Commentary | Big East breakout could make USF a basketball mid-major

March 20, 2013 

The madness sweeping the country has generated a fury of its own.

Jimmer is no longer a verb, and Webster is about to erase the term mid-major from its pages because it's as obsolete as pay phones.

Tradition has defined mid-major as a basketball program that resides in a conference not part of the Big Six. It used to mean inferior. Now it generates fear and rage.

The Big East is part of that Big Six, but it has changed its wardrobe and will not hang USF, Connecticut and Cincinnati in its closet when next school year opens.

Heading to a yet-to-be-named new conference, USF's biggest fear is that the dastardly label mid-major label will be stuck on its shield.

Jim Calhoun and Bob Huggins, who made UConn and Cincinnati into basketball powers, no longer drive the bus for those programs, but in the name of Kemba Walker didn't the Huskies win the Big Dance just two years ago.

If it's blasphemy to call either of those programs mid-major, shouldn't USF be able to ride their coattails? The Bulls did win two NCAA Tournament games last year.

Oh yeah, but so have a lot of those hyphenated named schools that come from conferences that escape obscurity once a year around this time.

But things are changing quickly. Butler, VCU and Gonzaga are considered heavyweights in more than just names. Granted, there have been some shenanigans. Kentucky is playing in the NIT, and it makes you wonder if John Calipari is being punished for being the king of the one and done.

Haters, get ready

Basketball fans have other things on their minds:

Jimmer Fredette, the lovable marksman who ruled all land north of the 3-point arc a few years ago and nearly Jimmered Billy Donovan's Gators, was last sighted at the end the Sacramento Kings' bench.

There hasn't been another player to love as much since his departure, but there is a guy we can all hate and he loves the attention, no matter how he gets it.

This year's tournament has the perfect villain in Mississippi guard Marshall Henderson.

The junior has done everything to become college basketball's Public Enemy No. 1, throwing a Gator Chop at Florida fans and berating SEC coaches for not voting him on the All-SEC first team.

It might be why the NCAA committee seeded the Rebels 12th, where so many upsets have sprung.

It has potential for a Friday night TV bonanza, pitting Darth Vader's long lost son against a Wisconsin team that fans perceive as boring.

Name game

The most recognizable name in college basketball today is Baylor senior Brittney Griner, who has been around four years to showcase her unique talent.

Coaches star

The NCAA Tournament has always been about the coaches. Commentators talk more about them and their schools than the players. Even Michael Jordan took a back seat to Dean Smith, and retired coaches have more name recognition than current players.

Coach K, Bobby Knight, Jim Boeheim, Rick Pitino, John Thompson, Billy Donovan and newcomers Shaka Smart and Brad Stevens are household names. But can a casual basketball fan name one player off Smart's VCU team that made Final Four two years ago?

Remember Rozier

This year's top seed, Louisville, stirs up memories of 1994, when a young man out of Southeast High earned first-team All-American honors for the Cardinals, who were expected to go far in the tournament and reached the Elite Eight.

Joining Clifford Rozier on that '94 All-American team were Jason Kidd and Grant Hill, who are still earning NBA paychecks. The other two were Glenn Robinson, whose son plays for Michigan, and Donyell Marshall. A second-team selection was Jalen Rose.

Family ties

Looking for someone to love? Miami's backcourt might be the best in the country, and half of that tandem is Shane Larkin, son of former Cincinnati shortstop and Hall-of-Famer Barry Larkin.

Gonzaga Connection: Zags guard David Stockton averages about 19 minutes per game (3.1 assists), but has that DNA from his dad John, the NBA career assists leader.

Love/hate

Team to embrace: Miami -- The Hurricanes have the most lovable coach in Jim Larranaga, the man who put George Mason on the map and toiled for nearly three decades in mid-major obscurity until Miami gave him a shot at 61 two years ago.

Team to hate: Duke -- Hate is a strong so let's just say this is a fun team to root against. It makes more money than another college basketball program in America and haven't we seen enough of that Christian Laettner shot.

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7080, ext. 2112. Follow him on Twitter at @ADellSports and listen to him talk about his column and other sports on "Out of Bounds" every Tuesday and Thursday between 8 and 10 p.m. on WTMY 1280-AM.

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