Blogger Spotlight: The Valley, CAA and Bally? It’s time for The Mid-Majority

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BracketBuster weekend’s now in its ninth edition. While it’s no longer the only way college hoops fans can see non-BCS teams on TV – thank you, Internet – one thing’s the same: The Mid-Majority remains the premier web site for everything you need to know about those teams.

Thus, the double-dose of Blogger Spotlight this week. I figure there’s no better way to follow a Q&A with Ryan Kish of georgemasonbasketball.blogspot.com than by spotlighting the man behind MidMajority.com, Kyle Whelliston.

Kyle spends the college basketball season on the road, filing dispatches on everything related to life watching mid-major basketball. If the game had a bard (and if that bard had Bally), telling tales to a rapt audience, Kyle’s it.

He also has some of the most devoted readers on the web. They send him stories of his own, questions and, occasionally, money. That last part’s significant because he does everything as an independent site. If you like what he does, fund his travels. You won’t be sorry (especially when he provides free stuff for doing so!)

Q: Apologies to regular readers of The Mid-Majority for this first question. It’s intended for NBCSports.com readers who might not be familiar with your site. It focuses on what you’ve termed the “Other 25” – conferences who aren’t the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Mountain West, Pac-10 and SEC – conferences that don’t sink massive financial resources into their athletic departments. (Gonzaga, Xavier and Memphis are excepted for specific reasons.)

That’s the 5-cent description. Given the treasure trove of information available on The Mid-Majority – essays, message boards, schedules, live updates, Twitter streams, fan reports and stats (my word, the stats!) – I’d call it a site for basketball fans, period. Please, Kyle, help me. Provide a better description of The Mid-Majority.

A: Thanks, Mike. I guess The Mid-Majority is a college basketball site for people who went to too much college. The liberal arts tradition has sent a lot of us out into the world heads full of stuff we’ll never use in a career setting, and the site really reflects that. In addition to trying to make sense of a chaotic mass of limited-budget university sports, there’s a lot of philosophy, social science, math, Robotics, geography, and literary references. Oh god, the literary references. It’s like a basketball class taught by a wacky professor, instead of expert analysis from a guy wearing makeup in a TV studio. It’s obviously not for everybody. If you hated going to class, you’ll probably hate TMM too.

Q: BracketBuster weekend exposes college basketball fans to teams they might not normally see until March, when those mid-major teams ruin their NCAA tournament bracket. Twenty-two teams get a spot on TV, while nearly 100 others have non-conference games against teams they might not normally schedule. Is it an event that ultimately helps mid-major schools, or would they all be better off keeping that travel money in their pocket? After all, fans can still watch teams on #pixelvision.

A: I, like just about everyone else, have spent the last few Februaries wondering what BracketBusters means anymore. Eight years ago, teams from leagues like the CAA and MVC and WCC really never got on TV during the regular season. Like, ever. The internet wasn’t like it is now; people still called these things “journals” instead of “blogs,” and watching a “live steam” was wrangling RealPlayer until it stopped crashing your browser. Now, you can watch or time-shift a Horizon League game any time you want.

The mystery is gone. Back then, Creighton would come out of a magic cornfield like in “Field of Dreams.” Now, everybody sees teams like George Mason and Saint Mary’s and Utah State coming from months away. It’s a relevance issue, but there’s still a need for a showcase event for the best eight or twelve mids to bolster their profiles, like the original 2003 version was set up. As it is, I think teams just have to get whatever they can out of BracketBusters. In most of the 114 cases, it’s nothing.

(Kyle also expanded on this topic at TMM. You can his post here.) 

Q: Some schools – rightly so – object to the term mid-major. Is there an acceptable term for lazy media types and fans who refuse to think otherwise? Or does our need to define everything simply hinder our ability to watch, enjoy and revel in the fact that every conference has great basketball?

A: The term was basically hijacked. Back in the 1970s, it was a designation for college basketball that wasn’t happening in the premier conferences. The label got stuck on Gonzaga a decade ago because folks needed a descriptor and second-reference term for small-conference overachievement, and too much “Cinderella” always results in “who you calling a girl?” Arguing about language gets kind of crazy when there’s no clear etymological link to Latin or French.

My definition has always gone back to the “not big” root. These are schools that struggle upward against the ceilings of their resources, which makes it compelling stuff. There are those schools that have beaten the system — Gonzaga, Memphis and Xavier in particular — but what they’ve done is go all in on this sport, drop or downgrade football, and spend about 30 percent of their athletic budgets on basketball. More schools should really try that.

Q: You’re a well-traveled man. Are there any conferences or schools for which you have an affinity? It seems you are fond of the Missouri Valley and Colonial Athletic schools in particular. And Butler did provide ample material for your book, “One Beautiful Season.”

A: I went to a CAA school (Drexel), and the Missouri Valley is where I first personally encountered the same level of life-or-death hoops that the major conferences are supposed to have U.S. patents on. The rivalries out there are so intense, and last a lifetime… the median age of those crowds is quite high, because they never stop being fans. I’ve talked to folks who still lose sleep over Arch Madness games from 10 years ago. I’ve met people out there who can’t intermarry with alums from other MVC schools because of family objections. I didn’t really love this stuff until I went to the Valley, it really rubbed off.

Q: About “One Beautiful Season.” I’d call it an ode to the 2009-10 season, but it’s much more. It takes a critical look at the NCAA, college hoops history, the NCAA tournament and the financial divide. Also, there are the personal anecdotes. My faves: Your day spent cleaning the Palestra and your time as Coach Kyle. (Interested readers can buy the book here.)  

Hm. That’s not much of a question, more of a fawning. ANYWAY, what aspects about it surprised you the most?

A: Hey, I appreciate any plug. It was originally a series of vignettes about teams and players and coaches and my own travels, but then Butler happened. So it became an opportunity to look at everything that led up to Gordon Hayward’s shot. As in everything — it’s a pretty thick book. There’s a lot of stuff in there about the formation and evolution of conferences, the NCAA’s anti-New York sentiment after the point-shaving scandals, as well as television’s effects on the bracket, conference tournaments, and inter-conference migration patterns. 

As far as surprises go, I find it endlessly fascinating that two unrelated events in the late 1970s — the Bird-Magic game and the football subdivision split that created all these new leagues and autobids — made March what it is now. The underdog Cinderella romance of it all was really a fortunate laboratory accident. There’s a very viable alternate history where there’s a 32-team tournament featuring only the big boys, along with the same small handful of elite invitees as before.

Mixed in, there’s plenty of game action and Omar Samhan quotes. Also, yes! I am 2-0 as a Division I assistant coach, not everyone can say that.

Q: That 2-0 coaching record might make some want to enter the profession. But it’s hardly a glamorous life for most, right?

A: I have so much respect for assistant coaches. It’s a profession with a lot of churn, and most will never, ever get that shot at a D1 head job. A lot of folks couldn’t handle the bus rides, the 800-mile recruiting trips, the constant management of teenage egos, being on call 24 hours a day to deal with all the little crises (95 percent of which never get out in the media), and the 20-hour days. I know I couldn’t. You really have to love basketball with every fiber of your being. 

Q: About your travels. You wrote recently that life on the road might be coming to an end. No more 100 games. But it’s allowed you to set a more ambitious 800 games project that involves college basketball fans. How will that work?

A: That’s going to be a crowdsourced collection of 500-word game reports from students and fans, just letting others out there know what it’s like at their gym and in their league. We’re doing some practice runs on most Fridays, and some of the stories that have come in have been astoundingly good. (Editor’s note: Like this one.) I don’t know if we’ll collect 800 of them, but it looks like it’s going to be really great.

Q: Much of hoops nation is fawning over Jimmer Fredette. Is a fair response: “What’s he got over Norris Cole or Charles Jenkins?”

A: If the CAA or Horizon League had the kind of television coverage that’s available to BYU, they might have their cults too. College basketball seems particularly susceptible to this sort of thing. There’s not a lot of difference between what’s going on now, and the Psycho T/Adam Morrison/J.J. Redick mania of the past few years. It’s harmless fun, though. Best of luck to the gentleman, I say. I hope he finds an NBA team that will give him 35 percent of its shots, but he won’t. He’ll be a highly effective Allen wrench for someone, he’s got an incredible shot. 

Q: There was George Mason in 2006, Davidson in 2008 and Butler in 2010. Those three schools cemented their place in March lore thanks to their remarkable — and let’s face it, fun — runs through the NCAA tournament. What similarities should we draw from each. Or should we just let them and their seasons stand on their own?

A: George Mason 2006 was a team’s team — so unselfish and so much a single unit on the floor. Davidson 2008 had a once-in-a-lifetime player. Butler 2010 was a combination of  fortunate breaks, relentless defense, and seat-edge coaching decisions. But it looks like all three runs might have something in common: no NCAA bid the next year. Continuity below the Red Line is really, really tough. 

Q: Have you sketched out your March travel plans yet? Do you ever enter the NCAA tournament with hopes of seeing another Davidson, or is that just setting yourself up for disappointment? And will there ever be a year that doesn’t end with a loss?

A: I hope to go all out for conference tournaments, get to five or six and see 20-25 games. That, in my opinion, is the best time of the year. Those championships really mean something. They’re entries on a bracket to most fans, but winning the Summit League or NEC or SWAC means a banner in the gym and a 10-year reunion weekend down the road. Really looking forward to the First Four; I went to the Play-In Game six years in a row, and I’m curious to see how this new wrinkle shakes out. From there, who knows. I’ll just go where the bracket leads, as long as resources will allow.

“It always ends in a loss” has always been our unofficial March tagline. It does end in a loss for all these teams, even Butler 2010, when it almost didn’t. Someday, one of our small-conference teams might make that shot and win it all.

You can read more at midmajority.com and follow Kyle on Twitter @midmajority.

Want more? I’m also on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

Three Things To Know: Memphis embarrassed; Luka Garza shows out again

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The story of the night in hoops was Zion Williamson’s return to the basketball court.

But there was plenty of action in the college ranks that is worthy of talking about.

Here are the three things that you need to know:

1. No. 20 MEMPHIS LOST BY 40 TO TULSA

That is not a typo.

The 20th-ranked team in the country went into Tulsa, Okla., and lost to the Golden Hurricane, 80-40. Tulsa was up 40-17 at halftime. This was a butt-whooping that was so bad that all Tulsa needed to do was score a single point in the second half and they would have been able to get the win.

Memphis shot 28 percent from the floor. They were 2-for-21 from three. They finished the night with more turnovers (20) and fouls (22) than field goals (16). This was the worst loss that a top 25 team has suffered against a ranked team in 27 years, since UConn beat then-No. 12 Virginia by 41 points.

For Tulsa, this is a massive, massive win. They are currently sitting all alone in first place in the American standings, a half-game up on Houston.

So good for Frank Haith.

But the story here is Memphis, because the Tigers, considered title contenders before the season began, look anything-but right now.

“We let our defense dictate our offense,” head coach Penny Hardaway told reporters after the game. “We didn’t play any defense today. I think today was the first day we’ve done that ll year. I don’t know if guys overlooked Tulsa because of the name. We did our due diligence as a coaching staff to let them know what was going to happen with the matchup zone and how hard they play.

“It’s pretty embarrassing.”

2. LUKA GARZA WENT NUTS AGAIN

If it seems like Garza is putting up monster numbers every games, it’s because he is.

On Wednesday night, the Hawkeyes welcomed newly-ranked Rutgers to campus and sent them home with an entertaining, hard-fought, 85-80 win. And Garza was the star of the show. He finished with 28 points, 13 boards, four blocks and two steals in the win, anchoring the paint as Iowa out-scored Rutgers 47-37 in the second half.

The big fella is now averaging 23 points and 10.5 boards.

Iowa has now won four straight games to move into a tie for third in the Big Ten standings — with Rutgers, among others — and they have won eight straight games in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. They are a third of the way through a three-game homestand as well.

3. VIRGINIA TECH TAKES DOWN NORTH CAROLINA

Virginia Tech kept up their push to finish as the fourth-best team in the ACC with a 79-77 double-overtime win over North Carolina.

The Hokies are now 14-5 overall and 5-3 in the ACC, but the more interesting story might actually be the Tar Heels.

They are 8-10 on the season and 1-6 in the ACC. They have been a disaster for the last month, but there may be some reinforcements on the way in the shape of Cole Anthony. If he returns and the Tar Heels, who are 2-7 in his absence but have wins over Alabama and Oregon with him, get things back on the right track, they are likely going to find themselves in an incredibly awkward situation on Selection Sunday.

Big 12 hands down Kansas-Kansas State fight suspensions

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The Big 12 handed down suspensions to four Kansas and Kansas State players for their role in the fight that occurred in Phog Allen Fieldhouse on Tuesday night.

Silvio De Sousa, who tried to fight three different Kansas State players and picked up a stool during the melee, received a 12 game suspension from the conference. David McCormack, who went into the stands to confront James Love III, received a two game suspension. Love was given eight games for part in the fight, while Antonio Gordon, the freshman that turned a messy situation into a fight, was hit with a three game suspension.

“This kind of behavior cannot be tolerated and these suspensions reflect the severity of last evening’s events,” said Commissioner Bob Bowlsby.  “I am appreciative of the cooperation of both institutions in resolving this matter.”

In the final seconds on Tuesday night, after DaJuan Gordon stole the ball from him at halfcourt, De Sousa blocked Gordon’s shot and towered over him. That sparked an incident that turned into a full-fledged brawl, as De Sousa threw punches at three different players on Kansas State before picking up a stool as the fight spilled into the handicapped section of Kansas seating.

Self called the fight “an embarrassment” after the game, adding on Wednesday that “we are disappointed in [De Sousa’s] actions and there is no place in the game for that behavior.”

McCormack will be eligible to return for Kansas on Feb. 1st when they play Texas Tech at home. De Sousa will be available to play in the final game of the regular season at Texas Tech. Gordon can return on Feb. 3rd, when the Wildcats host Baylor, while Love will be out until late February. But he has played just one game and two minutes on the season, so there is no clear indication of when he will actually put on a Kansas State jersey again.

The four most important questions after Kansas-Kansas State fight

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Very other sport can treat brawls like comedy, and I think it’s about time that we did the same for basketball.

So let’s take a look at the four funniest moments from last night’s Kansas-Kansas State fight. Shouts to Jomboy:

1. IS THE KANSAS MASCOT OK?

Throughout the entire fight, the mascot is just in utter disbelief. He cannot believe what he just saw, and he certainly cannot be consoled:

2. CAN JEREMY CASE START AT LINEBACKER FOR KU’S FOOTBALL TEAM?

Case is the video coordinator for Kansas. He’s also a former Kansas point guard. He knows what this rivalry is all about, and he also is not going to be afraid to get in the middle of it.

Case starts out on the wrong side of the melee:

But when he sees De Sousa and Love squaring up and throwing punches, he intervenes by throwing himself into a player six inches taller than him:

3. WHAT HAPPENED TO JAMES LOVE III’S SHOE?

James Love the third has played in exactly one game this season. He has spent more time on the court fighting that he has actually playing, but he still found a way to get into the middle of this fight and, in the process, lost his shoe:

He’s not dressed for the game.

Did he bring an extra pair of shoes? Did he have to head back onto the bus without a shoe on this right foot? So many questions, so few answers.

4. WHO IS THE MAN IN THE ORANGE HAT?

He’s some kind of photographer.

He got his shot, that’s for sure:

Kansas-Kansas State fight: Nuance, context the key in Silvio De Sousa discussion

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So I wanted to elaborate on a point that I made on twitter this morning because 280 characters just is not enough to be able to parse through the nuance of this situation.

If you missed it, the thread is here.

First and foremost, everyone involved in this needs to be punished. Silvio De Sousa needs to be suspended. Antonio Gordon needs to be suspended. James Love III needs to be suspended. David McCormack, and potentially Marcus Garrett, probably need to be suspended, although I’m not sure either of them actually through a punch. Point being, anyone else that threw a punch needs to be suspended.

Full stop.

I am not saying otherwise.

But I think that it is important to add some context to the conversation, and I also think that it is important to say this: This doesn’t make any of the young men involved in this fight bad people. Silvio De Sousa is not inherently a bad person because he picked up a stool, and the faux-trage of people calling for him to get booted out of school, arrested or even deported are, at best, completely over-reacting and, at worst, showing off a bit of their racial bias.

Before I get into this, one more thing: I am not condoning any of it. Fights like this should not happen.

But the reality of hyper-competitive athletics is that in emotionally charged situations, fights are going to happen. And if you’ve ever been in a fight like this, you know that things happen incredibly quickly. You’re not thinking, you’re reacting. You can’t call a 20 second time out to come up with a way to defend yourself when someone is throwing haymakers, you just do what you can in the moment.

So let’s talk about the moment, shall we?

De Sousa is the guy that set this entire thing in motion with the way that he reacted to DaJuan Gordon’s steal and layup attempt. The reason the Kansas State bench rushes over to the scene is because De Sousa is towering over one of their freshman teammates, and the reason the Kansas sideline runs over is because the Kansas State sideline does. What turned this incident into a full-fledged brawl was Antonio Gordon flying in and shoving De Sousa over the back of the basket stanchion. De Sousa reacts by throwing punches at two different Kansas State players when a third player — James Love III, in the black polo — comes flying in and squares up with him. They both throw a few punches at each other, knocking De Sousa back over the stanchion again as Kansas staffer Jeremy Case comes flying in to break them up.

Put yourself in De Sousa’s shoes here. In the span of 10 seconds, he’s fought three different Kansas State players, sees nothing but purple in front of him and just got knocked to the ground. Is he getting jumped? Does he have to fight them 1-on-3? That’s when he grabs the stool, to defend himself, and when he sees that no one is coming after him anymore, he drops it:

Context.

He should be suspended for 8-10 games.

He set this entire thing in motion.

But maybe, just maybe, tone down the rhetoric.

Women’s Wednesday: A new column dedicated to the women of college basketball

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Welcome to CBT’s first ever weekly women’s basketball column. I’m here to help provide you with some insight into the world of women’s college hoops.

Women’s sports are reaching new heights, especially in basketball. The WNBA announced a new collective bargaining agreement starting in the 2020 season that includes a 53 percent raise, maternity benefits, a base salary and performance-based bonuses. This year’s NCAA women’s basketball tournament will be broadcasted in its entirety on ESPN, with the semifinals and championship game premiering in primetime.

Female athletes are beginning to garner the attention they deserve. Sabrina Ionescu is drawing national attention for a historic senior season, as she has 22 career triple-doubles and became Oregon’s all-time leading basketball scorer in her career-high 37-point performance against Stanford last week. In the WNBA, women such as Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, and more are shattering gender stereotypes and proving that women can play basketball at a high level, just as men can.

While women’s sports have made a push into the public eye, there is still quite a way to go. It’s important to place an emphasis on the women who excel in their sport and give them the spotlight they deserve. Too many times women are only given credit through a masculine lens, whether that’s only getting attention after receiving praise from men, being compared to a male counterpart, or being a footnote in a male athlete’s story. Female athletes deserve to be their own story.

That’s what I’m hoping to do with this column over the rest of the season — give women a place to shine. I’d like to use this space to highlight some of the amazing women that play in the NCAA and hear from them about their experiences, the records they’re setting and their basketball journey. While I won’t even begin to make a dent in the breadth of talent available in women’s college basketball, I hope to use this column each week to take a deeper dive into some incredible women, as well as give you an idea of what’s happening around the country that week.

WEDNESDAY’S NEWS AND NOTES

South Carolina sits atop the world of college hoops, earning 22 first-place votes from the AP panel to nab the No. 1 spot. The Gamecocks have an 18-1 record with wins over ranked opponents such as Maryland, Baylor, Kentucky and most recently Mississippi State.

Baylor — the reigning national champs —- sits in the No. 2 spot in the rankings after dethroning UConn and ending its dominant 98-game winning streak at home. The Lady Bears received six of the first-place votes from the AP committee.

The rest of the top five is filled out by UConn at No. 3, Oregon at No. 4 after beating then-No. 3 Stanford, and Louisville rounds it out at fifth, receiving the last two first-place votes.

In a monster performance against Stanford, Oregon’s Sabrina Ionescu had a career-high 37 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists. She has four triple-doubles on the season and has a chance to become the NCAA’s first player to eclipse 2,000 career points, 1,000 career rebounds and 1,000 career assists. As of Jan. 18, she has 2,265 points, 904 rebounds and 928 assists.

DePaul remains unbeaten in the Big East, with Chante Stonewall leading the team with 17.9 ppg while Kelly Campbell has 102 assists on the season, ranking No. 8 in the country.

Baylor’s 40-point victory over then-No. 17 West Virginia is their 45th consecutive Big 12 win.

Mississippi State’s JaMya Mingo-Young and Aliyah Matharu combined for 24 points and four steals off the bench in a close 79-81 loss to South Carolina on Monday.

Star freshman and No. 1 recruit Haley Jones suffered an apparent right knee injury and left Stanford’s Sunday win over Oregon State. She is scheduled to have an MRI but the team has given no further updates.

North Carolina State’s Elissa Cunane has 20+ points in four of her last six games and 10 double-doubles on the season, helping the Wolfpack to a dominant win over Florida State last week.

UCLA became the last undefeated team to fall with a double overtime loss to USC — who hadn’t yet won a Pac-12 matchup —  on Friday.

Northwestern made its debut this season in the Top-25, coming in at No. 22 — its first ranking since the 2015-2016 season.

No. 3 Oregon faces rival No. 7 Oregon State on Friday in a crucial Pac-12 matchup.

Stanford freshman Fran Belini threw down a one-handed dunk in pregame warmup before facing Oregon that you HAVE to see: