Be Sure To Call Them "Very Good Teams"

What's in a name? Not much, if you think "mid-major" means the same as "second-class conference" in college basketball jargon. Bradley, George Mason and Wichita State demonstrated that they can play with any of the "big-time conference" teams while rolling into the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.

If the first four days of the NCAA Tournament convinced us of anything, it's that the term "mid-major" should be stricken from the college basketball vocabulary.


Instead of labeling teams by the perceived pecking order of the conferences their schools belong to, let's label them by the quality of basketball they play.


With that in mind, it's safe to call the Bradley, George Mason and Wichita State teams that won first- and second-round NCAA Tournament games to advance to the Sweet 16 very good.


Certainly, the coaches at Michigan State, Pittsburgh, Kansas, North Carolina, Seton Hall, and Tennessee – whose teams were bounced by the Braves, Patriots and Shockers – aren't in a catatonic stupor over the notion that their seasons were ended by teams from the "mid-major" Missouri Valley Conference and Colonial Athletic Association.


OK . . . off the soapbox I go.


Sunday, Bradley and George Mason joined Wichita State (which knocked off 2 seed Tennessee Saturday in Greensboro, 80-73) in the Round of 16 by bouncing Pittsburgh and North Carolina, respectively.


As for the Braves, who improved to 22-10 after consecutive (and decisive . . . they dominated both games, for the most part, although the final margins might not indicate such) victories over Kansas (Friday) and Pittsburgh (Sunday) in Auburn Hills, my first inclination is to ask "How did they lose 10 games this season?"


They finished in a tie for fifth in the MVC but, since dropping at 75-63 decision at Indiana State on Feb. 8, they've won nine of their next ten games – losing to only Southern Illinois in the MVC Tournament title game.


That's called peaking at the right time.


Although Pittsburgh took a brief lead early in the second half Sunday, Bradley – with sophomore center Patrick O'Bryant (28 points and seven rebounds) dominating one of the country's most physical teams inside – didn't look anything like a team that was "playing over its head", as it didn't while it was knocking off the Jayhawks in Round 1.


And what about George Mason, beating a Final Four team from last season (Michigan State, with four of the starters from that squad in its lineup) Friday night and defending champion North Carolina on Sunday in Dayton?


Granted, the Tar Heels were playing without their top seven players from that national title run. But they were also the same team that went into Durham a couple of weeks ago and beat the top overall seed in this tournament, Duke.


That was very impressive, indeed.


The Patriots' victories over the Spartans and Tar Heels earned them a spot in the Washington, D.C., semifinals Friday night – right in their backyard.


Their opponent? A team they beat on Feb. 18, 70-67, in a "Bracket Buster" game played in Wichita, Ks.


That's right – the very same Wichita State team.


Other observations from the eight games played Sunday:


*Those who were convinced that the Big Ten Conference was every bit as strong as the Big East this season got a dose of reality in the first two rounds of the tournament.


Ohio State, the Big Ten's regular-season champion and the 2 seed in the Minneapolis region, got spanked by Georgetown in Dayton Sunday, 70-52.


And that means that there were will no Big Ten teams in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1996.


The conference's collective record over four days: 3-6.


And what of the Big East? It's represented by Connecticut (Washington, D.C.), West Virginia (Oakland), as well as Villanova and Georgetown (Minneapolis).


And the Minneapolis region also includes Boston College (Villanova's Friday night opponent), which was in the Big East before moving into the Atlantic Coast Conference this season.


 *If his performances during Big East Conference play or his team's come-from-12-points-behind victory over Albany Friday night didn't convince you that junior point guard Marcus Williams is the most indispensable component for the Connecticut team, his effort in the Huskies' 87-83 win against Kentucky Sunday should have.


*Another reason why how a team closes its regular season isn't the best barometer as to how it will perform in the tournament: West Virginia, which dropped six of its final nine Big East games, advanced to the Sweet 16 for the second year in a row by beating Southern Illinois and Northwestern State by 18 and 13 points, respectively.


Other than Georgetown (five points over Northern Iowa and 18 over Ohio State), the Mountaineers were the most impressive of the Big East teams that collected two wins.


*West Virginia's Sunday victory set up the second Sweet 16 rematch of a regular season game.


Thursday night in Atlanta the Mountaineers will take on 2 seed Texas, which defeated North Carolina State Sunday, 75-54.


The Longhorns edged West Virginia, 76-75, in Kansas City on Nov. 21 in a Guardians' Classic semifinal.


LaMarcus Aldridge's block of a Mike Gansey layup attempt at the buzzer – which some are still convinced should have drawn a whistle for a foul on Aldridge – saved the win for Coach Rick Barnes' team.


*For what it's worth: Memphis was largely perceived to be "the top seed most likely to lose first".


But the Tigers, with 16-point decisions over Oral Roberts and Bucknell, had, at 32 points, the largest cumulative margin of victory among the top seeds.


Duke's was 29, with Connecticut's and Villanova's at 17 each.



Inducted into the USBWA Hall of Fame last April, Frank Burlison is's national basketball expert and is also a column for the Long Beach (Calif.) Press-Telegram. He can be reached at Read more of Burlison's pieces at

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