While teams such as Kentucky, Syracuse, Kansas, Duke, Michigan State, and North Carolina continue to dominate the College ranking heading into the last week of February, College hoops fans will also find schools such as Baylor, Murray State, Wichita State, San Diego State, Saint Mary’s, Gonzaga and Drexel trailing closely behind.
If you recently became a fan of NCAA hoops, this may not surprise you, since last year’s final four included two mid major universities in Butler and VCU (the second straight year Butler had made it that far at the final four tournaments). In years past, these mid major teams would’ve never had a chance to make sure a strong run at winning the National Championship, but lately those chances for smaller schools have greatly improved.
So what’s the big change to college hoops? While the strong mainstays of college basketball have maintained their elite status and continue to by recruiting high-end talent from high schools across North America, the elite – still loaded with top end talent – are also loaded with one and down type players. Meaning these players play for one season and then declare for the NBA draft. These elite collegiate athletes like no others before them are joining power house universities in hopes of very quickly learning from college establish coaches, getting national television exposure and finally a quick chance to win a national championship before attempting to join the ranks of the NBA. The allure of the NBA has become far too tempting for most, and therefore, making NCAA basketball far less skilled but giving smaller universities a better chance to compete.
While the mid major universities are loaded with players who weren’t considered top recruits coming out of high school, most stay in school and honed their talents making them more complete basketball players. They have also established themselves in their university style of play and have their coaches’ trust in key situations. Mid majors have begun to, in some observers eyes, “over perform” in recent years and that’s no small feat for universities that are dwarfed in size of enrollment and the advertising revenue that is generated by the bigger major universities. Therefore, the past few seasons of NCAA hoops has allowed these types of teams with more experience to not only compete during tournament time, but also become ranked throughout the NCAA season.
Despite the fact that mid major universities aren’t given the same national exposure like those of Kentucky, Kansas, Duke, UNC, etc., they have found a way to strengthen as a core group of players under a system. They’ve used that three or four year period of time to make them a more complete team in efforts to give themselves a greater chance to advance come the month of March.
So, when the March Madness brackets are released a few weekends from now and you are looking to fill out your brackets against your co-workers, friends, and other March Madness enthusiasts, the winning strategy will be to remember to look at the entire team and not just the name on the front of the jersey. While the top tier teams are still good, the mid majors have caught up and can make your bracket look busted quite quickly.