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Looking back at NCAA tourney's first 4 days

A year ago, after getting snubbed on Selection Sunday, Butler became the poster child in the debate over giving good mid-major teams at-large bids.

Although the Atlantic Coast, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Conference USA, Southeastern and Pac-10 still racked up the majority of the at-large bids, the selection committee listened to complaints by awarding seven of the 34 at-large bids to mid-major teams, including Butler.

By the end of the first weekend, Brigham Young, Gonzaga, Saint Joseph's, Southern Illinois, Utah and Xavier were sent packing, but Butler certainly backed its case.

In a year when Cinderella didn't stay long at the ball, the Bulldogs are the only midmajor still wearing glass slippers.

After squeaking by fifth-seeded Mississippi State, 47-46, in the first round, 12th-seeded Butler stormed into the Sweet 16 by upsetting fourth-seeded Louisville, the Conference USA champion, 79-71.

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The Bulldogs and 10th-seeded Auburn, which upset No. 2 Wake Forest in the East, are the only double-digit seeds to advance to the Sweet 16.

By the way, Butler's gym is the one used in the movie "Hoosiers."

BIG BEAST

The Big East felt slighted when just four of its 14 teams received bids to the tournament. The Beast of the East bit back by placing all four (UConn, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Syracuse) in the Sweet 16. No conference has more.

THE MADNESS OF MARCH

It might not have had the drama of the 1981 tournament when 11 of the first 40 games were won in the final 5 seconds, but the opening weekend this year did its part to keep you on the edge of your seat.

With 49 games down, we already have seen 11 games decided by three or fewer points.

INSTANT CLASSIC

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Arizona, the top seed in the West, has a history of losing to lower seeds. Ninth-seeded Gonzaga has been known to knock off big boys.

So it came as no surprise that the Wildcats and Zags would need two overtimes to decide their second-round game.

Salim Stoudamire put 'Zona up 96-95 by sinking a floater in the lane with just more than 2 minutes left in the second overtime. But the 'Cats had to sweat it out as Gonzaga had several chances down the stretch.

The Zags missed their final chance at the upset when Blake Stepp missed a 5-foot, followup bank-shot attempt just before the buzzer.

Gonzaga's Tony Skinner forced the first overtime by putting in a follow shot at the buzzer to tie the score at 78.

Luke Walton took Arizona into the second overtime by scoring with 4.1 seconds remaining to make it 89-89.

"If you did not care who won, it was a great college basketball game," Arizona coach Lute Olson said.

SHOT OF THE TOURNAMENT

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Full accolades to Richard Midgley, who pushed California past North Carolina State with a three-pointer in overtime and Wisconsin's Freddie Owens, who swished a three-pointer with 1 second left to beat Tulsa. The shot of the tournament so far was by Maryland guard Drew Nicholas.

With the Terrapins down, 73-72, to North Carolina-Wilmington and looking like they would become the first defending champion to lose in the first round since UCLA in 1996, Nicholas took an inbounds pass with five seconds left, dribbled downcourt, took off and in full stride, launched an off-balance, fadeaway three-pointer with 0.5 seconds left.

The shot swished to give the Terps a 75-73 victory.

FRAUD FIVE

5. Alabama: The team that once was No. 1 in the nation got bumped out in the first round.

4. Dayton: Won the Atlantic 10 Tournament, received a No. 4 seed, and got whipped by Tulsa in the first round.

3. Creighton: Ranked in the Top 25 all season, lost to Central Michigan in the first round.

2. Wake Forest: The No. 2 seed squeaked by 15th-seeded East Tennessee State in first round, lost to 10th-seeded Auburn in the second.

1. Florida: The second-seeded Gators finished the season by losing four of five, then got crunched by Michigan State, 68-46, Sunday.

John Smallwood

Knight Ridder Newspapers

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