by Eddie Mayrose

This was a year ago, just a day after Gordon Hayward’s last second heave from half court had seemingly touched every inch of the rim before finally falling off; giving Duke the National Championship and ending Butler’s impossible bid for the title.  WFAN personality John Minko, a Butler grad, lamented his alma mater’s loss, pointing out how much it hurt because, as close as they’d come, a school like Butler, from a mid-major conference, would never get another chance to win it all.  Looking back, I can’t think of anyone that disagreed with Minko’s  sentiments.

Butler, a #5 seed, had worked its way through the tournament behind their baby-faced coach, Brad Stevens and on the shoulders of the Hayward, an All American who would become the first player in the program’s history to be selected in the first round of the NBA draft.  With Stevens, a rising star in the coaching ranks, sure to leave for a bigger payday, it was plain to see that the Bulldogs’ run was once in a lifetime.

However, a funny thing happened on the way to basketball oblivion.  Stevens stayed, and turned out to be more genius than phenom.  Butler, muddling along in late January with a .500 record in the Horizon league, suddenly caught fire behind team leaders Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard and couldn’t lose.  A last second win over Old Dominion in the first round of the NCAA Tournament was followed by an upset of top seeded Pitt and there they were again, marching all the way to a second championship appearance.  That they suddenly couldn’t put the ball in the basket in losing to Connecticut did serve to break poor Minko’s heart one more time, but their success, coupled with that of the equally unsung VCU Rams, may have taught a lesson to the NCAA Tournament selection committee and the snobs from the major conferences.

With so many high school players with NBA potential signing on for just one year at schools in the nation’s most well known conferences, we’ve started to see more and more upsets in the early rounds as those 18 year old kids match up against the stronger and more experienced upperclassmen from the mid-major schools.  While those power conferences traditionally enjoy invitations for its members in the bottom half of the league standings, it doesn’t seem like much attention is paid to how they finish.  Now, Connecticut did finish ninth in the Big East but turned out to be the hottest team entering the tournament, as opposed to Georgetown and Villanova, two schools that couldn’t get out of their own way but were granted invites based on the reputation of the league.  Both went out in the first round.
Even though the solution to the problem seems obvious to the level-headed fan, it usually isn’t to the powers that be that make the decisions regarding collegiate athletics.  It’s more likely that the tournament will expand to 96 before the dead weight from big conferences is eliminated, making it even more difficult for the Virginia Commonwealths and Butlers of the world to reach the Final Four.

Down in Front!

Got a kick out of Yankee GM Brian Cashman this week as he lashed out at the Mets, saying that they “abused” reliever Pedro Feliciano over the last few seasons.  I’m not a GM but even I knew that he’d worked 270 games over the last three years.  Did Cashman miss the memo before he signed the now injured lefty? … Didn’t take long for panic to set in for the Red Sox.  After two straight losses to open the season, manager Terry Francona dropped Carl Crawford, Boston’s $140 million dollar man, into the seventh spot in the lineup.  Can’t imagine Theo Epstein was too pleased… When the Knicks acquired Carmelo Anthony from the Nuggets, team President Donnie Walsh lamented that his plan to acquire two superstars after assuring that the supporting cast was in place had been blown up.  Looks like Walsh was on to something, as the Knicks are mired around the .500 mark since Carmelo arrived, while the Nuggets, with Walsh’s supporting cast front and center, are 15-4… Have to admire TBS analyst Charles Barkley for his consistency.  After listening to his drivel for the last three weeks during the NCAA tourney, it’s now clear that he brings no value to basketball on either the professional or collegiate level… Looking for a sleeper in this week’s Masters?  While Tiger Woods may now qualify as such, so long it’s been since he’s won a tournament, the pick here is Jim Furyk…   Not that one weekend is any indication, but the Mets did manage to win a road series a full three months before they registered their first in 2010. Things could get really interesting if they manage to stay competitive, as management would surely prefer to trade off its stars than pay them what they’re worth in 2012.

Eddie Mayrose is a frequent contributor to SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Channel and can be seen, with Tom DeAngelo, on their weekly sports talk show, Down In Front!, available on Time Warner Cable on Staten Island as well as in Brooklyn and Manhattan to Fios customers.  Check local listings.

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