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Smith Column: MSU can vouch for how difficult Butler can be

March 29, 2011

By DANNY P. SMITH
Sports Editor
sdnsports@bellsouth.net

The Butler men's basketball program has been pulling off big-time upsets in the NCAA Tournament for nearly a decade now.
It didn't just start with the last two seasons with runs to the Final Four.
Butler has been involved in the NCAA Tournament 11 times and has a 17-10 record during that time span.
One of those victories came at the expense of another group of Bulldogs in 2003.
Mississippi State had established a bit of momentum that season by reaching the finals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament and played well even in losing a 64-57 decision to the Kentucky Wildcats in the title game at the Louisiana Superdome.
Despite the loss, the Bulldogs of the Magnolia State were awarded a fifth seed in the NCAA East Region and made the short trip to Birmingham, Ala., to face - you guessed it - the Butler Bulldogs in the first round.
Mississippi State had a talent-filled roster with Mario Austin, Timmy Bowers, Derrick Zimmerman, Winsome Frazier and others, while there weren't many recognizable names if any for 12th-seeded Butler.
I had a front row seat to witness this battle of the Bulldogs at the Birmingham Jefferson Civic Center and I remember feeling it was going to be a very good game from the start.
MSU never took charge of the game and allowed Butler to hang around. It's not ever a wise thing for a team from a major conference to give a squad from a mid-major any kind of hope.
Butler held a 28-25 lead at halftime and at that point, Mississippi State knew it was going to have a fight on its hands in order to advance.
The second half proved to be a back-and-forth encounter with neither team gaining a sizable advantage.
After MSU took a 46-45, Brandon Miller of Butler came right back down the floor and hit a running layup with 6.2 seconds remaining to give the Bulldogs from Indiana an improbable 47-46 victory.
That set off a wild celebration at the arena with Miller running around the court with his hand raised and Mike Monserez leaped onto the press table just to my right and started waving his hands back and forth.
It was a wide-range of emotion with the jubilation of Butler to the out-right disappointment of Mississippi State. The faces on those Bulldogs in the locker room after the game was pretty depressing. They knew one had slipped away.
Austin had a good game for Mississippi State with a double-double of 18 points and 10 rebounds, but he didn't have much help. No other Bulldog scored in double figures, but Bowers and Frazier did have nine points each.
MSU finished the season with an SEC Western Division championship and an overall record of 21-10, but couldn't help but feel the season ended too prematurely.
Such is the story of the NCAA Tournament, especially when there's an upset involved. When Virginia Commonwealth defeated Kansas, it looked like the life had been sucked out of the Jayhawks.
Kansas probably felt it was the favorite after overall No. 1 seed Ohio State got bounced from the tournament, but it turns out that the Jayhawks should have learned not to assume anything.
As the NCAA Tournament continues into the future, seeds will become less and less significant.
The phrase "any team can win on any given night" will become more true for college basketball, especially with teams like Butler and VCU around.

Danny P. Smith is sports editor and columnist for the Starkville Daily News. The opinions in this column are his and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Daily News or its staff.

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