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Mid-Major Mashups: Can The CAA Keep It Going Edition

If a conference makes the Final Four twice in six years but no one remembers it shortly thereafter did it really happen?

Andy Katz of ESPN has a brilliantly crafted piece today touching on this very subject (you can read it after the jump), but it raises a very important question. Is the immense progress made by the Colonial Athletic Association and mid-majors in general completely negated if it isn't sustained to a certain degree? Does this recent spike in postseason success get tucked away in some corner if everything ultimately regresses back to the mean? It's a question worth pondering and one that will be discussed quite a bit when we move into the off-season, but for now let's get some reaction from around the country.

Andy Katz of "The Colonial Athletic Association is experiencing a renaissance with an unbelievable stretch of two Final Four appearances in a six-year period. That's one more than the Big 12, one more than Conference USA, two more than the Mountain West, Atlantic 10, WAC and any other conference outside of the Horizon (which has sent Butler in consecutive seasons) from the power six leagues. The runs made by George Mason in 2006 and VCU in 2011 were both the least predictable of any of the recent multiple appearances from any conference. Neither team was a lock to even get into the NCAAs in the two seasons that they reached the Final Four. "It shows how good our league was this year,'' Drexel coach Bruiser Flint said. "The difference was that we won games outside our league.'' VCU beat UCLA in Madison Square Garden. Drexel won at Louisville. Old Dominion beat Xavier, Clemson and Richmond. Mason didn't have the big-time win, but played its schedule well from a power-rating perspective, and winning the league by two games certainly carried weight with the selection committee. "This is really the first year that we won games outside of our conference,'' Flint said. VCU finished in fourth place, four games behind Mason and two behind Old Dominion and Hofstra this season. Mason received an at-large bid and beat Villanova in the second round. ODU beat VCU to earn the league's automatic berth, and then lost to Butler at the buzzer in the second round. Hofstra didn't have the nonconference profile to earn an at-large berth. But the problem for the Colonial is that's where the postseason ended."

Andy Glockner of "In the spring of 2009, VCU senior point guard Joey Rodriguez was at a career crossroads. The Florida native, a bit homesick after spending two years in Richmond, Va., after not getting the right offers from his home state's Division I schools, now was losing his head coach, Anthony Grant, who was taking the job at Alabama. Following some consideration, Rodriguez announced his intention to transfer back home to Division II power Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., close to his family in Orlando. He packed up and headed south, where he spent three weeks "feeling like I was in high school again." One problem: None of his teammates actually believed Rodriguez, who labels himself as indecisive in many facets of his off-court life, was gone for good. "I just know he just wanted to lay on the beach and enjoy the sun and see his family and get out of the summer class we were in," said fellow senior Brandon Rozzell. "He was trippin'. Brandon and I were saying he just missed the sun in Florida," added senior Ed Nixon, whose team lost to Rodriguez's in the 2007 Florida state championship game and who was swayed to come to VCU by him. "He's too good of a player to go to D-II. ... We just talked to him about that. He made the best decision of his life coming back."

Kevin Armstrong of the New York Daily News: "The midnight bull sessions began inside the red brick, two-level house beneath a pitched roof on Rear Wood St., the glorified alleyway of loose asphalt and potholes, in July of 1999. Bill Brown, coach at California University of Pennsylvania, a Division II power, would sit with his assistant coach, Shaka Smart, editing videotapes, measuring inbounds angles and debating last-minute decisions. "I was always being quizzed," says Brown, just off his 36th season. "More importantly, we got to talking about family, about priorities past 1 a.m. at times." Preparation was primordial. For two years, Smart - who had played one season under Brown at Kenyon College, a Division III liberal arts college in central Ohio - lived rent-free on the second floor of Brown's home. Forever in search of the best way to make presentations, he collated scouting reports, matching opponents' headshots to intricate details of tendencies. Then, he articulately addressed the team, fine-tuning his delivery with just-so suits, a cleanly shaven head and quotes ranging from Keats to Jim Carrey. When it came time to take the director of operations position at Dayton, Smart, who had turned down Harvard and Yale to play under Brown as a student, was near tears."

Jeffrey Martin of the Houston Chronicle: "Shaka Smart makes a base salary of $325,000. However, the Virginia Commonwealth coach reportedly earns a month and a half of that salary for each NCAA Tournament win, which means one victory equals $40,625. The Rams have already recorded five victories - thanks to the "First Four," a rare positive plug for the revamped play-in games - which means the 33-year-old Smart stands to pocket $203,125, which is an extra 63 percent of his base salary. As the wins mount, money follows, and that's not exactly new math. But where the formula grows complicated for the administrations at alleged mid-majors like VCU and Butler is when they attempt to fend off power-conference schools from poaching their rising stars. Take Bulldogs coach Brad Stevens, who signed a 12-year extension last year after reaching the NCAA championship game. Another year has been tacked on, Butler athletic director Barry Collier said Thursday, and it seems as if Stevens is comfortable - even as he admitted Monday he doesn't mind being frequently mentioned when the annual coaching carousel is cranked up because it's a barometer of how well his program has performed. "Indianapolis has been home for me for most of my life," said Stevens, who has his team back in the Final Four. "Butler is an unbelievable place to work. I feel incredibly empowered. Every year, we're striving in an upward direction with an upward vision led by our administration. I'm happy to be a part of it."

Sean Brennan of the New York Daily News: "Scott Machado was thankful for the second chance. The one Iona received by playing in the CollegeInsider Tournament (CIT) after getting bounced in the MAAC Tournament Championship Game three weeks ago by St. Peter's. It was a loss that cost the Gaels their shot at the NCAA Tournament, and when the NIT didn't come calling with an invitation either, the CIT presented itself as the next best opportunity for Iona to end its season on an uptick. "We felt like we let the school and our fans down when we didn't win the MAAC," Machado said before Wednesday night's CIT Championship game against Santa Clara. "The CIT gave us an opportunity to make up for that and for our seniors to hang a championship banner before they left." Unfortunately for the Gaels, Wednesday night's title game went down the same as their first one as Kevin Foster led five Broncos players in double figures and Santa Clara dominated the boards (50-33) as the Broncos came 3,000 miles out of its way to lay claim to the CIT title with a 76-69 victory over Iona at the Hynes Center. That championship banner will have to wait for another day."

Gary Horowitz of the Statesmen Journal: "A season that began with low expectations will end in a championship game for Oregon. It might not be March Madness or even the National Invitation Tournament, but the Ducks still are playing. Facing a must-win Wednesday in the College Basketball Invitational championship series, Oregon responded with a 71-58 victory against Creighton before a crowd of 7,875 at Matthew Knight Arena. The best-of-three series concludes with a deciding game Friday at Oregon's new $200 million arena, where the Ducks are unbeaten in four CBI games. "I just feel like it was our night tonight," said freshman guard Johnathan Loyd, who had three points, six assists and three of the Ducks' 13 steals."

Bob Lutz of the Wichita Eagle: "It didn't take a trip to the Big Apple or a berth in the NIT championship game against Alabama to remind us that Wichita State is a big-time basketball school or that Wichitans love their Shockers. It's been this way for decades. Through thick and thin - and there has been plenty of both - Shocker basketball fans have remained true. Whatever happens tonight against the Crimson Tide will not change that. Wichita is gaga over the NIT. I mean, what city or fan base gets gaga over the NIT? New Yorkers are staying away from this tournament in droves. There were between 4,000 and 5,000 fans at Tuesday night's semifinal games at Madison Square Garden and no more than a handful of them were natives. Watering holes in Wichita were full of Shocker fans for the semis and tonight's game has the city in a frenzy. It's incredible. And this kind of stuff doesn't happen in many other cities."