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Mid-Major Morning Mashups: Waiting For The Sweet 16 Edition

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We stand on the precipice of something potentially great. 

So often the magical runs that make March truly mad aren't entirely realized until we're already there, in the moment. Somehow, it feels like greatness is being realized before it is achieved this time around. Butler and VCU have already captivated us and yet we're ready, almost expecting more from them. 

Maybe it's becoming an all too familiar occurrence. In four years George Mason and the Bulldogs have done what was once thought nearly impossible - has that spoiled it? On the heels of Kevin Durant and Michael Beasley, suddenly all-conference performances from freshmen weren't enough anymore, we wanted player of the year candidates to emerge almost immediately from the bright eyed bunch that arrives on campuses around the country each year. Is that the new challenge facing the non-power conferences?

While the thought of a small program reaching the Sweet 16 or beyond will certainly never get old for the players and coaches themselves, could we be moving toward a future where these remarkable accomplishments are no longer recognized on the same level they once were? It's far fetched to be sure, as the chasm that divides so many of these schools - the all mighty dollar - may never truly be crossed by most. But perhaps for the time being we'll have better recognition of when we are witness to something special, something memorable, something we'll want to take in as it unfolds before our eyes. 

Just two days until it all begins again.

Read on after the jump for thoughts and reaction from the NCAA Tournament and NIT.

Paul Woody of the Richmond Times-Dispatch: "The two universities sit 6 miles apart, one tucked quietly in the city's bucolic West End, the other the epitome of an urban university. The 3,000 students at the University of Richmond comprise a small, liberal arts college with an excellent business school amid a sylvan, suburban campus. Virginia Commonwealth University is a huge public university, serving a student body that is 30,000 strong. VCU has excellent science and engineering programs, liberal arts offerings and nationally recognized Schools of the Arts and Social Work on its Monroe Park Campus. The VCU Medical Center is one of the finest health-education and treatment complexes in the nation. And this week, Richmond and VCU have joined to bring the focus of the college basketball world to the city of Richmond. Richmond and VCU, or VCU and Richmond, depending on your allegiance, have reached the round of 16 of the men's NCAA Division I basketball tournament. No other city in the country can make such a claim."

Eric Angevine of "If the Vols want to keep things running smoothly, they should hire the hot coach of the hour, as soon as he becomes available. That means Shaka Smart of VCU. Sure, some fans will agitate for someone with a bigger name (nobody has a cooler one), like Buzz Williams. Williams would actually be a great fit, but he's already in the Big East, and competition for his services will be stiff after this tournament run ends. He may also not much like the looks of rebuidling a program on probation. But what about Virginia Commonwealth's Shaka Smart? A move to the SEC would be a step up in money, and the facilities at Thompson-Boling are top-notch. Smart runs an up-tempo system that will appeal to Volunteer fans, players and recruits. Even if it was his fate to lose a few games right out of the gate, his teams would look good doing it, and he'd never give up. He also has an SEC pedigree, having coached under Billy Donovan at Florida. In fact, when he left to take the VCU job, he was replacing another Donovan protege, Alabama head man Anthony Grant. Perhaps the key to building a stronger SEC hoops profile is to hire as many Florida (or Kentucky) assistants as possible. Smart's Rams have become the first school to make the Sweet 16 by winning three games, thanks to a berth in the inaugural First Four competition. Let's not assume that 1) he'll be easy to get or 2) he'll be willing to jump the first time someone shows him a check. The odds of his stock getting hotter than it is right now are pretty slim, though, with Jamie Skeen, Ed Nixon, Brandon Rozzell and Joey Rodriguez ready to graduate. Then again, there are always other jobs."

Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post: "I was on the phone with VCU super fan Chris Crowley Monday afternoon when his cell phone rang. It was his supervisor from work. A few minutes later, Crowley called me back. "She approved my time off," he told me. "Looks like I'm going to San Antonio." March can tend to be a heavy travel month for college basketball fans, but few of them have ever put together an itinerary quite like Crowley's. The Rams, you'll recall, were sent to Dayton for the inaugural First Four games last week. Crowley -- who attended 30 VCU games this season -- works night shifts at the school's Massey Cancer Center. Thus, his friend picked him up at work early Wednesday morning. They drove straight to Ohio, ate dinner, freshened up, watched the Rams outlast Southern Cal, celebrated briefly, and then drove more than eight hours through the night, back to Richmond. That made it 8:30 or so on Thursday morning. Crowley didn't think he had the cash for a trip to see the Rams' next game in Chicago. But that night, his sister called and told him she was buying him a round-trip flight to the Windy City. "Wait, what?" the 28-year old asked. "This is your birthday present for the next five years," his sister told him, and so 12 hours later, he was driving to Dulles to catch a plane."

David Woods of the Indianapolis Star: "Butler's body bump is back. Cameras caught coach Brad Stevens and forward Emerson Kampen leaping to thump backs Saturday night. That became a regular locker-room celebration during the run to last year's Final Four, and the two reprised the move publicly when Butler won the NCAA West Regional at Salt Lake City. The Bulldogs were celebrating a 71-70 victory over top-seeded Pittsburgh in the Southeast Regional. No. 8 seed Butler (25-9) advanced to the Sweet Sixteen and meets No. 4 Wisconsin in a regional semifinal Thursday at New Orleans. "Butler, to me, is as good as any of the elite teams in the country," CBS analyst Greg Anthony said. ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said there isn't a team Butler can't beat in the Southeast, which includes No. 2 seed Florida (28-7) and No. 3 BYU (32-4). "This is one of the toughest teams I've seen in college basketball," ESPN analyst Hubert Davis said of the Bulldogs. Saturday contributed to an historic stretch of tight finishes. Butler's past four tournament games have been decided by two points or fewer."

Jeff Call of the Deseret News: "For months, Fredette has been drawing high praise from NBA stars like Kevin Durrant and Deron Williams. The latest to chime in is the Chicago Bulls' Derrick Rose, who played with Fredette last summer during Team USA training camp. "He has not surprised me at all with what he is doing this year," Rose said."I love watching him play. The way he played in the USA thing, he was great; he played with a lot of confidence. He is not intimidated by anyone. You could tell he wanted to be there and I am happy for him." When asked about Fredette's potential as an NBA player, Rose said, "I don't know, we'll have to see. I don't see why he can't be really good at the next level with the way he shoots. But he is a great player right now, he is leading his team the way that he is supposed to and he's a great scorer."

Edward Lewis of the Daily Aztec: "One week he's Colorado State's Dorian Green. The next he's TCU's Hank Thorns Jr. After that, he's BYU's Jimmer Fredette. He's a new player every week and is San Diego State's best chameleon. He's Xavier Thames, SDSU's scout team leader. "Usually, I'm the best player on the other team if they're a guard," Thames said. Thames is a sophomore transfer from Washington State who's redshirting this season. He's a 6-foot-3-inch combo guard who compares his game to Jason Terry and Chauncey Billups. This week, though, his name isn't Chauncey, Jason, Jimmer, Hank, Dorian or Xavier. It's Kemba."

Steve Gorten of the South Florida Sun Sentinel: "With Miami trailing by six points at halftime, sixth-year senior forward Adrian Thomas says he didn't contemplate that his college career could be over after one more half. He stayed calm. Just win, he told himself, and there'll be another chance to play. Scoreless up to that point, Thomas poured in 11 points in the first 3:21 of the second half to ignite an onslaught by Miami, which beat Missouri State 81-72 at BankUnited Center on Monday night in the second round of the NIT."

Don Kausler Jr. of the Huntsville Times: "Because it didn't have to go anywhere, the 2010-11 Alabama basketball team has gone where no Alabama basketball team has gone before. The Crimson (23-11) Tide improved its record at home to 18-0 Monday night with a 74-67 victory over New Mexico (22-13) in the second round of the National Invitation Tournament. Alabama's 2001-02 team went 17-0 at Coleman Coliseum. Alabama will stay at home to play Miami (22-14) on Wednesday night with a trip to New York and the NIT semifinals on the line. Miami advanced to the third round Monday night with an 81-72 victory over Missouri State (26-9). The Tide advanced with sizzling second-half shooting as nearly every ball it threw toward the rim went in. It made 15 of 20 shots from the field (75 percent)."