As we’ve all have heard by now, Atlantic Sun Champion and 15th seeded Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) decisively knocked off Georgetown on Friday night to become the seventh 15 seed to beat a number 2 seed since the tournament expanded to include 16 seeds in each region (1985). The fact that there have been three upsets from 15 seeds in the past two years suggests an increased amount of parity in NCAA Division I basketball.
Let’s look at Belmont, who was the cream of the crop, winning the A-Sun in five of its last seven years as a member, before departing for the Ohio Valley. We all thought the conference would be going south after that, but FGCU pulled off the huge upset that Belmont couldn’t accomplish, giving the A-Sun its first win in the NCAA tournament since 11th seeded Georgia St. (now in the CAA) defeated Wisconsin in 2001.
A-Sun runner up Mercer beat and outplayed Tennessee in the first round of the NIT this past week. Mercer also defeated Alabama and Florida State in 2012.
When it comes to talent, obviously the big boys are going to eat first (UNC, Duke etc). In regards to smaller conferences like the A-Sun, most of the time it boils down to player development. To me, the biggest advantages of getting a highly ranked high school recruit are the odds of needing a year to develop or redshirt are decreased, plus most are more naturally athletic (hence being rated higher). Some mid-major recruits perform right away, but most players in a conference like the A-Sun come to school with deficiencies and need to take a year or two before they begin to flourish. Whether it’s refining their skills on the court, in the weight room or in the classroom, once those results have been established then they have a chance to become as good as the next guy.
The A-Sun finished 26th out of the 31 Division I conferences in RPI for men’s basketball this past year, but that didn’t stop FGCU or Mercer from taking down teams from the 3rd and 8th best conferences. A good team is a good team, regardless of conference and Kennesaw State basketball should be ready to make that leap in 2013-14 with all of the new players in the mix.