaineers jersey.
Butler needed help to get off the court, then took a golf cart back to the locker room.
From that point on, it seemed like Duke — and West Virginia, for that matter — were simply going through the motions as time ticked off the clock.
The Blue Devils' three-headed monster has been absolutely dominant.
Jon Scheyer has a game-high 20 points to go with five assists, Nolan Smith has four 3s and 19 points, and Kyle Singler has 18 points, seven rebounds and five assists.
Throw in Brian Zoubek if you want a quartet. He has a game-high 10 rebounds.
Duke is putting together its most complete game of the NCAA tournament, leading 69-55 at the final media timeout. Heck, it might be its most complete game of the season.
If the Blue Devils can milk the clock for 3:55, it will set up a true "Hoosiers"-like scenario in the national championship game: Butler, the little team that could, against one of the most established and respected programs in college basketball history.
Think anybody in Hollywood is watching?
The Blue Devils had a hop in their step as they retreated to the sideline during a timeout, just after Nolan Smith melted down the entire shot clock before scoring on a driving layup for a 67-52 lead with just over 7 minutes to go.
The Mountaineers have been unable to generate any offense, and things will only be tougher without Da'Sean Butler. He hurt his left leg or knee moments ago and couldn't even make the long walk to the locker room, instead hopping on the back of a golf cart.
The Blue Devils are shooting better than 54 percent from the field, are 10 of 19 from beyond the arc and have a healthy 21-14 edge in rebounds. They've also turned it over six times while cranking out 18 assists — a ratio that would make John Stockton proud.
Da'Sean Butler's rough night has just gotten a whole lot worse.
The Mountaineers' star drove to the basket and collapsed in a heap, immediately grabbing at his left leg and holding his hand over his face. It looked like his left knee buckled as he planted just before running into Duke center Brian Zoubek.
Butler had been just 2 of 8 from the field, struggling to get open shots.
He continued to writhe in pain under the basket on offense, and coach Bob Huggins came out on the court and cradled him in a hug.
Butler finally got helped up and off the court by Deniz Kilicli and a team trainer, and went straight to the locker room, still unable to put weight on his left leg.
That's a tough series for the Deniz Kilicli. And the Mountaineers.
Kilicli got called for traveling after moving his pivot foot on offense, then came down on defense and fouled Jon Scheyer on a 3-point attempt. Scheyer made two of them to push the Blue Devils to a 55-44 advantage.
Another turnover led to Nolan Smith's breakaway and a foul on the way to the basket, and he made one of two free throws. Kilicli then turned it over again on offense, and Miles Plumlee jammed a putback that gave the Blue Devils a 58-44 lead with 11:48 left.
Plumlee was whistled for a technical foul for hanging on the rim, much to the ire of Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. He doesn't have much else to be upset about.
Make it a 15-0 advantage in second-chance points for the Blue Devils, after Kyle Singler tracked down a blocked shot and found Nolan Smith wide open on the wing. His fourth 3-pointer put Duke back ahead 46-38 with 15:44 remaining.
The Blue Devils are 8 of 16 from beyond the arc.
Da'Sean Butler is doing his best to get going on offense, with a nifty move inside that drew a foul and will send him to the line when the teams come out of timeout.
He's still just 1-for-6 shooting, though, and backcourt mate Joe Mazzulla is 1 for 4. That kind of production isn't going to cut it against a team that it pack it inside on defense.
If the Mountaineers are going to rally against Duke, they had better start converting on the rare instances in which they pull down an offensive rebound.
West Virginia had about four tries on a trip down the floor moments ago and came away empty, and the Blue Devils still have a 12-0 advantage in second-chance points. They also have the lead with time ticking in the second half.
Wellington Smith hit a 3-pointer and Da'Sean butler added two free throws to trim a 10-point deficit in half, but Butler still has just one field goal in six attempts.
There is a direct connection to West Virginia's last Final Four team in 1959 inside Lucas Oil Stadium: Jay Jacobs, the radio analyst for Mountaineers basketball.
His voice has become a soothing sound for West Virginia fans over the years, and he finds it hard to believe that 51 years have passed since he joined Jerry West and Mary Lou Retton's father, Ronnie, on the run that came up just short of a national title.
Jacobs' voice is so popular that coal mine operators even started piping in broadcasts of West Virginia's games into the mines. Yep, that's his voice hundreds of feet below ground, echoing off the dark, chilly walls of the mines.
"It's unbelievable," Jacobs said Friday.
Duke played the kind of first half that reminds a lot of fans on Tobacco Road of those teams in the 1990s and early 2000s that kept winning championships.
Tough defense. Great ball movement. Excellent shooting.
Now all that's missing is the follow-through, a second half that can carry the Blue Devils back to the championship game for the first time since winning it in 2001.
Since 2004, when the Blue Devils lost to UConn in the national semifinals, coach Mike Krzyzewski has kept the talent coming and won four ACC tournament and two regular-season titles. But during that span, the Blue Devils never advanced past the NCAA regional semifinals.
That, combined with the two national championships North Carolina has won in the same span, has certainly made it easier to criticize a program that already has its share of haters.
Winning is a good way of silencing just about anyone.
Duke took a 39-31 lead over West Virginia into halftime after miscues on offense by both teams in the closing seconds.
The reason for the Blue Devils' advantage can be traced to the 3-point arc, where Duke has hit 7 of 14 in the first half — three by Nolan Smith and two each from Kyle Singler and Jon Scheyer. Singler has a game-high 14 points while Smith had 11 before sitting the rest of the half with three fouls.
It was a quick-moving first half because both teams hung onto the ball and there were very few fouls. West Virginia attempted the only three free throws, missing two of them.
The Mountaineers need to start rebounding better — they're getting beat 14-6 on the glass and have allowed seven offensive rebounds. They also need to get Da'Sean Butler going, after a 1-for-5 shooting performance left him with just two first-half points.
There's only 20 minutes left in the season for one of these two teams.
The other has Butler awaiting Monday night.
Everybody wondered after the Blue Devils defeated Baylor in the regional finals how they would have performed had Kyle Singler been at the top of his game — rather than going 0 for 10 from the field.
West Virginia is finding out.
Singler has six first-half field goals, two of them 3-pointers, and Nolan Smith just added a 3-pointer to give the Blue Devils a 31-21 lead with under 6 minutes to go. West Virginia coach Bob Huggins quickly called a timeout to try and stop the momentum.
It looked like it worked when Wellington Smith hit a 3, but Smith came down and hit his second in a row to restore the 10-point advantage with under 5 minutes left.
West Virginia had to send someone racing back to the locker room to get a clean jersey for Joe Mazzulla. That crack on the head earlier in the game left him bleeding and some got on his jersey, which means he had to change it.
Mazzulla swapped out jerseys while sitting on a stool during a timeout and was back on the court with a No. 24 uniform that doesn't have his name on the back. He usually wears No. 21.
John Flowers has a funky looking shot, but it's been working for him so far.
Flowers just hit his second 3-pointer to close West Virginia within 23-21, before Jon Scheyer showed some quickness in the paint to get an easy basket inside for the Blue Devils.
The Mountaineers are 9 of 15 from the field, but they've already been doubled up on the glass Duke has taken advantage of five offensive rebounds to score second-chance points.
West Virginia is one of the scrappiest defensive teams in the country, but it sure is having trouble with the inside-outside offense that the Blue Devils are employing.
Kyle Singler just knocked down a 3-pointer after scoring on a twisting layup, and Duke leads 18-11 with under 12 minutes left in the first half. Singler is 4 of 8 from the field for nine points after going 0 for 10 from the field against Baylor in the regional finals.
Miles Plumlee and his brother Mason Plumlee checked in moments ago, and it has to be a thrill for the freshmen to play in the Final Four in Indianapolis.
They're from Warsaw, Ind., about a 2-hour drive from Lucas Oil Stadium.
Mason Plumlee has already scored a field goal to help the Blue Devils to an 11-9 lead, the assist coming from Nolan Smith, who has three of them.
Brian Zoubek has four early points for the Blue Devils, but they should be even more excited about the two points that Kyle Singler just scored moments ago.
He'd gone 47 minutes without a field goal, getting shut out by Baylor last weekend.
Duke leads 9-7 after the first media timeout and is doing a good job on the offensive end of keeping space, which has allowed for a couple of easy looks inside. After the last bucket by Zoubek, Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins was livid on the sideline.
Talk about a couple rough trips down court for Joe Mazzulla.
The West Virginia guard was called for a questionable 5-second turnover when it looked like he was driving to the corner just after the opening tip, then was bopped in the head and had to come out when he tried to put up a shot from inside.
Kyle Singler is having a rough go for Duke, too. He's had a pair of shots blocked in the first couple minutes.
The drama isn't over in Indianapolis, even though a good portion of the crowd at Lucas Oil Stadium couldn't care less who wins the nightcap: The hometown Bulldogs are already in the national championship game.
Nevertheless, fans in Morgantown and Durham are turning up the volume on their TV sets.
West Virginia and Duke have taken the court for warmups, with the winner advancing to the marquee game Monday night. It's a matchup between the blue-collared and the blueblood, between a coach who has never won a national title and another who has three of them.
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins promised when he took over his alma mater that he'd raise banners back in Morgantown, and he'll have a chance after guiding the Mountaineers to their first Final Four since 1959. It's also the first trip for Huggins since 1992, when he led Cincinnati to within two games of a title.
Compare that to Mike Krzyzewski, who has guided the Blue Devils to 11 Final Fours and won national championships in 1991, '92 and 2001. Duke already has 33 wins this season, its most since the last title team won 35 games.
Tipoff is just a few minutes away.
Forget about "Hoosiers," folks. Butler is putting together its own incredible story.
The Bulldogs will be playing for a national championship Monday night.
Baby-faced forward Gordon Hayward scored 19 points and the fifth-seeded Horizon League champions knocked off Big Ten heavyweight Michigan State 52-50 in the Final Four.
Shelvin Mack battled through muscle spasms to add 14 points for the Bulldogs, the team that practices in the same building — Hinkle Fieldhouse — where they filmed the movie "Hoosiers" about the upstart high school team that proved they could beat anybody.
Just like the Bulldogs.
The scrappy team coached by a 33-year-old former marketing employee for Eli Lilly will play West Virginia or Duke for the national title. And just imagine what the atmosphere will be like at Lucas Oil Stadium, a 10-minute drive from the Butler campus.
"I'll be honest, there's so many people here I just wanted to focus on the court," coach Brad Stevens said moments after the game, basking in the adulation that comes with a victory on the game's biggest stage.
"Both sides really battled," he said. "We were lucky to be up two at the end, and I think the difference was we held them to 3-0 the last 30 minutes, and we needed to."
Butler will carry a 25-game winning streak into the championship game, the longest since Duke won 32 straight entering the 1992 national title game.
"Just really excited right now," Hayward said.
Butler shot just 30 percent from the field and hit 5 of 21 from 3-point range, but the Bulldogs made up for it by going 17 of 24 from the foul line — including two by Ronald Nored, a 61-percent free-throw shooter, with 6.1 seconds remaining.
The Bulldogs fouled on purpose when Michigan State crossed midcourt, and Korie Lucious made the first free throw before missing the second on purpose. But the Spartans couldn't track down the offensive rebound to put up a tying shot.
Lucious finished with 12 points and Durrell Summers had 14 points and 10 rebounds for the Spartans, who were trying to advance to the title game on the 10th anniversary of their second national championship.
Michigan State was hampered by missing star guard Kalin Lucas, who ruptured his Achilles' tendon against Maryland in the second round. The Spartans wound up with 16 turnovers, and Butler turned them into a 20-2 advantage in points off turnovers.
And a trip to the national championship game.