- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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First things first: As you'll see if you scroll down the page, we'll be live-chatting throughout the Big Monday action tonight. Come join us, submit your comments, read along, and have fun with us. It's going to be a great night. I can't wait.
Tonight's a big night, and you already know why. Everyone's been waiting for Kansas-Texas for months -- this date has been circled on everybody's calendars since the schedule came out. And now that it's finally here, ready for us to bathe in its glory ... the Longhorns go and lose four out of their last six, including an ugly loss to a 13-9 Oklahoma team on Saturday. Bummer, right? If you're upset about these big-game-killing losses, rest assured you're nothing like most Texas fans, who are trying to figure out the proper balance between restraint and criticism, especially of Texas coach Rick Barnes. Rather than Big 12 bragging rights, that might be tonight's biggest subplot: Can Barnes win and salvage his season? Does he even need to?
Meanwhile, Kansas fans are nearly as upset with Texas as Texas is. The gents at Rock Chalk Talk find the Longhorns' freefall "frustrating," because "you want to beat the best of the rest to be the best." Their diagnosis? "You can bring in all of the glamorous high school recruits from around the country that you want, but as a coach, you have to a) teach them to play team defense, and b) play as a cohesive unit offensively, not just to 'get theirs' and shoot when they want. A team with that much talent just shouldn't be struggling the way they are." Ah, nothing like a gentle tweak from a confident opponent's fans on game day. See what I mean? This game might not be as important as it once was, but it will still be plenty awesome.
After a bit of a slide in which it appeared Kansas forgot how good Cole Aldrich was at putting the ball in the basket on the offensive end, the Kansas center has been playing like the All-American you grew to love in 2009. Aldrich's averages in his last four games? 16 points, 13 rebounds, and 4.5 blocks per game. That's almost worthy of a Cole Aldrich Line Watch. Why the sudden rebirth? Aldrich says his grandmother's peaceful passing after months of painful hospice care has freed him to get back to thinking about basketball full time.
In a season in which West Virginia students have sworn at opposing players, dropped the name "Karen Sypher" to Rick Pitino, and thrown bottles, food and loose change onto the court during play, what do they have in store for their Big Monday date with Villanova? Tuxedos, of course! "There are rumors that the students attending Monday's game not only will be on their best behavior, but that the male students may be adorned in tuxedos and the female students in cocktail gowns." So that should be fun.
Don't worry about West Virginia's "lack of a true point guard." The Mountaineers seem to be doing just fine, thanks.
A rowdy fan section isn't the only reason tonight's game is going to be a tough test for Villanova. The Wildcats have to recover from Saturday's ugly loss to Georgetown in two days, and they have to do so with a second consecutive trip to their opponents' home haven. Given how poorly they played at the defensive end Saturday, this is going to be an extremely difficult thing to do.
Jim Boeheim for coach of the year? That's the argument our own Pat Forde made after his trip to Cincinnati to see Syracuse dismantle the Bearcats yesterday: "Now here's the shocking news: If Boeheim were to win such an award this year, it would be his first. The Big East has honored him three times, in 1984, '91 and 2000. Barring a jarring collapse, the league can go ahead and get the engraver working on a fourth. But the love has never traveled outside the Northeast. He's been a head coach since 1976. He's won 822 games, second among active coaches and sixth all time. He's won more Big East games (366) than anyone. He's won 20 games in a record 32 seasons, two more than Dean Smith. And he's won a national title and been to three Final Fours. Yet nobody has ever gotten around to handing him any hardware for the best coaching job in the country. In the past two decades they've given Coach of the Year to guys like Matt Doherty, Rod Barnes, Randy Ayres, Cliff Ellis and Bill Guthridge -- but never to Boeheim." That is pretty shocking, given the length of Boeheim's tenure and the success he's had nearly every year of that tenure. But it also makes sense. There are two problems with the way we decide coach of the year. The first is that we don't factor in recruiting. Why wouldn't the coach with the best talent deserve to be recognized for acquiring it? Isn't that part of coaching? The second problem is that the coach of the year award typically goes to the coach whose team most exceeds the media's preseason expectations. This creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. Clearly we, the media, weren't wrong about this coach's level of talent. Of course not! Clearly he's just coaching them up through sheer tactical brilliance. Coach of the year! So if Boeheim's teams are expected to be good, and they're usually good, then it's no wonder he's never won an award for his performance. But Pat's right. He should.
In other ESPN-related linkage, here's Monday's Weekly Watch, featuring Texas A&M, Tre'Von Willis, and a whole bunch of other notables.
Evan Turner Line Watch: Turner's line Sunday? 32 points, seven rebounds and five assists in a cruise-controlled home win over Iowa. One time, I'd like to be in Evan Turner's brain when he takes the court against Penn State or Iowa or Indiana or even, like, Minnesota. I wonder what goes through his head. It's got to be exhilarating, right?
Roy Williams is dealing with serious self-esteem issues. A smattering of quotes from this interview with Yahoo! Sports' Jason King: "I just lay there and look at the ceiling," Williams said. "I’ll try to close my eyes and fall back asleep, but I can’t." “I haven’t done a good job with this team," he said. "As a coach, to say that … it’s hard. It really is." “I’ve always been very confident,” he said. “Other people can decide whether they think I’m cocky or not. Cocky is someone that looks down his nose at somebody else. I know I’ve never done that. But I’ve always been really confident in my ability to get guys to play together and to compete. This year has shaken my confidence a little. You start questioning your own worth to a team. You start wondering about your ability." Dude. Roy. Take it easy. You just won a national title. You're Roy Williams. You're one of the all-time greats, and all of the all-time greats have the occasional down year. It happens. How you handle it is the test of whether your program will quickly rebound, and not only do you have a good young base of talent in your program, you have the best recruit in the country (Harrison Barnes) landing in Chapel Hill later this summer. Stop kvetching and start coaching. You'll be fine.
Oh, also, Roy? Don't read things like this. Just keep coaching, man. You'll be OK.
Ernie Kent heard the "bye bye Er-nie" chant at the end of his Oregon Ducks' loss to Oregon State Saturday. This is never a good sign.
Remember: Live chat tonight. And as always, follow me on Twitter to send me links and tips.