I woke up Tuesday morning and flipped on the television just in time to hear a certain national TV personality proclaim Southern Illinois a “Cinderella”. The talent went on to compare the Salukis current run to that of George Mason one year ago.
Wait a minute here.
Frequently people label teams from the Missouri Valley Conference “mid-majors”, but it’s really tough to say that about the 2006-2007 Salukis. This team has won a school record 29 games, notched its highest seed ever, and really had an RPI that warranted an even higher seeding. If you’re a Cinderella don’t you at least have to beat a higher seed? Southern Illinois has disposed of 13th seeded Holy Cross and fifth seeded Virginia Tech in this NCAA Tournament. The Salukis were “supposed” to win those games.
The name may not be the ones usually on the tip of college hoop fans tongues, but Southern Illinois has got major game.
George Mason was an 11 seed that beat several opponents it wasn’t supposed to. These two teams are not in the same category. George Mason making the Final Four was a shocker. Southern Illinois making the Final Four would be mildly surprising.
I had this incident fresh in my mind when I joined in Tuesday morning’s teleconference. I couldn’t help it, I had to ask coach Self what he thought of the Salukis fashioning the glass slipper and being on a run compared to Mason’s in 2006.
“Mason was an 11 seed. Southern Illinois is a four, and they could’ve earned a three-seed. They’ve done exactly what a four-seed is supposed to do by getting to the Sweet Sixteen,” said Self dismissing the glass slipper notion.
According to record and seeding, it would not be a surprise if Southern Illinois was to end up victorious on Thursday night. But Self remembers what it’s like to coach a team labeled a “mid-major”. Before coaching at Illinois and Kansas, Self did his tour of duty at two mid-major programs in Oral Roberts, and Tulsa.
“We thought we were major in everything,” said Self referring to the time he spent coaching Tulsa. “We didn’t think we were mid anything.”
Self delved into the mindset of a mid-major and admitted these schools use the label as motivation. Self also quickly pointed out that this KU team certainly doesn’t view any team in the Valley as a mid-major, and has plenty of respect for MVC squads. That in reference to the first round loss Bradley handed the Jayhawks in last year’s NCAA Tournament.
The mid-major talk goes back to one of my favorite quotes from former Georgia State head coach Lefty Driesell when asked about coaching at a mid-major.
“I’ve never been a mid-anything in my life. I don’t even know what a mid-major is.”
And Southern Illinois is out to prove that Thursday night. If they are victorious it will be an even bigger step for the Missouri Valley Conference. It will be the first time a school from the Valley will have taken down a number-one seed, and the first Elite 8 appearance by the Salukis.
Make no mistake about it, as good as Southern Illinois is Thursday night most of America will see them as a Cinderella.