I came home from school today planning on finally writing a Raptors article, which I wil..."/> I came home from school today planning on finally writing a Raptors article, which I wil..."/>

VCU, Butler and the Invasion of the Mid Majors


I came home from school today planning on finally writing a Raptors article, which I will get to you later today, but as I usually do I go on twitter and check out various websites for some news and etc. And while I rarely ever go on ESPN’s website anymore I checked out Tim Keown’s article on why VCU and Butler are capturing the nation’s attention and why they are mid-major schools are suddenly experiencing success in the tournament.

While i disagree with many of his points, his article did give me the motivation to write a response to his article, so he obviously did his job.

The main thing I disagreed with is that the reason that the mid major schools are succeeding is because the one and done rule is killing the big schools and that schools like Butler and VCU are thriving is because they have the advantage of playing as a “team”

Keown says (of UNC star Harrison Barnes)

"Nothing against Barnes. It’s just that he’s the one who thought to pass to himself in an Elite Eight game at a time when it’s becoming increasingly clear that balancing team basketball and future NBA plans is not the simple act we once supposed. For what it’s worth, I’d pay to see Barnes play before I’d pay to see any single player on VCU or Butler."

This is the first statement I don’t agree with. Harrison Barnes was UNC’s best player did what  thousands of college basketball players have done before him, made a high risk play in a high pressure situation. One play by a guy who hasn’t been a selfish player all season does not start a debate on how college basketball has stopped being a team game.

Keown then goes on to attack Kyrie Irving saying:

"But there are times when the floor isn’t open and the flow isn’t there and the strain shows. Kyrie Irving is another fabulous freshman talent, but his play against Arizona is the main reason the Blue Devils’ season ended before most people thought it would. (Coach K’s willingness to hand the game over to Irving had something to do with it, too.) It was nearly impossible to believe that Duke’s game plan was to have Irving take over while the best player on the court — Nolan Smith — was reduced to an innocent bystander. That’s what happened, though; and even though Irving scored 28 points and often looked pretty doing it, the game drifted away from Duke and never came back. Here’s the deal: When I’m watching these guys play, I can’t help but think I’m watching an audition, players playing to improve their draft status. If they can do that and help their teams win, all the better; but all too often, it looks like it’s more important to get shots than play team basketball."

First off, Kyrie Irving was playing hurt and was still clearly the best player Duke had in that game, and while Nolan Smith may not have been the primary ball-handler he disappeared on his own, Irving was not pulling an Allen Iverson. In fact the majority of Irving’s points in the tournament came off of free throws, debunking that myth.

If Nolan Smith was the best player on the floor in that game, he would have looked like Kyrie Irving. It is as simple as that. And as far as college basketball looking like auditions for the NBA, wouldn’t that make HS ball a audition for college? And then once these players get to the NBA wouldn’t they be playing for more money/playing time?

The nature of sports at any level motivates players to want to be “The Man.” It is human nature to want to be the best, and to try to do things to get noticed/garner attention, I haven’t seen one instance of truly selfish play through the entire tournament that would make me believe that a certain player is trying to steal the spotlight to help their draft stock or etc.

In fact the most selfish player in this tournament is the player the media has been gushing over since the first Senior Night in November. Jimmer Fredette.

This talk screams of the reverse of the UNLV/Fab Five backlash in the 1990’s. The traditional powerhouses can’t be suffering because the mid majors simply have found ways to beat them, they must be succeeding due to some societal problem or some loophole in the system that allows these “non-traditional” schools to rise over the Duke’s and Kansas’ of the world.

Kansas was as complete of a team as you could get in the tournament, a group of solid, talented players with no player who was clearly superior to the rest of his teammates, and VCU handled them for most of the game. Obviously VCU played with more fire and hustled harder, but that’s just what winning basketball is.

Schools like Gonzaga, Butler, George Mason, Old Dominion, and VCU succeed because they have dedicated a lot of time and resources to finding and recruiting the players that fit their system, not the most talented and hyped player to make their alumni happy.

These schools have levelled the playing field due to hard work and finding very good basketball players who wanted to play for their programs. There is now magic potion or real answer to why the mid-majors are invading, and at this point they are no longer Cinderella’s, there is no clock striking midnight. No Gus Johnson yelling about slippers fitting. There is just two really good basketball programs playing their best when it counts,

The story of this week isn’t what is wrong with the college basketball system, it isn’t expanding to a 96 team tournament, and it isn’t waxing cliched poetic about how good of team players those small school kids are. It is that two supremely talented teams led by two of the smartest coaches in college basketball are in the Final Four and are playing each other.

It is NBA prospects Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard going against firey and charismatic point guard Joey Rodriguez. It is the sharp shooting and hard working frenetic pace of VCU vs the slower but equally as tough play of Butler.

And Tim, I would pay to see this more than any other matchup you could have gave me.