Butler reject underdog tag in first Final Four bow

By Steve Ginsburg

Butler, who upset the top two seeds in the West Region, begin their Final Four adventure on Saturday against Big Ten power Michigan State, a program that has reached this stage of the 64-team tournament in six of the last 12 years.

"We have so much confidence in each other and our abilities offensively and defensively (that) we have no reason not to be confident," said sophomore guard Ronald Nored.

The Bulldogs (32-4), champions of the little-known Horizon League, are riding a 24-game winning streak, their last setback a 67-57 loss to Alabama-Birmingham on December 22.

Friday's practice at Lucas Field House was jammed with Butler supporters, and not just because the school's campus is located just six miles from the site of the Final Four.

The consensus is that if you are not an alumnus of Michigan State, or the other semi-final schools Duke and West Virginia, you will be pulling for Butler, a private liberal arts university with 4,500 students.

"I don't know how many presidents of universities you see trusting their students enough to be in their hands with the chance of falling and breaking a few bones," said Nored.

Butler coach Brad Stevens said he and his team were "wide-eyed" when they walked into the stadium for Friday's shoot-around.

"Bottom line is you're shooting on 10-foot goals and all the lines are the same," the 33-year-old Stevens told a news conference. "We told our guys, 'If you've ever shot outside, that's a bigger backdrop than this, so it's not a big deal.'"

While the other schools in the Final Four often talk to recruits about ultimately playing in the pros, that does not appear to be a concern at Butler.

"Very rarely does the NBA come up in the discussion in recruiting, in part because some of these guys probably won't be able to play there eventually," said Stevens.

"The most important thing in our recruiting is identifying character and how they represent their school -- beyond the minimum level of basketball ability."

(Editing by Frank Pingue and Ken Ferris)