Mid-majors ready for major challenges

There are countless positives for a mid-major program when it knocks off a big-name school, consistently wins 20 games or makes an NCAA tournament run. All the success, exposure and notoriety also produce one negative, however: scheduling headaches. Suddenly the big boys are wary of playing you.

“In my opinion, we’re a true mid-major. When I say that, I mean the kind of success we’ve had in our program, our fan base—we outdraw a lot of BCS schools here,” College of Charleston coach Doug Wojcik said. “So in that sense, it’s hard to get home games. Even when you potentially can get a decent series and say you have to go on the road, it may cost you $20,000 to $25,000. When you’re a mid-major, you have to manage that sort of a budget. So these are games I just couldn’t get otherwise.”

Wojcik is talking about early-season tournaments. The Cougars play in the Wooden Legacy in California Nov. 28-Dec. 1, opening with San Diego State, playing Creighton or Arizona State in the second round, and closing with another game against a quality opponent in a field that also includes Marquette, Miami, Cal State Fullerton and George Washington.

“Boy, those are good opportunities for us,” admitted Wojcik, who returns most of the team that went 24-11 last season and lost in the first round of the College Basketball Invitational. “It’s a big challenge and it puts a lot of pressure on a team. That’s why you always want to stay experienced and be an upperclassmen team. It really gives you a chance to win some of those games and help your RPI.”

Davidson has seen its Ratings Percentage Index benefit from ESPN Events tournaments in two of the past three seasons. The Wildcats beat Nebraska and Western Kentucky and lost to West Virginia in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off in 2010. Last year in Orlando, Davidson knocked off Vanderbilt and West Virginia before losing to Gonzaga in the final of the Old Spice Classic on the way to a 26-8 season that included an NCAA tournament appearance.

“You can’t put a price tag on how valuable that is to us, in terms of the way it prepared us for our Southern Conference experience, as well as for postseason play,” Davidson coach Bob McKillop said. “That was a sensational experience.”

McKillop, who must replace graduated big man Jake Cohen, plays in the Charleston Classic Nov. 21-24. Davidson opens against Georgia, plays either Temple or Clemson in the second round, and will close against another potential RPI-boosting team in a field that includes UAB, UMass, Nebraska and New Mexico. “We’ve been to Charleston, to Puerto Rico, then Orlando and now we’re back to Charleston,” McKillop said. “And in each case we’ve been able to play high-powered programs on neutral sites in environments that are attractive for our fans, attractive for our players. It’s sort of a laboratory for our season.”

Northeastern in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off and Siena in the Old Spice Classic are also in similar positions of facing several high-major teams on neutral floors. Added Wojcik about the opportunities such tournaments provide: “Gosh, as long as we stay even-keeled, positive, move on whether good or bad, I don’t know how it can’t prepare you for March.”