INDIANAPOLIS — Cinderella is not here, according to Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.
But it sure does look like it.
Tiny Butler - the 4,500-student private university that rarely charters flights, doesn't boast athletic dorms and plays in the nearby gym where the movie "Hoosiers" was filmed - will take on the fairy tale role when it faces the Blue Devils for the national basketball championship at Lucas Oil Stadium tonight.
Just don't expect the Bulldogs to turn into pumpkins at midnight.
"I think they're one of the best teams in the country," said Krzyzewski, whose program - cast in the role of wicked stepmother, again - will be playing for its fourth national title. "I think Cinderella would be if somebody had eight, nine losses and pulled some upsets, stuff like that, ... [but] they've beaten Syracuse and Kansas State and Michigan State."
Not to mention 30 other teams this season. The defensive-minded Bulldogs boast a nation-leading 25-game win streak; their 118 victories over the past four seasons are the fourth-highest total of any NCAA Division I team.
"If you look at our record, we've had success since I came here," senior forward Willie Veasley said. "We took Tennessee, my sophomore year, to overtime [in the NCAA tournament]. We battled the SEC champs, LSU, last year. If you want to call us that, you can - but I don't consider us a Cinderella."
Still, it's hard not to embrace the storybook aspect of Butler's journey.
The Bulldogs' baby-faced coach, Brad Stevens, gave up his 9-to-5 marketing job 10 years ago to pursue his coaching dream. At 33, he'll be the second-youngest ever to patrol the title-game sideline.
Their point guard, Ronald Nored, was shooting just 25 percent from the free-throw line in the NCAA tournament when he buried two free throws with 6.1 seconds left Saturday night to help beat Michigan State 52-50.
"When I signed, my friends asked, 'Is Butler even D-I?'" Nored, a sophomore on the NCAA Division I team, remembered Sunday, laughing.
Now they know. Everyone knows.
Forward Gordon Hayward, one of 10 Indiana kids on Butler's roster, was asked for his autograph in church Easter morning. If they are required to attend class today, Nored and Veasley figure there will be more talk of defensive strategy and outside shooting than of physics or calculus or history.
"I think the days of being anonymous are over," Veasley said.
After the win over the Spartans, according to The Associated Press, a sign on Butler's campus, just six miles away, read, "Let's win this one for all the small schools that never had the chance to get here."
It was quoting from a line in the movie "Hoosiers," before fictional underdog Hickory High won the Indiana state basketball championship.
But those scripted words have some truth to them.
If fifth-seeded Butler can pull the upset over the top-seeded Blue Devils, the Bulldogs would become the first team to win the championship from outside the big-time basketball mainstream since 1966, when Texas Western (now UTEP) upset Kentucky.
It adds yet another aspect to the Cinderella story - if the glass slipper doesn't exactly fit.
"If I wasn't playing them, I probably would root for them," said Duke senior Lance Thomas.
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