Mid-major darlings, players to watch and more
Posted: Wednesday November 14, 2007 10:29PM; Updated: Wednesday November 14, 2007 10:29PM
It did not take long for the mid-majors to make a splash in 2007-08. Just two days after the season opened in Memphis, Gardner-Webb made national headlines by not only upsetting Kentucky, but by doing it in Rupp Arena. Atlantic Sun mates Belmont and Mercer then added to the tiny league's stunning week with wins at Cincinnati and USC respectively.
Clearly, mid-majors are ready to be heard from this season.
With that in mind, here are five preview questions as the season kicks into high gear.
What exactly is a mid-major?
This is one of those debates that can go on and on, and most likely will be revisited at some point. Gonzaga doesn't like being called a mid-major. The Missouri Valley feels like it has graduated from the mid-major ranks. What about Conference USA? Certainly Memphis doesn't have the feel of a mid-major, but C-USA regressed to a one-bid league last year. And don't even get me started on the Atlantic-10, the ultimate is-it or isn't-it league.
And what of "low" majors, such as the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and the Southwestern Athletic Conference, the bottom two RPI leagues last year? This term is beginning to take hold in mainstream college hoops talk. In fact, The Sporting News divided this year's preseason preview into High Majors, Mid Majors and Low Majors.
Since there is no clear definition, this will be mine for the purposes of this season-long column: Twenty-one conferences will be within the jurisdiction of The Mid-Major Report. The six BCS conferences, plus Conference USA, the Mountain West, the Western Athletic and the A-10 will be in Major Land. Incidentally, that is the same way Collegeinsider.com breaks things up for its Mid-Major Top 25 poll.
What's the lowdown on Southern Illinois, Butler, Winthrop and VCU, last year's NCAA darlings?
The quick word: Southern Illinois -- good again. Butler -- ditto. Winthrop -- down but not out, and breaking in a new coach. VCU -- lost some players, but Eric Maynor is back, as is almost-Florida coach Anthony Grant.
Need more details? Southern Illinois made some noise by giving coach Chris Lowery a reported seven-year, $5.25 million deal after last year, showing that not all mid-majors need to lose their young, successful coaches. Lowery will try to give Southern Illinois its seventh straight tournament bid with the help of MVC Preseason Player of the Year Randal Falker.
Butler did lose its coach -- Todd Lickliter -- to Iowa after a Sweet 16 run, but the Bulldogs still return A.J. Graves and two other starters from a team that beat Notre Dame, Indiana, Purdue, Gonzaga, Tennessee and Maryland at various points last season.
Gregg Marshall left Winthrop for Wichita State after earning seven NCAA bids in nine seasons. Also gone from the Eagles are Craig Bradshaw, Torrell Martin and Phillip Williams, three key cogs from the team that beat Notre Dame in the first round. Randy Peele takes the reigns, and he'll be hard-pressed to duplicate that season.
VCU has a chance to repeat in the competitive Colonial Athletic Association, with Maynor leading the way. George Mason should be the chief competition.