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Butler looks buoyant after strong NIT run

The Baltimore Sun

Will Butler ride its surprising romp through the NIT Tip-Off into March?

The Bulldogs beat Notre Dame, Indiana, Tennessee and Gonzaga, the last two at Madison Square Garden, dispatching the Zags 48 hours after they had taken out North Carolina.

If the NCAA tournament were starting this weekend, the RPI would have Butler and Wichita State as No. 1 seeds. Wichita State won't get hurt playing in the Missouri Valley Conference, which sent four teams to the tournament last season, but Butler's power rating will slip when it gets into Horizon League play.

The conference formerly known as the Midwestern Collegiate acknowledged an identity crisis in 2001, but the name change meant more of the same to the NCAA. Its teams have won tournament games in three of the past four years - Butler reached the Sweet 16 in 2003 and Bruce Pearl got Wisconsin-Milwaukee that far in 2005 - but the NCAA has acknowledged the Horizon with one at-large bid since 1998.

You saw Hinkle Fieldhouse in Hoosiers as Butler's home court, the setting of the Indiana high school tournament for much of the 20th century, added verisimilitude to the movie. These Bulldogs are for real, too, but a preseason poll that included the league's coaches predicted Butler to finish sixth in the nine-team Horizon.

Loyola-Chicago, which won the NCAA title in 1963, has lost only at Ohio State, but it's the only Horizon team other than No. 23 Butler with a winning record thus far. The Bulldogs won't be a lock for an at-large bid if they play down to the level of their league in January and February.

Coach Todd Lickliter doesn't expect that to occur. He had to replace three starters, including the Horizon Player of the Year, but the forecasters weren't counting on Mike Green to make such a seamless transition from Interstate 95 to the heartland.

Green came down from Philadelphia and had the busiest season ever by a Towson freshman in 2003-04, when he ran the point and played 34 minutes a game for the Tigers. Pat Kennedy took over Towson and Green's minutes dropped, so he headed to Indianapolis.

In his second game for Butler, Green had 19 points and 12 assists against Notre Dame. He made all 10 of his free throws against Gonzaga, and is doing everything for the Bulldogs but hit the three. How many 6-footers lead their team in steals (2.1), assists (4.3) and rebounds (4.9)? Playing nearly 36 minutes a game, Green has found instant chemistry with A.J. Graves.

Greyhounds finally home

After playing its first four games on the road, Loyola plays twice at Reitz Arena over four days, as the Greyhounds get Delaware tonight (7:30) and Mount St. Mary's on Saturday. Both games will be televised on MASN.

Tonight's game will be the Reitz debut for Gerald Brown, the transfer from Providence who's averaging 27.0 points on 52.5 percent shooting from the field. The former All-Metro player from Douglass is an artist on the baseline.

Towson, another road-weary team, is home Friday against Vermont, which is making its second trip to the state. Mike Lonergan's team didn't give Maryland much of a fight, but it won at Boston College.

BB&T; evolves

Maryland-Notre Dame, Sunday at the Verizon Center, caps the BB&T; Classic, where match-maker John Feinstein continues to fine-tune the format.

The Terps and George Washington participated in a four-team tournament for a decade, but Feinstein ran out of national powers willing to give up two home games. Last year's makeshift tripleheader opened with Navy-Howard, but George Mason's run to the 2006 Final Four makes the Patriots a regular and has Feinstein thinking sellout Sunday for the first time since 2001, when Connecticut was the outside draw.

Sunday opens with Mason playing Bucknell, then GW meeting Virginia Tech. The Bison has struggled against a tough schedule, but has gotten to the NCAA second round the past two seasons. The 4-1 Colonials could use Baltimore native Cheyenne Moore, a Clemson transfer who's been out since October with a stress fracture in his left tibia.

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