Saturday, February 17, 2007

Sizing Up BracketBuster Saturday

First off, let me clarify something - this post isn't going to be about analyzing tomorrow's BracketBuster games and predicting winners. I don't know how Butler and Southern Illinois match up against each other. And I have no idea if Virginia Commonwealth out of the CAA can be this year's George Mason.

What I do know is that the mid-majors for whom this day is dedicated have carved out quite a niche for themselves that would have been hard to foresee a decade ago. Upsets from lower-profile schools in the NCAA Tournament have always brought 15 minutes of fame to #15 seeds like Santa Clara and Hampton (upsetting Arizona and Iowa St. respectively). But until the last 5 years or so, teams like that were an afterthought. making their 2-line cameo appearance in the major motion picture of the big time conferences.

So how did we get to the point where now, in 2007, BracketBuster Saturday is a big-time, all-day event that gets real, substantive attention? The emergence of Gonzaga as a consistent force that can hold its own among the big boys is probably the biggest factor. It's not just that they made the Elite 8 (and held a lead on eventual champion UConn with 10 minutes to go in the Regional Final) in 1999. The fact that they sustained their success and translated it into recruiting prowess, regular national television appearances, and respect (even fear) from major conferences is what made them an enduring force. And it gave hope to the other mid-major conferences that you don't necessarily to be Duke or North Carolina to win and win big, year in and year out.

George Mason's run to the Final Four last year was the coming-out party of the mid-major uprising, but really, the signs had been there all year. A national player of the year candidate from the West Coast Conference in Adam Morrison of Gonzaga. The Missouri Valley tournament championship game being televised nationally on CBS. And perhaps sweetest of all, an across-the-board grilling of smug CBS candidate Billy Packer for his initial criticism of the Selection Committee placing too many mid-majors in the tournament.

Even with all that, I think the mid-majors in college basketball are given attention now more because they're a burgeoning curiosity than the completely legitimate fact that they play great basketball. People want to be able to try and predict the next George Mason so they can look like the genius in their March Madness pool. Or they watch a Missouri Valley game because it's the hot conference of the moment, that carries a certain sex appeal to it. (Which in itself, seems outright odd to say on the surface, but you'd have to say it's true.) Mid-major basketball is kind of like indie music - a few select people really truly appreciate its beauty, and then a whole lot of people say that they're into it because it's hip at the moment.

Either way, I'd say they're glad to have the attention.

1 comment:

George K. Croom Jr. said...

I love your blogs. Especially when you went for what's really good and blogged on the Cowboys.

Keep on blogging heavily and I'll check you out as you check mine.

P.S. There isn't a rising of the mid-majors. Why? Because all the teams that are good now in lesser conferences won't be there for long.

It'll happen in basketball just like it happens in football (i.e. The Big East being raped of all it's powerhouse football schools). Sooner or later the Gonzaga's of the NCAA will be playing in the ACC, Big East, or otherwise.

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