Mid-Major Morning Mashups: VCU Prompting Expansion Talks Edition

We know that every action yields a reaction - it's a simple premise to comprehend. Less than a year removed from expanding the NCAA Tournament to a 68-team field, VCU's magical run to the Final Four is prompting a whole slew of reactions, taking shape in the rebirth of expansion talks. 

It really shouldn't be surprising in light of a mid-major program emerging from the inaugural First Four in such a dynamic manner that this discussion would resurface. To a lesser extend, the success of non power conference teams across the board is having some role in this debate returning to the forefront of college basketball. Wichita State will play for an NIT championship tomorrow night. Creighton can lock up a CBI title with a win over Oregon later tonight, while Iona and Santa Clara will battle it out to sit on the throne of the CIT. With less than a week remaining in the 2010-2011 season, the concept of mid-major programs sweeping the four postseason tournaments isn't just a tangible thought, but a very real possibility. But does that mean 96 teams should suddenly qualify for a chance to play for the national championship? No.

Perhaps even more frustrating is the growing debate that a tournament format may not actually determine the best team in the country. Be it bitter power conference teams or simply naive fans, the argument that the "best" team may not win is a trite argument. Outside of a seven-game series format where the better team almost always advances, a single-game elimination tournament typically does eliminate many of the so called elite teams. Does Kansas win more than they lose in a 10-game set with VCU? More than likely they do, but that doesn't diminish the all important truth: the Rams were better on that day. That's what the postseason is all about, who plays the best at the right time. Save for a few select cases perhaps (Villanova over Georgetown in '85, NC State over Houston in '83, Giants over undefeated Patriots in Super Bowl XLII), rarely does history remember that the "better" team didn't win, only that one team did win.

The focus shouldn't be on expanding (someone is always going to feel as though they were slighted), nor should it be on if the team with the most future NBA players is left standing on the final weekend of play. All that matters is doing enough to survive and give yourself that shot everyone is playing for.

Paul Daugherty of SI.com: "It takes a curmudgeonly elitist to suggest the Rams and Bulldogs don't belong in Houston this weekend. It takes a guy who looks at a carriage and sees a pumpkin, who would swipe Dorothy's slippers before she ever thought about clicking her heels three times. Let the kid stay over the rainbow. It's what she wanted, right? I like the upsets. They define the tournament. Upsets prove there are lots of very good players who don't need a conference affiliation to validate their skills. Butler's Shelvin Mack could play anywhere. I prefer the meritocracy of a tournament to the monopoly of a bowl system. I'm glad VCU and Butler have done well. Ditto Richmond and Morehead State. I just don't want to see any of them in the Final Four. It's a great story, sure, though with Butler and VCU playing each other Saturday, it's great by half. Maybe they can each wear one slipper. But do we want high drama? Or high-level basketball? I'd rather watch the matchup of the inside muscle of Kansas' twins Markieff and Marcus Morris -- the Morrii -- against the outside élan of Pitt's Ashton Gibbs, Brad Wanamaker and Gilbert Brown. I'd prefer seeing if Ohio State could fulfill its destiny as this year's one outstanding team, by taking it to Duke and then Kansas. The first weekend is all about sizzle. The regionals turn up the heat. The Final Four should be smoking with prime talent. Jared Sullinger vs. the Morrii, filling the plate on Monday night. Instead, we get the chance at another fairy tale. Don't forget your pixie dust."

Eamonn Brennan of ESPN.com: "It was just a few weeks ago that I asked -- OK, decreed -- that we should never speak of NCAA tournament expansion again. The tournament included 68 teams. The First Four was a real thing. The NCAA had its massive broadcast rights contract. Fans and media were relieved we weren't watching the tournament's first 96-team field. All was well in the land of college hoops. Then, VCU happened. You can see why VCU's run threatens the current bracket format. After all, were it not for this year's expansion to 68 teams, the Rams wouldn't have been in the field. If mediocre-before-March VCU can make a one-in-a-million run to the Final Four, why shouldn't their scorned bubble compatriots -- since relegated to the NIT -- get the same chance? All of a sudden, radio hosts are asking famous analysts whether a 96-team tournament makes sense. All of a sudden, my friends are asking me we don't "just throw every team into the NCAA tournament and just see what happens?" All of a sudden, the need for a preemptive anti-expansion defense has become immediate and desperate. All of a sudden, those who fear the dilution of the greatest competition in sports -- you, me, and pretty much everyone who doesn't coach at a Division I program -- must crush this expansionist uprising post haste. This talking point is still in its early phases. We still have time to stop it in its tracks."

Jeff Rabjohns of the Indianapolis Star: "Had they gone head to head as basketball players, Brad Stevens versus Shaka Smart would have been no contest. Stevens is convinced of that. "From what I've heard, he was a lot better than I was," Stevens said with a smile. Now on the Final Four stage and bound for a Saturday night matchup in Houston, both Butler's coach and Virginia Commonwealth's coach began as Division III players in the Midwest. Butler's Stevens played at DePauw, primarily as a role player off the bench. VCU's Smart played at Kenyon College and was a top-tier small-college guard. Smart remains among the best guards to play in the North Coast Athletic Conference. He is second in career assists with 542. Stevens and Smart graduated from college in 1999. Even though DePauw in Greencastle, Ind., and Kenyon in Gambier, Ohio, are only 283 miles apart, the two never played against each other."

Mike Lopresti of USA Today: "What's all this fuss about VCU and Butler? It's not like we've never had a Cinderella in the Final Four. Matter of fact, Wednesday is the 20th anniversary of an historic upset by that heart-warming underdog, that popular people's choice ... Duke. OK, who gagged? It's true. The Duke haters out there might have amnesia about this one, but on March 30, 1991, the Blue Devils took the court in Indianapolis as the good guys. Against them was mighty UNLV, having crushed 34 opponents by an average of nearly 28 points, and doing it with such flash and noise and talent, Jerry Tarkanian and his Running Rebels - fairly or not - had become the villains. Besides, 12 months earlier, they had crushed Duke 103-73, in a 1990 title game that was like watching a lion eat. Are Mike Krzyzewski's 1991 lads starting to sound like VCU yet? OK, who choked?"

Matt Ehalt of ESPNNewYork.com: "Garrett Stutz knew he had been having a great night, but didn't know the specific numbers. Then, with about two minutes left in Wichita State's 75-44 drubbing of Washington State on Tuesday night in the NIT semifinals, Shockers Director of Basketball Operations Dominic Okon leaned over to inform Stutz of some good news. Wichita State's reserve junior center had scored 24 points and grabbed 11 rebounds against the Cougars, a career-high in points and his first double-double output of the season. "I was like that's pretty cool," Stutz said. "That's really cool." In his first game at Madison Square Garden, Stutz had the best night of his career with his double-double performance as he guided the Shockers to the NIT final. Stutz came just one rebound shy of matching his career high in boards, but still totaled his most rebounds of the season. Wichita State (28-8) will play Alabama and try to win its first NIT title."

Steven Pivovar of the Omaha World-Herald: "It's the inches and pounds and not the X's and O's that concern Dana Altman heading into Oregon's second meeting with Creighton in the College Basketball Invitational. The Bluejays won Monday's opening game 84-76 at Qwest Center Omaha to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three championship series. More than half of Creighton's points came from its primary three inside players - 6-foot-9 Gregory Echenique, 6-9 Kenny Lawson and 6-7 Doug McDermott. Altman has shown the ability over his long coaching career to game plan with the best, but even he knows there are few adjustments he can make to offset the Bluejays' inside advantage heading into the second game at 9 p.m. Wednesday at Matthew Knight Arena. "Gregory is not going to get any smaller, and Kenny's not going to shrink," Altman said. "And Doug got a lot of his buckets inside. I'm not sure what adjustments we can make to slow those guys down." The Ducks (19-18) are undersized up front, starting a front line of 6-8 Tyrone Nared at center and Joevan Catron and E.J. Singler, both 6-6, at forward. Oregon spelled those three with Teondre Williams, a 6-4 swing player."

Steve Kroner of the San Francisco Chronicle: "After extolling Iona's virtues during a conference call Monday, Santa Clara head coach Kerry Keating made one thing clear about the Gaels: "They're way more of an offensive team than a defensive team," he said. Iona, which has won 12 of its past 13 games, hosts the Broncos tonight with the CollegeInsider.com Tournament championship at stake. The Gaels average 79.2 points per game. Guard Scott Machado, a 6-foot-1 junior, ranks second in the nation in assists per game (7.6). Forward Mike Glover, a 6-7 junior, averages a double-double (18.3 points, 10.1 rebounds). Keating called Glover "the East Coast version of (Arizona's) Derrick Williams," though without Williams' three-point capabilities. Glover is 0-for-3 from beyond the arc this season. Santa Clara can prevail in an up-tempo game; for example, the Broncos outlasted USF 95-91 in the CIT quarterfinals. Nevertheless, Keating probably doesn't want tonight's game played at the speed limit. "It's going to be a matter of the first five minutes," Keating said, "who's going to set the tone ... in terms of the pace?"

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