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Butler, Kansas St. built on similar blueprints

(Clockwise from left) Gordon Hayward, Ronald Nored, Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack have played together as a group for the past two seasons. Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

SALT LAKE CITY -- Butler hasn't had an NBA lottery pick like former Kansas State star Michael Beasley.

Bulldogs coach Brad Stevens knows his chances of having players like Wildcats guards Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen are remote at best.

But that doesn't mean the No. 5-seeded Bulldogs don't think they'll have a chance to beat the No. 2-seeded Wildcats in Saturday's West Regional final at EnergySolutions Arena.

A victory over Kansas State would earn the Bulldogs the mother of all homecomings: a trip to next week's Final Four in their hometown of Indianapolis.

"Someone has to go to the national championship and win," Butler forward Gordon Hayward said. "Why can't it be us?"

The Bulldogs probably have as good of a chance as anyone left in the NCAA field. They've won 23 games in a row, the longest winning streak in the country, and they're coming off a surprising 63-59 upset of No. 1-seeded Syracuse on Thursday night.

So much for Butler still being a mid-major.

"I think what it boils down to is revenue," Stevens said. "I think that's where the term comes from. Maybe it didn't start that way. Maybe it started with conference affiliation. But the bottom line is it's about revenue, which has no impact on a five-on-five basketball game. That's how we look at it."

To beat the Wildcats, Butler will have to contain Clemente and Pullen, who are as hot as any players left in the NCAA tournament. They've combined to average 46 points and 7.3 assists in three NCAA games.

"I don't think our guys are slow, but you have to get back and set your defense," Stevens said. "You've got to be playing in sync as one, five guys playing together."

That's been Butler's recipe for success this season, and it was the blueprint that transformed the school of about 4,300 students into one of college basketball's giant killers over the last 14 seasons.

But the Bulldogs are no longer a mid-major. Yes, they're the first team from the Horizon League to play in the Elite Eight, but they've been an NCAA tournament staple during the last decade.

"I think when you step into a program that has been winning, having so much success, I think the first thing that comes to mind is you want to follow in those footsteps and don't let anyone else down," Hayward said.

Kansas State coach Frank Martin isn't surprised by Butler's long-term success. With so many programs from BCS football conferences recruiting players who are one-and-done and leave for the NBA after their freshman seasons, Martin said teams like Butler can thrive because their players develop chemistry and experience over four seasons.

"The thing that's changed the landscape of college basketball is the schools that maybe don't have the resources to go recruit or the notoriety or don't play in a conference that has affiliations with a national TV station to get on TV every week," Martin said.

"What happens is you get these schools that go out and recruit these kids that are borderline. These kids go there, they stay for three, four or five years and they grow together, and then you end up seeing these teams make tremendous runs."

Martin's first team at Kansas State in 2007-08 was built around Beasley, a freshman phenom, and forward Bill Walker. The Wildcats won 21 games, but lost to Wisconsin by 17 points in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

This version of the Wildcats, which has won 29 games and finished tied for second in the Big 12, was built around its veteran backcourt of Clemente and Pullen.

"The so-called pros that people don't like to scream at, you know, those kids leave," Martin said. "So you never get old. That's why we've had a chance to succeed is because we have a bunch of kids that have grown up together, that have stayed together, that have been through it together. That's what's given us a chance up to this point."

And that's what gives Butler a chance to beat Kansas State.

Four of the Bulldogs' five starters have started every game they've played the last two seasons, and sophomore guard Ronald Nored started all but five.

"You've got to find your niche and find the right guys to fit your niche," Stevens said. "As you can see -- mid-major, major, low-major, whatever the case may be -- we've got pretty darn good basketball players here."

Stevens has found the majority of his roster in basketball-crazy Indiana -- 10 of his team's 15 players are from the Hoosier State.

"I think there are a lot of things that fit into the niche that we can recruit to," Stevens said. "One of the things obviously is you have terrific [academic] degree opportunities at Butler. It's a private school and a small school. Couple that with the fact that you're in a town and in a state that is mad about basketball, and add on top of that that you play in a building that every basketball purist in the world wants to go through at one time or another.

"Does that work for every kid? No, it doesn't work for a lot of them. But it works for the guys on our team. You bring a kid in that loves Hinkle Fieldhouse, that means he appreciates tradition, he appreciates history and is likely a good teammate because he appreciates what's gone on in the past."

And Butler and Kansas State have to be excited about their futures.

"Why not shoot for the ultimate goal?" Butler forward Matt Howard said. "There's no reason to hold yourself back and say, 'Hey, let's just shoot to make the tournament.' Why not try to win the whole thing?"