Before we dive into this week's power rankings, here's something to think about: Say you find yourself in the shallow end of a public pool and Rick Majerus is one of the lifeguards. Suddenly, he stands up, peels off his shirt, and yells to you, "Answer this question correctly or I will cannonball onto your face: Is the number of Division I student sections that hold up cardboard cutouts of celebrities' heads to distract opposing free throw shooters greater than or less than the number of student sections that don't?"
If this situation presented itself, how confident would you be that you weren't about to die?
It's hard to believe, but as recently as a couple weeks ago, some so-called college basketball experts thought Florida could challenge Kentucky for the SEC title. What these idiots were thinking, I'm not sure, because the Gators followed their blowout loss to Kentucky by losing at home to Tennessee. Meanwhile, the Wildcats held off a pesky Vanderbilt team on the road to remain undefeated in the conference. On a catastrophe scale of 1 to Chris Brown winning a Grammy, it would take at least an 8 for Kentucky to not win the SEC and a 4 or 5 for them to not get the no. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament. This is why they need to cruise for a couple weeks and, instead of practicing basketball, do something that might cement their legacy as one of the greatest college basketball teams of all time — make an ensemble rap video.
Intuition would tell you that the best idea would be to make a cheesy '80s video in the same vein as "Super Bowl Shuffle" and the 1987 Lakers' "Just Say No," but this has been done too many times before. Plus, unless the players are relatively decent actors, there's a chance it will be interpreted as douchey like "We Are Mizzou" instead of intentionally cheesy like "Show Me Your Genitals." Instead, here's what I propose: a remake of "Tha Crossroads" by Bone Thugs-n-Harmony.
Here's what I'm thinking: "Tha Crossroads" would be a perfect video to remake because (a) it's an iconic song, (b) since the Bone Thugs are a group, a lot of Kentucky players can be in the video, (c) it has a '90s feel to it, so the special effects can provide throwback cheesiness without going over the top, (d) considering the Bone Thugs are a gangsta rap group singing about death, the song could not be any more serious, and (e) everybody knows how the song goes, but nobody outside of the Bone Thugs themselves actually knows the words. Those last two points are important because the humor will come from the Kentucky players being dead serious throughout the entire video, even though they're mumbling the lyrics, which is why it's also vital that the players don't look at the lyrics before they record the video.
The big no-brainer is to have Kyle Wiltjer play Bizzy Bone by wearing sunglasses and an Afro wig. Terrence Jones would play Wish Bone — the "Uncle Charles" guy — only because he resembles Wish Bone more than any of Kentucky's other players do. The third obvious choice is to have Anthony Davis wear a trench coat and sunglasses to play the Grim Reaper, primarily because he's the most dominant force in college basketball and the way he plays gives off an "I will take your life" vibe. From there, I say let Michael Kidd-Gilchrist be Layzie Bone and let Doron Lamb be Krayzie Bone because it ultimately doesn't matter. What does matter, however, is who makes cameos as Uncle Charles and Eazy-E. I'm thinking Tubby Smith should play Uncle Charles, because the visual of him being murdered in broad daylight can symbolize his departure from Kentucky. And I'll explain in a second why John Calipari should be Eazy-E.
Here's how the video would play out: We keep the introduction of the funeral and the gospel choir singing "Mary Don't You Weep," but we use CGI to replace the original Grim Reaper with Anthony Davis. When the rap starts, we cut to Wiltjer, Jones, Lamb, and Kidd-Gilchrist in a church wearing all black and wigs to match their respective Bone Thug's hair. They sing the "Bone, bone, bone, boooone, bone, bone, bone, bone, bone" intro and then Kidd-Gilchrist starts the "Now tell me what cha gonna do " part. As soon as the line " it's gonna come for you" hits, Wiltjer, who has a hard look on his face, starts rapping the first verse, which would probably sound like, "Iiiiin side, big a lick a bolly, easy sees Uncle Charlie, and a poop a God's got it, and I'm gonna miss everybody " From there we throw in shots of the guys mumbling by their car, dancing in front of an ominous orange background, reacting to the deaths of their friends, mumbling more on a church altar, and hanging out on a mountain as Davis takes their dead friends to heaven. Along the way we sprinkle in Tubby's cameo as Uncle Charles, and toward the end we get one last huge laugh by showing the guys looking up to the sky, where John Calipari — in a Jheri curl wig, sunglasses, and Raiders hat — hovers among the clouds.
As you rewatch the video and picture those guys in their respective roles, try to tell me that the entire state of Kentucky wouldn't lose their minds over a Wildcat remake of "Tha Crossroads." Is there any way this team wouldn't become your favorite college squad ever?
I don't come across too many Missouri fans on a daily basis, but the few I've talked to this year have all had the same attitude toward their season. Specifically, they've all epitomized the "we're just happy to be here" attitude, because for whatever reason they didn't expect the Tigers to be this good. Maybe it's because they lack front-court depth, thanks to Laurence Bowers' season-ending injury. Or maybe it's because Missouri hired an unproven head coach who was linked to the Nevin Shapiro scandal. Whatever the reason, it's time for Missouri fans to stop hoping for a deep tournament run and start expecting it. When they've got it going, the Tigers are the most exciting team in college basketball, and with the exception of Matt Pressey, who was a shot attempt and a foul away from putting up a 12 trillion against Baylor, I'd say they had it going this week. The Tigers hit 14 3s against one of the best teams in the country and then destroyed Oklahoma State to avenge one of their two losses this season. Winning in the tournament is all about matchups, and there are a lot of teams out there who might pose problems for Missouri. But the Tigers' lineup of four guards who can all shoot and penetrate means that Missouri will also create matchup problems for any opponent.
With each passing week, my reputation as a Syracuse hater grows, and I'm not sure why. I've never denied that Syracuse is one of the best teams in the country. They play unbelievable defense and have a platoon of scorers who can go for 20 on any night. I've also never denied that Jim Boeheim is an all-time great coach, or that Syracuse's ability to win close games is impressive. I have never power ranked Syracuse lower than fifth, and I've had them in my top three for most of the year, including a few weeks when they were no. 1. So my best guess is that Syracuse fans just don't want to hear me criticize their team's weaknesses, such as the fact that the Orange have played a soft schedule, and that in their few games against strong opponents, they haven't looked convincing.
When I mention this, Orange fans reply that Syracuse's strength of schedule ranks 10th in the country, which is a cute statistic but doesn't mean much to me. Their strength of schedule is so high because they didn't play many awful nonconference teams. For example, Tulane is considerably better than Kennesaw State, so Syracuse playing Tulane instead of Kennesaw State makes a weighty impact on their strength of schedule. But in reality, both teams are guaranteed wins for the Orange. There's not much practical difference between the two.
If that doesn't make sense, this analogy might help: If the top 10 teams in college basketball were sixth-grade bullies, Syracuse would only pick fights with sixth-graders they knew they could beat up, while the rest of the bullies would pummel a few first-graders to make sure their skills were sharp and then pick a couple of big fights with eighth-graders. The fights with eighth-graders mean more to me, and since Syracuse has only played five teams currently ranked in the top 25,1 I'm not sold that they've been tested (in fairness, I feel similarly about Kentucky). That said, they were certainly tested against Louisville on Monday night and they survived with a hard-fought road win. Syracuse still has to play Louisville at home, but their only remaining away game comes against struggling UConn, so Monday's game was probably the last important regular-season test for the Orange. When tournament time rolls around, we'll see how much this ultimately matters.
5. North Carolina
The thing I love about North Carolina is the same thing that worries me about them. They play the exact same way every minute of every game. Here's why I love this: Miami's shots were falling early last night and the Hurricanes built a decent lead against the Tar Heels, but Carolina never panicked. They just went about their business as if they were winning by 30, sure that eventually their talent would overwhelm Miami. In the end, that's exactly what happened, and the Heels overcame an eight-point second-half deficit to win by nine.
Now, here's why I hate this: The Heels never seem to have any sense of urgency or understanding of game situations. Being stoic in the face of adversity is a good thing. A team shouldn't freak out every time it falls behind. At the same time, however, if that team is down three possessions in the second half and the home crowd is going nuts, it would be nice if the players started thinking, We need to pound the ball inside and get an easy bucket or go to the free throw line or We have to get a stop. With the exception of holding on to the ball and waiting for Miami to foul in the game's final minute, Carolina played the exact same way throughout the game and placed the same value on every single possession, even though some possessions were clearly more important than others.2 The last thing I want the Heels to do is slap the floor as they get into a defensive stance, but at some point I'd like to see somebody other than Roy Williams with some fire in his eyes during a crucial stretch.
6. Michigan State
The following is a list of the top 10 teams in the current coaches' poll. The first number in parentheses represents the number of games each team has played against schools that are currently ranked in the coaches' poll, and the second number represents how many of those games were road wins.
1. Kentucky (5, 0)
2. Syracuse (5, 1)
3. Missouri (4, 1)
4. Duke (7, 1)
5. Kansas (7, 1)
6. Ohio State (8, 1)
7. North Carolina (7, 0)
8. Michigan State (9, 3)
9. Georgetown (4, 1)
10. Baylor (6, 1)
Four things stand out: (1) It's scary that my power rankings are so similar to the coaches' poll. I can't tell if this means I'm losing my mind or they've finally developed some sense; (2) Kentucky and North Carolina, who are considered the two most talented teams in college basketball, are the only members of the top 10 who don't have a signature road win; (3) except for Georgetown, the top three teams have played fewer ranked teams than the rest of the top 10; and (4) Michigan State doesn't mess around.
Obviously, teams can't control their conference schedules or how good the other teams in their conference are, so it's somewhat unfair to knock Syracuse and Kentucky for not playing more ranked teams ("somewhat" being the crucial word here). But in the same breath, it's not unfair to applaud Michigan State for scheduling games away from East Lansing against North Carolina, Duke, and Gonzaga, when they knew they would also have to play Florida State in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge and they knew that the Big Ten would be strong this year. And it's certainly not unfair to give the Spartans props for going into ranked teams' houses and leaving with wins, especially their huge win at Ohio State on Saturday. For those of you who wonder how Michigan State always seems to overachieve in the NCAA tournament, this list provides a good answer — year after year, the Spartans are the most battle-tested team in the country. All season long, they play and often beat good teams in hostile environments, so of course they're going to feel confident that they can beat good teams on neutral courts in March.
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 there. To make it harder this week, I'm mixing things up and going with a tangent that ended up coming full circle. That might not make sense now, but it will in a second. Let's get down to business.
During the Vanderbilt vs. Kentucky game played in Nashville, how did Dick Vitale end up talking about the Kentucky Wildcats?
A. A graphic promoting upcoming NBA games on ESPN and ABC is shown on-screen, prompting Dan Shulman, who is calling the game with Vitale, to mention Jeremy Lin. After Vitale gets done explaining how amazing of a story it is, Shulman says that John Calipari recently called Tommy Amaker, who coached Lin at Harvard, and asked him why he never made it to a Final Four when Lin played for him. Vitale takes the Amaker mention and runs with it, saying that earlier in the day Harvard lost to Princeton. He's quick to point out that the loss came at Princeton, though, so Harvard's 26-game home winning streak is still intact, which gives them the second-longest such streak in the country behind Kentucky.
B. Shulman mentions that Vanderbilt has beaten the last four no. 1 ranked teams that they've played at home, which he thinks is surprising considering that most people don't equate Vanderbilt with elite athletics. Vitale says that just because their teams aren't always great doesn't mean Vanderbilt's program is bad, because they still produce pros. The two notable pros that he mentions are Jay Cutler and David Price. Because Price is the best pitcher for Vitale's hometown Tampa Bay Rays, Dickie V. takes a moment to explain why he thinks Price is the best pitcher in baseball who hasn't won a Cy Young. After stating his case, he says speaking of Cy Young winners, Brandon Webb of the Arizona Diamondbacks won the Cy Young in 2006 and played his college baseball at Kentucky.
C. When Kentucky superfan Ashley Judd is shown on-camera, Vitale says that there isn't a celebrity who is a bigger sports fan than she is. He says that not only does she attend several Kentucky basketball games, but because she's married to Dario Franchitti she also goes to a lot of IndyCar races. Given her Kentucky roots and her husband's line of work, Dickie V. wonders out loud whether she likes going to the Indianapolis 500 or the Kentucky Derby more. Vitale ultimately decides that she probably likes the Indy 500 more, because the Kentucky Derby is in Louisville. According to his logic, she doesn't like going to Louisville for anything because she's a die-hard Kentucky fan and Louisville is Kentucky's rival.
8. Ohio State
Based on Albert Einstein's definition of insanity — continuing to do the same thing over and over and expecting different results — it's a wonder why Jared Sullinger wasn't thrown into a straitjacket and locked in a padded room after Ohio State's loss to Michigan State on Saturday. Time and time again he put his head down and tried to muscle his way to the basket, and time and time again the Spartans' frontcourt walled him up while the MSU guards swiped the ball away. A season ago, when he was sporting a pair of double Ds and his ass was so big that only rappers could adequately describe it, Sullinger achieved success by literally throwing his weight around.3 He slimmed down in the offseason, though, and heading into this year he promised more finesse in his game. Saturday, it seemed like Sullinger forgot his promise and fell back into his old ways, despite the fact that Michigan State's big men are now bigger than he is.
As an OSU fan, the last thing I want is for Sullinger to quit doing what he does best — using his big frame to clear space and create angles to score. I just want him to also use the additions he made to his game, namely putting the ball on the floor and knocking down jump shots. You know how bad guys try to shoot Superman with a pistol, and when the bullets bounce off him their solution is to shoot him more with the same pistol? That was Sullinger against Michigan State. Except that he had a huge chunk of kryptonite in his back pocket, and it never crossed his mind to use it. Against Minnesota three nights later, he broke out the jump shot and ball handling (but didn't abandon his bread and butter of banging down low), and looked like the player I had been waiting for all season. My hope is that the Michigan State loss served as a wake-up call for Sullinger to be more versatile, because if Ohio State is going to win the national championship, they will eventually have to beat Kentucky, Syracuse, Kansas, North Carolina, or Michigan State, and all those teams have frontcourt defenders Sullinger won't be able to push around.4
Help me out, Baylor fans: Is Scott Drew a good coach? Since I asked the question, you probably assume that I think he's not, which isn't necessarily the case. When you consider that he inherited a program that would've been jealous of how well Lindsay Lohan has things together right now, it's remarkable that he was able to turn things around. Even though it was almost 10 years ago when Baylor hit rock bottom, to have the Bears ranked in the top 10 for most of this year is downright miraculous, and Drew can't be commended enough for that.
But I want to know if you think he's a good in-game coach. This is where I have my doubts. Other than the zone defense that I refuse to write about again, I can't point to one strategic decision that was particularly disastrous. But every time I watch Baylor play, I get the feeling that they're front-runners. Maybe my issue has more to do with Drew's motivational techniques, because when things aren't going well for Baylor, they just fall apart. I couldn't watch the Bears play Missouri on Saturday because Craig Thompson is apparently in charge of which Baylor games get put on TV (that joke will make sense in a second), but from all the articles and stats I've seen it looks like Baylor was right there through the first half, Missouri went on a run shortly after halftime, and then the wheels fell off for Baylor. This would mean that in three of Baylor's four losses, there has been a definitive moment in the game when Baylor got punched in the mouth and decided to give up.5 Granted, all their losses have come against teams currently ranked in the top five, so it's not like they've been underachieving, but as a bandwagon Baylor fan it's disheartening to see the Bears play so undisciplined when they fall behind.6 They have the talent to be among the best teams in the country, but in Baylor's four games against Missouri and Kansas, it's clear that the Tigers and Jayhawks are a cut above the Bears. So I ask you, Baylor fans: How much of the blame goes to Scott Drew and his inability to motivate?7
12. New Mexico
I know New Mexico is unranked and probably isn't actually the 12th-best team in the country, but here's the thing: They're 21-4, they haven't had any bad losses since Thanksgiving, and they just destroyed San Diego State on the Aztecs' home court to take sole possession of first place in the Mountain West. Plus, no matter which team I put here, someone will be able to argue convincingly that they don't belong. So I'm keeping the Lobos, especially since I want to voice my frustrations relating to Mountain West basketball, and to do that, I kind of need an MWC team in my top 12
As a proud American, I have faith that the CIA knows what it's doing, which is why I have no doubt in my mind that they are in the process of investigating Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson. Why would they investigate Thompson, you ask? Well, for starters, he's a proponent of the bitter beer face, which I'm pretty sure makes him at least a threat level yellow on the terrorist advisory scale. But more important, Thompson is quite clearly an evil dictator, as evidenced by the fact that his terrible TV deals are preventing the rest of the country from watching his conference. Earlier this week, I wrote an open letter to Commissioner Thompson asking why it's so difficult for me to watch his MWC games on TV. So far, he hasn't responded, which tells me that my letter hit a little too close to home. This shouldn't come as a surprise, though, considering that during his 13-year reign as Mountain West commissioner, not once has he ever denied being a dictator, a terrorist, or a proponent of bitter beer face. Google it if you don't believe me.
What's so disappointing about not having easy access to Mountain West basketball is that from what little I've seen, it's pretty entertaining. Saturday's game between UNLV and San Diego State featured a ton of athletic plays and a late surge from the Aztecs to make it close in the end, and had my attention from start to finish. Last night's game between New Mexico and San Diego State was the same. The first half alone featured three technical fouls (including one when San Diego State's Jamaal Franklin rifled the ball off a New Mexico player's face), an electrifying alley-oop, a huge block that shot off the backboard, and Steve Alford angrily taking off his jacket before ruining the moment by gently handing it to an assistant coach. New Mexico might not have the greatest résumé in college basketball, but Drew Gordon, Kendall Williams, and Jamal Fenton are playing so well that the Lobos looked like a top-15 team last night. I don't want to tell you how to live your life, but based on how good the games between San Diego State and UNLV have been, how well New Mexico is playing right now, and the fact that the conference has a handful of other decent teams (such as Colorado State, Wyoming, and TCU), the Mountain West tournament might end up being the most entertaining conference tournament this year, so you should definitely check it out.
Oh, right — I forgot — Craig Thompson doesn't want you to watch it. Never mind.
The Kindergartner of the Week
There's a good chance you've already heard this story, but in case you haven't, here's the gist: A Kansas kindergartner refused to color a Jayhawk as part of a class celebration because she is a Kansas State fan. I would provide more details, but you're better off just reading the blog post the girl's mom wrote about the ordeal.
Speaking of loyal kindergartner sports fans, here's a relevant story that you probably don't care about: When I was in kindergarten, my mom made me go to a Purdue basketball camp even though I was an Indiana fan (she's a Purdue alum and tried to force her school on her kids). At the end of the camp, there was an awards ceremony where Gene Keady, who was Purdue's head coach at the time, passed out trophies and shook hands with the winners. I don't remember which award I won (probably the only kindergartner to not pee his pants), but when I walked to the front of the room to accept my trophy, I refused to shake Keady's hand because I was a Hoosier fan and Keady was the enemy.
Anyway, 15 years later Purdue came to Columbus to play our team during my senior year at Ohio State. Keady wasn't coaching anymore, but he came to the game and sat right behind Purdue's bench. During the pregame shootaround about an hour before the game, I spotted him and figured I'd go talk to him. I approached him, shook his hand, and introduced myself by saying, "Hey, Coach Keady, I grew up in Indiana and attended a few of your camps. This is going to sound crazy, but do you remember about 15 years ago at one of your camps, when a kindergarten kid won an award and refused to shake your hand? That was me. I just wanted to come over and apologize for that."
You're never going to believe this, but he responded, "I'm 73 years old and I've been to about five basketball camps every year for my entire life. So no, I don't even vaguely remember what you just described."
So yeah, it doesn't exactly have a captivating ending, but it's a relevant story nonetheless.
The Dick's Degrees of Separation answer is A. See you next week.