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Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Bottom 10: Reach for the stars

By Eamonn Brennan
ESPN.com

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

The Bottom 10 inspirational thought of the week:


Years that talk and years that fought down
Years that give and years that take away
A substitute, the business suit, I'll trade you
A little space to clear a place in my day

Hanging onto to every heartbeat
Satellites in the sky
Watch up where the stars meet
And you'll be fine

-- Cut Copy, "Hanging Onto Every Heartbeat"

Watch the stars, fellas. Keep dreaming the impossible dream. That's the best advice the Bottom 10 can offer in any week, but it seems especially appropriate this time around. This week's Bottom 10 is highlighted by terrible, horrible, no good, very bad offense. Some of it came from traditional powers. Some of it came from the nation's minnows. In any case, one imagines the performances on display had the relevant parties feeling frustrated and dejected -- as if the whole wide world was against them.

Of course, as we know from prior editions of the Bottom 10, it was not. No, the college hoops universe is a cold, unfeeling place, indifferent to the dreams of the afflicted. Sometimes you're Missouri and you play really well at Baylor and everybody loves you and life is good. But sometimes, no matter how you try, the stars simply don't align. Sometimes, if you're something called Toccoa Falls, you lose by 102 points. Sometimes, if you're Pittsburgh, you start the Big East season 0-7. And sometimes, if you're poor Towson, you lose 40 games in a row.

And now, with apologies to Steve Harvey and Australia's best dance band, here's this week's Bottom 10.

(If you need a primer on the Bottom 10's governing principles, see our first edition here.)

1. Western Carolina 141, Toccoa Falls 39

Offense: The wrong kind of century club
Bottom 10 judgment: "Nobody Lost, Nobody Found." According to this thing called Google, "Toccoa Falls is an accredited Christian college offering over 40 undergraduate major tracks, each including 30 hours of Bible." It is a Division II school in the NCCAA, which is a little like the NCAA, but with the word "Christian" included in the acronym. In other words, the Bottom 10 has no interest in heckling tiny little Toccoa Falls for the scoreline you see just above. But it is remarkable, isn't it? With the win, Western Carolina became one of just four teams in the history of college basketball to win by at least 100 points. The last time it happened was in 1997, when Long Island beat Medgar Evers College 179-62. Before that, the last time such a feat had occurred was 1916, when Texas squeaked past San Marcos Baptist 102-1. If only the Bottom 10 had been around in 1916. It can only imagine the topical Woodrow Wilson references.

"Staring at a silver sun/I'm blinded/I can see you almost in my town"

2. Pitt

Offense: Big East badness
Bottom 10 judgment: "Going Nowhere." Remember when Pittsburgh used to be one of the most consistent programs in the country? It shouldn't be hard because it was the case just last season. And the season before that. And the season before that, and the season before that, and -- well, you get the idea. Strangely enough, it is not the case this season. After Saturday's home loss to Louisville (the "College GameDay" on-location game of the day -- scheduled before the season, of course), the Panthers are officially 0-7 in Big East play. Pitt, like many of the teams and players on this list, has struggled on the offensive end this season, but its main defect is defense: As of Monday, the Panthers rank No. 195 adjusted points per trip allowed to opposing offenses (per kenpom.com). Two weeks ago, this season might have been redeemable. Not anymore.

"I can't think straight/Help me now before it's too late/Now what do I care?/'Cause we're going nowhere"

3. Towson

Offense: Continued winlessness
Bottom 10 judgment: "Zap Zap." Poor Towson. The Bottom 10 takes no enjoyment in including the Tigers on this list, and they've already been here before, and yeah, we get it, Towson's bad. Move along. Still, after Monday night's loss -- which dropped Towson to 0-9 in CAA play, 0-21 on the season and 0-40 in the program's past 40 contests -- well, the Bottom 10 wouldn't be whole without the Tigers. Monday night's loss, a 62-43 loss at 9-10 Delaware, was particularly ugly: The Tigers shot 17-of-51 from the field and committed 18 turnovers on the way to a 19-point loss against a team that shot just 35.2 percent from the field in its own right. Brutal stuff. If the Bottom 10 could give the entire Tigers program a hug, it would.

"This heart is breaking/This heart is breaking"

4. USC

Offense: Pass the ball, fellas
Bottom 10 judgment: "Strangers in the Wind." According to ESPN Stats & Information, USC's Jan. 19 loss to Oregon saw the Trojans become one of just three teams all season to make at least 25 field goals without notching more than five assists. That's bad enough -- share the rock, guys! -- but it practically pales in comparison with this team's overall body of work. USC is now the last winless team in Pac-12 play, the same Pac-12 in which even Arizona State and Utah (even Utah!) have won two games apiece. Why? The Trojans can't score. When you can't score like the Trojans can't score, you might want to quit the one-on-one hoops and see whether passing doesn't yield a few more looks at the rim. If Kevin O'Neill hasn't instituted the Norman Dale four-pass rule yet, now's the time to start. At the very least, a little familiarity among teammates might help.

"These hands/Like strangers in the wind"

5. Georgia Tech

Offense: A lack thereof
Bottom 10 judgment: "Saturdays (Reprise)." I told you the recurring theme of this week's Bottom 10 was bad offense, didn't I? Georgia Tech's performance at home versus Virginia -- a 70-38 rout in Atlanta -- fits the bill. The Yellow Jackets scored .64 points per possession Thursday. They shot 1-of-15 from 3 and 29.2 percent from the field overall. And all those misses landed them in the history books: This was Tech's worst scoring output in 30 years -- since a 58-36 loss at Wake Forest in 1982! -- and the fewest number of points the program has scored at home since 1980. Virginia's a tough defensive team, but yeah. Wow. Here's to some more efficient offensive performances in Tech's future. Let's hope so, anyway.

"If I'm looking for you/I call your number/but I can't get through"

6. Michigan State's Izzone

Offense: Unnecessary verbal roughness
Bottom 10 judgment: "Feel The Love." Saturday was not Purdue's day. The Boilermakers suffered classic Midwestern travel issues on their way to face Michigan State, sleeping just a few hours before their arrival, and the requisite Spartans whupping -- 83-58 was the final -- was duly and swiftly served. But one member of the Izzone, Michigan State's rowdy student section, crossed the line. Purdue coach Matt Painter confirmed that he heard a student heckle Purdue forward Robbie Hummel, who has battled back from two ACL tears to play his senior season in 2012, by saying he hoped Hummel tore his ACL a third time. Painter was peeved in the postgame news conference; Spartans coach Tom Izzo confirmed the taunt and agreed with his coaching counterpart: "Would I love to see that kid and tell him what I think of who he is and what he is? Yeah, I would," Izzo told reporters after the game. "I mean, it's below the belt when a guy's battled through two knee injuries, and you say something about his knee. It's just uncalled for, It's ridiculous. So if that made Matt Painter mad, I completely understand." Hummel, for his part, said he could "give a crap what the Izzone says." Either way, random Michigan State student: If the Bottom 10 weren't a family-friendly affair, we'd be using a lot of bad words to describe you right now. Idiot.

"All the clouds have silver linings/Though the days are counting backwards/I know that you have the right words"

7. Texas Tech

Offense: Big 12 beatdowns
Bottom 10 judgment: "Unforgettable Season." Most years, those of us who spend too much time following college hoops like to try to discern which team in the BCS conferences deserves the dubious "Worst Power-Conference Team in the Country" title. This year, thanks to the abhorrent Pac-12, the title is slightly rephrased: "Worst Non-Pac-12 Power Conference Team in the Country." Right now, Texas Tech is atop the throne. The Red Raiders were expected to benefit from the arrival of mercurial coach Billy Gillispie, but it's been all struggles so far. Get this: TTU hasn't won a single game (0-11) against the top 175 in the RPI. So yes, Texas Tech is winless in Big 12 play. Its average margin of defeat is 17 points, thanks to an offense scoring just .82 points per trip in league games to date. Gillispie was the right hire for Tech, and it'll take some time to rebuild this program, but the forward progress doesn't look likely to commence anytime this season.

"Listen to the voice that says alright/This is start and not the end tonight"

8. Binghamton

Offense: Continued winlessness (Part 2)
Bottom 10 judgment: "A Dream." And then there's Binghamton. The Bearcats have become a staple of the early editions of the Bottom 10 this season, and they'll remain here until they somehow get off the schneid. Binghamton is one of two winless teams in the country this season, and, although it doesn't have the multiseason losing streak of a Towson, 0-19 is bad enough to warrant continued inclusion here. The bad news? Binghamton's next three games are all on the road. In the next month, its best opportunity to get a win is probably a Feb. 15 home game against Maryland-Baltimore County. There are five more games until then. It's hard out here in these Bottom 10 streets.

"Run/run in circles/barely running"

9. Northwestern

Offense: Getting their poor fans' hopes up
Bottom 10 judgment: "That Was Just a Dream." Oh, Northwestern fans. The Bottom 10 feels for you. One day, your team is torturing you with heartbreaking losses at Michigan and at home to Illinois. The next day, it offers you unbridled hope with an 81-74 home win over Michigan State. And then, a few days later, the bottom falls out. After Jan. 14's big expectations-raising win over the Spartans, Northwestern went to Wisconsin and lost 77-57. Losing at Wisconsin is hardly a crime, even if the Badgers haven't been as steady there this season as in most. But following it up with a 75-52 loss at Minnesota is. In the matter of three weeks, Northwestern has gone from brutal but somewhat hopeful to "Hey, this just might be the year!" to "Well, never mind that." That elusive first NCAA tourney bid is still a faint possibility this season, but if the past week is any indication, Wildcats fans are going to be disappointed yet again.

"I got to believe in you/I got to believe it's true/I got to believe/Say goodbye"

10. Illinois

Offense: A nonexistent bench
Bottom 10 judgment: "Sun God." With the exception of Brandon Paul's one-off breakout performance in a win over Ohio State, Illinois' offense has held the Illini back all season. That was the case again this week, as the Illini fell to Penn State on the road and Wisconsin at home. With all those offensive struggles, it'd be nice if Bruce Weber had a bench to turn to. Alas, he does not. Per ESPN Stats & Info, Illinois' bench failed to score a point in the loss to the Badgers. That's not a new thing, either. In fact, it was the fourth time this season the Illini bench went scoreless in a game. No other team has accomplished that feat -- so to speak -- as many times this season.

"So what's the purpose of you and I"

Eamonn Brennan covers college basketball for ESPN.com.