By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report
PHILADELPHIA—In the more than 24 hours since little Florida Gulf Coast University pulled off the biggest upset of the 2013 NCAA Tournament by knocking off No.2-seed Georgetown, I hope sports fans will have learned one thing from these first few days of the NCAA Tournament.
All the stuff that your ESPN pundits say about players and teams from all the so-called power conferences being better than the kids from the mid-majors in college basketball in its current form is just a bunch of malarkey.
I guess people weren’t convinced by this when George Mason went to the Final Four in 2006 or when both Virginia Commonwealth and Butler went to the Final Four in 2010. Of course, Lehigh upending Duke in the second round of last year’s tournament was just a lucky thing.
So far in this year’s tournament in addition to Florida Gulf Coast University’s stunning win over No. 2 seed Georgetown, No. 14 seed Harvard sent No. 3 New Mexico on that right turn back to Albuquerque. Another bracket buster was LaSalle sending Kansas State home early. How many times will your brackets be thrown into the waste paper basket or deleted from your computer because you buy into the same old myths?
“I would say once you get out on that open floor, anything can happen,” said Florida Gulf Coast senior guard Sherwood Brown, who scored 24 points in the win over Georgetown. “Everyone puts their shoes on the same way as everyone else, everyone breathes the same air. If you go out there and work hard, anything can happen.”
During this first weekend of the NCAA Tournament at the Wells Fargo Center, I spoke to coaches and players from programs big and small and they told me in no uncertain terms that those things that fans and the media talk about regarding power conferences versus small conferences is just not true.
“You know in basketball, we, as basketball coaches, don’t look at any conference as a mid-major because we have 300 schools that are all Division I,” said Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski. “So how we look at things and how it is reported isn’t always the way that it is.
“I’m sure when John (Thompson III) was preparing for Florida Gulf Coast, he wasn’t saying ‘well, they’re from a bad conference and we should win.’ They were saying, this kid is good and could start for us, this kid can play …So I think basketball people respect basketball people. I know we do.”
I think you also have to take into consideration that in the current landscape of basketball, you have the summer leagues, AAU and various basketball camps where the players have all played against each other and aren’t fazed by one another.
“This basketball thing that we’ve been going through since the seventh grade is basically a network,” said San Diego State junior swing guard Jamaal Franklin. “Like me and my teammate Jeremy Castleberry, a walk-on on this team, me and him have been playing together on the same AAU team since the seventh grade. You see each other from seventh grade all the way up to college.”
A good example of that was Florida Gulf Coast’s win over Georgetown. Senior Forward Eddie Murray, who had a couple spectacular put back dunks in the win over the Hoyas, said his teammates played against some of the Georgetown players in AAU.
“They knew a lot about them and played well against them before and they knew they would play well against them,” Murray said. “It’s the same thing with Miami and Duke, we played against some of those players in AAU. It gives you confidence that you can play with them and they’re not that much better than us.”
Another reason that the smaller schools are hanging with the big schools is that the superstars of the major programs play for one or two years before jumping to the NBA.
Meanwhile, the players at the mid-majors are staying for the full four years and getting the benefit of refining their games and gelling with their teammates. And so when you make your brackets for next year take those things into consideration.
“There’s a lot of talent in the game of basketball right now,” said Duke forward Ryan Kelly. “On top of that with guys leaving early and staying for a year or two and that changes the landscape a little bit. There’s a lot of great coaches. All those things contributes to the parity, but once you get into the tournament, anything can happen.”