Mid-Majority Essays

For the final season of midmajority.com’s existence, I wrote weekly essays covering the (often-)forgotten history of college basketball’s little guys, Cinderellas and flashes-in-the-pan. From the improbable run of 1950’s double-winning CCNY to the journeys of every one-time-only NCAA tournament team, here are those stories.

It had to be Dayton. A joyous start to our first NCAA tournament gave way to a brutal, wrenching weekend of mid-major losses. The magnificent Shockers were upset in a championship-level struggle; the first round victors from the Atlantic Sun and the Southland and the Summit and the Ivy couldn't quite maintain the magic; the stalwarts from Saint Louis and Gonzaga fell. When the smoke cleared, there was only one of our number still standing ...
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Though the NCAA's various Corporate Champions and Official Broadcasting Partners would have us believe that no Shining Moments can or will happen until next month, those of us who've been mainlining basketball for most of the last two weeks know better ...
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In the entire history of NCAA basketball, only one guy has scored more points than Freeman Williams.
That other guy, you know: Pistol Pete Maravich, college ball's all-time leading scorer, a legend at every level of the game ...
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(See Tuesday's Part One to learn how we got here.)
At the end of the 1969-70 season, Marquette coach Al McGuire turned down the team's invitation to the NCAA Tournament, protesting the selection committee's choice to send the Warriors to the Midwest regional in Fort Worth, rather than the Mideast bracket in nearby Columbus and Dayton. They'd go on to win the NIT, and the season would be the only break in an otherwise uninterrupted 13-year stretch in the Big Dance.
As a result, Marquette came into the 1977 NCAA Tournament as a known quantity -- the elite but title-less team, trying to win one for their retiring coach. On the other hand, the UNC-Charlotte 49ers were something of a wild card. To introduce the nation to the team and the school, ABC News put together a delightful on-location feature ...
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Here in the Mid-Majority, our definitions of success are more malleable than the usual. They're shaped according to the team and the time, and with ten seasons' understanding of the uphill nature of our battles ...
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Here in the frozen Midwest, temperatures have spent more time below zero than above over the last two weeks; the rare respites on the thermometer usually just mean the clear, cold skies are replaced by another coating of slick, wet snow. Across much of Hoops Nation,the story is the same: Alberta Clippers, nor'easters, snowboots and swearing at the cold ...
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As Ray pointed out last week, Season X has finally bid adieu to one of the Mid-Majority's betes noires: the guarantee game, in which one of our own earns a much-needed paycheck (and a likely loss) for visiting a power-conference gym ...
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In the early years of NCAA basketball, Our Game had its unquestioned capital in New York City. The finest players and smartest coaches came up through the five boroughs, and an NIT victory at Madison Square Garden was the pinnacle of the college sport.
Capitals attract power, of course, and that means money and shady deals and moral compromise. The particular scandal that sunk New York as the capital of college hoops taught us plenty of lessons about the intersection of greed, power, athletes and gamblers. It also served to help decentralize the sport: with the Big Apple no longer the preeminent destination for recruits, America's basketball talent headed across America, and no one metropolis has really claimed capital-hood again.
There are hot spots, of course. A decade of championships went through John Wooden's Los Angeles (thanks in large part to New ...
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I know it's not scientifically proven, but everyone who's spent a decent chunk of time with an iPod on shuffle knows that the little music robot has some kind of psychic connection with its owner's mood. It was no surprise, then, that mine decided to spin the Drive-By Truckers' "TVA" while I was packing to visit my parents over the holidays.
Though my connection to the American South comes mostly through sports (and an abiding love for barbecue), the song's ode to deep roots rings true for me, especially when getting ready to visit home. Summer days are measured by the lake, and the narrator's grandfather, like mine, found much-needed help through the Depression thanks to the New Deal. For the song, and its subjects, the power-generating dams of the TVA were a complicated salvation, and the long new lakes a ...
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I've carried on a lifelong love affair with New Orleans, and at least part of it has to do with Ledell Eackles.
It's also been inspired by a love of jazz and an affinity with cocktail culture and proximity to the Mississippi, but the barrel-chested baller from the University of New Orleans played a role that can't be discounted.
As I documented with some degree of therapeutic detail at the season's outset, the Street and Smith Basketball Annuals were my constant companions as a kid. And at the same time I was digging into Tom Sawyer and my uncle's old Al Hirt records, they introduced me to Ledell Eackles: a guard with a name I couldn't pronounce, who'd transferred from a 37-0 juco team to a D1 school whose nickname I had to look up in Webster's. The UNO Privateers played teams ...
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Wherever you may be, Thanksgiving inspires thoughts of home. For me, that's also inspired a lot of thinking about the Northern Iowa Panthers in the last week.
As I've mentioned, my current home is almost as far from a mid-major school as you can get. (Casper, Wyoming, I'm pretty sure you have me beat.) Heading east, I won't run into one until Milwaukee; I run out of country to the north before I find one of our teams. Which leaves South Dakota State, 200 miles or so to the west -- and Northern Iowa, about the same distance south in Cedar Falls.
I've got plenty of personal history with SDSU. I grew up an hour away; my dad's master's degree and my high-school trumpet lessons both happened on its campus. But the Jackrabbits, like the other three Dakota-based mid-majors, didn't make their ...
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"God created man. Zadar created basketball." -- Apocryphal Croatian saying

There's plenty that's exceptional about Our Game, circa 2013. Advanced stats and sci-fi cameras ...
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The second week of November is a great time to be a basketball fan. As I write this, Bally is perched behind me keeping an eye on LIU-Brooklyn's effort at an Assembly Hall upset, and this morning I brushed my teeth to the dulcet tones of Dunk City and Hartford's TV-mandated early-morning tip.
This week, of course, is also a week of remembrance. Appropriately enough, Ray's travels over the Veteran's Day weekend took him to VMI's All-Military Classic, a tip-off tournament that put several of the Mid-Majority's service academies on center stage. It's a fitting conjunction of the game, the holiday and the young men who've chosen careers in the Armed Forces -- and it was a rare opportunity to shine a national spotlight on these teams.
The lack of attention is sort of understandable. After all, military academies face more than ...
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On October 4, 1951, the New York Herald Tribune published the greatest lede ever written. It lay at the top of Red Smith's dispatch from the Polo Grounds, where a one-game playoff for the National League pennant had been decided by Bobby Thomson's iconic "Shot Heard 'Round The World."

The walk-off home run had capped off the New York Giants' furious charge to capture the National League pennant from the crosstown Dodgers. Smith's lede read, immortally: "Now it is done. Now the story ends. And there is no way to tell it. The art of fiction is dead. Reality has strangled invention."

That same year, in a courtroom in that same borough, another story about another sport was crashing to a sad ending. Perhaps even more than Thomson's homer, this one proved fiction was no match for reality. It's a story ...
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I don’t really know how I got here.

Not in the straightforward biological sense. Not really, even, in the more complex what-are-any-of-us-doing-on-this-here-Earth construction.

But when it comes to the question of how I wound up writing about the long, weird history of college basketball in a much-loved forum like this, the mystery deepens.

After all, I haven’t played the sport since sixth grade, despite showing promise as a good-passing big man (or, less charitably, a chubby kid who knew full well I was the team’s third-best Matt). I didn’t attend any definition of a mid-major; instead, I graduated from a huge state university in one of the most lumbering power conferences of all, the Big Ten. Baseball has always been my favorite sport; I live and die for my alma mater’s hockey team; I’ve spent my whole adult life in Minnesota, one ...
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Anyone who's read this site knows that we don't put much stock in the old saw that "sports are an escape from real life." On the contrary: sports are played, coached, and officiated by real people. Fans experience real joy and real despair. And the ugly business of sports is suffused with real money serving real agendas. Still, once the game starts, those ties to the real world fade into an abstract background. Complexities become simple. College enrollments and athletic budgets outline a story of shrewd underdogs competing against well-heeled favorites. The things we love and hate are expressed in color schemes, logos, chants. And, in the confines of a basketball court, 19-year-olds with girlfriends and hangovers and cell-phone bills turn into larger-than-life heroes and villains until they step off the stage. On March 4, 1990, real life made its ...
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