All this week, we'll be running college basketball team previews for the 20 (or so) Most Interesting Teams, starting today with the Dangerous Outsiders and working our way up to the Big Guns.
Kurosawa's film Yojimbo begins with a nameless samurai entering a town ravaged by two rival gangs. Both sides try to hire the strange warrior after he slaughters three men without breaking a sweat, but instead of committing his loyalty to either one, he decides to go rogue and take them both down. Murder and intrigue ensue, and by the end of the movie, only the samurai remains.* When the last gangster falls, the Man With No Name leaves town, never to be seen again. Incidentally, Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars (starring Clint Eastwood) was a Yojimbo remake, as was Last Man Standing with Bruce Willis and Christopher Walken. Films directly inspired by Yojimbo include Django, The Warrior and the Princess,Lucky Number Slevin, and Sukayaki Western Django (which doubles as the weirdest movie of all time).
*Sorry, but there's a 50-year statute of limitations on having to write "SPOILER ALERT!," and Yojimbo was made in 1961.
Clearly, there is something compelling about the dangerous outsider figure, and it seems as good a place as any to begin this year's college basketball preview. For a Tuesday appetizer, I've used real science and precise intuition to identify four teams, ranked near the bottom of the top 25 or not ranked at all, who could become 2012's Man With No Name. They're unheralded, unexpected, and capable of surviving amid general destruction.
Florida State: The Grinders
The Gist: Playing Florida State is like trying to break a piece of steel. You'll probably give up after a while, and even if you succeed, the result won't be worth the effort. The Seminoles, last year's ACC tournament champions, lost four starters to graduation, and are ranked no. 24 in the USA Today Coaches' Poll. But considering they'll be led by 6-foot-5 guard Michael Snaer — the conference's top defender, a lethal shooter, and the best senior leader any team could hope for — that no. 24 is almost criminally low. Here are a couple of quotes about Snaer from last season:
When is it safe to start talking about undefeated teams? When does a team's record stop being a fluke and start being something to monitor obsessively? For me, the answer is Week 8. Which means it's time for a new leadoff feature:
Risk Assessment: The Undefeateds
Let's do a quick rundown and see which teams are at the greatest risk of seeing a crooked number in their loss column next week. To keep things tidy, we'll stick to undefeated squads that are currently in the AP or BCS Top 25. (Rankings are BCS unless otherwise noted.)
Team: No. 25 (AP) Ohio (7-0) Loss Risk: 1 percent Details: Bye week. But you never know.
Team: No. 1 Alabama (6-0) Loss Risk: 2 percent Details: At Tennessee. I'd call this game a "walkover," but then Nick Saban might show up at my house and bite me.
1. Dave Winfield
Bill Barnwell has respect for two kinds of people: those who work hard, and those who accept nothing but the best. I think Bill has fallen in love: "I think we need to honor Dave Winfield, he who would not go out and pick up Chinese food until the end of the Giants game and would not settle for any quality of Chinese food below P.F. Chang's. Congratulations, Dave Winfield, on keeping your standards high."
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports over the weekend.
The Rays won three of four games in Boston to trim the Red Sox wild-card lead to two games. Seven of the Rays' last ten games are against the Yankees, and if they win the majority, they have a great chance to overtake the Red Sox for the last playoff spot. "Man," said Yankee manager Joe Girardi, "that would be rough. You'd hate to see something like that." In related news, his next four starting pitchers are Nick Swisher, Jorge Posada, Posada's mother, and a fan who won a contest.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday.
Jacoby Ellsbury's sixth-inning home run helped the Red Sox even up their series against the Yankees with a 9-5 win. Ellsbury's opposite-field shot went over the Green Monster, which marks the 34,245th straight day where the supposed "monster" just sat there and did nothing while people hit things at it.