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"I think we embrace it," Butler forward Gordon Hayward said. "If that's what the story is going to be, we'll accept that. We're up for the challenge. ... Once the ball goes up in the air, all that's going to disappear, and it's just 5-on-5. We view them as another opponent, someone we're going to play and try to beat."
In a sign of how far Butler has come, the Bulldogs (33-4) might have the best NBA prospect on the floor Monday night in Hayward, a 6-foot-9 forward who can shoot the 3, guard on the perimeter and play in the middle if he has to.
Giving him a run for his money is Duke's Kyle Singler, who along with Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith, make up the "Big Three" for the Blue Devils (34-5) -- three players who will play at the next level, but not before sticking around college for a while.
Though Duke has produced many before, there are no lottery picks, no "one-and-dones," on either of these squads, both of whom emphasize "team" over the individual.
"I think the bottom line is, with 'The Butler Way,' it's more a concept of how to act, how to be a great teammate," Stevens said.
For whatever it's worth, no team playing Butler under these circumstances would be able to shake the label of being the bad guy.
As it so happens, Duke already has a pretty good head start there.
Back in 1990 and 1991, when the Blue Devil dynasty was still taking shape, Coach K faced Jerry Tarkanian and UNLV twice in the Final Four. That was when the Rebels really were Rebels and Duke came off as the good guy.
Led by Larry Johnson and Stacey Augmon, UNLV ran Duke out of the arena, 103-73, in the 1990 final. But the next year, behind Christian Laettner and Grant Hill, Duke won in the semis on the way to the first of two straight national titles. The Blue Devils added another in 2001 and, as the years have passed, the perception has flipped.
Krzyzewski accepts it, and with a world view that certainly won't make him any more friends, he claims Duke naturally gets subjected to more criticism than any state school (hello, North Carolina) because the fans and media are programmed to go easier on the public entity.
"So, if we're going to be really good, we're going to get that because there's nobody to hold anybody accountable before you even start talking," Krzyzewski said. "It's just true. That's just the way it is, and I'm OK with it. I think it helps us keep our edge."
But the dynasty Krzyzewski has built at Duke, with undergraduate enrollment of 6,340 -- only about 2,000 more than at Butler -- shows anything is possible.
"Everybody wants to be like them," Stevens said. "I don't think there's any question. Speaking for Butler, we have a tremendous program, but we're not near what Duke has accomplished over the last 30-plus years. They've set a standard."
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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