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Tuesday, January 17, 2012
College hardwood's bad beasts

By Eamonn Brennan
ESPN.com

WEEK: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

The Bottom 10 inspirational thought of the week:


The beast in me
Is caged by frail and fragile bars
Restless by day
And by night rants and rages at the stars
God help the beast in me

The beast in me
Has had to learn to live with pain
And how to shelter from the rain
And in the twinkling of an eye
Might have to be restrained
God help the beast in me

-- Johnny Cash, "The Beast In Me"

Indeed, this week's Bottom 10 -- our brand-new weekly accounting of the worst teams, plays, behavior and everything else in college hoops -- is underscored by the theme of unbridled rage.

In the past week we've seen three different coaches (Iowa's Fran McCaffery, Morgan State's Todd Bozeman and Connecticut's Jim Calhoun) face questions over their allegedly angry behavior during games, in each case drawing criticism for flat-out losing their you-know-what. In the fallout, we've seen halfhearted apologies (Calhoun), messy denials and appeals (Bozeman) and public criticism from superiors (McCaffery).

We've also seen some downright bad performances (here's looking at you, North Carolina), some continually disappointing teams (say hello, Texas A&M) and, in keeping with the anger motif, even a near brawl in the Pac-12 (between Oregon State and Arizona).

If you need a primer on what the Bottom 10 is all about, be sure to see last week's inaugural edition. But one Bottom 10 rule must be stated: No. 5 is reserved for the biggest major-conference blunder. With apologies to Steve Harvey and The Man In Black, we present this week's Bottom 10:

1. Bozeman, McCaffery and Calhoun: College coaches gone wild

Offense: Lack of emotional restraint
Bottom 10 judgment: "Walk The Line." Yes, coaches must walk a fine line. Histrionics are fine -- and even encouraged -- but once the line is crossed, once a player is touched or a chair goes flying, the criticism and controversy come just as quickly. Such was the case for the above three coaches last week. Calhoun drew raised eyebrows for apparently jabbing UConn forward DeAndre Daniels in the midsection; in classic Calhoun fashion, the coach issued an apology to anyone who "misconstrued" the interaction. Things were slightly more serious for Bozeman, who was suspended by Morgan State last week after South Carolina State president George Cooper alleged Bozeman struck Morgan State guard Larry Bastfield. Bozeman appealed the suspension and denied he hit Bastfield. And then there was McCaffery, who appeared to flat-out lose it in a late timeout in Iowa's 95-61 blowout defeat to Michigan State on Thursday. After McCaffery was assessed a technical and turned his ire at his team, he grabbed a bench chair and slammed it forcefully into the Breslin Center court. Any WWE superstar would have been proud. McCaffery was defiant in the aftermath, refusing to apologize for the incident, but on Monday the Big Ten and Iowa athletic director Gary Barta essentially told McCaffery to cool his jets. Barta's quote: "It's important his passion doesn't cross a line ..." Funny. We were thinking the same thing.

"I keep a close watch on this heart of mine / I keep my eyes wide open all the time"

2. Arizona and Oregon State

Offense: Excessive woofing, near brawling
Bottom 10 judgment: "Don't Take Your Guns To Town." Arizona's Kyle Fogg and Oregon State's Jared Cunningham nearly caused Xavier-Cincy 2.0 this week. After Fogg scored in overtime, he began yelling at Cunningham. Cunningham -- a large and imposing dude in his own right -- immediately pushed Fogg, and at that point it looked like things were about to get seriously out of hand. Players began grabbing and shoving and holding each other back; Arizona's bench cleared into the scuffling mess. Fortunately, there is redemption to report. Instead of escalating, things calmed down. Arizona coach Sean Miller -- who physically shoved two or three of his own players back to the bench, screaming like a madman at them all the while -- deserves much of the credit for that outcome. If Miller hadn't asserted some control over the situation, providing the key advice (so to speak) in the crucial moment, things would have turned even uglier.

"Don't take your guns to town, son / Leave your guns at home, Bill / Don't take your guns to town"

3. Towson

Offense: Sigh
Bottom 10 judgment: "Down There By The Train." Poor Towson. To be honest, we don't want to put them in the Bottom 10. But they were here last week for their calendar-year streak -- Towson finished the entire year of 2011 without a win, if you can believe it -- and things didn't improve any in the days since. This week, Towson lost by 17 at home to Ken Pomeroy's No. 307-ranked team, William and Mary, and followed that loss with an expected 15-point defeat at surprisingly solid Georgia State. That brings the Tigers' 2011 record to 0-18. It's impossible not to feel for a team with this run of bad luck. Here's hoping for some redemption -- even if it's just one win -- sometime soon.

"If you've lost all your hope, if you've lost all your faith / I know you can be cared for and I know you can be safe"

4. Binghamton

Offense: Missed opportunity for a rare win
Bottom 10 judgment: "Sunday Morning Coming Down." When you're as bad as Binghamton -- we covered this in the first edition of the Bottom 10 -- and you're one of just two remaining winless teams in the country (Chicago State got off the schneid this week; Cougars, the Bottom 10 salutes you!) you can't squander opportunities against one-win squads like Hartford. But that's exactly what Binghamton did this week, losing to Hartford at home 69-57 on Sunday. That loss moved the Bearcats, still reeling from the Kevin Broadus debacle of recent years, to 0-17 on the season. Theirs is a song of self-imposed woe.

"Well, I woke up Sunday morning / With no way to hold my head that didn't hurt."

5. North Carolina

Offense: Road blowout softness
Bottom 10 judgment: "Ring Of Fire." The Tar Heels have been the prohibitive national title favorite since the spring. They have one of the most talented lineups in the country. They were expected to coast through the ACC with relative ease. None of that looked relevant Saturday. When UNC traveled to Florida State, the Tar Heels were blitzed in every way, shape and form, losing 90-57 -- yes, 90-57 -- to a team that has lost at Clemson and at home to Princeton in the past two weeks. Some credit belongs to Florida State sharpshooter Deividas Dulkys, who went 12-of-14 from the field and 8-of-10 from 3 en route to a 32-point breakout night. But it's much easier to make so many 3s when you're so wide open so often; thanks to UNC's lackluster defense, Dulkys frequently was. Things just got worse and worse in Tallahassee, as the team so many have pegged to win the national title dug itself deeper and deeper into the abyss.

"I fell into a burning ring of fire / I went down, down, down / and the flames went higher."

6. The Tar Heels' exodus

Offense: Hardwood power play
Bottom 10 judgment: "One Piece At A Time." As if the 90-57 blowout wasn't bad enough, UNC escaped from Tallahassee in one of the stranger endings to any basketball game these eyes have ever seen. With 14 seconds remaining in the game, play halted as coaches Roy Williams and Leonard Hamilton conferred near the scorer's table. A few seconds later, Williams gathered his team, walked through FSU's bench, shook hands, and left the floor. The strategy, it seems, was to avoid any potential danger to players as a result of FSU fans' impending court storm; the ESPN broadcast team was quickly informed that the idea was Hamilton's. It seemed like a nice enough gesture, right? The problem, of course, was that UNC's five walk-ons were still on the floor finishing the game. Another problem? The quick escape wasn't even necessary. There was plenty of room around the court for UNC's players and coaches to make their way out of the way of potential harm. On Monday, Williams said he apologized to his stranded walk-ons, who were supposed to come with the rest of the team. But since when do we end games with 14 seconds remaining? This is hardly a crime against humanity. But it was profoundly weird.

"One day I devised myself a plan / That should be the envy of most any man / I'd sneak it out of there in a lunchbox in my hand."

7. Ohio State president E. Gordon Gee

Offense: Unnecessarily insensitive metaphor
Bottom 10 judgment: "A Boy Named Sue." This doesn't have a ton to do with college hoops, and we tend to think of Ohio State president E. Gordon Gee as a football-related entity; that's what happens when you publicly say you hope now-disgraced former football coach Jim Tressel doesn't fire you, rather than the other way around. But the Bottom 10 couldn't let the week go by without pointing out Gee's latest verbal blunder. In the midst of a speech at a downtown Columbus athletic club, Gee lamented the attention Ohio State's football acrimony drew, before calling the task of managing multiple universities in the OSU system "like the Polish Army or something." The crowd laughed nervously, according to the Associated Press, and Gee realized it, saying: "Oh, never mind, who did I embarrass now? ... I'll have to raise money for Poland now." In a bar, late at night, it's still an ill-advised joke. From a university president at a public forum? It's just downright dumb.

"Well, he must o' thought that was quite a joke"

8. Louisville

Offense: Sudden defensive leniency
Bottom 10 judgment: "Rusty Cage." Louisville has not been a particularly pretty offensive team this season; the Cardinals have thrived on defense and rebounding and their press and tough-nosed play. In the past week, those qualities have vanished. On Tuesday night, Louisville was blown out 90-59 at Providence, putting up an anemic offensive performance while allowing the upstart Friars to score 1.34 points per possession. Then, on Monday, the Cardinals suffered a dramatic collapse on the road. With 14 minutes left in the first half, Rick Pitino's team led 18-2 at Marquette. The final score: Marquette 74, Louisville 63. If my math is correct, that means Louisville was outscored 72-45 over the final 34 minutes of the game. What happened to this team's defense? If the relevant metaphor is a cage, well, you better believe that thing is rusty.

"But I'm gonna break / I'm gonna break my / Gonna break my rusty cage and run."

9. Ryan Boatright's eligibility

Offense: How is this still a thing?
Bottom 10 judgment: "Thirteen." This is no one's fault, really. At least, it doesn't seem that way. This item doesn't rage at any particular person, program or institution; Connecticut guard Ryan Boatright, the Connecticut athletics program and the NCAA are not specifically to blame here, per se. But it is entirely strange to see Boatright, a promising freshman guard who missed the first six games of his first season in Storrs thanks to a vague eligibility review, seemingly going through that process a second time. Boatright was held out of UConn's weekend tilt at Notre Dame as the school awaited an NCAA investigation into Boatright's eligibility on matters that predate his enrollment at the school. But why was he allowed to play in the first place? Is this a miscommunication? Did the NCAA receive new information? What, exactly, is going on?

"Bad luck wind been blowing at my back / I was born to bring trouble to wherever"

10. Texas A&M

Offense: Severe disappointment
Bottom 10 judgment: "Sea of Heartbreak." On Monday night, we saw Kansas wage a big-time battle against Baylor for the top spot in the Big 12 standings -- and, if things go as planned, the eventual top honors in this talent-rich league. Meanwhile, a few hundred miles away in Columbia, Mo., the Missouri Tigers (another potential Big 12 contender) were having their way with Texas A&M, as the Aggies fell to 1-4 in the Big 12 and 10-7 overall. In a vacuum, a road loss to Missouri isn't so bad. But consider the following: A&M ranks No. 127 in KenPom's adjusted efficiency rankings. The Aggies have yet to beat a team ranked higher than No. 160 in those rankings. They lost to Rice home. And when you consider the Big 12 coaches picked this team to share the league title with Kansas -- and you compare their performance to what we saw in Lawrence on Monday night -- this has been an absolutely brutal two months for the Aggies.

"The lights in the harbor / Don't shine for me / I'm like a lost ship / Adrift on the sea."

Eamonn Brennan covers college basketball for ESPN.com.