One team is the Maroon and White of Mississippi State University. The Dogs and Lady Dogs have been ranked in the Top 25 season-long. They were both penciled in during Sunday's "Selection Show" to no one's surprise."> One team is the Maroon and White of Mississippi State University. The Dogs and Lady Dogs have been ranked in the Top 25 season-long. They were both penciled in during Sunday's "Selection Show" to no one's surprise.">

MSU One of Few With Both Teams in NCAA

[Premium Article] Only two schools in the power-packed Southeastern Conference will be represented by both its men's and women's basketball teams in the NCAA's "March Madness" which begins this week.<P> One team is the Maroon and White of Mississippi State University. The Dogs and Lady Dogs have been ranked in the Top 25 season-long. They were both penciled in during Sunday's "Selection Show" to no one's surprise.

Mississippi State's Lady Dogs will play in the Midwest Regional at Albuquerque, New Mexico, while the Bulldogs play much closer to home in the East Regional at Birmingham, Ala.

There's been no complaints among the Mississippi State family although Lady Bulldogs' coach Sharon Fanning acknowledged the trip to the Far West does involve major travel.

The No. 13-ranked Lady Bulldogs (23-7), paced by three-time senior All-American LaToya Thomas and sophomore All-SEC guard Tan White, open NCAA play Saturday, March 22 against the Manhattan Lady Jaspers (20-9). Tip-off is set for 8:15 p.m. at The Pit.

Thomas has played and won a game at The Pit while it marks White's first visit to New Mexico.

"I have never coached two players like this," acknowledged Fanning, who has a 461-323 overall record. "They're both special players."

Fanning said the Lady Dogs will need to focus on "playing our best, playing our hardest and doing it as a team."

SEC West champion Mississippi State (21-9), ranked No. 20 in the Associated Press Poll released Monday, takes on the tenacious Butler Bulldogs (25-5) Friday, March 21 at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center with a 9 p.m. tip-off. Butler also received votes in this week's poll.

"We're very happy to be going to Birmingham," said Stansbury from the Louisiana Superdome minutes after the NCAA Selection Show. The Bulldogs remained in New Orleans to watch the Selection Show before departing for Starkville.

In the bracket opposite the Dogs is an old nemesis, former Kentucky coach Rick Pitino, who has the No. 14 Louisville Cardinals (24-6) flying high. The Cards would have to get by Austin Peay, where Stansbury once served as an assistant, and the Dogs would obviously need to get past Butler for the match to develop.

But first things first! Butler is a dangerous team as most everyone knows. From the widely-acclaimed movie "Hoosiers" to the anticipation and excitement of the postseason, Butler is on the hoops map. Scenes from "Hoosiers" was filmed at Butler, adding to the mystique.

"No question we're playing a very good Butler basketball team," pointed out Stansbury during a Monday press conference at Humphrey Coliseum. "They're a great basketball team. They've won 50 games the last two years.

"The proximity from Starkville to Birmingham is something great for our team and no question great for our fans," added Stansbury. "I know our fans are going to try to get every ticket they can at Birmingham. I know we're going to have a great following.

"We're excited about the opportunities ... who we're playing and where we're playing. Our team will be ready come Friday night," noted Stansbury.

Mississippi State is coming off an excellent stand against No. 1 Kentucky, riding a 23-game winning streak, but not content with the seven-point setback (65-58) in the SEC Championship game against the Cats at the Louisiana Superdome.

The Bulldogs, playing without last year's SEC Tournament MVP Mario Austin for the first six games of the season before the 6-9 center-forward was cleared to play by the NCAA, got off to an 0-3 start in the conference race, but recovered in time to claim the Western Division title on the final day of the regular season.

Stansbury said "nothing was broken" and therefore the Dogs just had to go back to basics and play their way out of the poor start which included three tough opponents to open the league race - Florida, LSU and Alabama.

"It would have been very easy to panic, going 0-3, and start doing things (making changes), but we didn't do that. We broke down every situation and took the positives from those games.

"We kept our team focused on the big picture," added Stansbury. "It's a 16-game season. It's the teams that can survive those ups and downs, those highs and lows, and whatever team can keep it at an even keel the best ... keep the emotions of the team the best ... are the teams that are going to be successful. We found a way to do that and that's why we won the SEC West."

As Mississippi State returns to the limelight in college basketball it's no secret you have to have "great players" acknowledged Stansbury, coming off an SEC Tournament title last year while advancing to the second round of the NCAA Midwest Regional at Dallas, Texas.

"Gotta have great players," he said. "Fans are important, too. We have great fans, great facilities and Larry Templeton (MSU Athletic Director) has put us in a position to compete against the best in this league."

In his fifth campaign at the helm in Starkville, Stansbury wracked up his 100th career win in the SEC Tournament, turning back LSU in the semifinals.

Stansbury gives the credit to the players. Among the MSU starters are seniors Derrick Zimmerman (G), Michal Ignerski (F), juniors Mario Austin (C-F), Timmy Bowers (G), and sophomore Ontario Harper (F).

Sophomore 7-0 center Marcus Campbell and junior Lincoln Smith (C) along with sophomore Winsome Frazier (G), and junior transfer Branden Vincent (F) joined by freshman guard Stephen Cowherd have contributed nicely in key roles.

"I think our confidence level is pretty high," said Bowers, a member of the SEC All-Tournament team who had a game-high 26 points in the Dogs big win over LSU while hitting 14-of-14 free throws during the tourney.

"We've beaten a No. 1 seed (Oklahoma) and we've played Kentucky (No. 1) pretty close in both games, but we realize Butler is a dangerous team and we're not going to take them lightly," hinted Bowers.

Austin said he was excited about going to Birmingham, but there are "some real good teams on our side of the bracket" so we'll have to be ready to play.

"Nobody gave us much of a chance against Kentucky, but we had a chance to win. For us to come out and play as hard as we did and keep the game as close as we did ... that shows a lot about our basketball team. We're a great basketball team," added Austin.

"No one really gives us the respect we should get. We have great players on this team. We wanted to keep our focus going into the game with Kentucky with all the talk about them going through the SEC without losing a game. We just wanted to keep our focus going into that game and try to get a win. We just came up a few baskets short," added Austin.

"It's (Birmingham) a good place to play and we can get a lot of fans because it's only three hours away. We had a good crowd at New Orleans which was four hours away so I know we'll have a great crowd at Birmingham," he said.

The only other SEC school with both men and women in the NCAA is LSU, while three league teams have both editions ranked - Mississippi State, LSU, and Georgia.


Don Foster, a veteran newspaper writer who is the Sports Editor for the Starkville Daily News, writes a weekly article for Gene's Page.

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