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NCAA MEN'S BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT | MIKE PENNER / The
day in the NCAAs

Hoosier Daddy? It's Butler

March 24, 2003|MIKE PENNER

The Hoosiers have left the building, make way for the team from the "Hoosiers" building.

To put it another way, three teams from the state of Indiana had the chance to join Notre Dame is the Sweet 16 Sunday, but only one succeeded.

Indiana couldn't do it.

Purdue couldn't do it.

Butler did it.

Before Sunday, the Butler Bulldogs of Indianapolis were best known as the basketball team that loaned its home arena, Hinkle Fieldhouse, to the makers of the ultimate hoop-dreams movie, "Hoosiers." Butler's 79-71 victory over Louisville wasn't quite a match for Hickory High's state final upset, but it was a popular result, considering what it did to the NCAA tournament (squeezed one little guy in there among those 15 giants), Rick Pitino (sent him home, much to the delight of Kentucky Wildcat supporters everywhere) and the balance of power within the basketball-mad state of Indiana.

On a double-take afternoon that wrapped up the second round, Indiana and Purdue were eliminated by schools better known for running backs than runs to the Final Four.

Pittsburgh, NCAA basketball semifinalist in 1941, beat Indiana by 22 points, 74-52, in an East Regional game that mercifully ended the Hoosiers' tumultuous follow-up to their spirited return to the NCAA final in 2002.

Texas, with two trips to the Final Four in the 1940s and none since, turned back a persistent Purdue challenge, and maybe a few of the "overrated" claims that followed the Longhorns into the South Regional, with a 77-67 win in Birmingham, Ala.

Butler, with an enrollment of 4,246, a low-profile representative of the vertically challenged Horizon League, will spend at least five more days in the tournament than Indiana, a fact that did not sit especially well with Indiana Coach Mike Davis.

Was it really only 12 months earlier that Davis reached the NCAA final against Maryland, scratching out his first primitive inroads of support in Bloomington, still heavily populated with Bob Knight loyalists?

March 2002 seemed eons ago by the time Davis concluded his postgame news conference after the loss to Pittsburgh. Davis bitterly lashed out at his players, some of them the same ones who helped save Davis' job and earn him a six-year contract extension last spring.

Davis described his squad as "the most selfish team I've been around," lambasting his players for paying too close attention to "outside influences" that were "telling them how good they are."

Davis disagreed with that assessment. He said that, with one or two exceptions, the Hoosiers individually weren't very good at all. He claimed his players needed the guidance of a strong-minded coach -- presumably him -- and he couldn't understand why they wouldn't or couldn't do what he told them to do.

"My philosophy is fine," Davis insisted to reporters. "These guys just didn't listen to me."

He probably also noticed that Maryland, though not the same team as last year's champions, advanced again to the Sweet 16 with a 77-64 victory over Xavier.

(Fine print: Maryland would not have been there, and Gary Williams would be in a much surlier mood today, were it not for Drew Nicholas' minor-miracle running three-pointer at the buzzer to beat UNC-Wilmington in the first round. Funny, Nicholas looked a little selfish on the play, grabbing the ball and making the season-saving play all on his own. Sometimes in basketball, greed is good.)

Butler is a much fresher story, and happier too. The Bulldogs are making their reputation with this tournament, because whatever they had or didn't have before this cost them seriously in 2002, when Butler, despite a 25-5 record, was ignored by the NCAA selection committee.

The Bulldogs feared it would be deja vu all over again this season when they went 25-3, won the Horizon League regular-season title but lost to Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the league's tournament final.

But an upgraded non-conference schedule -- Butler played Duke this season -- bumped the Bulldogs' ever-crucial RPI to 35, too substantial for even the tunnel-vision selectors to miss.

Given a motley No. 12 seeding, Butler has made the most of it. The Bulldogs upset No. 5 Mississippi State in Friday's first round, then followed it up with a victory over No. 4 Louisville in the second round.

Darnell Archey led Butler with 26 points, 24 of them on near-flawless (eight-of-nine) three-point shooting. Afterward, Archey sounded more than a little stunned, saying he was in the kind of zone that made him feel like he was Michael Jordan in the 1992 NBA Finals against Portland.

Again, this is Butler's first trip to the third round. Some light-headedness is to be expected.

Along with Auburn, a 68-62 upset winner over Wake Forest, Butler makes the East semifinal field the longshot regional. Butler is seeded 12th and Auburn 10th -- the only two double-digit seeded teams to break through to the tournament's second week.

Next up for Butler: Oklahoma, top-seeded team in the East.

Next question for Butler: When do Gene Hackman and Dennis Hopper start showing up at courtside?

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