Oakland notebook: A mid-major development
By Greg Abel, Special to Yahoo! Sports
March 20, 2006
PHILADELPHIA – CBS analyst Billy Packer drew the attention and ire of many commentators in the last week with his Selection Sunday remarks that the NCAA gave too much credit – and too many at-large bids – to the mid-major conferences at the expense of teams from the so-called power conferences. The committee this year gave at-large bids to three teams from the Missouri Valley Conference and one from the Colonial Athletic Association.
Fast forward one week from Packer's comments and, lo and behold, Wichita State and Bradley from the MVC and George Mason from the CAA are proving that they belong by upsetting their way into the Sweet 16.
Bradley has certainly played its way through. First, the 13th-seeded Braves knocked off fourth-seeded Kansas on Friday night. Then, on Sunday, with 28 points and seven rebounds from center Patrick O'Bryant, the Braves dispatched a highly-regarded Pittsburgh squad, 72-66. That's one Big 12 and one Big East victim so far. No wonder, with each victory, they are picking up new converts.
"They weren't intimidated at all," Pittsburgh forward Levon Kendall said of Bradley. "They were in our face the whole game."
Whatever happens from here on – Bradley's next opponent is top-seeded Memphis in Oakland on Thursday – is almost secondary. This is a team, after all, playing in its first NCAA tournament in 10 years, one many figured would never be here in the first place.
The Braves lost four of their first six conference games, and finished in sixth place during the MVC's regular season. Only a torrid streak at the end – winning seven of their last eight – secured the NCAA Tournament bid. The last time they reached the third round of the tournament was, believe it or not, 1955. The Braves, based in Peoria, Ill., are the first No. 13 seed in the regional semifinals since Oklahoma in 1999.
"We're running the gamut of emotions," said Bradley Coach Jim Les. "It hasn't sunk in yet, but it's going to be an enjoyable week. But we aren't satisfied."
With the performance of Bradley, Wichita State and George Mason, does Packer want to re-think his evaluation of the mid-majors? Not exactly.
"This is one year in the NCAA tournament and every year is one chapter in a book," he said. Packer reasserted that he believes the historical performance of NCAA teams should come into play when the selection committee must pick one team or another with similar credentials.
He pointed out that great teams from small conferences in the past, such as David Robinson's Navy teams in the mid-1980s or Larry Bird's Indiana State team, clearly stood out and earned bids that could not be denied. But despite the tournament wins this year from MVC and CAA, he still feels that when the decision is close, a school's reputation and past performance should come into play.
"Let's see (mid-majors) do it year after year," he said.
And if Bradley or George Mason or Wichita State were to advance to the Final Four?
"That would be the greatest thing that could ever happen for CBS," Packer said. "It would remind me of the 1979 Final Four when Indiana State made it with Larry Bird; that was the most watched Final Four in history."
Second-seeded UCLA and third-seeded Gonzaga, who will square off in the Oakland Regional semifinals on Thursday night, have played three common opponents this season – Memphis, Washington, and Washington State. If you're looking for a way to separate these teams, these results won't help much..
Both teams lost to Memphis, which happens to be the top-seeded team in the Oakland regional. The Tigers, led by 26 points from freshman Shawne Williams, beat UCLA, 88-80, on November 25 in the semifinals of the NIT Season Tip-Off in New York. Sophomore guard Jordan Farmar was the top UCLA scorer with 28. A month later, Memphis knocked off Gonzaga, 83-72, in Memphis. Gonzaga star Adam Morrison scored 34, but was shut out in the final nine-and-a-half minutes.
UCLA lost both games to Washington (69-65 and 70-67), while Gonzaga fell, 99-95. The Zags prevailed over Washington State, 67-53, while the Bruins won both meetings (63-61 and 50-30).
Michael Arkush, reporting exclusively for Yahoo! Sports, also contributed to this notebook.
Greg Abel is a freelance writer based in Baltimore whose work has appeared in Sporting News, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and Street & Smith's Sports Business Journal. He is covering the tournament exclusively for Yahoo! Sports from Philadelphia this week and Washington, D.C., next week.
Updated on Monday, Mar 20, 2006 3:03 am, EST