Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Men's College Basketball [Print without images]

Sunday, January 15, 2012
Updated: January 16, 10:49 AM ET
Medcalf/Brennan: At The Watercooler

ESPN.com

Every Sunday, two of our writers will gather at the proverbial watercooler -- in this case, the digital one -- to discuss all the latest happenings in college basketball. After a Saturday that looked tame going in but turned into one of the most exciting days of the season, Myron Medcalf and Eamonn Brennan kick things off with a discussion of the stunning destruction that took place in Tallahassee …

Eamonn Brennan: Greetings, Myron! We're back for another Sunday discussion with a rather wild Saturday in the rearview mirror. Let's start with North Carolina's blowout loss at Florida State. I'm not sure we've seen a team with that much ability and hype beaten so soundly in league play in recent years. Brutal.

Myron Medcalf: Yeah, what a disappointing performance by a team that entered the season with as much buzz as any in recent years. They have lottery picks. Great recruits. Giant legacy. And they quit in Tallahassee. Is that America's best team? Really?

EB: It was remarkable, and not in a good way. I mean, look: When Deividas Dulkys is hitting shots like that, and FSU is playing its typically tough FSU-brand defense, then you're going to have a tough time beating them in Tallahassee. But to lose the plot like that suggests a certain -- yeah, I'm going to say it -- softness that does not contrast well with the other top teams in the country. Can we picture Kentucky folding like that? Ohio State? Syracuse?

North Carolina
Hey North Carolina, what in the world was that?

MM: You hit it on the head. Elite teams don't get punked. They lose. But they don't get assaulted like that. Did you see that stat from one of our researchers, Jason McCallum? Since the tourney expanded in 1979, no eventual national champion has ever lost by that much. The previous worst mark was 26 by, ironically enough, the 1992-93 Carolina team.

Look, two moments stood out for me. John Henson picks up a tech and sports this "Man, who cares?" look on his face. And Marshall throws a pass to Zeller during the drubbing and Zeller just looks at it fall out of bounds.

I've watched Syracuse and Ohio State live this year. And I've seen Kentucky a lot. Those three teams would have been fighting until the final buzzer.

EB: It's one thing to take a tough L on the road. It's another to let the game to get so far out of hand the biggest suspense at the end of the game involves court-storming and visiting bench decorum. (Speaking of which, that was a little strange, right?)

MM: As weird as anything I've seen. My first thought was … what about the walk-ons who were on the floor? Weren't they in danger, too? I understand the principle. But was that necessary?

EB: No one cared about the walk-ons! "Ah, heck, they'll be fine. I can get five more walk-ons anywhere." I just picture those poor guys like: "Hey, Coach? Uhhh … guys? Where are we all going?"

MM: It made sense, I guess, but it really wasn't necessary -- there was plenty of room behind the benches to move toward the tunnel during the court-storm. Weird stuff. And unnecessary.

Oh, speaking of the walk-ons, I thought Iowa would resemble a team full of walk-ons this year and now it has two wins over nationally ranked opponents. What's going on in the Big Ten, man?

EB: Iowa is … decent? At the very least, the Hawkeyes may not be as bad as that nonconference performance seemed to indicate. And before the season, when we were talking Big Ten sleepers, I liked Iowa -- Fran McCaffery in his second year, the up-tempo system fully installed, the possibility Melsahn Basabe made the leap, Matt Gatens as a senior. I didn't think the Hawkeyes were going to be cutting down any nets, but I thought they could avoid the Big Ten cellar and pick off a few wins in league play here and there. The nonconference dissuaded me, but now I think I'm back on the proverbial Iowa-is-not-horrible bus.

A similar question for you: What are we to make of Minnesota's win at Indiana? Bad shooting by the Hoosiers, but still -- that's a really good win!

MM: The Gophers shocked me. I've covered those Gophers-Hoosiers games in Bloomington. They're always interesting. Indiana beat Minnesota last year there during an ice storm. Crazy stuff happens between those two teams at Assembly Hall. I think the Hoosiers depend on the 3-ball and they're going to struggle if they're missing those shots. But Tubby's squads always defend. They always pressure. We saw that again during that Indiana loss.

So we're going to hear a lot folks use the word "fraud" regarding the Hoosiers. Have they fallen from their perch in your eyes? Are they legit?

EB: My perception of Indiana hasn't declined much. Two reasons why: Sometimes you just miss shots. Indiana did. I agree that they're a little too reliant on perimeter shooting from time to time, but that's also their best trait, so you have to do what you have to do. The other reason? We know what the Hoosiers are, for the most part. They're much, much better than they were last year. They're a solid top-15 team in the nation, no question. They can beat anyone in the country on a given night, especially in their own building. But they're not among the elite teams in the country, and like you said, when they're off, they're going to struggle against putatively inferior opponents. Oh well.

Northwestern
We've seen this act before from Northwestern. Can the Wildcats capitalize this time?

We should note, for the sake of perpetuity, that we're writing this before Indiana's game at Ohio State today. You never know.

One last item of note in the Big Ten -- Northwestern over Michigan State at home, 81-74. Big win. Big cliché question: Is this finally the Wildcats' year? (Sorry, Coach Carmody.)

MM: I'm not there yet. I have to see a string of victories before I commit to the Wildcats. They're always "right there" in Big Ten games. But it's wins and losses. Still not sure if the Wildcats are going to turn the corner. But that was a big win against one of the best teams in the country.

Let's go to a different part of the country. The Big East. What else does Syracuse have to do to earn the undisputed No. 1 tag in the eyes of the viewing public? Kentucky has been shaky in stretches. North Carolina and Ohio State both lose this week. Can the Orange finally get full credit for their start?

EB: Yeah, it seems like we've been grading them on a curve for much of the year -- the old "but how good is that schedule, really?" dynamic. At this point, I think it would be totally unfair to keep that up. Syracuse just keeps taking care of business, and looking good while doing it.

And let's keep in mind: This team had plenty of reasons to feel confused, distracted and self-involved throughout November and December. Heck, they still do. The Bernie Fine situation isn't just going to go away. And yet on the court, Jim Boeheim's team appears to be entirely unaffected. That's got to be worth something, right?

MM: I agree. That should be a bigger distraction. This isn't some guy who was merely affiliated with the program. He was the longtime assistant coach. I'm amazed by that team's ability to handle that situation.

But why are so many squads in that league struggle to handle their on-court situations?

strugglinh …

struggling … I can't type …

EB: Haha, we should definitely keep that in.

To answer your question, I'm not sure. The Big East is baffling this year. Providence put 90 points -- 90! -- on Louisville this week. Villanova is mediocre. Pitt is downright bad. When's the last time we saw that? I think Georgetown will be fine, but the hint of collapse is always on Hoyas fans' minds.

And then there's UConn. I think this team will get there -- however intangibly we want to define "there" -- as we kick into February. But even at its idyllic best, I'm not sure that UConn team can hang with Syracuse.

MM: I agree. There appears to be a gap between Syracuse and the rest of that league. To its credit, UConn played tough in its win at Notre Dame on Saturday and the Huskies didn't have Ryan Boatright. But it looks like Syracuse is the only Final Four-worthy squad in that conference.

San Diego State
Viejas Arena was its usual rockin' self for Saturday's showdown with conference rival UNLV.

Hey, with all of the big leagues struggling, how about some more love for the Mountain West? UNLV and San Diego State played one of the best games I've seen this season.

EB: Yeah, that was a really fun one. We knew SDSU would bring the noise at home -- The Show is so titled for good reason, after all. But the quality of SDSU's defense at home was especially impressive, too. I think UNLV is probably the best team in the West, but the Aztecs deserve the love. They're a contender in the MWC in a season that was supposed to be a huge hangover from last year's incredible coming-out party. Not so fast.

MM: I also thought Kentucky was impressive on the road despite just scraping past Tennessee. That's a game the Wildcats would have lost last season -- they couldn't figure out how to win on the road until February. But they came away with an ugly, grind-it-out-style win at Tennessee, which knocked off Florida just last week. This Kentucky team has an edge, and I like it.

EB: It also has Anthony Davis, who already has 82 blocks this season, two shy of the all-time Kentucky record for blocks in a single campaign. That's … insane.

MM: Just nuts. Absolutely nuts.

Well, another successful Sunday morning Watercooler chat. What are looking forward to most this week, E?

What are you looking forward to … you … Keyboarding was my best class in high school … you wouldn't know it today.

EB: We had a program that used Super Mario Bros. to teach us how to type. I, too, enjoyed this class.

What am I looking forward to most? Baylor at Kansas on Monday night. That's your early Big 12 title tilt, and it should be awfully fun to watch as well. Michigan State at Michigan on Tuesday should be good, too. And SDSU goes to The Pit to play New Mexico on Wednesday night -- UNLV at home, UNM on the road in four days. What a way to start conference play for the Aztecs.

MM: All great games. Kansas-Baylor will be good. Love the MWC matchups, too. Check out Wednesday's Missouri State-Creighton rematch in the MVC. Missouri State upset the Bluejays at home in the first game. This will be a war. I also want to see Missouri vs. Baylor on Saturday. Mizzou's speed vs. Baylor's length. We'll have a clear front-runner in the Big 12 after this week.

And about your Super Mario Bros. keyboarding class … I would have aced every class if Super Mario Bros. had been a part of the curriculum.

EB: When you run for president, make that part of your education platform. I'd happily join the ticket to fight on behalf of this vital issue. Medcalf/Brennan 2016! Until next Sunday, sir.

MM: Haha … glad to have your support … see you next Sunday!