Nothing mid-major about VCU and Butler

I’ve got Butler in a Final Four “Oddity Lottery” I entered. Got ’em with the 25th overall pick. Sixteen participants each drafted four teams.

I was secretly hoping to get Old Dominion, too, but the Monarchs were gone before I could make my third-round pick. Butler and Old Dominion opened the tournament against each other so I figured I’d at least have one good mid-major with a decent shot of advancing a ways in the tournament.  Butler ended up beating Old Dominion at the buzzer and continued its march by taking out Pitt, Wisconsin and Florida to get back to the Final Four for the second in a row. Wonder if Old Dominion could have done the same?

Why not?

The mid-majors have arrived. The No. 11-seeded Virginia Commonwealth Rams will join Butler at the Final Four in Houston after stunning another Kansas.

Actually, the mid-majors arrived long before 2011. George Mason crashed the Final Four party in 2006 when it was a No. 11 seed and I read where coach Jim Larranaga gives his Patriots a lot of credit for breaking down the “psychological barrier” for teams like Butler and VCU.

Gonzaga has done its part to put the mid-majors on the map. Gonzaga beat No. 7 Minnesota, No. 2 Stanford and No. 6 Florida during a fun run in 1999. They were eventually stopped by No. 1 Connecticit 67-62 in the Elite Eight. Gonzaga was down by one with 36 seconds left in that game at Phoenix. That’s as close as the Zags have come to getting to the Final Four. Who knows, Gonzaga might have won it all that year if they could have held off UConn.

Maybe this is the year a mid-major finally wins a national championship? The talent level between the top mid-majors and the blue bloods like Kansas, Kentucky, UConn, Arizona, Florida, Ohio State and all the others is as close as its ever been.

This is what Kansas coach Bill Self said after losing to VCU: “If we played shirts and skins today, you wouldn’t have much of a difference on players or how they look.”

VCU and Butler face off in the semis, so one team will get the opportunity to change the landscape of college basketball forever.

Wouldn’t it be cool if VCU, one of the four teams that had to play-in to get into the draw of 64, won it all? A team with a coach named Shaka Smart. A team that finished fourth in the Colonial Athletic Association — the same league Old Dominion plays in — with a 12-6 league record. A team that beat teams from the Pac-10, Big East, Big Ten, ACC and Big 12 to get to the Final Four. A team that should not have been included in the tournament, according to a lot of the talking heads when they talked on Selection Sunday.

It would be even cooler if its Butler can pull it off. It nearly did a year ago, losing 61-59 to Duke in the national title game. It’s got a coach, Brad Stevens, who looks like a librarian. They’re from the Horizon League. They’ve got a 6-foot-8 power forward, Matt Howard, who doesn’t look powerful at all. He wears old saggy socks and has floppy hair. At a glance, he looks like he belongs in the NWAACC, but he has a knack for being in the right place at the right time and winning games.

Butler and VCU are both in the right place. They belong in the Final Four with UConn and Kentucky. Put ’em in the Big East or SEC and they’d finish in the upper part of the league. Put Gonzaga in the Pac-10 and they would be a top-3 team most years, winning it on occasion. Hopefully, the selection committee will start giving the mid-majors more respect. St. Mary’s of the WCC should have been in the tournament this year. The Big East might be the best conference — UConn did finish ninth in that league — but it didn’t deserve 11 of the 68 NCAA berths.

If teams from the power conferences filled their non-league schedules against the best of the mid-majors, you’d find out a lot of so-called mid-majors are every bit as major as they are.

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