Another mid-major in Final Four causes fewer raised eyebrows

By Jeff Borzello | College Basketball Writer

LOS ANGELES -- When it came time for Fred Van Vleet to make a college decision, the borderline top-100 recruit had plenty of suitors.

There were mid-major offers galore, but there were also a couple of high-major schools showing him interest. Van Vleet could have certainly waited and played in one of the big six conferences.

Yet the talented point guard chose Wichita State -- and he came off the bench to score 12 points to help lead the Shockers to a Final Four berth on Saturday.

"You gotta be realistic with your goals, but obviously you've got to set the bar high," Van Vleet said. "We knew what kind of potential we had."

Wichita State was a 9-seed on Selection Sunday, and not many teams gave the Shockers a chance to make the Final Four. However, the story on Saturday night at the Staples Center was Wichita State -- the story wasn't another mid-major making the Final Four.

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Why? Well, it's becoming less and less of a surprise every time a non-BCS team reaches the national semifinals. When George Mason did it as an 11-seed in 2006, it was a tremendous story. When Butler reached the title game in 2010, it was discussed over and over. And in 2011, when both VCU and Butler went to Houston, it was a great story.

Now, it's still unexpected, but it's not at the same level it was a few years ago.

"I think it's losing its surprise factor," Wichita State sophomore Tekele Cotton said. "It's not a surprise anymore, because anybody can make it here."

The idea that a mid-major program can win four games in two weeks to make the Final Four isn't so far-fetched anymore. Especially in a season like this, when so few teams looked dominant, why couldn't a 9-seed -- whether it's from a mid-major or a power conference -- reach Atlanta?

Would Van Vleet have made the Final Four had he gone to Illinois or another high-major school? It's debatable. Did he expect to get to the national semifinals when he committed to Wichita State? Maybe not.

But seeing the George Masons and VCUs and Butlers do it before this season gave him confidence -- and it also played a role in his choosing Wichita State.

"If I never saw a mid-major make a deep run or be successful at this level, that definitely would been in my decision process," Van Vleet said. "Now, we've got just as good players as high-majors."

And with the trickle-down effect in recruiting and more balance in college basketball, expect more non-power conference teams to make the Final Four.

And we'll raise our eyebrows less and less when it happens.

 
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