Championship Week: Mid-Major Mania


Where did a whole year go? I swear it was just last night that Kemba Walker led the youthful UConn Husky Puppies to a National Championship.

March always sneaks up on us, but this year seems different. Maybe it’s because I live in Wisconsin and we are just now starting to see snow.

I don’t know what it is, but I like it.

March marks the start of tournament time for college basketball, which means a decline in workplace productivity, an increased demand for paper, and attention-deprived significant others who “hate this time of year,” yet end up winning your pool after picking the correct national champion based on their favorite animal. Simply put, March is unparalleled by all 11 other months put together.

This guy would agree.

It is a common belief that March Madness begins once the Field of 68 is determined, but I would argue that the mayhem starts this week, during the conference tournaments.

Championship Week is both cliche and unpredictable at the same time. The NCAA Tournament is where the underdogs fulfill their dreams, but those dreams are made possible by awe-inspiring performances throughout Championship Week.

If it’s unheralded drama you’re looking for, look no further than the mid-major conference tournaments. This is the birthplace of teams like VCU. This is where tournament bubbles are burst and small, high school-sized courts are rushed.

The majority of conferences around the nation are waiting to crown a champion. By the end of this week, a slew of lucky mid-major teams will be dancing around like Charlie and his grandfather. Win your conference championship and you got yourself a “golden ticket” to the Chocolate Factory of college basketball.

Here are a few mid-major storylines to keep an eye on during Championship Week:

Which Xavier team will we see in the A-1o Tournament?
When the Musketeers are on their game they can really “pack a punch”…. Too soon? I hope the answer is “no” for Xavier’s coach Chris Mack. If Xavier wants to succeed in the A-10 Tourney and beyond, they have to forget about their early season woes and play like the team that was ranked eighth in the nation earlier this season. A lot of that will rely on the play of their star guard Tu Holloway.

How far can Damian Lillard carry Weber State?
If you live outside of Ogden, Utah, where Weber State University is located, you probably have no clue how good of a season Damian Lillard is having. Not only is he the second-leading scorer in the nation (24.5 pts/game), he accounts for nearly a third of his teams points per game. While this may not be a great recipe for success, it sure makes for some high-quality entertainment.

How many games does Long Beach State need to win to get in?
The 49ers of Long Beach State played the third-toughest non-conference schedule in the country and had a 2-3 record against AP Top-25 teams to show for it. Two of those three losses were single-digit losses on the road against Kansas and North Carolina. Not bad for a Big West team, but this isn’t horseshoes. With an RPI of 35, one win in their conference tourney could get them in, two wins should get them in, but three wins will get them in.

Larry Eustachy. Southern Mississippi. Redemption?
If you’re not familiar with the story of Southern Miss’ head coach Larry Eustachy, read it here. It’s a coach, a team, and a story you want to root for. If Southern Miss wins the C-USA Tourney, it will be its first appearance in the NCAA Tourney under Eustachy. The last time Eustachy was in the Tournament was with Iowa State. He led the Cyclones to the Elite Eight that year.

For casual basketball fans, the mayhem of March doesn’t begin until the start of the NCAA Tournament. But, you’re no casual basketball fan. You wouldn’t have read this far if you were. Stayed glued to your TV this week and I can promise that you’ll see that there is nothing “mid” about the mid-major tournaments. Get your popcorn ready!

What storylines did I miss? Who are your dark horses to get an auto-bid? Let me know @MertesMist_TSB.

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