I watched a ton of college basketball in the past week. This isn't all that unusual considering it's my job to watch NCAA hoops, but what was a bit unexpected was that three overarching themes emerged while I watched all those games:
- As a kid, I thought the funniest thing that could possibly happen at a basketball game was for the ball to get wedged between the rim and the backboard. The fact that it rarely occurred was a big draw, but I also got a kick out of the way the players would freeze and stare at the rim with a mix of surprise and befuddlement whenever it happened. I thought the players' brief, paralyzing confusion was hysterical, which is why I crossed my fingers that at least one shot would get wedged between the rim and backboard every time I went to a basketball game. Well, I've found a new, adult version of the ball getting wedged, and it is this: Commentators trying to think of something to say to drown out the "Bullshit!" chant that starts whenever a big call goes against the home team.
- You know how teams huddle together in the lane for a few seconds right before free throws? What percentage of those huddles do you think results in anything important being said? If we include every huddle in college basketball over the course of the entire season, I have a hard time believing that number goes higher than 20 percent. Sure, some teams have veteran point guards or natural leaders who take control in those situations, but for every team like that, there are probably four other teams with guys who huddle up just to stare at each other, to remind each other to block out, or to repeatedly yell, "Let's go, man!"
- When coach Scott Drew got rung up for a technical foul in Baylor's game against Missouri on Saturday, I couldn't help but think how much cooler it would be if basketball adopted soccer's yellow and red card system. Don't get me wrong — I'm a huge fan of the technical foul, mostly because it's the refs' way of flipping off a player or coach. The act of emphatically throwing your hands together to make a T is guaranteed to upset whoever you do it to. Don't believe me? Go to your local grocery store, pick out a random shopper, walk up to him, blow a whistle in his face, make a T with your hands, point at him, and then observe the look on his face. My problem with techs is that when refs ring up players or coaches, it feels like they're high school teachers who were just proven wrong by smart-ass students. Instead of admitting a mistake, they just send the students out of the classroom to avoid further embarrassment. When refs give out technical fouls, it's obvious that they're upset. Much like the smart-ass high school students, if I got T'd up as a coach or player, I'd feel quietly proud for getting under the authority figure's skin. I don't think soccer players get the same sense of satisfaction when refs yellow-card them. The ref just walks over, raises his card, and walks away. It's like a prince silencing the peasants by simply raising his hand. Techs are a pretty badass form of discipline, but I'm of the opinion that the yellow/red card system is even more badass because the ref is basically saying, "Nothing you do will ever faze me."
Like a Cleveland steamer victim, I'm glad to have gotten that off my chest. Now let's take a look at college basketball's most powerful power rankings.
Thanks to Syracuse's loss at Notre Dame on Saturday, a team other than the Orange claims the top spot for the first time in the prestigious history of my power rankings. Here is why Kentucky is the best team in the country right now: They have more talent than any other team in college basketball; they play well together; they have the most dominant defensive presence in the game surrounded by four other guys who get after it on D; and they're coached by a guy who is hungry to take the next step after going to the Final Four for the
third first time last season (it kind of depends on if you count Calipari's vacated Final Four appearances with UMass and Memphis; the NCAA doesn't). But here's why Kentucky won't win the national championship: Marquis Teague.
Every point guard at a basketball-crazed school is scrutinized and plays under too much pressure from his own team's fans (leave Tyshawn Taylor alone!!!). This is especially true of Teague, who follows in the footsteps of John Wall and Brandon Knight. But I'm not criticizing Teague by comparing him to Wall or Knight. I'm criticizing him by comparing him to the point guards on other elite teams this season. Except for Duke, whose only true point guard (Quinn Cook) is a freshman averaging 12 minutes a game, and Georgetown, whose offensive system doesn't depend on great point guard play, Kentucky is the only power-ranked team without a point guard who could be considered a great scorer-facilitator. Teague has a ton of talent, but because he plays with a handful of future lottery picks, he can't shine like Taylor, Pierre Jackson, Scoop Jardine, Flip Pressey, Isaiah Canaan, or Keith Appling. And because Teague is a freshman and still learning the point guard position at this level, he can't control the offense like Kendall Marshall, Aaron Craft, or Oscar Bellfield. This doesn't mean he's a bad player. It reflects more on the situation Teague has been put in1 than on how good he is. But still — the point guard is the most important position in basketball, and Kentucky's lack of a point guard who definitively understands his role is a serious roadblock on their path to a championship.
2. Ohio State
In case you missed it, William Buford and J.D. Weatherspoon both wore those tight-fitting arm sleeves during Wednesday's Penn State game. Why is this important? Well, Jared Sullinger, Deshaun Thomas, Lenzelle Smith Jr., and Evan Ravenel have all also worn a sleeve at least once this season. The addition of Buford and Weatherspoon means that six of Ohio State's top seven scorers have rocked the sleeve this year. There are two — and only two — acceptable excuses for this: (1) There's a minor elbow injury epidemic among the Buckeyes, or (2) none of those guys sweat, so they wear the sleeves to keep warm during games. Otherwise, Ohio State is on pace to clinch the no. 2 spot on the all-time list of college basketball teams that try to look cool but instead just look obnoxious and ridiculous. Of course, this is really just my way of saying I'm butthurt that those sleeves weren't available when I played at OSU, because I definitely would've worn one on each arm to go along with the T-shirt I occasionally wore under my jersey.2
After Notre Dame — in the words of the Iron Sheik — humbled the jabronis from Syracuse on Saturday, the hot topic in college basketball was how much Fab Melo's absence hurt Syracuse. Part of me wants to side with Syracuse fans and say that it made a big difference, because Melo is the middle man in Jim Boeheim's 2-3 zone. He plays a huge role in blocking and altering shots and rebounding, but he's even more vital as the quarterback of the zone. The middle man is the one guy who can see everything going on at all times; it's his job to tell his teammates where offensive players are cutting, when ball screens are coming, and anything else he sees that his teammates can't. If Syracuse were a man-to-man team, losing Melo might not have been a huge deal. But because they play a 2-3 zone, he is the most important defensive player on the team simply because he's the starting center. His importance in Syracuse's defense can't be understated, and since a big part of Syracuse's game is forcing turnovers and scoring in transition, Melo's absence was a big reason why the Orange lost to Notre Dame.
Another part of me, however, wants to side with those who say Syracuse has the deepest bench in the country and that they had no business losing this game. As sizable as Melo's impact on defense is, he only averages seven points a game. Melo sitting out couldn't have played a big role in Syracuse shooting 34 percent from the field and 30 percent from 3-point range. And as well as Notre Dame shot the ball and defended against Syracuse, this seemed like a game the Orange were going to lose no matter who played. Syracuse was bound to lose at some point in the season, so what's more important than the loss is that Syracuse responded with a tough win at Cincinnati. Boeheim can use how and when they lost as a teaching point, and assuming they get Melo back they're still one of the best teams in the country.
Kansas fans got on me last week for suggesting Tyshawn Taylor might be the best Kansas point guard in this millennium, but who's laughing now? The answer is me, not only because the angry Jayhawk fans were never even laughing in the first place but also because Taylor validated what I've been saying all along — he's a lock for Big 12 player of the year and an obvious All-American.3 Thomas Robinson, who most analysts think is the national player of the year, has undoubtedly been a saber-toothed tiger this year, but if you pick any game in the past seven days other than the Texas A&M game and compare Robinson's stats to Taylor's, it's easy to see who Kansas' best player is. For example, the non-Texas A&M game from last week that I just randomly picked is Kansas' three-point win at Texas, and in that game Taylor had 22 points, five rebounds, and four assists to completely outplay Robinson, who had 17 points, nine rebounds, and two assists. Not only that, but Robinson also had infinitely more turnovers in that game than Taylor (two to zero). Arguing with my opinion is one thing, but if you're going to argue with stone cold math, well you, Kansas fans, are dumber than I thought.4
Who could've seen Wednesday's loss at Oklahoma State coming? Four days earlier against Baylor, Missouri picked apart the Bears' defense, destroyed Baylor with second-chance points, and looked like the more aggressive and better team for pretty much the entire game. The Tigers, who typically play with four guards on the court at the same time, shot just 33 percent from 3-point range on Saturday and still pulled out a road win against the third-ranked team featuring a loaded frontcourt. It was the most impressive road win in college basketball this season because Missouri proved that they weren't a "live and die by the 3" team like most guard-oriented teams are, and in the process made me a believer that they are a legitimate national title contender. On Wednesday morning, I questioned whether I should power rank them no. 1 this week, which was a question the Tigers answered by following up the biggest road win of the year with a loss to 9-10 Oklahoma State. I didn't even watch Wednesday's game because I expected Missouri to roll over the Cowboys, but that doesn't mean I can't jump to conclusions and say that the loss was entirely Frank Haith's fault.5
You might not remember, but a few weeks ago I declared that I had jumped on the Baylor bandwagon and added the Bears to my list of favorite college basketball teams. And as a new Baylor fan, I'd like to ask all the other Bear fans out there if any of you would be interested in helping me pull off a heist. Here's my plan: Sometime in the next couple of days, I'm going to break into the Baylor basketball office, steal the pages of Scott Drew's playbook that discuss his zone defense, drive to a random field in either Golinda or Mount Calm, and use half of the pages as the wick in a Molotov cocktail that I'll throw at the other half of the pages. I figure I'll need no more than four or five guys and a few thousand dollars' worth of equipment to pull it off. If you're interested in helping, just let me know. Sic 'em, Bears.
It's halftime, which can only mean one thing: It's time for Dick's Degrees of Separation, the most mildly amusing Internet game involving college basketball! You know the drill: I give you the endpoint of a Dick Vitale tangent and you pick the path he took to get to there. Let's get down to business.
During Saturday's Pitt vs. Louisville game played in Pittsburgh, how did Dick Vitale end up talking about the Xavier Musketeers?
(A) Dan Shulman, who is calling the game with Vitale, asks Dickie V. if he thinks Louisville has any chance of winning the Big East title this year, or if they've dug themselves too deep a hole by already losing four conference games. Vitale says he doesn't think it can happen because the Cardinals would have to win out the rest of their schedule, and they've got too many injuries and just aren't good enough to do that. But, Vitale says, the good news is that Syracuse just lost at Notre Dame and has another tough game coming up against Cincinnati, so maybe the Cardinals can gain some ground this week. Bringing up Cincinnati prompts Vitale to mention that the single biggest moment of the season so far was the brawl at the end of the Crosstown Shootout, because it marks the point at which Cincinnati turned around their season, as well as the beginning of Xavier's implosion.
(B) An on-screen graphic shows that Pitt is in the midst of the worst season of the Jaime Dixon era, which prompts Vitale to defend Dixon and talk about what an amazing job he's done at Pitt. When you think about it, Vitale says, Pitt isn't even that bad this year and the only reason Pitt fans think the sky is falling is because Dixon has set the bar so high. Vitale then corrects himself and says that it was actually Ben Howland who set the standard at Pitt, especially in his final two seasons before signing with UCLA. Howland, Vitale points out, started his coaching career at Gonzaga, but he coached there before Gonzaga became America's Cinderella team in the late 1990s. Bringing this up prompts Vitale to wonder out loud if Gonzaga should still be considered the best midmajor team in the country, or if they've been dethroned by teams like Butler, Memphis, and Xavier.
(C) Dan Shulman mentions that Pitt is one of only seven teams to have made the NCAA tournament in each of the last 10 years. Vitale responds by saying that Pitt shouldn't be worried about getting to the NCAA tournament, but should instead focus on ending their seven-game losing streak. He then explains that Pitt's streak began with a home loss to Wagner, who is coached by Danny Hurley. Vitale calls Hurley one of the rising stars in coaching along with Archie Miller, who Dickie V. says is off to a great start in his first year at Dayton. Vitale backs this claim up by pointing to the fact that Dayton destroyed Xavier that afternoon.
I'm still trying to figure out which was a bigger omen that Duke would lose at home to Florida State on Saturday thanks to a last-second 3-pointer from FSU's Michael Snaer: That ESPN's crew kept talking about Duke's 45-game home winning streak and how the Seminoles were the last unranked team to win at Duke; that Michael Snaer banked in a 3 at the first-half buzzer; or that a girl in the Duke student section was shown holding a sign that read "WINS LIMIT 45 ... AND COUNTING." I'm leaning toward the wins-limit sign, probably because I have so many questions about it. Does the girl know what "limit" means? Is she actually a Florida State fan who wrote "... AND COUNTING" just so she could hide among the Cameron Crazies and not get ridiculed? Does she understand how contradictory her sign was? If she's a Duke fan and wanted to make it based on a road sign, why didn't she make it in the shape of the interstate signs and make it read "WINterstate 45"? I need to know these things.
8. Michigan State
9. North Carolina
I'm going to play devil's advocate here and say that maybe Dexter Strickland's torn ACL won't be that damaging to North Carolina. I know Strickland is a starter and I know he brings a lot to the table for the Heels, but his role with the Tar Heels was to play defense, handle the ball when Kendall Marshall was on the bench, and knock down open shots. As perhaps the most offensive-minded team in college basketball, Carolina won't have much trouble finding someone to take Strickland's shots, and since Marshall averages 31 minutes a game, there won't be a ton of pressure on whoever takes over Strickland's job as the backup ball handler. Strickland will be missed mostly on the defensive end, but since North Carolina hardly plays defense to begin with, Strickland's influence was always limited. Strickland is to Carolina's defense as a T-shirt is to a fat kid swimming — he put forth a valiant effort, but ultimately he couldn't disguise reality. He's a good player and North Carolina is certainly better with him than without him, but I don't think his injury is quite the catastrophe others think it is.
Here's the thing, UNLV fans — I know I haven't written much about your beloved Rebels, even when they've appeared in college basketball's most powerful power rankings. So I made it a priority to watch UNLV play New Mexico on Saturday. That way, I could have a ton of material to use this week and give the Runnin' Rebels the attention they deserve. But the strip club I go to every Saturday night only had one TV that kept flashing (pun absolutely intended) drink specials and ads on it, and when I confronted the bouncer and asked him to turn it to the game, he threatened to kick me out.6 To make it up to you, I promise to watch the upcoming games at Air Force and against Colorado State, which is a promise that doesn't exactly hold much weight because my cable provider doesn't offer the MountainWest Sports Network and apparently strip-club bouncers in Columbus don't care about UNLV basketball.
11. Murray State
If you watched Murray State's game with Southern Illinois-Edwardsville and you're anything like me, there was one thing that grabbed your attention. I'm talking, of course, about SIUE's head coach being named Lennox Forrester, which I was pretty sure had to be the most badass name of any college basketball coach in the country. To verify my assumption, I looked up a list of all the head coaches in America, and much to my surprise there were actually a bunch of solid contenders that I either forgot about or never knew about in the first place. Along with Lennox Forrester, here's my list of nominees for the best name among college basketball coaches:
Barclay Radebaugh (Charleston Southern), Bruiser Flint (Drexel), Duggar Baucom (VMI), Porter Moser (Loyola), Marvin Menzies (New Mexico State), LeVelle Moton (North Carolina Central), Roman Banks (Southern), King Rice (Monmouth), Shaka Smart (VCU), Fang Mitchell (Coppin State), Gib Arnold (Hawaii), Tevester Anderson (Jackson State)
Also, while we're on the topic, here are some other names of college basketball coaches that I would like to bring to your attention.
Can't decide if it's a good or bad name — Horace Broadnax (Savannah State)
Guys who definitely got picked on in junior high school — Howie Dickenman (Central Connecticut State), James Dickey (Houston), Wayne Tinkle (Montana)
Awesome porn names — Wayne Tinkle, Dickey Nutt (Southeast Missouri State), Ken Bone (Washington State), Tony Shaver (William & Mary), Dale Layer (Liberty), J.P. Piper (Nicholls State), Byron Rimm (Prairie View A&M), Andrew Toole (Robert Morris)
For those scoring at home, I'm going with Bruiser Flint as the best overall name, Howie Dickenman as the worst name to have in junior high, and Ken Bone just edging out Dicky Nutt and Byron Rimm as my favorite porn name. Also, I've decided that Horace Broadnax is not too bad of a name, but only because it conveys an image of a rich guy who wears a top hat and monocle, checks the time on his pocket watch, owns a bearskin rug, and spends his nights swirling a glass of sherry while staring at his fireplace. Well, either that or a character from a Dr. Seuss book.
The "Is Phil Martelli Still a Dick?" Status of the Week
Yes. Yes he is.
The Dick's Degrees of Separation answer is C. See you next week.