Are VCU and Butler still mid-majors?
by Scott M Gleeson, USA TODAY Sports
Welcome to the third week of Bracket Briefing, our attempt to ensure that readers won’t have to wait until March to know who C.J. McCollum is.
Teams of the Week: VCU, Butler
It was 2010 when Butler transformed from a mid-major team that a few fans circled on their brackets each year in the NCAA tournament to a team that was only one buzzer-beating, half-court shot short of winning a national championship against college basketball juggernaut Duke.
That Gordon Hayward shot wasn’t meant to be, as the ball bounced too hard off the backboard while grazing the rim. But it was a true underdog story for No. 5 seed Butler, a mid-major from the lowly Horizon League defying the odds. Last week, Butler gave us familiar March-April goosebumps after Rotnei Clarke’s one-handed 3-pointer gave Butler an upset win against Marquette in the Maui Invitational, which eventually led to an upset win against No. 13 North Carolina. Not long ago, it would have to be tournament time for us to see Butler being so Butler. But times have changed for teams such as Butler and Virginia Commonwealth, the team that followed in the Bulldogs’ footsteps with a can’t-believe-it Final Four run in 2011 (this after ESPN analyst Jay Bilas called the Rams’ selection into the NCAA field “indefensible.”)
Butler and VCU have followed a Gonzaga-like formula in using their Big Dance success to grow their programs into NCAA regulars. Both teams, coached by two of the youngest in the game — Brad Stevens and Shaka Smart – graduated from the lower ranks of the Horizon and Colonial Leagues and switched to the middle class of mid-majors in the Atlantic 10 his year, making for one of the most competitive and unpredictable conferences in the country. So, it leads us to ask: Should Butler and VCU still be classified as mid-majors? It’s often difficult to consider Memphis (Conference USA) or San Diego State (Mountain West) in that class as Top-25 stalwarts. The truth is there needs to be no distinction, because like Gonzaga, fans will always associate Butler and VCU (two … [For more on Bracket Briefing: Are VCU and Butler still mid-majors?, click here.]