Mid Majors are possibly the most exciting part of college basketball. They are a breath of fresh air from the usual power programs and conferences. Mid Majors are the classic tournament Cinderella, and provide for some classic David vs. Goliath matchups. With the coming of a new decade, I've decided to look back on the decade that was and honor those schools who may not have the same money or recieve the same national attention the bigger schools do, but can provide just as much excitement.
Top 10 Programs
I'll start off with the top 10 Mid Major programs this decade. I'm excluding Memphis (their conference is the only thing making them a Mid Major) and Gonzaga (A national power, no longer a Mid Major). From the 99-00 season until the 08-09 seasons, these 10 programs are models of success that all Mid Major schools should look to.
The numbers beside each team are:
W-L / Reg. season conf. champs / NCAA Bids (Auto, At Large) / NCAA Tourney W-L
1. Xavier - 219-81 / 5 / 8 (3,5) / 11-8
2. Butler - 234-87 / 6 / 6 (3,3) / 6-6
3. Southern Illinois - 222-105 / 5 / 6 (1,5) / 5-6
4. Kent State - 234-93 / 3 / 4 (4,0) / 4-4
5. Western Kentucky - 223-95 / 5 / 5 (5,0) / 3-5
6. Creighton - 233-92 / 1 / 6 (5,1) / 1-6
7. Utah State - 252-78 / 5 / 6 (5,1) / 1-6
8. George Mason - 201-113 / 1 / 3 (2,1) / 4-3
9. Saint Joseph's - 209-113 / 5 / 4 (0,4) / 4-4
10. Utah - 209-112 / 5 / 6 (2,4) / 4-6
Xavier has become a force in the past decade. A winning tournament record and making 8 of 10 possible trips to the tournament is impressive.
Kent State has been quietly consistent, and has put up the 3rd most wins on this list as well as a 4-4 record in 4 trips to the tourney.
George Mason may not have the total wins or tourney appearances that some of the candidates left off do, but their numbers are indeed solid. Add in the Final Four trip, and George Mason is deserving of a spot here.
Utah State may have a ton of wins (most on the list) but has done little come tournament time. Utah has put up a good amount of wins as well as achieving a solid 4-6 tournament W-L.
Best Team of the Decade
Throughout the decade, there have been memorable Mid Major teams. From upsets to tourney runs, many teams had their 15 minutes of fame. Two teams had seasons that will be remembered for a long, long time: George Mason in 2005-2006 and Saint Joseph's in 2003-2004. Only one though can take the title of team of the decade. And my pick for that is:
The 2003-2004 Saint Joseph's Hawks
In reality, this is no contest. While the 05-06 George Mason team may have went one round further in the tournament, Saint Joseph's 03-04 team is not only the best Mid Major team this decade, but also has a claim at being the best team this decade as well.
Led by now NBA players Jameer Nelson and Delonte West, Saint Joseph's finished their regular season an unblemished 27-0. Although they lost in the first round of the A10 tournament to Xavier 87-67, Saint Joseph's entered the NCAA Tournament ranked #1 and with a 1 seed. The Hawks then defeated Liberty, Texas Tech and Wake Forest before finally falling to Oklahoma State by a slim 2 points.
Jameer Nelson was named the national player of the year and Phil Martelli won coach of the year honors. Saint Joseph's 03-04 team was incredibly talented, and is easily the Mid Major team of the decade.
Top 5 Upsets
Upsets are where Mid Majors make their fame. It's moments like these 5 that give Mid Majors their moment to shine, and help them to be remembered throughout history. Here are the five best upsets of this decade.
5. Vermont over Syracuse - 2005
13 seed Vermont managed to knock off a 4 seed Syracuse in Overtime to earn their first ever NCAA tournament win, and extend the coaching career of Tom Brennan one game more. This game was exciting, and an Overtime thriller. It belongs here as the 5th best upset this decade.
4. Northwestern State over Iowa - 2006
One of the two times this decade a 14 seed beat a 3 seed, Northwestern State was trailing by 17 with 8 and a half minutes left to the Big 10 tourney champions, and looked dead in the water. What followed was madness, as Northwestern State not only came back but won the game on a buzzer beating 3.
3. Bucknell over Kansas - 2005
This game pitted a 14 seed vs. a 3 seed. A team that was the preseason number one vs. a team with 5 scholarship players. Kansas entered the game with a 21 game opening round winning streak, at left embarrassed as Bucknell pulled off the amazing upset on a bank shot with 10.5 seconds to go, and prevented Kansas from answering.
Note: The Audio doesn't work for this video, but it is much better quality than the other video I could have used.
2. Hampton over Iowa State - 2001
Iowa State was coming off of an Elite 8 performance last year, while Hampton was making its first tournament appearance; they would make the most of their opportunity. A 15 seed had won only 3 times in the history of the tournament: Hampton decided to make that 4. Trailing by as many as 11 in the second half, Hampton hit the eventual game winner with less than seven seconds left. What followed is one of the most lasting images from any NCAA Tournament.
1. George Mason over Connecticut - 2006
Is there really any doubt about this? George Mason's amazing run in 2006 was filled with upsets, but none as exciting as their Overtime win over the number 1 seeded Connecticut. George Mason became the first Mid Major in 27 years to reach the Final Four, leaving behind the powerhouse programs of Michigan State, North Carolina and Connecticut. George Mason's run and their victory over Connecticut will go down as one of the greatest Mid Major moments in college basketball history, if not one of the greatest moments period.
Storylines of the Decade
George Mason's Run
In 2006, George Mason received an At Large bid and was seeded 11th, up against 6 seed Michigan State. After shocking the Spartans by 10, George Mason went on to defeat another traditional power and defending National Champion North Carolina by 5.
After a Mid Major matchup with 7 seed Wichita State, George Mason found themselves up against the 1 seed Connecticut with a trip to the Final Four on the line. In possibly the best game of the decade, George Mason came from behind and tied the game in the second half (although Connecticut sent it to overtime on a buzzer beater themselves), and eventually won by 2 in overtime. Despite losing to the eventual National Champion Florida, the 2006 Tournament will be remembered most for how far the incredible underdog George Mason was able to go.
Saint Joseph's Amazing Season
From 2003-2004, Saint Joseph's simply looked unbeatable. They averaged 77.4 PPG, while only giving up 62.3 PPG. They simply rolled through the regular season, and entered the A10 tournament 27-0. Despite a stumble in the first round, Saint Joseph's maintained their #1 rank and went into the tournament seeking revenge. They then managed to reel off 3 straight wins, and were seconds away from a fourth until Oklahoma State finally ended their run. Still, Saint Joseph's 2003-2004 season was something special.
The Rise of Mid Major Powerhouses
While no Mid Major won a National Title this past decade, many had shots at it. Despite their season being vacated, Memphis was playing in the Championship against Kansas. George Mason rolled into the Final Four. Saint Joseph's was seconds away from their own trip. Gonzaga making the tournament every year this decade. Xavier made two Elite Eights and one Sweet Sixteen, and is always a factor come tourney time.
Multiple Mid Major programs now expect to have a 20 win season every year, as well as a trip to the tournament. Now more than ever, Mid Major teams are breaking into the Top 25, knocking off the traditional basketball powers and making runs come tournament time. With the foundation the decade has laid, it will be interesting to see just how far Mid Majors can go next season.
The Memphis Scandal
The 2007-2008 season for Memphis was one for the record books. Memphis had compiled an NCAAB record 38 wins during the year, and had finished as the runners up for the National Championship. The next year, Memphis made it to the Sweet Sixteen before losing. It seemed that under Calipari, Memphis was becoming a national power and contender that would be a force year in and year out.
But on March 31, 2009 Calipari resigned as coach of Memphis, and went to take the job at Kentucky (bringing along some of Memphis' prized recruits as well). Allegations also arose about Derrick Rose allowing someone else to take his SAT test, and after an NCAA investigation it was determined that Memphis must vacate all wins and accomplishments from the 2007-2008 season.
Memphis managed to obtain the number 1 recruiting class of 2010 (according to scouthoops) and has managed a 14-5 record under first year head coach Josh Pastner. Memphis hopes that with the incoming recruits, they can continue their success and put the 07-08 season behind them.
And with that, I wrap up my blog on the decade in NCAAB for Mid Majors. Thanks to Dyhard for help finding some data.
Thanks for reading, and please, let me know your thoughts.