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Fans throw another Final Four party for Butler

Butler prefers old-school basketball and old-style celebrations to all the preseason nonsense.

That's why the Bulldogs wait until late March to hold Midnight Madness.

Hours after earning a second straight Final Four trip, fans moved the party inside historic Hinkle Fieldhouse to get a late-night glimpse of their favorite team — just back from its latest conquest in New Orleans.

"This is better than the Super Bowl," said Suzie McDonald, a Butler grad who brought her 12 and 13-year-old boys and wore a Final Four T-shirt from last year. "We watched guys we knew win the Super Bowl, and this is better because these boys (the Bulldogs) have just been awesome."

Hundreds of fans filtered into the arena between midnight and 1 a.m. Dozens more stayed outside in the chilly temperatures and brisk winds to trade high-fives and hugs as players got off the bus.

Before that, horns blared through the residential neighborhood and the impromptu pep band played the regular medley of gameday songs.

Why not have some fun?

"We're excited, not by any means satisfied," coach Brad Stevens said. "We're looking forward to next weekend, hope you are. Houston's not that far."

Just 4½ months after hanging the first national finalist banner in school history, the Bulldogs (27-9) became the first Indiana school to reach back-to-back Final Fours with its come-from-behind 74-71 overtime victory over second-seeded Florida.

And it wasn't even supposed to happen this year.

The small-school team that captured the hearts of America and drew comparisons to the movie "Hoosiers" with its amazing run — and near miss — in last year's title game, earned this one with an even more implausible ride. Most thought the eighth-seeded Bulldogs wouldn't even make the tourney five weeks ago. Now they'll face either No. 11 seed Virginia Commonwealth or Kansas, the last remaining No. 1 seed, in the national semifinal.

Bulldogs fans didn't care about those details.

"I think we just proved that it (last year) was no fluke," said 22-year-old Lauren Bowman, who hopped into the party on crutches after having knee surgery.

At Butler, these get-togethers are becoming part of a regular routine and school officials have learned how to adapt.

Last year, they held three late-night celebrations — one after the first weekend when the Bulldogs advanced to the regional semifinals, one after they reached the Final Four and a third after losing the championship game to Duke.

But instead of making fans stand outside in the cold, they opened the doors to the historic arena at midnight. Two hours later, senior Alex Anglin stepped off the bus, clutching the Southeast Regional trophy. Andrew Smith carried the game ball and Matt Howard walked in with three bags of clothes.

The school's website was already advertising Final Four merchandise and the NCAA wasted no time in giving the English bulldog mascot, Blue II, an official exemption for next weekend's trip to Houston. The dog, which turned 7 early Sunday morning, was serenaded with "Happy Birthday."

And when they finally reached the court, fans were taking photos of the players and players of the fans.

"It never gets old," senior Matt Howard said with a smile.

For a team that usually practices at 6 a.m. and has never opened the season with the traditional Midnight Madness festivities, Saturday night's party was essentially an all-nighter.

"Hey, we don't worry about Midnight Madness in the preseason," said 40-year-old Mark Baumgart, a Butler alum. "This is what matters."