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Dodson’s bumpy journey ends with another NCAA bid

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PITTSBURGH — The last time Southern Miss guard Darnell Dodson walked onto the court for an NCAA tournament game, he was wearing Kentucky blue trying to help the Wildcats to their first Final Four in 12 years.

Instead, Dodson managed just six points in a 73-66 loss to West Virginia in the 2010 East regional final then slumped off the floor and into oblivion.

Kentucky coach John Calipari cut Dodson the following summer, jumpstarting a chain of events that had Dodson wondering if he'd ever play basketball again. Dodson was arrested for disorderly conduct in Lexington in October 2010 before finding a safe landing spot playing for Larry Eustachy at Southern Miss.

Dodson's career with the Golden Eagles nearly ended before it began. He was kicked off the team after pleading guilty to grand larceny last spring only to be brought back for one last chance in December.

The smooth-shooting 6-foot-7 Dodson hasn't let Eustachy's benevolence go to waste. Dodson averaged 11.1 points in 23 games for the Golden Eagles as they won 25 games and made the NCAA tournament field for the first time since 1991. Southern Miss faces eighth-seeded Kansas State on Thursday.

Dodson just shook his head when talking about his humbling trip back to March Madness, crediting Eustachy for helping him deal with his inner demons.

"Coach helped me keep my head on straight," Dodson said. "Around the time (I was arrested) there was a lot of doubt in my mind of whether I'd play again."

Eustachy is a firm believer in forgiveness and praised Dodson for his maturity.

"I've always said it's not if you fall in the gutter, it's whether you get up and try to do something about it," Eustachy said. "Darnell is a great example of that. He's addressed his issues. He's made amends for his mistakes."

PEYTON'S PLACE: That other Peyton — Louisville's Peyton Siva — was about the only member of the Cardinals' basketball program who was hoping for a cross-country trip when the NCAA tournament field was revealed.

Siva got his wish when the fourth-seeded Cardinals were sent to Portland, Ore., for a second-round game against 13th-seeded Davidson. Not a bad way for the Seattle native to potentially finish out his junior season at Louisville, especially after leading the Cardinals to the Big East tournament championship last weekend. Siva was named tournament's most outstanding player after averaging 13.8 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.8 assists in Louisville's four tourney wins.

"Nobody really wanted to come to Portland, you know. It really didn't matter to me. If we came to Portland, I have a lot of my family members can come," Siva said. "It's great to come back to the Northwest, and it feels good."

Siva is the second player out of Seattle that Louisville coach Rick Pitino lured East. Terrence Williams starred at Seattle's Rainier Beach High and went on to play four years for the Cardinals. Just up the road at Seattle's Franklin was Siva.

"I'll have a lot of family and a lot of coaches, and friends coming up here from Seattle to Portland," Siva said. "So it should be fun. We should have a pretty good crowd."

Not everyone at Louisville was pleased with the Portland placement. Pitino said his understanding was the Cardinals would be placed in a sub-region that did not play on the same day as the one being hosted by the Cardinals in Louisville.

"I'd rather be in our backyard. We're almost in the Pacific Ocean," Pitino joked. "It surprised us, but once you get here, it's a great city, a great arena."

MARCH FOOTBALL: Ohio State is in its fourth straight NCAA tournament after a season when the Buckeyes were ranked in the top 10 from the preseason poll to the one released this week. They have reached the round of 16 the last two years, and the school's history features nine Final Fours and a national championship in 1960.

Still, the Ohio State players were asked how they think the program is regarded nationally.

"We're still a football school, according to people. We'll live with that," sophomore forward Jared Sullinger said.

Sophomore guard Aaron Craft said the basketball program won't overshadow its football counterpart.

"But it's OK," he said. "I mean, there's nothing greater in the fall than being in The Shoe, watching our guys play football, especially with the buzz that's going around right now with the new hires and all the recruits we have coming in. It's something that you get to embrace.

It's awesome to see Buckeye Nation come together through football, understanding the same fans back us during basketball season. I just think there's more excitement around Ohio State all year around instead of just around the football season. But football is always going to dominate, and I think we're all right with that."

BUZZ'S BUILDING: Marquette coach Buzz Williams remembers his connections at Colorado State every time he heads home. He bought his first house in Fort Collins, where two of his children were born and where then-coach Dale Layer hired him as an assistant.

The Golden Eagles could play the Rams on Saturday if both win their second-round matchup, but regardless of Thursday's outcomes, he has a constant reminder of Colorado State in his Mequon, Wis. garage.

"In our garage, as soon as I pull in the garage, there's a Colorado State Ram as big as that scoreboard," Williams said, pointing to a 20-foot wide one at a KFC Yum! Center practice court. "The entire garage — top, ceiling, side, everything — is the green and gold of Colorado State, because when I drive in every day, no matter what's happened in my life that day, it takes me back to 18 days before I got married (when) I was hired at CSU."

Williams got a chance to hire former Rams coach Dale Layer on his staff as an assistant after Layer was fired, and Layer spent two seasons with Williams before taking the head coaching role at Liberty.

"It reminds me of my growth as a coach and as a husband and a father by the example coach Layer set for me," Williams said of the garage. "It's refreshing and pure to me."

ALREADY WINNERS: Kansas already wrapped up two national championships even before the second-seeded Jayhawks opened the NCAA tournament against No. 15 seed Detroit on Friday night.

The Collegiate Licensing Company and the Atlanta Tipoff Club announced Wednesday that the Jayhawks were the winners of the inaugural Naismith Student Section of the Year Award, which comes with a $5,000 donation to the school's general scholarship fund.

Approximately 80 schools were narrowed to eight by two rounds of public voting, and the Naismith Awards board of selectors chose the Kansas student section from the finalists.

"We have the best students and fans in the country, and we are thrilled to now have national confirmation of what we have always known," Kansas coach Bill Self said.

Earlier this week, Inside Higher Ed declared the Jayhawks champions of the "Academic NCAA Tournament," in which teams are advanced through the bracket based on their Academic Progress Rates, a standard used by the NCAA to measure academic performance.

Kansas defeated Davidson — a team it lost to on the hardwood in December — for the championship. Lehigh and Texas also made the Final Four.

AP Sports Writers Colin Fly in Louisville, Ky., Arnie Stapleton in Albuquerque, N.M., Jim O'Connell and Will Graves in Pittsburgh, Dave Skretta in Omaha, Neb., and Tim Booth in Portland, Ore., contributed to this report.