There are 32 automatic qualifying bids for the NCAA Tournament in March, many of these bids are occupied by teams known as “mid majors.” These teams don’t build resumes, with quadrant 1 wins and quadrant 3 losses, they don’t see the analysts debating whether they deserve a spot or not, these teams have one way to punch their ticket to the dance—win their conference tournament.
I was able to speak with Fairleigh Dickinson head Coach Greg Herenda, the man who has led the Knights to two NCAA Tournaments in the past four years. Building a real culture is the top priority for mid major schools, they don’t have the luxury of going to a Nike event and picking up the best player on the court, the coaches have to decide what their principles are for the program and find the kids who fit that mold on and off the court. In the case of Fairleigh Dickinson, they look to bring in “Good people with high character, high level recommendations, hardworking qualities, and then talent follows.” The reason certain mid majors have consistent success is because they stay true to who they are and they rely on seniors that have been mentored by past teammates rather than a five star freshman.
As I mentioned before, these programs usually need to win their conference tournament to receive a bid to the dance. Mid majors usually want to “Be the best [they] can be in March”, for better or for worse, everyone has a clean slate. Fairleigh Dickinson epitomized that plan, as they have won 15 of their last 17, and haven’t dropped a game since Valentine’s Day. They were red hot heading into the conference tournament and did so by being “consumed with the presence.” They never worried about how a result would affect them down the road, but instead focused their attention to getting better every single day. The Knights’ goal is to give it 100% for “Every second of every possession, for 40 minutes.” Always staying in the moment, and focusing on the task at hand.
Selection Sunday is a big festivity, for the fans and the participants. Coach Herenda described the feeling of his school being shown on national television as “surreal.” He continued to say that “It was a dream [he] never thought would come true.” There is truly nothing like March.