How does a mid-major game plan for a duel with Duke on national television in November? Southern Illinois gave SI an inside look at its preparations to face the No. 10 Blue Devils in the semifinals of the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic on Thursday. Here's how it went down:
One of the themes of this year's NCAA tournament is the lack of upsets, and therefore the lack of Cinderellas. The fact that Butler and Southern Illinois can reach the Sweet 16 and not at least raise some eyebrows is an indication of the increased parity in college basketball and the narrowing of the gap between mid-major and major programs.
Looking vulnerable: UCLA Perhaps if UCLA hadn't stumbled down the stretch, losing its last two games, including in the first round to Cal in the Pac-10 tournament, I might not be so concerned about the way the Bruins blew a late lead against Indiana. The truth is, even while UCLA was rolling up wins this season, there were plenty of occasions it looked vulnerable and spotted opponents double-digit leads. The Bruins still have that big hole in the middle that used to be filled by Ryan Hollins, so they don't have as big a margin for error as they had last year. They can't afford any more mental lapses in this tournament.
If you happen to run into a member of the NCAA selection committee this week, be sure to shake his hand or pat him on the back. A few complimentary words would be nice, too. Considering how much flak these guys usually take this time of year, a rare acknowledgement of a job well done will undoubtedly be appreciated.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Southern Illinois is in the Sweet 16. This should be a really big deal, right? Time for the talking heads to fall all over themselves in shock that some school from Carbondale, Ill., is still alive in the Big Dance while the likes of Duke, Arizona and Wisconsin have gone home. Time for fans around the country to break out the inevitable "What's a Saluki?" line.
Don't know as much as you'd like to about college basketball? Don't feel bad -- neither does the NCAA selection committee. But if you want to fit in, you're going to have to pretend you know what you're talking about for the next few weeks. That's where I come in.
As college hoops sprints into the wildest week of the season, let's take a look back and honor the best of the mid-majors. There are plenty of players that could easily make this list, but these players excelled mostly away from the spotlight in conferences that don't draw the biggest crowds or the television networks, but still have some top-notch talent.
There is a name that surfaces each time Rodney Stuckey is discussed. It's always qualified with a "when he was in college, not now ..." stipulation, but any time you can have your name linked with Dwyane Wade's, well, you're doing something right.
INDIANAPOLIS -- A half hour after Southern Illinois had beaten Butler at Hinkle Fieldhouse in the marquee event of BracketBusters Saturday, Jamaal Tatum was still lingering in the Salukis' parents section. He was massaging his injured thigh, talking to his father, and clutching the only appropriate antidote for the 68-64, 48-foul, 63 free-throw grudge match that had just transpired: a bottle of Tylenol.
The award for national coach of the year is perhaps the worst-defined honor in sports. Do you select only guys whose teams have exceeded expectations? After all, the writers who dole out these awards are same dolts who set those expectations in the first place. Congrats, coach, for showing everyone how dumb we really are!
BracketBusters weekend is approaching, and for 48 hours, the college hoops world will (sort of) belong to the mid-majors. Outside of championship week, next Friday night and Saturday will provide the brightest lights a lot of these programs will see this season. In its fifth year, the ESPN event keeps growing, and it has been done right. ESPN gives itself plenty of flexibility to ensure the best matchups, picking from a field of 102. Additionally, there is a provision that guarantees a rematch of all 51 BracketBusters games during next year's regular season. For schools that have a difficult time scheduling quality non-conference opponents, especially at home, this is a major bonus.