As the NCAA opened its unprecedented tournament format across Indiana this past weekend, we were reminded of all the things that define March Madness®: buzzer beaters, bracket busters, nylon neckwear, and yes, Dickie V. More than Vitale’s catchphrases, the greatest annual feature of the tournament are the Cinderella stories.
As a state that wears a chip on its shoulder from decades with the reputation as flyover country, we have a soft spot for an underdog. As Oral Roberts stakes its claim as the belle of the 2021 ball, we thought we’d share a few of the all-time great Cinderella stories from our basketball-obsessed state.
Butler’s 2010 Near Miss
Few stories will ever compare to the 2010 run in which the Butler Bulldogs nearly knocked off the fabled Duke Blue Devils in a hometown championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium. As time expired, Butler star Gordon Hayward launched a half-court shot that left him mere inches from immortality. While the heartbreak was palpable across the state, the magic that got the Bulldogs to the championship in the first place was something every Hoosier will remember for a lifetime.
They say lightning never strikes the same spot twice, but Butler fans know better. Just a year after Hayward’s near miss, the Bulldogs returned to the tourney as an eight seed to make an (arguably) more improbable run to return to the Final Four. This time, they did it without Hayward carrying them.
To make the return voyage, the Matt Howard-led Bulldogs needed his tip-in at the buzzer against Old Dominion and a clutch free throw against number-one seed Pitt. Butler’s finish was less dramatic than the first time around, with UConn’s Huskies licking the Bulldogs 53 to 41 in the final. But the journey to get there was every bit as incredible as the one a year before.
Bryce Drew’s “The Shot”
Speaking of shots, northwestern Indiana’s Valparaiso was responsible for one of the greatest tournament upsets ever against Ole Miss in the first round of the 1998 tournament. With 2.5 seconds left, Valpo threw a pass the length of the court that gave former Mr. Basketball Bryce Drew a shot at glory. Valpo had never before won an NCAA tournament game. That all changed when Drew’s last-second attempt landed nothing-but-net, crushing the fourth-seeded Rebels and cementing Drew’s legacy as an Indiana legend.
Most sports fans are familiar with the storyline of the movie Hoosiers. Too few know the story upon which it was based: the 1954 state championship team from tiny Milan High School. Fortunately, our founder and creative director, Ken Honeywell, literally wrote the book on Milan’s Bobby Plump.
After an improbable run to the championship, Milan (enrollment 161) defeated the mighty Muncie Central Bearcats (enrollment 1,662) on Plump’s game-winning shot in a David vs. Goliath matchup that serves as the Cinderella story against which all others will forever be measured.
Which Indiana underdogs did we miss? Who do you think will be this year’s Cinderella story? Let us know your favorites and predictions for this year’s tourney on social media.
Image: Milan High School Basketball Team, 1954 Indiana State Champions // Steve Shook
Craving more hoops content? Check out our limited-run poster: Backboard Legends of Indiana.