Tuesday, March 25, 2003
Updated: March 26, 10:44 AM ET
Don't tell these Hoosiers miracles can't happen
By Pat Forde
Special to ESPN.com
The uniforms say Butler, but we all know better.
|Brandon Miller's late-game heroics had the Butler Bulldogs jumping for joy after first-round win.|
We know Hickory when we see it.
Welcome to life imitating art and hoop imitating Hollywood. "Hoosiers" has hit the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 with parallels so startling that you half expect the Bulldogs to announce that they're doing it for all the small schools that have never been here.
The more threes a real-life Jimmy Chitwood rained down on Louisville on Sunday by running a reasonable facsimile of the Picket Fence, the more Bulldogs coach Todd Lickliter actually began to bear a slight resemblance to Gene Hackman.
(Note: Lickliter denies measuring the baskets in Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center before shocking the world.)
The "Hoosiers" analogy has been beaten down pretty hard over the years, but it's never been more apt on the collegiate level than with these 12th-seeded Bulldogs. Consider:
• The Indianapolis school's home gym is the very shrine of Hoosier Hysteria, Hinkle Fieldhouse. The climactic scenes of the movie were shot there. Better yet, the high school team that inspired the movie, Milan, actually won its legendary state championship there in 1954.
• Like that Milan team, Butler is the smallest fish left swimming in the big pond. Its enrollment of 4,200 is 16th of the 16 teams still playing, as is its basketball budget of about $1 million. And Horizon League games aren't exactly the stuff of Big Monday or Super Tuesday.
• The night before they played No. 5 seed Mississippi State in the first round, the Bulldogs all shaved their hair down to burrhead level, furthering the physical resemblance to the Hickory boys.
• The puny but fundamentally flawless starting backcourt of Brandon Miller and Darnell Archey are native Hoosiers. The unabashed hoop junkies grew up playing together from shortly after the crib in New Castle, Ind. (That's the one place where the analogy falls down just a bit. New Castle Chrysler High is almost the anti-Milan, owning the largest high-school gym in America at a capacity of 10,000. As the Hickory boys might say, the place would hold a lot of hay.)
It was Archey who filled the Chitwood role Sunday, shooting a spectacular 8 of 9 from 3-point range to knock the godfather of the three, Rick Pitino, out of the Dance.
Louisville made 11 threes of its own but still was shot out of the gym by Butler's 14-for-22 onslaught. The Cardinals had not only been 8-0 this season when making double-digit threes, but none of the eight wins was closer than 18 points. The hoop gods, however, have a way of ushering at least one certifiable Cinderella into every Sweet 16.
When you have destiny and Darnell Archey on your side, you're a tough out.
Lickliter said he's seen Archey make 33 consecutive threes in practice. "I'm more surprised when he misses," the coach said.
But this wasn't practice. This was the NCAA Tournament. This was a shooting display that rivals anything fellow New Castle product and idol Steve Alford ever put on in March.
"I felt like Michael in '92 against the Blazers," Archey said, referencing Michael Jordan's famous shooting display in the NBA Finals and showing a sliver of his vast hoop knowledge.
Archey got most of his amazingly open shots by running the post-modern Picket Fence. The guard kept scuttling off screens to the corner and receiving passes, fulfilling the prophecy he hinted at the day before the game.
"If Brandon breaks the press, we might have 3-on-2," Archey said Saturday. "And if I'm open in the corner, I know Brandon will find me. And I love wide-open looks."
Miller, who has the face of a tomato-can welterweight, made the upset possible by simply refusing to wobble against relentless pressure defense. He didn't make a shot against Louisville but controlled the game, bringing the ball upcourt unerringly against double teams and then settling Butler into its crisp and efficient half-court offense. The Cardinals never succeeded in turning him over and producing a string of easy transition baskets.
"Brandon was just so terrific," Lickliter said. "He was just so tough. The last four minutes I wasn't sure he was going to make it because he was so tired, but I knew I'd have to fight him to take him out."
It has to be toughness, intelligence and work ethic that's gotten Miller and Archey this far, because it sure isn't physical talent. They're what Indiana's hoary-but-irresistible basketball mythology is all about.
|Darnell Archey celebrates his team's win over Louisville.|
Miller, the son of a middle-school coach, also grew up idolizing Alford. Miller was doing pushups, situps and agility drills by age 9. He gave an oral commitment to play for Alford at Southwest Missouri State as a sophomore.
When Alford left for Iowa after Miller's freshman season, he transferred to Butler. He's started all 95 games since then and been a double-figure scorer every season. He leads this balanced Bulldogs team in scoring at 12.4.
Miller, averaging 12.1 points per game, was the guy who hit the 10-foot runner with 6.2 seconds left in the first round to stun No. 5 seed Mississippi State. If you include Miller's year at Southwest Missouri, when the Bears went to the Sweet Sixteen, he's giant-killer personified: The kid is 5-2 in NCAA play and undefeated in first-round action, despite double-digit seeding every time.
Archey didn't get into the strength and conditioning drills as early as Miller, but he was immersed in shooting and ball-handling drills from a similarly early age. Archey was in the gym shooting six days a week for 45 minutes a day with his dad shagging rebounds.
"I didn't want him (Miller) to get any better than me," Archey said.
Around age 12, Archey developed the routine that has made him the finest foul shooter in NCAA history: three dribbles, deep breath, bend knees, follow through. He set the Division I record earlier this season with 85 straight dating back to his sophomore year year. This season he's missed two free throws, and in his career he's missed just eight.
Despite all the hard work growing up, Archey was a recruiting afterthought.
"I was way too small to be recruited by IU or Purdue," Archey said. "I probably weighed 135 pounds. Luckily the Butler staff saw something in me."
Voluble center Joel Cornette interjected: "What they saw was a jump shot. Glad they picked him up."
Miller is listed at 6-0, 170 pounds, and Archey at 6-1, 160. Both are flatly hilarious. Even Miller got a chuckle out of it when questioned about his height.
"Does anybody list their real height?" he asked.
Let's be generous and go with 5-10 for Miller and, s-t-r-e-t-c-h, 5-11 for Archey. Combine the two of them and they might weigh as much as Shaquille O'Neal.
Miller and Archey team with voluble center Cornette to form the senior nucleus of this 27-5 team. They play smart, they play hard, they play unafraid -- and they play with attitude.
Butler might appear to be the cuddly underdog, but don't be fooled. Cinderella comes with a snarl.
After beating Mississippi State, Miller and Cornette launched salvos at ESPN analysts Digger Phelps and Andy Katz for calling labeling Butler a "pretender" instead of a contender.
"Maybe (Mississippi State) had been reading the program or watching ESPN and thought we were going to pretend to be here, pretend to box out, pretend to rebound," Cornette said. "I guess we're contenders tonight."
A grease board in the Butler locker room read: "Digger needs to believe in the DAWGS! Digger is the real pretender."
After beating Louisville, Cornette leaned into a microphone and enunciated it very clearly: "We ... are ... still ... here."
Fact is, Butler came dangerously close to not being here at all for a second straight year. The Bulldogs were snubbed by the Selection Committee last year, and used that disrespect as fuel all season. But when they lost the Horizon League tournament final to Wisconsin-Milwaukee, they were left twisting until Selection Sunday.
"All week after we lost, it was hard to sleep, hard to eat," Archey said.
Butler got in, but not by much. The Bulldogs and Brigham Young were probably the last teams in.
They've abundantly proved their worthiness since then, but the going only gets tougher. Now comes No. 1 seed and defending national semifinalist Oklahoma in Albany.
It would be a shock if Butler beat the Sooners. But this team has so much "Hoosiers" in it, and you know how that one ended.
The Bulldogs' Jimmy Chitwood, Darnell Archey, thought about the comparison for a minute, then nodded.
"We'll take it," he said. "We'll be Milan."
Pat Forde of the Louisville Courier-Journal is a regular contributor to ESPN.com