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Friday, January 20, 2012
'In The Know' juggles its priorities

By Dana O'Neil
ESPN.com

I know how to juggle. Not the kind you see in a circus with bowling pins but the kind every mother knows how to do. For example, this week I tossed a sick kid, three columns, a few blogs, two videos, three swim practices, a husband, one fifth grader's health class angst, a Cub Scout meeting, a basketball practice, a doctor's appointment, two swim meets, dinner making and dog feeding into the air without any crashing on my head -- though the bored and ailing 7-year-old might disagree.

I do not know how to make my DVD player, Wii or anything connected to my television, save the remote, work. For that I call the experts -- my children.

As for basketball, here's what I know, what I think I know and what I don't know.

Five things I know

1. This isn't the season we thought it was going to be.

This was supposed to be the season when the cream rose, when the line between the best and the second tier was written in bold.

Midway through January I have realized that simply isn't the case. That message came like a thunderbolt on Thursday morning. While feebly attempting to do the power rankings, I realized I wasn't debating which teams deserved to be behind Syracuse and Kentucky but which had the least egregious losses.

We still could end up with an all-power Final Four, but as the season progresses that seems less and less likely.

Toss out undefeated Syracuse and Kentucky, which lost on the road on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer, and you've got a lot of teams with good wins and really head-scratching losses, starting at the top with North Carolina's swan dive into the fetal-position loss at Florida State.

The Tar Heels, at least, are in good company.

Brandon Paul
Brandon Paul's 43-point game against Ohio State said something about the Buckeyes.

I watched Brandon Paul torch Ohio State for 43 points and I get that the kid just had a great night but I also watched the Buckeyes play with little verve or passion. A week ago I said it was time to believe in Baylor and the Bears reaffirmed my faith by getting trounced by Kansas. Connecticut, even before Ryan Boatwright's NCAA issues, has been more shaky than reliable.

And on the flip side, in the season that wasn't supposed to be about the little guy, Murray State sits at a very deserved No. 10.

So we are left to contemplate -- like a double rainbow, what does it mean?

2. Tom Herrion is the best supporting actor.

Oscar nominations are due next week but the Academy can tell Golden Globe-winning Christopher Plummer to take a hike.

Herrion wins in a landslide. I'm not sure if Herrion's epic flop after being inadvertently elbowed by Central Florida's Tristan Spurlock is high comedy or melodrama, but it's sensational acting.

The Thundering Herd coach looked like a sniper had felled him, stumbling backward into his bench, crumpling to his knees, regaining his footing only to fall over again, all because of a jab to the gut.

Think Bugs Bunny pretending to be shot by Elmer Fudd and you get the picture.

Herrion won't get the Oscar but he did get the call. Officials tagged Spurlock for a flagrant foul.

3. It's unfair to ignore Bill Self as coach of the year.

When I think of Self I think back to the Oscars (I went to the movies twice this week. I have cinema on the brain. My apologies). In 1991, "The Prince of Tides" was nominated for virtually every award except director. Barbra Streisand wasn't nominated, prompting host Billy Crystal to ponder, "Did the movie direct itself?"

That's what it must be like to be the coach at Kansas. It's Kansas, people will say, which means Self is little more than a caretaker when the Jayhawks are good and a lousy coach when they're bad.

And that's just not right. This (stop me if you've heard this before) was supposed to be the season when Kansas was rebuilding, when someone else could break the Jayhawks' hold on Big 12 titles.

And here we are: Kansas is 5-0 in the league, 15-3 overall, ranked No. 7 and just put an 18-point hurting on Baylor. Self is winning with Thomas Robinson, Tyshawn Taylor (who euphemistically can be described as mercurial) and a cast of understudies.

There are plenty of good candidates for coach of the year honors -- Tom Crean, Steve Fisher, Steve Prohm, Jim Boeheim -- but not adding Self to the list because winning at Kansas is supposed to be easy is silly.

4. San Diego State is more than a great Show.

I'll admit I was impressed but still a little skeptical about the Aztecs after they beat UNLV. It was a terrific win but in such a tight game, it was hard not to wonder how much the home-court advantage buoyed San Diego State.

Now we know.

The Aztecs took their Show on the road on Wednesday night, to the Pit, one of the toughest places to play in all of college basketball, and promptly dug themselves a 10-0 hole.

San Diego State emerged from New Mexico with a 75-70 victory, a win that is maybe more indicative of how legit this team is than the victory against UNLV.

5. Toccoa Falls might want to reconsider its schedule.

Feel free to slam Western Carolina for scheduling the tiny National Christian Colleges Association school in January. It's a legit gripe.

But for heaven's sake (pun intended), the Catamounts aren't exactly the Lakers. Western Carolina is 9-10 overall, 3-3 in the Big South, muddled in the middle of the conference.

And yet the Catamounts beat Toccoa Falls 141-39. That's right, by 102 points.

Western Carolina coach Larry Hunter benched his starters, called on his bench, did everything frankly you can do other than just let the shot clock expire on every possession and still Toccoa Falls could do nothing.

It's not like the Catamounts are a scoring machine. Before this game inflated their statistics, they were averaging 65 points per game.

I'm sure there's a reason Toccoa Falls played this game.

Whatever it is, it's not a good one.

Five things I think I know

Tom Crean
Tom Crean's Indiana team has lost some games it could have won to go along with some unexpected victories.
1. Indiana fans need to calm down.

A month ago fans called out to Tom Crean like he was a rock star, clamoring for a high five or a wave. This was after the Hoosiers' epic upset of Kentucky.

On Wednesday night, they wanted the coach fired. It's always amusing -- and mildly disturbing -- to troll through message boards after an upset and Indiana fans didn't disappoint.

"Tom Crean&Worst&Coach& EVER,'' read one comment on an IU message board after the loss at Nebraska.

That, of course, is the beauty of message boards. There is no gray area. You're either all in with your team or you want them lined up before a firing squad.

I'd like to suggest to Indiana fans that they try the road not taken: the one in the middle. This is not the single greatest Indiana team in the history of basketball but it's not the worst, either.

I know what fans are thinking, that this is the beginning of the end, the start of a skid just like last year's that saw Indiana lose its final nine games.

I would suggest inhale, exhale, repeat.

This Indiana team is not that Indiana team. Yes, the Hoosiers should have beaten Minnesota at home and Nebraska on the road, but if you're going with logic, they shouldn't have beaten Kentucky and Ohio State.

Fans need to dig deep into the recesses of their mind and find that rational part. This is a team that won 12 games a season ago. This is a team playing in the toughest league in the country. This is not the only team struggling to win on the road.

This was never supposed to be a national title contender.

2. Xavier is back.

I'm tempted to say this with authority and move it up a section but I'll reserve final judgment until next week, after the Musketeers play at Dayton and host Saint Louis.

But I feel pretty confident saying that Xavier has shaken off its post-brawl cobwebs for good. X has won four in a row, winning by an average 15.5 points per game. Equally impressive, the Musketeers have won with Tu Holloway being more distributor than scorer. The guard has just 29 points in those four games (he was shut out against Fordham) but has 30 assists.

The wildly unpredictable Atlantic 10 is wide open for the taking. I'd pencil Xavier in as the taker.

3. Mississippi State is Mississippi State.

Which is to say loaded with talent but entirely annoying.

The Bulldogs lost to rival Mississippi on Wednesday night, getting beat up on the inside by Reginald Buckner. This despite having what should be their own formidable pair in Renardo Sidney and Arnett Moultrie.

It is vintage Mississippi State, winning enough games to turn people into converts and then losing one to exasperate those same bandwagon jumpers.

4. Memphis is in trouble.

The good news for the Tigers: Conference USA is once again Conference USA, a hodgepodge of average teams.

The bad news for the Tigers: Memphis isn't Memphis. This team has been something of an enigma all season, loaded with talent but equally bogged down with foolish play and lack of focus.

Now just when things looked better, Adonis Thomas is lost for the season. It's not a small blow for a team that hasn't really shown an ability to handle adversity.

Memphis remains the best team in C-USA, but with challengers in the form of UCF and Marshall, this isn't going to be easy for Josh Pastner.

5. Sean Kilpatrick is the most critical piece of the Cincinnati puzzle.

Not long ago, Kilpatrick was the epicenter of trouble. It was his comments on a Cincinnati radio show that reportedly lit the fuse to what would become the ugly brawl between Xavier and the Bearcats. Kilpatrick said he didn't believe Tu Holloway would even start for Cincinnati, a nasty enough dissing to get Holloway's tongue wagging during the game and ultimately, mayhem to ensue.

Now he's the epicenter of the Bearcats' turnaround. Cincinnati has won 10 of 11 since that ugly fight, losing only to St. John's on a buzzer-beater. In those 10 games, Kilpatrick is averaging 17.7 points and kept the Bearcats afloat while Yancy Gates served his suspension.

It was Kilpatrick who hit the game-winning 3 against Connecticut, Kilpatrick who sunk a career-high 27 to beat Georgetown, and Kilpatrick whose 40 percent shooting from the arc will be absolutely critical against top-ranked Syracuse on Monday.

Plenty of people go from hero to goat.

Kilpatrick is rewriting the route.

Five things I don't know

1. How to defend the NCAA sometimes.

This week the organization that purports to be about the "best interest of the student-athlete" denied Todd O'Brien his appeal.

O'Brien's tale has been well documented and certainly Saint Joseph's appears to be the real villain here. If the university or Phil Martelli checked the box and let O'Brien go, we wouldn't be here.

But I also know that the NCAA could overrule Saint Joe's and grant O'Brien the appeal.

And it didn't. Instead O'Brien's career is over.

Larry Krystkowiak
Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak will be looking for some offensive support.
2. How Utah will score now.

Kudos to Larry Krystkowiak for booting leading scorer Josh "Jiggy" Watkins for an undisclosed violation of team rules. The coach made it clear he had a zero tolerance policy for any and all transgressions and rightly said he would not sacrifice the integrity of his program for any one individual.

But that removes 15.6 points per game from a team averaging just 56 a night, ranking the underperforming Utes 335th in the country.

That will make for tough sledding even in the Pac-12.

3. Why no one has scheduled a BracketBuster game between Towson and Binghamton.

This is the ultimate bracket that needs to be busted: the winless Bears against the winless Tigers. Binghamton's stretch of futility reaches back to March and has run all 17 games of this season. Towson last won on Dec. 29, 2010 and has dropped all 19 this season.

I even have the perfect place: the Palestra. It's almost equidistant between the two schools.

4. Why fate can be so darned cruel.

When news broke that Louisville's Rakeem Buckles was done for the season after tearing a ligament in his knee -- nine months after he was sidelined with an injury to the other knee -- I thought of how unfair life can be sometimes.

Back in my newspaper days, I covered Villanova and remember vividly when Curtis Sumpter tore his ACL during the Wildcats' first-round game against Florida. I spent a day with him, watching him rehab. Seven months later he came back to the court only to tear his ACL again.

I thought of Sumpter two years ago when I went to visit Robbie Hummel. He was in the middle of his own grueling rehab stint after tearing his ACL. Like Sumpter, Hummel impressed me with his determination.

And like Sumpter, Hummel was doomed to re-tear his knee before his would-be senior season.

Now Buckles joins that ill-fated group. He'll miss the rest of this season plus all of the next.

The only silver lining to offer Buckles: Both Sumpter and Hummel starred upon their returns.

5. Some places to eat in Cincinnati.

I'll be logging a few days and nights in Cincy next week -- heading in for the Bearcats' game against Syracuse on Monday and sticking around for Xavier against Saint Louis on Wednesday.

Any and all meal suggestions -- for any and all meals, since I'll be there for a while -- are welcome. Send them to me on Twitter: @dgoneil1.

Dana O'Neil covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at espnoneil@live.com. Follow Dana on Twitter: @dgoneil1.