Seriously, with the college basketball regular season winding down, you’d figure all the hype and propaganda for some quality non-Power 5 programs would be wearing thin on the nation’s nerves.
Usually we push it aside as best we can, only wishing to stomach the steady diet of discussion about the old-standbys, the big-name programs with big-time budgets.
But this season … hey, ain’t an issue.
Oh, how the mighty of the perceived non-mighty have fallen.
OK, sure, technically, Big East brethren Villanova (24-4 entering Saturday) and Xavier (25-3), currently ranked Nos. 1 and 5, respectively, could be construed with crashing the “entitled only” party. But, really, rightly so or not, those two and their conference are kinda given high-major clearance for starter … and, frankly, we’re not exactly getting a ton of pub about either at this point anyway.
Nah, we’re talking more the likes of Wichita State and Virginia Commonwealth and Gonzaga and Saint Joseph’s, small schools who have rocked the NCAA world at one point or another to varying degrees, with regard to this … this, for lack of better description, disrespect for the little guys.
Not for nothing, but the only recognized “true” mid-major that is ranked right now is American Athletic Conference member Southern Methodist (22-4), No. 24 in the AP poll.
Depending on whichever power ratings index the “exerts” opt to rely on, Saint Joe’s (23-5) and Dayton (22-5) of the Atlantic 10 and Wichita State (22-7) of the Missouri Valley all deserve to be in the Top 25.
The weird thing is with the latter two we’re not talking about programs that haven’t had an impact the past few seasons. The Flyers have danced the past two seasons, including a waltz right into the Sweet 16 in 2014. The Shockers have made serious NCAA noise with a Final Four run three years ago and a Sweet 16 last year.
Plus, their starting backcourt now – Fred VanFleet and Ron Baker – is the same as the one for both of those aforementioned squads.
Saint Joe’s? Well, here in Philly people still cling to that magical 2004 campaign that saw the hometown Hawks go 27-0 in the regular season, climb to No. 1 in the polls and fall short of the national semifinals by a single basket.
In truth, pretty partial here to the A-10’s VCU (20-8), which reached the Final Four in 2011 and seems to be far more worthy of a ranking than the coach, Shaka Smart, who bolted from it for Texas and his ’Horns positioned at the back end of the AP poll. Like Saint Mary’s (23-4), too, which already has topped West Coast Conference rival Gonzaga (22-7) twice this season.
Of course, the team that stands atop the mid-major rankings hasn’t even been mentioned here yet. Probably because Valparaiso (25-5) hasn’t made any splash in the NCAA tournament in a while. But the Crusaders did crack the Sweet 16 back in 1998 … and are now coached by the young man whose sharpshooting got them there, Bryce Drew.
Still, no love. Indeed, if any noise is going to be made about a mid-major this season, that mid-major will have to do it with its play in the postseason.
- Jack Kerwin | firstname.lastname@example.org
A LITTLE MADNESS BREWING?
With the NCAA tournament just a few weeks away, here are a few mid-majors to keep an eye on as potential pool-breakers.
Gonzaga Bulldogs Record: 22-7 Biggest win: Then-No. 18 Connecticut (73-70) Yeah, yeah, we’re all kinda sick of the Zags at this point. They’re the ultimate flame-outs when things really matter. Plus, they’re no sure thing to make the NCAAs anyway, not with Saint Mary’s in the West Coast Conference driver’s seat after beating Gonzaga twice. That being said, the Zags have two legit, future NBA big men in 6-11 Domantas Sabonis (17.3 ppg, 11.8 rpg) and 6-10 Kyle Wiltjer (20.8, 6.4), who was the preseason national player of the year in many outlets.
Wichita State Shockers Record: 22-7 Biggest win: Then-No. 25 Utah (67-50) Actually astounding to not see the Shockers ranked in the top 25. Both backcourt starters, Fred VanFleet and Ron Baker, will play professionally after this season and both have Final Four and Sweet 16 appearances under their belt. Wichita plays in a quality conference, the Missouri Valley, so it should be battle-tested entering the NCAAs, unless Evansville takes the MVC’s automatic bid instead. Plus, love him or hate him, Greg Marshall, is one helluva coach.
Virginia Commonwealth Rams Record: 20-8 Biggest win: Saint Joseph’s (85-82) The Rams’ frenetic pace, the way they push the action, particularly with their defense, is what makes them a dangerous prospect for opposing teams. The program’s all-time 3-point marksman Melvin Johnson (18.6 ppg) leads the offense. Like Wichita, they go 10 deep with their rotation in order to stay fresh. The main roadblocks to VCU, it seems, would be Atlantic 10 rivals Dayton and Saint Joseph’s somehow bumping the Rams from an NCAA berth. They’re tied atop the A-10 standings.