Sat, Feb 19, 2005 - Page 20 News List

'Midmajors' get moment in spotlight

HOOPS Sixty-four colleges that fall just below top-tier squads will get unusual TV coverage on ESPN in the US

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORKREUTERS, BLACKSBURG, VIRGINIAAP, DENVER, COLORADOAP, MINNEAPOLIS

Duke guard Sean Dockery, right, stuggles to regain posession of the ball with Virginia Tech forward Coleman Dixon during an Atlantic Coast Conference game at Cassell Coliseum in Blacksburg, Virginia on Thursday. The Hockies upset the seventh-ranked Blue Devils 67-65. Dixon had a team-high 18 points and nine rebounds for Virginia Tech.

PHOTO: AP

The guard who was not quick enough, the forward who was not tall enough and the center who did not weigh enough will squeeze onto the marquee of college basketball today with the all-Americans from the usual superpowers that dominate the spotlight.

It will be Bracket Buster Saturday, when midmajor teams like Miami of Ohio, Wichita State, Vermont and Kent State, which are stocked with players missing one or more skills to get them recruited by Duke or Kentucky, play on national television alongside the top 25.

Sixty-four midmajor teams are involved in the third annual Bracket Buster. Six of the 32 games will be televised by ESPN, and five others will be part of a pay-per-view national package offered by ESPN.

The best games are Wichita State at Miami of Ohio, Vermont at Nevada, Southern Illinois at Kent State and Texas-El Paso at Pacific, which is ranked No. 19 in the polls. All eight teams have legitimate ambitions for the NCAA tournament.

Bracket Buster Saturday is the kind of national attention the midmajors -- the teams not in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big East, Big 12, Big Ten, Southeastern Conference, Pacific-10 and Conference USA -- do not receive until the NCAA tournament. That is why the concept was created.

"It's the lead college basketball story at a time of the year when everybody is thinking college hoops," Rick Chryst, the commissioner of the Mid-American Conference, said in a telephone interview this week. "It's not just two hours on TV, it's stories in 64 communities all week about Bracket Buster.

"The event gets positioned as only about at-large positioning for the NCAA tournament, but that's way too narrow a view. This is about programs that should get more attention than they do."

Chryst and the commissioners Doug Elgin of the Missouri Valley Conference, Karl Benson of the Western Athletic Conference and Jon LeCrone of the Horizon League came up with the idea four years ago and wanted to call it the Cinderella Classic. But the concept did not go forward because there was no television partner.

When Burke Magnus, a vice president of programming at ESPN, proposed Bracket Buster Saturday, the Cinderellas finally had a dance partner, Elgin said.

"This is about exposure and it's worth more than money for leagues like ours," Elgin said in a telephone interview this week.

Considering the competitiveness of the regular-season races in the Mid-American and Missouri Valley conferences and in other midmajor leagues, it seems a burden to thrust a tough nonconference game into the middle of the regular season.

But the midmajors yearn for the chance to showcase the atmosphere in their arenas and their share-the-ball style of play. Their target audience is anyone who wants a glimpse of a team that might pull off one of the upsets that are part of the NCAA tournament's allure.

"The intent is good and I won't get in the way of that," said Miami of Ohio coach Charlie Coles, whose team is 16-6 overall and leads the Mid-American's Eastern Division at 11-3. "Sometimes you've got to go along with an idea if it benefits everybody else."

The commissioners treasure the spotlight, but what makes Bracket Buster Saturday significant is its potential impact on the selection of the 65 teams for the NCAA tournament.

There are 34 spots in the field for at-large teams. When the final sorting of at-large teams is done by the selection committee, a crucial criterion is the won-lost record against teams ranked 1 to 25 in the Ratings Percentage Index, and against teams ranked 26 to 50.

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