INDIANAPOLIS – As Butler's run has inspired endless comparisons to the Hoosiers allegory, I feel a responsibility to finally, and irrefutably, debunk the idea that this Final Four notion will go down as a kind of Rocky for the rural classes.
Exhibit A would be Gordon Hayward cast in the role of Jimmy Chitwood, or his real-life inspiration, Bobby Plump, who famously made the winning shot for Milan against Muncie Central in the 1954 Indiana state basketball championship at Butler's Hinkle Fieldhouse. As best I can tell, the only thing Hayward has in common with the Chitwood/Plump composite is being white and from Indiana.
Actually, the more you think about it, so much of the "Hoosier-ness" being invoked here is based on that now-ancient prejudice against white kids and their supposed lack of athleticism. But Hayward is no Bobby Plump. He's a lottery pick (though even in a weak draft, better a year from now, I think). He could still improve some as a shooter. He doesn't go particularly well to his right. And most of all, he needs to fill out. But all that he needs can be acquired with work and time. The fact is, Hayward -- with the skills of a guard and the aptitude to play, quite effortlessly it seems, above the rim -- has more NBA upside than anyone else who will take the floor in Monday's championship game against Duke.
That would include Kyle Singler, by the way. At Sunday's news conference, Butler coach Brad Stevens was asked about the similarities between the two players. "There's a lot of 6-8 guys who can shoot the three now, a lot of them," he said. "The difference between most of those guys and Singler and Gordon are they can floor it and they can go in either direction. They can get by guys on the bounce. They can post. ... They play like 6-1 guys ... great, great ability."
Still, the differences between Singler and Hayward are worth noting. Singler, who made his first All-America team as a junior in high school, is more experienced and polished. But Hayward -- a "late bloomer" by his own admission -- has more unexploited talent, with more potential as a defender and a rebounder.
One forgets that Hayward -- recruited late by Purdue and Michigan -- is new to this level of competition and exposure. Just a sophomore, he still seems to smile at every suggestion. And that coltish, just-arrived quality is accentuated by the look on his face. If not for the 6-foot-9 frame, you'd put his age at 14.
"The last time I shaved was before the K-State game," he said, referring to Butler's upset of Kansas State nine days ago.
Hayward might be a computer engineering major, but he still doesn't know his own body. He doesn't know what he will be, his full range of possibility as a player.
"He does things that people shouldn't be able to do -- ridiculous things," said Ronald Nored, Butler's best perimeter defender. "During the Horizon League (season), he was guarding point guards. Now, he's guarding bigs."
"I don't really know how to describe athleticism," Hayward said. "... Sometimes I look back and I think, 'I don't know how I did that.' Like I said, it's out there in the moment, playing the game."
Of course. What does one do when you find yourself a foot or so above the rim? It's not a question with which Jimmy Chitwood had to concern himself.
Unfortunately, Gordon Hayward is but one guy. And there's just not enough of him to beat Duke. That's what damns Butler's underdog chance, and with it, the whole Hoosiers scenario.
Look, I'm not saying Butler is in any way undeserving or lacking in talent. The Bulldogs are a great defensive team, with the best perimeter defense in the college game. They beat Syracuse with Andy Rautins. They beat Kansas State with Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente. But can they beat Duke with three players -- Singler, Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith -- who can score 20 points facing the basket?
Well, maybe if Hayward goes off for about 40. Short of that, though, I don't see how.
It's great to hear how the Bulldogs always expected to be here. "This was the goal," Hayward said. "It wasn't getting into the tournament. It wasn't getting past the Sweet 16."
"We had the expectation to believe we were playing for the national championship," Nored said.
And perhaps, against another team, they would win it. But this matchup doesn't favor them. Butler's greatest strength is negated by Duke's. What's more, after Hayward and guard Shelvin Mack, Butler just doesn't have the scorers.
"We have to make them feel pressure they haven't felt before," said Nored, who spoke of the need to be dogged and physical. By the same token, he had to admit the Bulldogs hadn't faced a team like Duke. "I can't think of a team with three guys like that," he said.
Singler. Scheyer. Then there's 7-foot-1 center, Brian Zoubek. And the Plumlee Brothers.
There are just too many athletic white guys.