Prepare Yourselves, Duke Fans

Posted by jstevrtc on May 13th, 2010

This should make for some interesting in-game chants next season for opponents of the Duke Blue Devils, especially if Butler, Michigan State, or West Virginia is the opponent.

Of the squads taking part in the Final Four in Indianapolis this past March, three of them — Butler, Michigan State, and West Virginia — achieved Academic Progress Rate (APR) scores good enough to put them in the top 10% of all men’s college basketball teams, and therefore earn themselves an NCAA Public Recognition Award.  Yes, you read that right.  The only Final Four team not earning the award this time around:  Duke.

Da'Sean and his 'Eer teammates are in the Top 10% of the NCAA's APR scores, which should silence some of Huggins' detractors. (K. Binder/Blueandgoldnews.com)

At this moment, if you’re a Duke fan, you are probably positioning yourself at your computer, ready to fire off to us what’s sure to be a nasty e-mail or comment, indeed.  Well, sheathe your keyboards.  The APR is one of the tools used by the NCAA to monitor academic progress of each individual student-athlete, but keep in mind that it’s not perfect.  According to the linked AP article above from ESPN.com, each student-athlete earns a point for his program by simply staying at the school, and another point for doing well enough academically to stay eligible.  Each graduating player also earns a point.  The team loses a point for each player who transfers, and another for each player who leaves for the NBA, though we’re not sure what those things have to do with academic performance.  If a player isn’t in good academic standing when they leave/transfer, that’s another point lost.  All these points are then thrown into some mathematical formula, and every team in every sport is given a score.  A score of 1,000 is perfect, and 925 is considered the “minimum level of academic success.”  Fall below 925 for a semester or two, and you could be facing a slap from the NCAA’s pimp hand of sanctions.

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Selected Thoughts From Final Four Weekend

Posted by rtmsf on April 8th, 2010

You know how this works… here are some random thoughts bouncing around our head as we come out of a pretty damn good Final Four in Indianapolis.

Welcome to Indy!

Coach K is the Current Dean of Coaches.  But let’s get one thing put to rest right away.  He’s not John Wooden.  For all you presentists out there convinced that the era we’re currently in is tougher than any other previous one, get your head out of your sphincter.  Make all the excuses you want, but Wooden beat all comers west AND east, year after year after year after year (ten times in twelve seasons).  We could go on and on about this, and if the numbers were anywhere near each other (like if K had eight titles to Wooden’s ten), we’d entertain the argument.  But they’re not, and Coach K would probably be the first to chastise you of such foolishness.  Now, with that said, Krzyzewski is a clear #2 all-time with his most recent title.  Tom Izzo came into the Final Four with everyone gushing about his six appearances in the last twelve years, but it’s K who has done it better for longer, now with eleven F4s and four national championships to his credit.  Whenever he decides to retire, and there’s a good chance it won’t be for another decade, Coach K will have far surpassed the man whom he set his eyes on as a target way back in the early 80s — UNC demigod Dean Smith.  What seemed like a herculean impossibility at that time ultimately came to pass, as Coach K is now the Dean of Tobacco Road and the Smith family tree of he and Roy Williams must combine championships at UNC to simply match those of K (something undoubtedly not lost on Williams in his lair at this very moment).  Furthermore, Krzyzewski proved with this year’s team that he doesn’t have to have better talent than everyone else to cut down the nets — his other championship teams were stacked to the brim with future pros, but it will ultimately be the 2010 national titleist that raises his legacy from one of the coach with the best talent to one of the talent with the best coach.

K: Best in the Business

Greatest Title Game Ever? Had Gordon Hayward’s half-court shot found net, we’d be on board with this.  The storyline is just too good.  Even better than Villanova taking down big, bad Georgetown in ’85 or NC State’s miracle of miracles two years earlier.  The Jimmy Chitwood/Bobby Plump comparisons would have been endless, and we’re a little more than halfway convinced that we’d have seen our first-ever title game RTC should the ball have gone through.  Unfortunately for most of America, like many life-story endings awkwardly forced into a Hollywood template, reality leaves you waiting for the next moment that never comes – the Hayward shot didn’t magically bounce up in the air and fall back through…  The truth is that the national championship game was a hard-nosed, calculating, defensive-minded drama between two teams where every single point came with a price tag.  But it wasn’t beautiful, and in order to have greatness bestowed upon a game, it usually needs to end with a make rather than a miss.  This is not always the case, but it’s difficult to buy into the GOAT argument when the last made field goal occurred with just under a minute remaining (as a comparison, the widely-accepted greatest game of all-time, 1992 Duke-Kentucky, had five lead changes in the last 35 seconds of overtime).  So where does it rank?  Still pretty high — for our money, this was the best championship game since 1999 UConn vs. Duke (yes, Memphis-Kansas was thrilling, but not for the entire game), and is definitely in the top 6-8 in the post-Wooden era, but let’s keep our wits about us here. 

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RTC Mea Culpa: K Shows His Brilliance Again as Duke Wins #4

Posted by rtmsf on April 7th, 2010

If 70,000 people can act in unison as a single living organism, that moment was when Butler’s Gordon Hayward put his shot into the air from fifty feet last night.  The crowd, roaring its approval after Duke center Brian Zoubek intentionally missed his second free throw attempt with 3.6 seconds remaining, took a collective breath.  All eyes bored through the orange ball as it sailed in the direction of the opposite goal, and when it approached the intended target, there wasn’t a soul in the house who believed that it would actually miss its mark.

The Dream Seemed Possible (Indy Star/S. Riche)

To the consternation of screenwriters, the assembled media, neutral fans, the entire Hoosier State, underdogs everywhere, and advertisers calculating their future CBS promos – pretty much everybody except Duke fans – it did.  The ball hit the backboard, caromed onto the rim and popped off the front of it a little too hard, securing Duke’s fourth national championship in the last twenty seasons.  It wasn’t supposed to end that way, said the storybook tellers.  The tiny school from a few miles north of Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis was supposed to give us the timeless Hoosiers story in modern form — with Gordon Hayward taking the role of history’s Bobby Plump and the Butler Bulldogs channeling Milan High.  Instead, in a brutal reminder that real life isn’t Hollywood and history doesn’t often repeat itself, it was an old familiar face and and name who were left standing tall at the end of this night — Coach K and his Blue Devils.

As has been written numerous times in the lead-up to the Final Four and championship game, Duke may be the Evil Empire in the eyes of most college basketball fans, but this particular group of Blue Devils is eminently likable.  Looking back at some of Krzyzewski’s more vitriol-inspiring teams, the 2009-10 national champion lacks an identifiable villain embracing his role as a coldblooded assassin such as Christian Laettner; there is no impossibly accomplished athlete-cum-scholar like Shane Battier on the roster; and the only people on the team who inspire a wipe-that-smug-off-your-face response in fans are assistant coaches Steve Wojciechowski and Chris Collins.  The players themselves engender no such particular hatred.

Gotta Give Him His Due (Indy Star/S. Riche)

No, the only possible element of the 2009-10 Duke Blue Devils is the Darth Vader of Hoops himself, Mike Krzyzewski.  Fans love to hate the man who has now surpassed his mentor Bobby Knight with the most titles in the post-Wooden era, and it’s in no small part because of his sustained success over three decades of college basketball.  This site in particular has been very critical of Coach K’s recruiting strategy of the last half-decade or so, largely eschewing one-and-done type of players in favor of the three and four-year ones who develop over time from very good ball players to great ones.  We didn’t think that his plan of focusing on those next-level recruits like Kyle Singler, Jon Scheyer, Nolan Smith and so on without the assistance of an elite NBA talent or two could result in a national championship.  We were wrong.

And we were wrong because of Coach K’s brilliance as a sideline tactician and his ability to learn from personnel mistakes over time.  There’s been a laundry list of big men in the post-Boozer era who have come to Duke and never amounted to much more than window dressing as K highlighted his perimeter attack — Michael Thompson, Josh McRoberts, Jamal Boykin, Olek Czyz, etc. — but his decision to stick with Brian Zoubek in the post this year despite three previous seasons of largely inconsistent play turned this team’s greatest weakness into a strength.  While the bulk of the Devils offense still came from the perimeter, the interior defense and rebounding (esp. second chances) that Zoubek provided was an element that the team hadn’t seen since The Landlord was patrolling the paint in the mid-2000s.

Zoubek's Toughness Helped Duke Win the Title (Indy Star/S. Riche)

From our view, this was the difference in not only Duke’s season but also last night’s game.  According to the stat-keepers, Zoubek blocked two shots but his presence was felt on numerous others as the Bulldog players had trouble finishing layup attempts in the lane all night long.  His 7’1 reach was especially important in forcing Gordon Hayward’s potential game-winning fadeaway to hit the rim an inch long, and his six offensive rebounds resulted in seven additional points for his team.  In a game as close as this one, it’s very easy to see his importance.  In previous years, it’s unlikely that without Zoubek inside that the stable of Duke perimeter defenders would have been able to keep an offensively efficient team like Butler to a mere 34.5% shooting, one of their worst showings of the season.

It’s not likely that this particular Duke team will weather well in terms of historical significance, but because of that fact it may have represented one of Coach K’s greatest coaching achievements while cementing his place as the second-best coach of all-time.  His three other champions were loaded to the gills with NBA talent, while it’s difficult to envision anyone other than Kyle Singler on the 2010 champs getting much of a look at the next level (and let’s be honest: Singler is nowhere near as talented as any of Williams/Battier/Boozer or Hurley/Hill/Laettner on the other Duke title teams).  With the bulk of his team likely to be back in Durham next year and a couple of stud recruits joining the team, Coach K will have a good shot at moving past Kentucky’s Rupp with the second-most titles from a single coach and make a run at tying bitter rival UNC with a total of five national championships.  At age 63, you have to figure that K will have several more good chances to get there in the next decade.

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Butler University on Championship Game Day

Posted by jstevrtc on April 5th, 2010

We had a chance to tool around the Butler campus today and check out the spirit of the place a few hours before the national championship game. We think we saw, oh, maybe two people who weren’t sporting their Butler gear, and it looked like they were lost. In addition to the throngs of students (if a school of a little over 4,000 students can have “throngs”) riding that wave of anticipation until game time, there was an impressive number of hoop lovers walking over to an open Hinkle Fieldhouse to have a look. We think, on this occasion, it was less because Hoosiers was filmed there and more because people wanted to get a closer look at a great old arena and find out more about this Butler place…

Two of the many waiting on buses destined for Lucas Oil Stadium.

Painted in the front yard of a Butler fraternity house. Sort of Whellistonian, yes?

The school had provided school buses — yes, the big yellow guys with no seat belts — as transportation for students. We assume this was so they wouldn’t have to pay for parking, right? The girls in the photo below estimated that out of the near 4,000 students enrolled at Butler, around 3,000 were projected to be at the game tonight. Lines had formed for the buses long before we got there, and five full ones left en masse while we were talking to fans. Twenty more were expected.

Decked out and ready to go. The blue ribbons on the Bulldog's legs were tied to almost every tree and lampost on campus.

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RTC Championship Game Tidbits

Posted by rtmsf on April 5th, 2010

Each day this week during the Final Four we’re asking some of our top correspondents to put together a collection of notes and interesting tidbits about each region. If you know of something that we should include in tomorrow’s submission, hit us up at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Duke (Patrick Sellars)

Butler (Andrew Murawa)

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Sights and Sounds from Final Four Saturday in Indy

Posted by rtmsf on April 4th, 2010

RTC is in Indianapolis this weekend, and except for an odd occurrence involving BiaH and an amputee stripper (we kid, we kid…), things here have gone swimmingly. One of the best things about Final Four Saturday is that the games don’t start until a little after 6 pm local time, so all the fans congregate downtown in a disorganized yet ebullient manner to eat, drink and rabble-rouse throughout the afternoon. Downtown Indianapolis is perfectly suited for this type of event because there are literally dozens of restaurants and bars within easy walking distance of Lucas Oil Stadium, and many of them have patios and outdoor seating areas for people to hang out. We spent a couple of hours walking around talking to fans of the four participating schools, and you’ll forgive us if we were easily sidetracked a couple of times. Here’s our video diary from Saturday.

The Road Ends Here

We first stumbled across two Indiana fans who have adopted the hometown team Butler Bulldogs as their favorite for the weekend. Their frankness with respect to Tom Crean’s Hoosiers was, well, enlightening. And we love them for it.

Next we came across a group of Michigan State fans who had attached a stuffed Bulldog to a pole outside a restaurant and were encouraging passers-by to take a swing at it as they came by. This was a fun group who clearly loved their Spartans (and a certain amber liquid).

MSU Truck Driving By

Duke fans weren’t all that well represented in Indy on Saturday (probably about 10-15% of the total), but these two ladies from Cincinnati were there fully decked out with their Blue Devil gear on and quite confident in Coach K’s team’s prospects for the rest of the weekend.

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National Championship Game Analysis

Posted by jstevrtc on April 4th, 2010

RTC has attempted to break down the NCAA Tournament and Final Four games using our best analytical efforts to understand these teams, the matchups and their individual strengths and weaknesses. Our hope is that you’ll let us know in the comments where you agree, disagree or otherwise think we’ve lost our collective minds. Here are our thoughts on the national title game. Whomever you’re rooting for, we hope you enjoy it.

9:07 PM — #1 Duke vs #5 Butler

The six months since practices started have passed like a dream. As fans of college basketball, we travel this road every year from mid-October to early April. We always know our destination well in advance, we just don’t know who we’re going to find there. Therein lies the beauty of the NCAA Tournament. The entirety of that six months is spent trying to determine one thing: who’s playin’ on Monday night.

What a situation in which we find ourselves at the end of this particular journey. The fates have determined that the answer to the second most important question of the season is, “Butler and Duke.” There’s only one question left, the biggest one of all. All those practices, weightlifting sessions, sprints, miles, interviews, and games for each of these players on those two teams is now distilled down to one query:

What will you do on Monday night?

Hayward can guard anyone on the floor. And probably will. (AP)

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RTC Final Four Tidbits: 04.02.10

Posted by rtmsf on April 3rd, 2010

Each day this week during the Final Four we’re asking some of our top correspondents to put together a collection of notes and interesting tidbits about each region.  If you know of something that we should include in tomorrow’s submission, hit us up at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Michigan State (Tom Hager)

  • Alabama football coach Nick Saban, who was an assistant at Michigan State when MSU basketball coach Tom Izzo was also an assistant, insists that Izzo is a football coach who happens to coach basketball.  The statement should come as no surprise given the Spartans’ reputation for toughness and rebounding.
  • Not only is guard Delvon Roe still injured, but apparently the knee injury is affecting him mentally as well.
  • The one thing Izzo does not have to worry about is his team overlooking Butler.  Draymond Green says that being overconfident would be “completely dumb.”
  • Although Joe Wilner says that there will be no top 10 picks from any team, and that this could be the least talented Final Four in years, it will also be one of the most wide-open Final Fours as well.
  • According to Pat Forde, Draymond Green might not be just the smartest player among the remaining teams, he might be the smartest player in college basketball altogether.

West Virginia (Ryan Restivo of SienaSaintsBlog)

  • Rebounding will be key in this game Saturday between West Virginia and Duke.
  • Deniz Kilicli could be a factor in the game against Duke after coming off a 20-game suspension for violating the NCAA’s amateur rules.
  • This is a rematch worth watching, maybe the Mountaineers will be able to repeat a similar feat to their six-point win over Duke two years ago in the NCAA Tournament.
  • The fashion police weigh in on Bob Huggins’ attire.
  • Truck Bryant shot with the team on Friday but isn’t expected to have an impact in Saturday’s game.

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Five Factors That Will Lose You the Title

Posted by rtmsf on April 2nd, 2010

We’ve spent most of the week reading and writing about the various ways that one of Michigan State, Butler, Duke or West Virginia will end up winning the national title and cutting the nets down on Monday night.  Duke is the favorite, but bookmakers give all four teams a reasonable shot to win it.  But often it doesn’t come down to the elevation of greatness in these situations, but instead the avoidance of weakness.  Simply playing your average game is sometimes enough to advance if you avoid a bugaboo that has plagued your team in its losses this year.  For example, if you go cold from three (see: Kentucky), or can’t make a foul shot (see: Texas), or start throwing the ball into the crowd (see: Syracuse), or over-rely on your starters (see: Ohio State) or get key players in foul trouble (see: Baylor)… the entire house of cards can come crashing down.  Let’s take a look at the four remaining teams standing to see what, if anything, could cause problems for them this weekend.

Foul Shooting

Duke (76.1%) and Butler (73.9%) are both excellent foul shooting teams, while West Virginia (70.3%) and Michigan State (68.8%) are best described as mediocre.  None of the four are downright terrible, though.  Michigan State lost games when they shot well , average and poorly from the line, so it doesn’t seem to impact their overall performance much.  Contrast that with WVU who lost three of its six games this season (@ ND, @ UConn, vs. Villanova) when they shot a collective 32-59 (54%) from the line, so they certainly appear vulnerable in that regard.  Both the Devils and Mountaineers average about 22% of their total points from the foul line, so keep an eye on WVU’s foul shooters early (especially the better ones such as Da’Sean Butler, Devin Ebanks and Kevin Jones) to see if they’re making or missing their attempts.  If they’re not going down, West Virginia is going to have to replace those points from somewhere else.

WVU Needs to Make These This Weekend

Three-Point Shooting

Butler takes 40% of its field goal attempts from behind the arc even though they only convert on 34.5% of them.  In all four of their losses this season, the Bulldogs shot at or worse than that percentage, but it has to be noted that despite hitting only 6-24 threes against Syracuse last week, they still managed to win.  Against Michigan State, you should probably figure that will need to hit at least six bombs to put themselves in a reasonable position to win the game.  MSU doesn’t take (14) or make (5) very many threes per game, so an off-shooting night from deep from the Spartans probably won’t impact their offense all that much.  Duke and WVU are equally reliant on the long ball, but Duke shoots it substantially better (38.2% vs. 33.6%).  Both teams have proven throughout the year that they can win games regardless of whether the threes are dropping or not.  The team that appears most vulnerable is this area is Butler.

Turnovers

Turnovers can kill any team if there are too many of them, but Duke (16.4% TO rate) and West Virginia (18.4%) are solid when it comes to taking care of the ball.  Both force more TOs against their opponents than they give up, but neither rely on turnovers to necessarily fuel their offense — it’s just an added bonus when they get one.  Butler is also ok at 19.1%, but Michigan State is in the danger zone here.  The Spartans turn the ball over 21% of the time, highest among the Final Four teams, and are susceptible to games where every one in four possessions ends in a miscue (nine times this year).  When Sparty goes over their season average of turnovers, they’re not a great team: 7-5 is MSU’s record when they commit turnovers greater than 22% of their possessions.  This is something to keep an eye on in the first half against Butler, as both Syracuse and K-State had trouble figuring out the Bulldog defense, and Butler is far better at causing turnovers than Michigan State is.

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Final Four Game Analysis

Posted by rtmsf on April 2nd, 2010

RTC will break down the Final Four games using our best analytical efforts to understand these teams, the matchups and their individual strengths and weaknesses.  Our hope is that you’ll let us know in the comments where you agree, disagree or otherwise think we’ve lost our collective minds.  Here are Saturday evening’s national semifinals…aka…THE FINAL FOUR!

6:07 pm – #5 Michigan State vs. #5 Butler The winner of this game will have a built-in motivational mechanism, since this game is popularly considered the “Who will lose to West Virginia or Duke on Monday?” game.  Best be careful, because as we know, there’s almost no better way to get your guys ready to play than to tell them that it’s them against the world.  That nobody respects them.  That everyone expects them to lose and lose big.  In the case of Butler, I know I wouldn’t want to face a team playing in their home city and with that motivational tool.  A lot is being made of the home crowd advantage that Butler supposed to enjoy this weekend, but I ask you: because people love the storyline of a mid-major getting to the Final Four, in what city could you play this thing where Butler wouldn’t have most of the fans in the arena rooting for them?  I’ll tell you — East Lansing, Durham, and Morgantown (or anywhere else in West Virginia).  Well, we’re not in any of those towns.  Let me just add this…walking around this downtown area, I see mostly Butler fans, which is understandable.  But it’s not like the Duke, Michigan State, and West Virginia fans stayed home.  It’s Lucas Oil Stadium, people.  It seats over 70,000 (it must, to qualify to host this thing).  The freakin’ Colts play here.  The Butler cheers might be loud, but the other squads will have their supporters, too.  As to what’s going to happen on the floor, watch the boards.  This will be a rebounding battle for the ages, because it’s the biggest disparity between the two teams.  It’s not something Butler does particularly well, and it’s Michigan State’s greatest strength.  Brad Stevens knows his boys have to swarm the glass to have a chance.  They’ve done everything else he’s asked of them in each tournament game, not to mention the rest of the season, and I wouldn’t doubt that you’ll see them turn in their biggest effort on the boards this whole year on Saturday evening. Can Butler do it but still stay out of foul trouble?

We only picked against you three times, Coach Izzo. And we're sorry. (AP/Al Goldis)

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NCAA Basketball 2010: The BCS Version

Posted by nvr1983 on April 2nd, 2010

With all the talk about the coming 96-team tournament, many in the sports media have forgotten that there is already another ridiculous major college sport championship in place: the BCS. We took you through this process in a post last year, but it’s worth going over again as the blogosphere is ablaze with opinions on changing our beloved NCAA Tournament.

Here are the basic ground rules:

  1. We are following the BCS Football guidelines as closely as possible. Obviously there are some differences. A college basketball team is expected to win more than 9 games (we kept a cut-off at a 75% winning percentage). We replaced the Notre Dame rule with the Duke rule since they both have sketchy TV contracts (Notre Dame with NBC and Duke with ESPN).
  2. I used the AP and ESPN/USA Today polls as the human polls and ESPN.com’s InsiderRPI, KenPom.com, and Sagarin’s ratings as the computer polls. The computer polls include data from the NCAA Tournament, but as you will see it didn’t affect the results that significantly.
  3. We used the traditional BCS calculations for determining each team’s score weighing the two human polls and the combined computer poll average as 1/3 of a team’s total score each.

Here are the results:

We will let you digest that for a minute and will provide more information/analysis and the BCS Bowls after the jump.

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RTC Final Four Tidbits: 04.01.10

Posted by THager on April 2nd, 2010

Each day this week during the regional rounds of the NCAA Tournament we’re asking some of our top correspondents to put together a collection of notes and interesting tidbits about each region.  If you know of something that we should include in tomorrow’s submission, hit us up at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.


Michigan State (Tom Hager)

  • ESPN’s Jemele Hill has never been one to shy away from controversy, but she caused quite a stir when she said that head coach Tom Izzo was the best coach in the history of the state.
  • According to guard Korie Lucious, although the Spartans are anticipating a hostile environment, they are used to big crowds cheering against them.
  • Ryan Fagan of The Sporting News says that MSU’s experience is what will set them apart, and that the only players who treat the Final Four like an ordinary game have never played at that level before.
  • USA Today points out that Michigan State’s win margin of 13 total points in their first four games is the lowest total since the field expanded to 64 teams.
  • If the Spartans win on Saturday, East Lansing police can expect some rioting, even before the national championship game.

Butler (Andrew Murawa)

  • In the basketball-mad state of Indiana, Butler has now vaulted Indiana University and other stalwarts to the head of the class, if only temporarily.
  • The Bulldog roster features 10 players from the state of Indiana, including such key contributors as Gordon Hayward, Matt Howard, Zach Hahn and Andrew Smith.
  • But while the Bulldogs may be riding high, they aren’t so famous that head coach Brad Stevens doesn’t get mistaken as a player on the team by a Lucas Oil Field security guard.
  • While, thankfully, the Butler/”Hoosiers” comparison has tired out some, it is pretty cool to note that Bobby Plump, the Milan High star upon whom the Jimmy Chitwood character in the movie was based, actually went on to star at Butler.
  • Speaking of the movies, Butler junior forward Howard has earned a reputation as quite the actor when trying to draw a charge.

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