Let’s hear it once again for those Mid Majors programs of the NCAA Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournament. Every year it seems more and more of these colleges, in the smaller Non-Power Five Conferences, make news and significant runs to the championships. This year is no different, especially on the men’s side of the tournament. Oral Roberts and Loyola-Chicago have already secured Sweet 16 games. Are Abilene Christian and Ohio University next to join them in the Sweet 16?
I love when fans of the Power Five conferences, including the Big Ten, SEC, ACC, PAC 12 and the Big 12, try to downplay the Mid Major programs’ success or try to excuse their own team’s poor play every year. Fans like to say things such as, “Well our conference has made it to the Final 4, 10 out of the past 12 seasons.”
Well, that’s great, however, that’s the expectation because you are a Power Five Conference. You have more money in your programs, mostly due to the football programs, to find the best players across the country to play on your teams.
Let’s give these smaller but feisty programs their due.
Oral Roberts, that small school from Tulsa, Oklahoma is in the Sweet 16 because they beat Ohio State and Florida, both teams with highly-touted four and five-star talent. In both games, Florida and Ohio State weren’t prepared to play and challenge themselves to play well. Is that on the coaches? Absolutely, but it’s also from players that think they are more talented than they really are and don’t take smaller Mid Major programs seriously.
Loyola-Chicago just upended #1 seed Illinois to reach the Sweet 16. I don’t believe Illinois was worthy of a #1 seed, granted that they won the Big Ten Tourney a week ago. But still, Illinois never took the lead against Loyola-Chicago Sunday.
Mid-Major programs obviously have the advantage of motivation because they believe bigger programs like Virginia or Texas don’t respect them.
I watched my daughter’s Buffalo Bulls team experience this issue a couple of times during the 2018 NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament. That Buffalo team had a few things going for it that larger Power Five programs don’t have, which is team chemistry from having a group of seniors playing together for four seasons. After Buffalo beat up South Florida in the first round, it played a #3 seed Florida State squad. Florida State had a good team that year, but Buffalo took control of the game early, played together, with that senior confidence, and won in a 20-point rout of the Seminoles.
The following weekend in the Sweet 16 game, Buffalo played #2 seed South Carolina, led by now WNBA star A’ja Wilson. Buffalo led that contest at the end of the 1st quarter and South Carolina only pulled away in the final five minutes of the game to secure the win for the Gamecocks. Throughout that game, watching it in person, you could visibly see how the South Carolina team didn’t play the game with the same energy and enthusiasm as the Buffalo team.
That’s for another discussion. But what one sees time and time again is what I mentioned earlier, in that programs at the highest level of the Power Five Conferences don’t play always with that chip on their shoulder. Is it easier to motivate players when they think they aren’t being taken seriously?
Obviously, yes and that’s what teams like Loyola-Chicago, Oral Roberts and Ohio University have going for them. Beware of that motivation Power Five Conference teams because the Mid Major programs are here to stay.