VCU primed to join mid-major royalty

Updated: August 26, 2011, 12:40 PM ET
By Jay Bilas

This kind of loose talk gets coaches and administrators fired: "Why can't we be like Butler, Gonzaga and Xavier? They did it, so why can't we?"

Those seem like fair questions. But the truth is, reaching that high level of consistency is incredibly difficult without resources, facilities, a rabid fan base and a conference that will aid the process. For most, it is a pipe dream of unrealistic expectations that produces more pink slips than success stories.

Six years ago, one of the most pondered preseason questions was, "Who is the next Gonzaga?" And, there really wasn't one. Xavier was the closest thing, with some mild competition from Southern Illinois, but Musketeers basketball suffered from a bizarre anonymity despite league success and better NCAA tournament results than the Zags. Still, whether you rank the Musketeers No. 1 or No. 2, Xavier and Gonzaga were a dynamic duo of mid-majors. Precious few could even hope to reach that level of consistency.

Then George Mason came along. There was the questionable selection into the NCAA tournament field, followed by an absolutely incredible run to the Final Four in 2006. Jim Larranaga captured imaginations by saying, "It's not who we play, it's how we play," and gave the indication that George Mason could be the next mid-major program to join Xavier and Gonzaga. But after five years, it was clear George Mason was a good program but a commuter school without the "it factor" to make it capable of joining the mid-major Mount Rushmore.

In two short years, Butler became the next mid-major face carved in stone. Always good, and always dangerous, Butler had been a respected program with a terrific following, a long list of outstanding coaches and an iconic gym and the 2010 version had a sure-fire NBA pro on its roster in Gordon Hayward. Butler was a preseason top-10 team in 2010 and delivered in the postseason with a Hoosiers-style march to the NCAA championship game that certified the school's Rushmore status. The 2011 NCAA championship game cemented it.

Gonzaga, Xavier and Butler have several things in common, and fit a common profile. And there's at least one other school that could join this elite company.