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Ken Medlin

Dueling underdogs could signal new era

Posted March 30, 2011

Call it the Year of the Underdog.

This weekend's Final Four will be historic in a number of ways. With no team seeded higher than No. 3, this will be the lowest-seeded grouping ever in a Final Four. And, as an 11-seed, Virginia Commonwealth ties George Mason (2006) and LSU (1984) as the lowest-seeded team ever to make it this far.

But it doesn't stop there. The Butler-VCU matchup will, at the least, produce the lowest seed ever in the finals as well. UCLA (1980) and Villanova (1985) were both #8 seeds, so Butler would tie them -- and VCU would blast the record into infinity.

I don't think this is any great coincidence. College basketball is enjoying its most widespread parity in history. So-called "mid-majors" are able to challenge "high-majors" with regularity now, and that is not likely to end any time soon.

While it's true the traditional power schools tend to win recruiting battles for the truly elite players, those "superstars" don't last very long. We need only look down I-40 to see that in action as Duke (Kyrie Irving) and Carolina (Harrison Barnes) await decisions from their talented freshman stars.

Mid-majors are able to engage in "program-building" in ways their larger foes are not normally able to do. This is not to say the mid-majors are at advantage -- there isn't a college basketball coach in this county that would turn down a chance to have Irving or Barnes on their team -- but it makes for an interesting set of circumstances.

High-majors used to have their cake and eat it too, so to speak. They brought in the top players and kept them for 3-4 years. But gone are the days of Dean Smith having to convince James Worthy and Michael Jordan to turn pro, and gone are the days of Coach K being able to count on Grant Hill and Christian Laettner lasting through their senior seasons. Great players leave. It's a fact.

It's hard enough to win a national championship in the first place, but the power teams now have shorter championship windows. Georgetown had four years of Patrick Ewing back in the 1980's -- and they were dominant -- but the Hoyas' only title came in the big guy's junior season. it's doubtful a player like that would be around that long in today's game.

So with the elites trying to "time" their title runs, it creates a bit of a vacuum for other teams to rush into. Butler and VCU are proof positive that well-coached teams with good systems have create havoc in the tournament regardless of seeding. They're making March Madness just a little bit madder, and I think it's great.

11 Comments

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  • Hokies94 Apr 2, 9:31 p.m.

    Hey. VCU and Butler are not underdogs any longer. Write it down. For the non-readers... go to ESPN firstly. Read all that you can. You will find it first there.

  • Tackman792000 Apr 1, 12:36 p.m.

    Cragsdale, thanks for your common sense approach post. I strongly agree with you that smaller schools (Mid-Majors) are making their presence felt. It only takes 5 players at at time. They all put their uniforms on the same way and with all the summer camps for players & coaches, all the touring teams during the summer, you got some kids at smaller schools making a name for themselves and their schools. When you get a kid like Jamie Skeen who played at Wake Forest then transferred to a smaller school, a player of that caliber elevates your team.

  • Hokies94 Mar 31, 6:32 p.m.

    We are not talking about football in this one. These schools are basketball schools. Just read a little folks before you make comments about football. These schools have something called guts, pride, belonging, a dream, and all of the facets that get any team to the Final Four.

    Obviously. These coaches recruit a heckeva lot better than most today. I would hope that Seth Greenberg can set his eyes on some that VCU is getting these days. Stevens is as bright as any young coach in the land. As 34 he is going to make some noise at a top notch school one day. I am pulling for them to win it all.

  • prez23062 Mar 30, 7:34 p.m.

    great read. it's rather bittersweet to fans like me. i wasn't even thought of when people like MJ and Ewing were in college, so i never got to see the huge impacts of the greats who stayed their entire college career. it is nice to see the underdogs getting their chance in the big dance, and i've gained loads of respect for the likes of stevens and smart. but it also sucks wondering what might have been when you have players leaving after 1 or 2 years. i always jump when people say we need a "three years college stay" rule in bball, but this article almost makes it seem like the one and done rule balances out with the seniority of teams that may not hold the future's nba stars.

  • dbd2014 Mar 30, 6:56 p.m.

    Thank you Ken, for a surprisingly well written, analytical article. Maybe you should lay a copy on the desks of Hall and Ovaries.

  • Cragsdale Mar 30, 5:14 p.m.

    oh, and Go Butler!

  • Cragsdale Mar 30, 5:13 p.m.

    I think it more a sign of how bad the NCAA was this season than a sign of how wonderful the... View More

    — Posted by Barely

    while I concede you your opinion, I have to disagree Just Because Duke didn't make it past the sweet 16, or whatever Major school you are pulling for didn't make it ion doesn't make the NCAA weak. It's been a great season as a whole for a lot of schools. Butler and VCU just showed up to play and didn't take their opponents lightly on game day. They played with heart and grit and gave everything they had. They won. Get over it.

  • RaleighPirate Mar 30, 2:57 p.m.

    Yes, the high-majors really showed the effect of early departures this year IMHO. I think this season showed how some mid-major and low-major teams with jr. and sr. laden squads were able to prevail over high-major teams without that leadership make-up.

  • Honesty first Mar 30, 2:47 p.m.

    All you need is a couple of really good players and then some role players and you have a chance. In football you need many more so the parity will never be there.

  • Barely Mar 30, 2:27 p.m.

    I think it more a sign of how bad the NCAA was this season than a sign of how wonderful the mid-major teams have become.

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