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Mid-Major Morning Mashups: March 9th, 2011

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The crescendo to Selection Sunday is building - oh is it building. Butler and Oakland are back in the Dance following conference championships in the Horizon and Summit League, no surprises there, because really that was the tamest part of Tuesday. 

The Sun Belt title clash between North Texas and Arkansas-Little Rock gave us our first iconic moment in March 2011 which can be viewed after the jump. Regardless of what side of this one your loyalties lie, the Trojans are in for the first time since 1990. If you approve of quality over quantity than this game summed up your night. If it's the latter you're after then the Atlantic-10 was the place to be.

On day one of the march to an A-10 crown higher ranking seeds went 1-3 with the Rhode Island Rams the lone survivor in what I'm unofficially calling the pre-Atlantic City Assassination. Saint Joseph's downed George Washington by a point total that matched the Hawks seed (12), Dayton obliterated UMass by 28 in the 8 vs. 9 game and in the thriller of the day, it was 10th-seeded La Salle surviving a double-overtime marathon with St. Bonaventure 75-73. 

That alone makes for enough action to leave a mortal man feeling winded at the end of the night, but we haven't even touched on Princeton's win over Pennsylvania which now forces a playoff with Harvard on Saturday afternoon to determine the Ivy League champ. That's right, the Ivy League, protectors of the regular season championship automatic bid, will play a playoff game to determine their auto bid recipient. Is it the most exciting game in Ivy history? Bill Bradley would probably have a few things to say about that, as would Pete Carril.  Needless to say  though, it's been a very long time since many have been this excited for a game from this conference.

On to the scribes.

David Woods of the Indianapolis Star: "Butler didn't consume all of its March magic in 2010. The Bulldogs saved some for 2011. Put them back in the bracket. They're in the NCAA Tournament. MVP Matt Howard scored 18 points, and Butler went on a late 16-1 run to beat Wisconsin-Milwaukee 59-44 Tuesday night in the championship game of the Horizon League Tournament. The Bulldogs followed their Final Four formula from a year ago with lockdown defense and timely baskets. The victory secured a fifth successive NCAA Tournament berth and 10th in 15 years. It was Butler's third league tourney title in Howard's four years and a record seventh overall. "It gets better every time," Howard said. "It doesn't get old.'"

Eamonn Brennan of "The crowd at U.S. Cellular Arena was 10,000-deep. The students, universally clad in yellow, were packed like sardines from the floor to the rafters, swaying and buzzing with help from Kanye West on the arena loudspeakers. The song was "All Of The Lights." You could just feel it: This was Milwaukee's moment. The shot every Cinderella mid-major prays for. A chance to win the Horizon League conference tournament title on its home floor, in front of its home fans, in its home city. This was the moment. That moment didn't last long. Turns out, there happens to be this rather tough program in the Horizon League, one that doesn't readily yield conference tournament titles or NCAA automatic bids to its league foes. That team? The Butler Bulldogs. You know, last year's national runner-up? The team whose storybook run to the precipice of a national title ended in defeat -- but just barely -- when guard Gordon Hayward's last-second halfcourt heave caromed off the backboard by mere inches? You know, those Butler Bulldogs? Remember them?"

Tom Markowski of the Detroit News: "The Golden Grizzlies are going back to the NCAA Tournament. Reggie Hamilton scored 16 of his 26 points in the second half as No. 1 seed Oakland won the Summit League tournament and the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive season by defeating Oral Roberts 90-76 at Sioux Falls Arena on Tuesday...The Grizzlies will find out what team they will play and where on Sunday when the 68-team tournament field is announced. Last season Oakland entered the NCAA Tournament at 26-8 and was a 14th seed. It lost to a No. 3 seed, Pitt, 89-66. This is Oakland's third trip to the tournament. The first came in 2005. It's the second consecutive season Oakland won both the regular season and league tournament titles. Coach Greg Kampe had stopped short of saying this was his best team in his 27 years, but came forth with that statement after Tuesday's title. "I can say it now," Kampe said. "This is my best team. We're so talented offensively. Last year we won with our defense. This year we can score in so many ways. This team can play defense.'"

Arkansas-Little Rock sinks North Texas in Sun Belt Championship Game (via Bubba Prog of 30 FPS)

Ryan Colaianni of the Philadelphia Inquirer: "Surprisingly, it's not time yet for St. Joseph's to wrap up it season. The No. 12-seeded Hawks scored the first 12 points of overtime en route to a 71-59 victory over fifth-seeded George Washington in the opening round of the Atlantic Ten Tournament on Tuesday night. St. Joseph's advanced to the quarterfinals on Friday against No. 4-seeded Duquesne in a 2:30 p.m. tipoff at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. The Hawks lost to the Dukes, 75-63, at Hagan Arena on Jan. 5. After losing their first eight conference games, the Hawks have won five of their last nine against A-10 opponents."

Andy Jasner of the Boston Globe: "Harvard has waited 65 years for a coveted berth in the NCAA Tournament. So what's another four days? The Crimson faithful had to be thrilled when Pennsylvania took an early 8-point lead in the second half against Princeton last night. But the Tigers began making shots and eventually pulled away for a 70-58 victory at the Palestra, thanks in large part to a 23-point effort from Kareem Maddox. Princeton, which shot 78 percent from the field in the second half, swept the two games with Penn this season yet still trails, 122-102, in the overall series. But all that mattered on this night was the following: Princeton's victory forced a one-game playoff to determine which team gets the Ivy League's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Tigers (24-6, 12-2) will meet Harvard (23-5, 12-2) Saturday at 4 p.m. in New Haven. "I really don't want to take away from our moment,'' said Princeton coach Sydney Johnson. "We won the Ivy League championship and I don't want to stray from that. It's our 26th title, the most in the Ivy League. I want to enjoy this tonight.'''

Jerry Sullivan of the Buffalo News: "It's hard to imagine a more devastating loss in the long history of St. Bonaventure basketball. Suffice it to say, the Bonnies haven't suffered anything remotely like it since another crushing, double-overtime setback -- against Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament in 2000. Bona appeared to be on its way to Atlantic City on several occasions Tuesday. But they blew leads in regulation and both overtimes of a 75-73 double overtime loss to La Salle in the prequarterfinal round of the Atlantic 10 Tournament at the Reilly Center. Instead, it's La Salle (15-17) that will face Temple in the tournament quarterfinals on Friday in New Jersey. Time and again, the Bonnies (16-14) seemed to have the game won. But each time, the Explorers had an answer. The final one came with 32 seconds left in the second overtime, when senior backup forward Steve Weingarten nailed a three-pointer from beyond the top of the key to give La Salle the lead for good, 74-73."

Matt Schuman of the Greeley Tribune: "The University of Northern Colorado men's basketball team is one win away from the NCAA Tournament. Senior guard Devon Beitzel scored 25 points, and senior forward Chris Kaba added 14 points to lead the Bears from seven down in the second half for a 73-70 victory against the Northern Arizona University in the Big Sky Conference Championships semifinals at the Butler-Hancock Sports Pavilion. UNC (20-10) will play University of Montana in tonight's title game after the Grizzlies 57-40 victory against Weber State University in the other semifinal game. "That's two games in a row against a really good team, and a coach I have a ton respect for," UNC coach B.J. Hill said. "It goes to the credit of these four seniors along with their teammates that every time this year they have been presented with a challenge they have just risen to the occasion." Beitzel was simply spectacular again, playing all 40 minutes and giving the Bears a lift any time they needed it."