Did Jason SMith sense this column was coming? Tuesday afternoon he was advocating the NCAA Tournament be overhauled to exclusively be Power Five teams (which admittedly would be intriguing). Just a couple hours earlier, I had decided to write what this past weekend reaffirmed for me: March Madness needs more Mid Majors.
The Big Dance is a hell of a lot better with Cinderella. UMBC’s upset of No. 1 Virginia was phenomenal to watch-- both the game, and on Twitter. Jon Elmore and Marshall’s explosive offense put on a show to upset Wichita State. The dynamic Nevada Wolfpack, led by Eric Musselman, is in the Sweet 16 after showing lots of chutzpah in managing to defeat Texas and Cincinnati. Buffalo eviscerated Arizona, putting the Wildcats and Sean Miller in their place. Loyola-Chicago is a tremendous team, and have exciting wins over Miami and Tennessee.
These are the storylines that college basketball fans love. George Mason, VCU, Butler, etc. make March Madness mad. Yet the committee, deliberately or not, seems to be doing their best to keep them out. Noticeably out: Middle Tennessee State and Saint Mary’s. Syracuse, however makes it in with a questionable resume. St. Bonaventure had to defeat UCLA in a play-in game to prove their worth, and Davidson, who gave soon to be Final Four bound Kentucky a real scrap, would not have qualified without winning the A-10 conference championship.
Year in and year out the selection committee excludes the little guys, and then proceeds to watch little guys drive all their narratives. I don’t get it. Yes, Saint Mary’s foolishly played a week schedule, and Middle Tennessee should have won the middling C-USA. They had opportunities to solidify themselves and didn’t but. That is not always the case. Blaming small schools for not playing schools who refuse to fairly schedule them, or schedule them at all, doesn’t make sense. They are good teams. Saint Mary’s is top ten in the country in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency on KenPom and Randy Bennett is a good coach; they could easily be playing next weekend.
They may be boring but, heck, Jock Landale is third in Pomeroy’s Player of the Year metric. Middle Tennessee State beat some Power Five teams and barely lost to some others. Nick King is a baller; they have proven themselves beating Michigan State in the past, and Marshall’s victory plus Western Kentucky’s NIT run prove their conference wasn’t a joke.
They weren’t even given a chance. That’s the problem. I know Syracuse, I know UCLA and I don’t really care. Syracuse’s Sweet 16 appearance is impressive, but most people don’t seem to care. What fans care about are story lines they can get behind. I tertiarily knew Jon Elmore, Eric Musselman and co. before this weekend, yet was still enamored. For the common fan, the novelty is something fantastic. If NCAA keeps squeezing and squeezing out the Mid-Major, their underrepresentation is going to squeeze out the spectacles that make the tournament so great.
Matt Barresi is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.