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Mid-major success gives hope to “little guys” everywhere

I love March Madness and everything about it. It’s such an important American tradition: the brackets, the underdogs, the food, the upsets and everything else. I look forward to it every year and then complain as soon as the first two rounds are over. When else can people flip between four different games all day long? And after the first couple rounds are over, the matchups get more and more interesting as the real underdogs and the real championship contenders begin to emerge.

While analysts want to sell that this has been a bad year for college basketball, I personally love the parity. Who doesn’t love seeing a team like George Mason get to the Final Four like they did in 2006?

And this year has been no different as we have had plenty of great stories in the tournament. Morehead State busted everyone’s brackets after they defeated Louisville in the first round.  Richmond trounced Vanderbilt before beating Morehead State and making it to the Sweet 16 for the first time ever. Then there’s Virginia Commonwealth University and Florida State, my two favorite stories of this tournament so far.

ESPN analysts Jay Bilas, Dick Vitale and Digger Phelps absolutely trashed the NCAA committee for including VCU in the tournament. They lacked quality wins and they did not win their conference tournament. In all fairness, they probably should not have gotten in based on the committee’s standards. But they did and they were given a shot, and they have proved absolutely everyone wrong. They push the ball on their opponents and they are relentless on the perimeter. They annihilated USC in the play-in game, and then they embarrassed Georgetown and Purdue before slightly edging Florida State to reach the Elite Eight.

Florida State can’t shoot a lick. They might have been the worst offensive team in the tournament. But they probably also have the toughest defense. They make life miserable on opposing players. They are scrappy, they hit the boards and they are exactly the type of team I admire. Even if they fell short against VCU (in overtime by only one point, by the way), Florida State is a perfect example of how coaching and defense can outweigh talent any day of the week. Just ask heavily favored Notre Dame and its star Ben Hansbrough about that one. The Big East Player of the Year was stifled on offense all game.

Then people will want to talk about Butler being an underdog yet again. When a team makes two consecutive Final Fours, and the second of those comes after its star player bolted for the NBA, that team is definitely not an underdog. Butler may not be a big-name program, but they have a winning swagger about them. They are always in position to win the game. They are smart, scrappy and well-coached.

Fans don’t need a basketball analyst to tell them that Brad Stevens has done one heck of a job as Butler’s head coach. So maybe everyone should stop calling them underdogs, because they are clearly one of the elite programs in college basketball.

Let’s face it, seeing someone like Butler succeed gives us a little bit of hope for our own basketball program. If a small Indiana school that emphasizes academics—and a lot of the same values Drake does—can have this much success, then we have to hope that Drake basketball can get there.

Butler has laid the foundation. It built a winning program with committed studentathletes. Drake should want to be the next Butler and there is no reason why we can’t turn it around.

College basketball is so pure and it allows for an essential parity that sometimes gets lost in professional sports. Sure, in all professional sports there will always be a few shockers here or there, like the New York Knicks becoming the first eighth seed to make it to the NBA Finals in 1999 or the Pittsburgh Steelers winning the Super Bowl as a sixth seed in 2006. Most college players won’t ever get the chance to play in the NBA. This is their final moment. So go out there, play your heart out and bust a few brackets. Because nothing is sweeter than walking away a champion.


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