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Bouncing around the nation (#2)

Bouncing around the nation (#2)
Dec 12, 2005, 01:35 am
What to make of “Mid-Major”?

The term “Mid-Major” is bandied about more often than ever, yet it seems the confusion as to what is actually being implied is growing by the minute. Missouri Valley fans never get tired of talking up their conference as “High-Major”, and plenty of purists out there will lose their cool anytime Gonzaga is mentioned as “Mid-Major.” I’m no expert on the issue, but it seems like a little bit of common sense is in order.

I would look at two fairly obvious criteria when distinguishing a High-Major from a Mid-Major.

1) NCAA tournament success – does the program in question make the tournament on a regular basis?

2) Recruiting sway – does the program in question land nationally recruited players? (IE, the players that teams qualifying under criteria #1 recruit)

A program that consistently makes the NCAA tournament and recruits largely national recruits would be a “High Major”. A program that makes the Tourney on a semi-regular basis and has the sway to land the occasional national recruit would qualify as a “Mid-Major”. At the end of the spectrum, a team that wouldn’t normally receive an at large bid and only grabs national recruits in special circumstances would end up as a “Low-Major”

Obviously, these two criteria have a tendency of snowballing. A program is likely to start recruiting better after extended Tourney success, and vice versa.

There are a few other issues to clear up as well.

First off, the term “Mid” assumes that there are also “High” and “Low” majors. It is understandable why Nevada wouldn’t want to be classified with a bottom feeder from one of the weaker conferences. I don’t see the need to consider “Mid” or “Low” an insult. They are simply classifications for where a program is at. If the term “Low-Major” were used more often, maybe “Mid-Major” wouldn’t come off as such a negative for a successful team of that classification.

Also, the distinction between Mid-Major program and Mid-Major conference needs to be made. Gonzaga certainly plays in a Low or Mid-Major conference, but clearly meets the criteria for High-Major team. I don’t think it is fair to label a program as Mid-Major simply because that team is currently more competitive than the rest of their conference.

As for declaring High, Mid, and Low-Major conferences, once again, common sense is in order. If a conference is largely made up of High-Major teams, label it high major. If a conference consistently receives an at-large bid or two, call it Mid-Major. If a conference produces an automatic bid only, let’s drop the political correctness and call it a Low-Major.

While it isn’t clear what is going to happen in the conferences that recently lost/gained members, this is how it shakes down according to me:

High-Major (Big Six): ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big Twelve, Pac-10, SEC

Mid-Major (with apologies to the CAA, MAC and WCC): A-10, C-USA, MVC, MWC, WAC

Low-Major: Everybody else

Perhaps I am still being too generous by including the term “major” at all for some of the lower-tier conferences. There certainly is a big difference between that next group of conferences and the bottom rung.

“Mid-Major” fans, please feel free to e-mail me and tell me how wrong I am on this.

Experience Argument…revisited

Last week I focused on several teams that returned little production, and their varying levels of success. On the flipside of that are teams that return the majority of their rosters. Traditional wisdom claims that these teams will be successful, but once again, it seems to vary on a case-by-case basis. Many preseason top 25 lists are simply a rundown of successful teams from a season ago that happen return a lot, and DraftExpress took some flack for attempting to vary from that strict formula in our preseason predictions. I truly believe that a team shouldn't automatically get a high preseason ranking because it returns a lot of talent.

For instance, look at Arizona. The starting backcourt of Mustafa Shakur, Chris Rodgers, and Hassan Adams goes junior, senior, senior, and yet the Wildcats have whichever guard happens to bring the ball up the floor usually just over-dribbling and firing up a bad shot as soon as possible. The Wildcats have looked good defensively, but it is a little baffling to see a Lute Olson-coached team look so out of control on the offensive end. This is a team full experienced backcourt performers that should have been able to mop up the likes of Houston , but looks more like a group of individuals auditioning for an NBA gig.

On the other hand, we have George Washington. The Colonials were everybody’s team after key early wins last year, but youth and a lack of discipline on both ends of the floor made the latter part of the season a bit of a disappointment. George Washington recently took down Maryland in a nasty battle of DC-area titans, and it is now clear that the team has clearly benefited from that year of experience. Where last season the Colonials simply pushed the ball, fired up quick shots, and hoped they had more points than the opponent when the buzzer sounded, the win over Maryland was earned with a fair portion of tough defense and grit. Danilo Pinnock is a versatile wing scorer, Carl Elliot looks good at the point, and the return of both Pops Mensah-Bonsu and Mike Hall leaves the frontcourt in good shape. Sophomore lead guard Maureece Rice takes over for TJ Thompson, and is an explosive all-around scorer. Karl Hobbs even gets a midseason lift when super-athletic forward Regis Koundjia becomes eligible at the semester break. All things considered, this is a veteran-laden primed for a deep Tourney run.

Duke-Texas fallout…

After Duke’s massacring of Texas, we finally have a clear-cut number one team. JJ Redick was sensational, and Rick Barnes appeared to lack the gameplan to stop him. Barnes can talk all he wants about how Redick hit a lot of tough shots, but they were type the shots that everybody in ACC country knows that Redick will hit more often than not. Longhorn defenders foolishly attempted to fight through screens rather than switching, and that is all the daylight a shooter like Redick needs. Redick will be lucky to get that many good looks the entire ACC slate. The Blue Devils looked vulnerable early in the season when Shelden Williams got into foul trouble, but Texas didn’t get the ball inside to LaMarcus Aldridge and never really attacked Duke's big man. Of course, credit must also be given to Coach K’s incredible-as-always pressure defense on the perimeter. Daniel Gibson & company had all they could handle simply trying to hang onto the ball, let alone finding a way to make a decent post entry pass. One has to wonder if the time of Duke’s vulnerability has passed. There were several close calls early in the season, including the miracle against Virginia Tech, but the Blue Devils have appeared to hit their stride.

Making noise out west…

If Washington has established itself as the team to beat out west, it might be time to declare UCLA a clear-cut number two. The Bruins didn’t look great early in the season, but injuries to numerous key players and the integration of several freshmen into the lineup can be blamed for that. Saturday’s convincing win over a very tough Nevada team proved that the Bruins are legit. Jordan Farmar is healthy and playing the best basketball of his career, while Arron Afflalo has expanded his game in the absence of fellow wing Josh Shipp. Freshmen Darren Collison and Luc Mbah a Moute both look like keepers. Shipp is scheduled for a return early in the conference slate, and when backup big men Michael Fey, Lorenzo Mata, and Alfred Aboya return to the court, Ben Howland will have himself a group with the balance, depth, and talent to make a serious run at the Pac-10 title.
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