Reports from practices this week show that unlikely semi-final opponents Butler and VCU are loose and ready for prime time.
The Butler Bulldogs, amazingly, are no strangers to the Final Four, They've proven that performance was no fluke, now just one game away from another chance at a title.
Butler has been loose at practice, even boisterous and silly by some accounts. Why not? Their method clearly works, and they didn't get this far by playing tight. The use of the word Cinderella in describing their latest run at the title is misguided - but the fact that they made it this far again is a surprise to even the most knowledgeable and reasoned NCAA hoops experts.
Coach Brad Stevens, who you have to believe is poised for a high-profile job following this tournament, of course gives a lot of deserved credit to junior guard Shelvin Mack, and senior forward Matt Howard. But it's Stevens who makes the difference for this team.
Stevens, 34, got off to a quick start in his coaching career. In his first season (2007), Stevens led the Bulldogs to a 30-4 record. They entered the NCAA Tournament as a seventh-seed, eventually losing to Tennessee in the second round in overtime.
Despite losing four starters, the Bulldogs finished 26-6 the following year, but were bounced in the first round of the Tournament by LSU. Then came last season, when the Bulldogs went on a 25-game winning streak which came to an end in the Tournament championship game against Duke.
Butler was a missed half-court prayer away from being the National Champion last season. Stevens' Bulldogs have a reputation for beating big-name schools, so it's no surprise that they've been able to accomplish what they have. Taking the final two steps against fellow underdogs VCU, and then against one of NCAA Basketball powerhouses UConn and Kentucky would cement this year's team as one of the most memorable sports stories in recent years.
Brad Stevens is currently under contract with Butler through the 2021-2022 season.