Nothing ‘mid’ about major game

Doug Gulasy

The term “mid-major” gets thrown around a lot when college basketball analysts discuss teams. Mid-major is used to describe conferences a tier below major conferences such as the Big East, ACC and Big 12.

George Mason, who the Kent State men’s basketball team plays at 2 p.m. tomorrow at the M.A.C. Center, hails from a mid-major conference: the Colonial Athletic Association.

But the Patriots aren’t exactly the typical mid-major team. They come into tomorrow’s game with a 7-2 record that includes victories over major-conference teams Kansas State (Big 12) and South Carolina (SEC).

“They have a lot of experience — guys who have played in the Final Four, guys who have played in a bunch of different environments,” Kent State coach Jim Christian said. “It should be a heck of a game.”

The Patriots advanced to the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament following the 2005-06 season before losing to eventual national champion Florida.

“I guess you could say that it gives hope to other (mid-major) teams,” junior guard Al Fisher said.

Kent State has had its own NCAA Tournament success as a mid-major team, advancing to the Elite Eight in the 2001-02 season. The Flashes have also won at least 20 games for nine consecutive seasons.

That success, combined with the successes of other mid-major teams like George Mason, Gonzaga and several teams from the Missouri Valley Conference, makes the term mid-major somewhat irrelevant to Fisher.

“Players are everywhere,” he said. “You’ve got to just do what you’ve got to do. Mid-major, high major, low major —ÿyou’ve always got good teams.”

Christian said one thing that mid-major teams have in common is having experienced players.

“When guys play together for three and four years, they get used to systems,” Christian said. “They get used to what the coaches are trying to do and feel comfortable in it. And they get stronger and are physically more mature.”

Christian also said there is not much difference between the talent of a major-conference team and that of a mid-major team.

George Mason features one of those talented players in 6-foot-7 senior forward Will Thomas. A major contributor to the Patriots’ Final Four run two seasons ago, Thomas is averaging 15.4 points and 10.9 rebounds a game this season.

“He’s such a patient post player,” Christian said. “He knows what he wants to do with the basketball, he doesn’t rush (and) he doesn’t force things. He’s such a hard guy to guard because he can play on the box, then he can play off the box and be just as effective.

” … He’s so experienced, and he’s also a gifted passer. So it kind of narrows down the things that you can do with him. He’s without question a big key to this game.”

The Patriots have two other players who average double-digit points per game in senior guard Folarin Campbell (12.6 points per game) and junior guard John Vaughan (11 ppg).

Christian said his team has to rebound better against George Mason than in Wednesday’s game at Youngstown State. The Flashes gave up 15 offensive rebounds in the 59-52 victory, and the Patriots average about 12.4 offensive rebounds a game.

The Flashes also had 18 turnovers and shot just 29 percent in the second half at Youngstown State.

Fisher said the Flashes have to “value the ball” tomorrow and the Flashes couldn’t repeat their performance against Youngstown State and still expect to win.

So, what do the Flashes need to do to beat the Patriots?

“(We have to) come out, play ‘D,’ execute our plays and do everything we’re supposed to do,” Fisher said. “Rebound the ball, play as a team, work together — it’s going to (take) all of that. (If we) make sure we do what we’re supposed to do … we should come out victorious.”

Contact men’s basketball reporter Doug Gulasy at [email protected].