College Game Day shows up, two "mid-majors" deliver
With Butler missing their leading scorer and floor general Rotnei Clarke due to injury, Gonzaga got off to a quick start and a 13-4 lead in the game's opening five minutes. However, Butler did what they do best to work their way back into the ballgame - remain unrattled and knock down shots. A trio of tres, a jumpshot, and a pair of free throws later, the Butler squad had pulled themselves back into the game down only 18-17.
From then on, neither team led the game by a margin of five points or more.
In the final two minutes alone, there were six lead changes. Clutch basket was countered with clutch basket. Free throws were made without any outward signs of pressure. It was a game that kept you on the edge of your seat until the very last second, though at that point, I’m not sure if anyone was actually sitting.
It was a relentless battle between two of the nation’s top teams, with Gonzaga holding the #8 position and Butler just behind at #13. And yes, I said two of the nation’s top teams -- not top mid-majors.
To simply label these teams as good (or even top) mid-majors is to do a disservice to what they have accomplished. Before playing each other, these two teams had a combined record of 32-3, and each team can stake claim to some impressive victories including Indiana University, Baylor University, Kansas State, and Marquette to name a few.
But it’s not just what these teams have done this year. They have demonstrated consistent excellence in NCAA tournament play as well. Gonzaga has been to the dance each of the past thirteen years - an impressive streak. In that span they have made it to the Sweet 16 five times. That’s not exactly the record of a mid-major who only gets in because of a weaker conference and then melts in front of the “big guys.”
Butler has a similarly impressive track record. They have made the tournament eight times since 2000 and have only been bumped in their first game two times in that stretch. Most notably on their resume, of course, are their back-to-back appearances in the National Championship game in 2010 and 2011. Add to that two additional Sweet 16 appearances, and again, we see a track record of a team that consistently competes with – and beats – some of the best competition in the country.
There was another big game that happened on Saturday afternoon when the #1 Louisville Cardinals lost in a thriller to the #6 Orangemen of Syracuse. It was a great game, no doubt.
But I don’t feel cheated that ESPN brought a mid-major battle as the College Game Day feature. Because those teams brought it. It was quality basketball played by two talented, well-coached teams in an electric atmosphere that delivered on everything you could want. It never once crossed my mind that the game would be so much better if only they weren’t mid-majors.
Let’s get beyond viewing these teams as “great mid-majors” and recognize them for what they are – teams who have consistently had a great deal of success and know how to win games on the court.