Representing all the mid-major schools that wanted a chance to compete, Butler, then a five seed, won five straight games to play the national championship mere miles from its campus Indianapolis. The Bulldogs were even closer to winning the national championship, as Gordon Hayward's desperation shot from half court bounced off the backboard and then the rim before falling to the court, signaling a 61-59 victory for Duke.
Now this year as an eighth seed, the Bulldogs are back, two games away from a return trip to the Final Four, and are again labeled the underdogs when it faces fourth-seed Wisconsin Thursday night.
"We've never felt like an underdog, but we've always embraced being called one," Butler coach Brad Stevens said. "We've got no problem with that."
Over the last three seasons, Butler has lost only 18 games and it's gone through stretches where it seems no team has figured them out; that is, no team not named Milwaukee.
Coached by former Wisconsin assistant Rob Jeter, the Panthers have beat Butler three times over that span, including twice this season and once by 24 points in early January.
"I think for us, what we've always tried to do is attack the game from the inside out," Jeter said. "What Butler does, they are very strong at help defense, but most of the help defense is from the perimeter. They use ball screens, are in gaps on the perimeter, switching assignments and Butler is phenomenal at all of that. The one place (they are vulnerable) is the low post area."
In Milwaukee's two wins over Butler, the Panthers attacked the post, shot 54.8 percent from the floor (57 of 104) and got to the free-throw line 49 times. When Milwaukee lost to Butler in the Horizon League Tournament finals, the Panthers got to the free throw line 22 times, but shot only 30 percent from the floor (12 of 40).
"If you get them double teaming, their perimeter defense isn't going to be as good," Jeter said. "We were able to attack them to the post and when they sent another guy in, we were able to take a good jump shot."
The one thing the Panthers, and many other teams, have struggled with against this Butler team is senior Matt Howard, who made the winning bucket against Old Dominion in the NCAA Tournament second round and the winning free throw against top-seed Pittsburgh in the third round.
Averaging 16.7 points and 7.7 rebounds per game, Howard hit both of those averages against the Panthers.
"You could put Howard in a Badgers uniform and he would fit in well with some of the things Mike Bruesewitz does and those kinds of No.4s play for Bo, easily," Jeter said. "He has a high IQ, can shoot from the outside, can post up and he's smart defensively at times."
Jeter alluded to Howard's defense, which has got him in trouble at times when he plays overzealous. Howard has fouled out four times this season, including once against Milwaukee, and the Panthers racked up four in their other victory.
"That's why Butler is better when he is on the floor," Jeter said. "When he's not, they are beatable."
Jeter said he's talked to his former colleagues at Wisconsin this week, offering his congratulations, talking about their respective seasons but not breaking protocol about giving his personal scouting report.
He did say that while the one through four positions on the court are similar between the two teams, Jeter believes Keaton Nankivil's ability to step off the block and shoot the three will be unique and different for Butler, giving UW an edge.
"They really haven't had to face that," Jeter said of Nankivil's ability. "We were able to beat Butler the first game by really playing well because we got the ball out for open 3-pointers. I think Butler will really corral Jordan Taylor and he'll need to throw it back to the perimeter and it depends who he's throwing it back to. If he's throwing the ball back to Keaton, that could be to their advantage. If he's throwing back to a four man, Butler does a nice job of switching on the perimeter."