Thursday, March 31, 2011

It's a new day for mid-majors

Jim Larranaga, Brad Stevens and Shaka Smart are, for good reasons, heroes to fellow college basketball coaches.
Larranaga guided George Mason to the NCAA tournament Final Four in 2006.
Stevens took Butler there in 2010, and this year Stevens has the Bulldogs back in the Final Four, where they’ll play Smart’s Virginia Commonwealth Rams in a national semifinal game Saturday.
Mason, Butler and VCU have proved to so-called mid-major programs that they can get to college basketball’s premier event.
That’s the good news for coaches at programs akin to those Final Four party crashers.
But how long before those schools’ presidents, athletic directors and alumni start to expect long tournament runs from their teams?
How long before just getting to the Big Dance won’t be enough to keep fans from howling about not having had their “turn” to enjoy a Final Four?
With four Final Four berths among the last 24 openings, mid-majors have moved closer to losing “Cinderella” status at the national semifinals.
VCU, a No. 11 seed, probably would not have received its at-large berth to this year’s tournament if the field hadn’t expanded from 65 teams to 68.
Now the Rams are in the Final Four.
There is more opportunity than ever before for mid-majors.
But with opportunity comes expectation, and with expectation comes pressure to deliver.
The NCAA tournament is a cash machine.
Several studies have been done to measure the economic impact Mason’s Final Four run had on the Fairfax, Va., school.
One analysis, done by the Center for Sport Management at Mason, found that the school earned more than $600 million in “free advertising" due to coverage of the Patriots.
Other benefits, that study found, were increases in admissions inquiries and fundraising.
You can bet your pompons other schools have noticed.
College basketball might never be the same because of barriers Larranaga, Stevens and Smart have broken.
That’s not all bad.
It’s not all good, either.
Folks at mid-major programs long to be treated the same as their counterparts at higher-profile schools like Kentucky, UCLA and Kansas.
When mid-major coaches start losing jobs because their  schools haven’t fed at the tournament trough, they’ll realize that’s precisely what has happened.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

More bounce for U-M hoops

Here's another reason why the ice age for University of Michigan men's basketball might be melting: Trey Burke.
The 6-foot-1 senior lead guard, who averaged 23.9 points during the regular season for Columbus Northland High, was named Mr. Basketball in Ohio. Burke signed a letter of intent with Michigan in November.
Burke follows the likes of Jared Sullinger, William Buford, Jon Diebler, O.J. Mayo and LeBron James as recent Mr. Basketball winners in the Buckeye State.
Ohio's Mr. Basketball doesn't have to be a senior.
Sullinger won the award as a junior and senior, and then starred at Ohio State in the 2010-11 season.
Mayo won it twice, in 2005 and 2006, before moving on to Southern Cal.
James was a three-time winner, in 2001, 2002 and 2003, before he turned professional.
Michigan coach John Beilein called Burke a "proven winner and floor general" when Burke signed in November.
It will be interesting to see how Burke fits in with the Wolverines, who won an NCAA tournament game in March before being eliminated by Duke.
Burke's importance to U-M could be heightened if sophomore point guard Darius Morris, who is surveying NBA teams' interest, does turn pro.
Burke's signing with Michigan interrupts a trend of Ohio Mr. Basketball winners going to Ohio State.
Sullinger, Buford and Diebler were the three previous winners, over the last four years; all signed with the Buckeyes.