By Jon Rothstein
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Fran Fraschilla said it was the highlight of his coaching career.
People at Manhattan College still say it was the loudest night in the history of the Riverdale campus.
It was Selection Sunday in 1995 and Fraschilla had just led Manhattan to 25 victories in his third year as head coach of the Jaspers — but a loss in the conference tournament finals to St. Peter’s didn’t ensure the Jaspers an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
So Fraschilla and his team had to wait six long days to find out their fate and once they did, they got to experience something that’s a rarity for a mid major program — the thrill of earning an at large bid.
“There is a certain satisfaction of winning your conference tournament and having six days to bask in it,” Fraschilla, who is now an analyst for ESPN said on Monday. “You do every media interview you can do and really enjoy the fact that you’re going to the NCAA Tournament. But the exhilaration that I felt on that Selection Sunday was unlike any other moment I’ve ever had in coaching. I was so proud to be there in a student lounge with my players and making sure they got that moment. I don’t think I’ve ever felt such a high other than my two sons being born and getting married.”
Can history repeat itself for other mid major schools this season? Absolutely.
Despite Kentucky and Syracuse separating themselves as the two best teams in college basketball, the theme in the sport this season is simple — parity.
Unlike last year where a conference like the Big East saw 11 teams earn bids to the NCAA Tournament, it’s unlikely for a team in a BCS league to earn more than six or seven invitations to the field of 68.
That opens the door for more mid majors, something Fraschilla thinks could wind up being a dominant storyline in March.
“I don’t think there’s any question that 15-20 mid major teams could reach the Sweet 16 this year and that’s a result of how much parity there is in college basketball,” Fraschilla said.
Three of those potential teams — Drexel, George Mason, and VCU play in the CAA, a league that has a proven track record of postseason success the last few years but doesn’t have as much depth as its had in recent memory.
Both Drexel and George Mason were shorthanded early in the season. The Dragons didn’t have Chris Fouch for four games early because of an injury and the Patriots were without senior guard Andre Cornelius for the entire first semester because of a suspension.
Those two schools plus VCU are still on pace to win 25 or more games and Fraschilla noted it’s imperative for the committee to recognize the history of the league in the NCAA Tournament.
“The CAA has a proven track record,” Fraschilla said. “It’s a much better league than people give it credit for. The question is does the committee select a power conference team that struggled for large portions of the season or a mid major that’s excelled?”
Fraschilla added that he thinks there’s legitimate value in rewarding a mid major team for maintaining a high level of play during the duration of the season versus rewarding one from a major conference that’s muddled in mediocrity.
“Each year the committee has a different philosophy,” Fraschilla added. “My Manhattan team in 1995 dominated the MAAC in the regular season but lost to a St. Peter’s team in the championship game that we beat twice during the season by 18. When we were selected, the committee said it was because of our regular season dominance.I’m not an apologist for the power conferences. If it was me, I’d take a team like Drexel over a team over Northwestern. I think on the surface with an expanded field, all three of the top teams in the CAA should be in the field as of today.”
Which mid majors do you think will make it to March Madness? Sound off below…