Reaching into the Bilas mailbag

Originally Published: January 15, 2004
By Jay Bilas | Special to ESPN.com

ESPN's Jay Bilas answers a few questions each week from ESPN.com users.

"When does a 'mid-major' stop being considered a mid-major? When it gets a football team in BCS consideration? Marquette doesn't have squat for a football team but it's not considered a mid-major. Gonzaga has a football team and it's considered a mid-major even though it's ranked week after week after week after year. I don't understand the differentiation."

April Shaughnessy,
Washington, D.C.

April,
Great question. I wish I knew the answer, because I dislike the term "mid-major," and feel it is demeaning to some very good teams. To paraphrase Justice Frankfurter of the U.S. Supreme Court, I can't define a mid-major, but I know one when I see one. The distinction between major and mid-major is largely one of resources. The teams from the bigger conferences are considered majors, and the teams from the one- or two-bid leagues are considered mid-majors. The truth is, you never define a team in such a way once it steps on the court. Whether Gonzaga or Creighton are ranked is immaterial.

If you hear of a good term to replace mid-major that will convey the difference between the haves and the have nots, please let us know! Thanks for the insightful question.

"With all the kids leaving early or not going to college at all I wonder why you don't hear more about the NCAA changing its eligibility rules. Hockey's got it right: as long as you're 19 years old by draft day you can maintain your eligibility and stay in school even after your drafted by a pro team! It wouldn't change everything (i.e. Lebron still would never play in college), but those who don't have the body or basketball I.Q. while possessing the talent can be drafted and then the NBA team could send them off to college to develop. It's better than the NBDL or sitting on the bench, right?"

Jon,
New York

Jon,
The problem is one of certainty. The NBA wants to know who is available for the draft, because they don't want to draft a kid and have him turn around and go back to college. Similarly, colleges need certainty as well, and there are those that argue that players that declare for the draft should not be able to come back to college. I am in favor of the latter. I would like to see the date that high school and college players must declare for the draft moved up to April 15. That would provide the college system with more time to make recruiting decisions in response to a kid deciding to forego college, instead of having to do it later. With the system now, you may have too many players or too few because of the uncertainty involved. I think it should be one big decision, and it should be a sobering one that is not entered into lightly, like it is now when players "test the waters".

"Pittsburgh continues to get no respect from the college basketball academia. Everyone knows they don't have the strongest schedule, however, 17-0 vs. the likes of Notre Dame, Georgia, Murray State, Alabama and Florida State aren't exactly slouches, especially when you compare them to Cincy's and St. Joe's schedule. Obviously teams have to get it done in March and not in December, however, I feel this media hypocricy hurts Pitt's national rank and recognition come March. Pitt is a team that is great, but not the best. For them to have a shot come March, they have to have the bracket and location (see: Syracuse 2003). The lower the ranking of Pitt the worse their chances in March (obviously). What is not so obvious is that their 15 ranking now will hurt them if they lose to UConn on Monday. Should they drop? No. But they will if they lose. Now if you are 15 and drop, you are nearly out of the top 25. If you are Wake and lose to Texas you drop from 3 to 8. What are your thoughts?"

Chad,
Pittsburgh

Chad,
Please don't worry about the polls, because they don't mean anything. The only ranking that really matters is the RPI ranking, which measures strength of schedule and strength of wins. Pittsburgh has played a pretty good schedule, but not a killer. That's OK, because the Panthers are really good, and will be good no matter who they play. Pitt will have plenty of quality wins by March, and will be a 3 seed or better in the NCAA Tournament.

Pitt is mature, strong and unselfish. It is a team full of winners and they will prove it. The Big East is one of the two or three best leagues in the country, and may again be the deepest conference of good teams. I would not be surprised to see the Big East get six or seven teams into the NCAA Tournament field.

"Please comment on the following: Do you consider Jim Boeheim a great coach? He just passed John Wooden's win total of 600-plus wins all-time, but does he rate with the Dean Smiths and Coach Ks of the last three or four decades as far as coaching is concerned. You can't argue with his record, the talent he consistently recruits, and now an NCAA Tournament title. They are all great accomplishments. But would you consider him a great game coach."

Ken Sheridan,
Boston

Ken,
I do consider Jim Boeheim a great coach, and I think he is a certain Hall of Famer who will have his mug displayed prominently in Springfield. The only reason Boeheim is not more widely regarded as one of the very best ever is because he does not put up any fronts or self promote in any way. Boeheim would rather let his players take the spotlight, and he doesn't do anything other than coach his team. He is a great game coach, especially on the offensive end, with a very bright basketball mind. I think that Boeheim would be an outstanding NBA coach, because he is all about the players. Jim Boeheim recruited me out of high school, and I would have loved to play for him. Of course, he wouldn't have so many wins if I had.

"In the latest Fact or Fiction segment, you and your colleagues were asked if the ACC was the best conference top to bottom. I thought your answer was the best, but do not understand why everyone failed to even mention the Big East. The Big East has three top 25 teams, seven in the top 30 RPI rankings, the No. 1 team in the country and last year's national champions. Besides those seven teams in the top 30 RPI, there is probably an additional two or three teams that have a legitimate shot at the NCAAs. As the Big East is very competitive top to bottom, I have no doubt they will beat each other up enough where only five or six teams make it, but why they are not even considered when determining the most competitive conference top to bottom baffles me?

Chris Sarno,
West Roxbury, Mass.

Chris,
It's just their opinion, and I certainly respect it. I think that reasonable minds can disagree, especially considering there is no consensus as to what "best conference" means. To me, the best league has the most really good teams, not just the most competitive teams. I agree with you that the Big East will get at least six teams in the NCAA Tournament (barring a collapse) and the ACC could do the same. The key is how many quality wins you have. If you feel that the Big East is undervalued this year, think about how good the league will be in 2005...when it dumps some of its lesser regarded teams to accept Cincinnati, Louisville and Marquette. The Big East is solid, and perhaps as strong as it has been in the last several years. Syracuse, UConn, Pittsburgh, Providence, Notre Dame, Seton Hall and Boston College can all be at the Dance this year.

"Just wanted your thoughts on the Arizona Wildcats. They took a pounding this past weekend, mostly due to poor shooting and the new kid Ivan Radenovic taking to many 3s. How will this loss effect the Cats for the rest of the season? I think this team could go very deep in the NCAAs if not win it all in the end."

Adam Eichenberger,
Chicago

Adam,
Arizona is very good, with the chance to be outstanding. Remember, losing to Stanford at McKale is certainly not unheard of, as the Cardinal stomped the Wildcats last year. Arizona is young in spots, especially Mustafa Shakur at the point, but the raw athleticism of this team scary. Arizona is much better than they showed, but does not have much depth. The Wildcats are not a great shooting team, but have Salim Stoudamire to bang down shots. Fear the Wildcats.

Jay Bilas is a college basketball analyst at ESPN and a regular contributor to ESPN.com.

Jay Bilas

College Basketball analyst

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