'Mid-major' Getting To Be Misnomer For Gonzaga

March 15, 2001

AP Sports Writer

MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Gonzaga is making its "mid-major" classification sound like a misnomer.

Everyone knows the story by now. The Bulldogs have beaten Minnesota, Stanford, Florida, Louisville and St. John's the last two years in the NCAA tournament.

But Gonzaga is from the West Coast Conference, which is made up of lesser-known teams like St. Mary's, Portland and San Francisco.

"I do kind of cringe on that mid-major thing. I think we need to get back to calling (it) mid-major conferences, not mid-major schools," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. "Call me a mid-major coach or a low-major coach. Just don't call my team mid-major."

Indiana State, the No. 13 seed from the Missouri Valley Conference, is the other mid-major school in the South Regional.

Those teams aren't likely to be on television much or get publicity outside their conferences.

That can still be an advantage come NCAA tournament time even with Gonzaga's recent propensity to knock off teams from "major" conferences.

"We probably won't sneak up on anybody," Gonzaga guard Casey Calvary said. "At the same time we're still from a smaller conference. Lots of teams haven't watched us play on TV and don't understand what our players are capable of and the style of basketball we play."

Fifth-seed Virginia, the Bulldogs' opponent in the first round, is starting to understand.

"If they played in any conference in the country they would be an upper-echelon team in that conference," Virginia coach Pete Gillen said. "They are certainly not a mid-major team."

WALTMAN'S WISDOM: According to Indiana State coach Royce Waltman's timeline, he can take credit or take the heat for what happens to his program.

Now in his fourth year, Waltman is the first coach in school history to lead the team to consecutive appearances in the NCAA tournament.

After his first season in 1997-98, the Sycamores had their first winning record in 18 years.

"Some people have said we've done it fairly quickly. But in all actuality, a coach when he comes in only has three years. That's about how long you can blame things on the guy before you. After that it's your program," he said.

"Either you get it done in two or three years or you don't get it done."

The Sycamores' first trip to the NCAAs was in 1979 when Larry Bird's team went to the championship game and lost to Michigan State.

TRAVELING FANS: Gonzaga's fans didn't have far to go the last two years to follow the Zags in the first and second rounds.

Gonzaga went to Seattle two years ago and Tucson, Ariz., last season.

"We're hoping now even though we flew out east and down south we'll still have a lot of fan support and hopefully some of the local people will get behind us and cheer for us," Calvary said.

Fresno State and California are far from home too. And other regionals are full of teams from across the country. Few just doesn't understand it.

"I don't know what they are trying to do," he said. "I think you can probably get more of an exciting atmosphere if you left some of these teams in their same regions and I don't think you'd hurt the strength of anybody's bracket that way."

TOURNAMENT GOODIES: As Gillen jokingly says, the Cavaliers haven't been to the NCAA tournament since the Spanish-American War.

The last tournament appearance was really in 1997, but that was before Gillen arrived in Charlottesville.

Because of the four-year drought, Gillen is taking advantage of the tournament perks. He's taking home some souvenirs.

"I have deep pockets. I can put a lot of rolls in my pockets. I got napkins. I got plastic forks. I'm taking everything I can get," he said, gaining momentum as he talks and reporters laugh. "We're from the ACC. We don't get in automatically. So I'm taking bottled water, towels. I'm putting everything in my suitcase."

CONTAGIOUS SUCCESS: First the football team, and then the basketball team.

Oklahoma won the Big 12 and then went on to win the national championship in football. The basketball team won its first conference tournament title on Sunday, and the softball team also won a national championship.

Sooners coach Kelvin Sampson says his team has copied some of the football team's characteristics.

"They won with great teamwork. They were gritty and tough and smart. And they really had great cohesiveness. We took that. That's the way we play," Sampson said. "Winning that championship was important for basketball. We didn't beat Florida State in the Orange Bowl but it was pretty good for us."

All of the teams share the weight room and talk about what they are doing.

"We try to compete with each other and set goals around campus," senior Nolan Johnson said.

FINAL POINT: Virginia's players may not be Elvis fans but their coach is. And being in the home of Elvis, Gillen couldn't pass up a reference to the king.

"Don't be cruel - that's what we're asking Gonzaga," he said. "Don't be cruel tomorrow."



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