Friday, March 24, 2017

Power of X and the Mid-Majors...

I planned on hitting the Forgotten Superstars circuit,but the Xavier Musketeers upset roll continues as the Muskies surprised second seed Arizona 73-71 in the West region semi-final.
Xavier will play Gonzaga (another favorite) Saturday for the right to go to the final four.

I'm not going to do a recap (although I'm considering one for the Saturday game vs Gonzaga),but it did make me want to write about college basketball.
I don't watch as much as I used to,likely not half as much as I used to.
I would guess that with the exception of the conference tournaments and the NCAA ,I didn't watch more than a snippet from any teams games this season except for two-Ohio State and Xavier.

Ryan had encouraged me to watch more Big 10 basketball while we were on our trip to the Big 10 football championship and I decided to so.
Ohio State was disappointing on many fronts in this season (The Buckeyes didn't even merit an invite to the NIT),but Xavier was playing well-that was until the injury to Edmund Sumner in a late January game that I was watching against St.John's.
The loss of Sumner,who was the team second leading scorer was a huge one and it sent the Musketeers spiraling to the point that some said that a season finale win against lowly DePaul after a five game losing streak before hand was needed to have a chance at an NCAA bid.
After that win,a Big East tourney run would be helpful and Xavier beat DePaul again and then Butler before a three point loss to Creighton in the semis sealed the bid.

I've been watching their wins over Maryland and Florida State,but I figured Arizona would be the end of the line.
Xavier has notched several Sweet Sixteen seasons,but only two times in the Elite Eight,so I figured the loss of Sumner would be glaring in this one.
I watched the first half as I sat at the road office flipping between boxing on ESPN2 and then when that was over,I was able to watch the remainder of the game...

I became an Xavier fan long ago,through three conferences (MCC,Atlantic 10 and Big East) and several head coaches that fed the monster with the wins,enabled the program to dominate and be an attractive program to conferences looking to fill an opening.
Of all of them,my favorite coach was the late Skip Prosser,who I followed to Wake Forest and rooted for his Demon Deacons until his passing,but all of them were successful,even if I liked some and others not so much.
I liked Pete Gillen,who really got the program on its way, a lot and I didn't really care for Thad Matta,who of course would wind up at Ohio State,but I didn't mind Sean Miller and I'm more than pleased with current coach Chris Mack,who is in the running for the open job at Indiana right now.

The sad part for me is Xavier having to play Gonzaga,who I also pull for often.
The Zags are similar to Xavier having battled their way through the ranks,having power conference teams refuse to play them and yet built a powerhouse program of their own.
The good thing is that either team will give me someone to cheer for in the final four,though obviously I'd prefer Xavier.

I've also rooted for Wichita State through the years as a mid-major.
I remember their big run when I was a teenager when they had eventual NBA players Antoine Carr and Cliff Levingston and I always liked their quirky mascot along with their colors,but when they hired Gregg Marshall is when I added them to my mid-major follows.
I'm a big Marshall fan and if I was doing the hiring at N.C.State,I would have went all out to hire Marshall as the latest Wolfpack coach (State hired Kevin Keatts from UNC Wilmington) and counted on him to return State to prominence.
Wichita State is following the Xavier template of moving up the conference ladder to improve their schedule as they are reported to be soon to be joining the American Conference and leaving the Missouri Valley in order to upgrade.

The final mid-major that I pull for in basketball is all about the coach as I've started following the Nevada Wolfpack since Eric Musselman became their head coach.
I've always been a fan of Eric and his late father Bill with their Ashland connection from when I lived there and Eric Musselman moved the Wolfpack from nine wins in the year before he left to 18 in his first season to 28 wins,a Mountain West title and NCAA berth in his second season.
Musselman was mentioned as a candidate at Cal when Cuonzo Martin left to take the Missouri coaching job,but withdrew his name after the interview process.
Barring Musselman taking a job at a school that I really dislike,I'll be following his teams for a while.

Mid-Major basketball is more fun to me than the bigger colleges.
The players usually stay for four seasons,you get to know them and it's easier to buy in than for the one and done factories like Kentucky,Duke,etc.
I'm still a Buckeye fan and have soft spots for Maryland,N.C.State and Wake Forest,but I'll stick with the mentioned teams-it's just more fun to root for schools that put basketball first!

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