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NCAA Basketball

The Anatomy of Mid Major Success

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Over the past three days, I’ve seen two ridiculous basketball games.  I was in the building for VCU’s thrilling win over St. Joseph’s and I got to watch Gonzaga-Butler at home.  The common thread between almost all of these teams is sustained mid-major success.  It’s easy for Duke and Kansas to recruit and succeed year after year, but it means more when these teams do it because of what they have to face on the recruiting trail. What are the ingredients for their success?

1) Great coaching. This obviously means something different to each team.  Butler and Gonzaga have managed to keep their coaches in Mark Few and Brad Stevens.  Both of them had their chances to leave and have had bigger programs come calling, but neither has taken them up on it.  For other mid majors, it’s having solid coaches in succession.  Tulsa had mid major success from from 1993-2003 when they won 11 games in the tournament as well as an NIT championship.  Over that time, they had Tubby Smith, Steve Robinson, Bill Self and Buzz Peterson as head coaches.  VCU is currently crushing it and they’ve done so with Jeff Capel, Anthony Grant and Shaka Smart.

2) Luck recruiting. Back in 2005 Jeff Capel brought in little known Eric Maynor. Maynor’s recruiting profile on Yahoo features no stars and no other official offers.  Ask Duke about Maynor’s prowess and if he’s better then that rating.  Fast forward to 2007 when a two star Larry Sanders from Florida chose the Rams and the rest is history.  Gonzaga’s major coup was Adam Morrison in 2003.  He was so lightly recruited that even superhuman recruiting expert Dave Telep had this to say about him, “In one of the biggest misses of my career, we left him off the Top 100 list. We ranked him the No. 26 small forward. The goal is to never make a mistake of that magnitude again”

2008 was a great year for Butler who picked up commitments from Gordon Heyward, Shelvin Mack, Ronald Nored and Chase Stigall.  Purdue was among the other schools that offered Heyward.

3) Great facilities. When you talk about tough places to play, you’ve gotta include the Siegel Center, Kennel and Hinkle Fieldhouse.  Butler’s building was in full display on ESPN this evening and it more then passed the test.  The Siegel Center is one of the loudest buildings in America with a top notch band and student section. The Kennel is underrated mostly because the common college basketball fan isn’t watching basketball at the hours Gonzaga is on.

There are plenty of schools who have tried to attain this success, but they fall short in one of the three major ingredients.  In some cases it’s coaching while others just haven’t had the luck in finding that superstar.  Gonzaga, VCU and Butler are here to stay for awhile.