Vitale: 2002-03 All-Conference teams, awards

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Give the mid-majors their due


March 14

It is time to go to my VBDI (Vitale Bald Dome Index) and look at some of the mid-majors sweating it out, waiting to hear their names called on Selection Sunday.

Let me tell you flat out, Gonzaga, Butler and Southern Illinois all belong in the big dance.

I know I champion the little guys, but let's look at the facts. Gonzaga played a rugged non-league schedule, beating NC State head-to-head while competing against the likes of Kentucky, Stanford, Indiana, St. Joe's and Georgia. Mark Few's team won the WCC regular-season title and lost on the champion's home court (at San Diego).

Butler went 14-2 in the regular season to win the Horizon League title. Todd Lickliter's team finished 25-5, improved its non-league schedule, played at Duke and lost the championship game of the conference tournament on the champion's turf (to Wisconsin-Milwaukee at the Mecca).

Last season Butler missed out and it was a shame. One reason given was a loss in the conference quarterfinals. This season they made it to the championship game and lost to a quality opponent on the road.

Southern Illinois finished 24-6, including 16-2 in winning the Missouri Valley Conference regular-season championship. Think about what Bruce Weber's team did when given the chance last year in the big dance, reaching the Sweet 16. The Salukis can be a dangerous opponent.

I think you have to remember what these mid-majors did in the regular season and reward their success. I don't believe you should punish a team for one failure without looking at the overall big picture. These three teams performed well all season long.

There have been a number of surprises in some of the early major conference tournaments. Minnesota was stunned by Northwestern. Alabama lost to Vanderbilt. Those results could help the mid-majors.

Now it is up to the Selection Committee, and I know they will do a great job. It is not an easy task picking the 34 at-large teams, especially when there is so much parity in the sport.

According to the VBDI, Gonzaga, Butler, Southern Illinois .... IN, baby!

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