Thursday, February 23, 2012
Updated: February 26, 1:00 AM ET
Champ Week is best time of year
By Dana O'Neil
I don't know anything about cars. Mine started making a funny noise when I was driving home from the airport the other day, so I did the wise thing. I kept driving until I got home and could make my husband listen to it.
It's in keeping with my car history. In high school, I borrowed my brother's Camaro (It was the '80s. It was cool. Trust me), and while driving the four miles from my house to my friend's, the car inexplicably stopped. Inexplicably to me, anyway. I was out of gas.
I do, however, know how to pump my own gas. Those of you not from New Jersey -- as I am originally -- might be thinking, what's the big deal? But in New Jersey, it is illegal to pump your own gas. (I don't know why, although I imagine it has something to do with the copious amounts of hair spray used by north Jersey girls and the inherent flammable dangers that could cause.)
Some Jersey girls have gone so far as to display bumper stickers to celebrate their inability to handle this simple act. And we wonder why the entire state has been portrayed as shallow loudmouths.
As for college basketball, here's what I know, what I think I know and what I don't know.
What I know
The best part of the season begins next week
By this time next week, we will be fully into Champ Week, which is stunning. Some days it feels as though I was on the USS Carl Vinson 60 years ago, but the season really did fly by, as it always does.
And I will say that as much as I love the first four days of the NCAA tournament, I love next week just as much.
The battle for NCAA tournament bids when there is no chance of an at-large is what makes college basketball so exciting and so darned fun.
Kansas State is Missouri's real enemy
The Border War is Saturday, perhaps the last installment of the great rivalry.
But the Tigers need to know thy enemy. He is wearing a Wildcats uniform.
Missouri has three losses this season; two of belong to Kansas State, including Tuesday night's stunner in Columbia.
Just how costly this loss is to Mizzou can't be underestimated -- it likely will cost the Tigers the Big 12 regular-season title, a No. 1 seed and perhaps even a regional in St. Louis. The latter still could happen, but Missouri will have to take the two-hour ride as a No. 2 seed.
Draymond Green is the Big Ten player of the year
Please do not label me a Jared Sullinger hater. The exact opposite is true. I spent time with the Ohio State big man a year ago and liked him immensely as a person. I've always respected him as a player.
This just isn't his year.
It's not the numbers because frankly, they're fairly comparable:
Big Ten scoring: Sullinger third, Green eighth
Big Ten rebounding: Green first, Sullinger second
Big Ten steals per game: Green seventh, Sullinger 10th
Big Ten blocked shots: Green 10th, Sullinger 14th
Big Ten assists: Green eighth, Sullinger 66th
No, the difference is what Green has done for his team, shepherding the Spartans through Tom Izzo's typically masochistic nonconference schedule to become a team vying for a top seed.
When two players are so statistically identical as Green and Sullinger, you have to look at the intangibles. That's where the scales tip in Green's favor.
Karl Hess did not break the chain of command
Since I don't know what former NC State stars Tom Gugliotta and Chris Corchiani said to referee Karl Hess, I can't judge whether the ejection was warranted.
I do know that the ACC's reprimand for failing to follow proper protocol is absolute nonsense. If two regular Joes or Janes were sitting in the stands, Hess would have tossed them, and no one would have said a word about whether he followed the proper procedure.
This is about who these guys are, not what they said, and the ACC has done a nice job of deflecting the real issue by throwing up this chain-of-command smoke screen.
I've seen officials toss fans and male cheerleaders from games, giving them the thumb, not a page-long explanation and chain-of-command order. Curtis Shaw memorably tossed Sammy the Owl, the Rice mascot, in 2009. Shaw didn't ask for permission before removing the pesky nocturnal bird.
Hess might have been overly sensitive and truly have rabbit ears, as Corchiani said in a tweet, but the idea that he should be reprimanded for not following the proper steps is flat-out silly.
Binghamton got the biggest win of the week
Forget upsets and bubble winners; Game of the Week honors go to the Bears. Binghamton not only ended its 26-game losing streak; it also upset Vermont, which had been tied atop the America East standings.
Mark Macon, disciple of the ever-quotable John Chaney, put it perfectly:
"You guys talk about monkeys," the coach said, "we had a whole zoo on our backs."
And now, welcome to the spotlight, you good men of the U.S. Naval Academy. Your 19-game skid ranks as the longest in the nation.
|Kansas State has Missouri's number this season.|
What I think I know
Which is the most underrated team in the country
I think that honor goes to Marquette.
Whenever people start talking about teams to watch out for, teams that could go deep in the tournament, hardly anyone mentions Marquette.
Why? Who knows? It's not as if the Golden Eagles are NCAA busts. A year ago, Marquette earned a pedestrian 11-seed and promptly rode that to the Sweet 16.
This season, Buzz Williams has a team with a scoring tandem that would rival any other in the nation in Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder. He has terrific support staff in the form of Junior Cadougan, Vander Blue, Jamil Wilson and Davante Gardner and a team that has won 11 of its past 12.
We have come full circle in expansion nonsense
I can't say I know that for sure, because heaven knows, something else wacky could happen. Maybe the Ivy League will expand.
But I've got to think we have hit the nadir of the idiocy. Eight years ago the Big East thumbed its nose at Temple, telling the school its football program was too lousy for its wonderful league.
Now sources are saying the Owls will rejoin the league next season.
Don't get me wrong. At least this move makes sense. Temple has elevated its football program; the basketball league is adding a terrific basketball power and hey, Temple is even on the East Coast!
But if this isn't the be-all, end-all of the lunacy, I'm not sure what is.
Or, more accurately, I'm afraid to ask.
Memphis will get the last laugh
There is still basketball to be played, and Memphis doesn't have an easy walk to the finish line -- against Marshall, Central Florida and Tulsa -- but it looks as though the Tigers will win the league they've dominated for years once more before jetting to the Big East.
Southern Miss looked ready to put a bow on a pretty sweet comeback for Larry Eustachy, but that's fizzling late. The Golden Eagles remain very much alive for the NCAA tournament -- which would be only their third in school history -- but the league crown is slipping through their fingers.
USM lost to a lousy Houston team on the road and then blew a 16-point lead to lose in double overtime in UTEP.
Theoretically, the Golden Eagles have a slightly easier road -- with Rice, SMU and Marshall left to face -- but theoretically they shouldn't have lost these last two games, either.
Fran Dunphy is to the A-10 what Tom Izzo is to the Big Ten
Think about it. Dunphy is probably one of the most universally liked and respected guys in college basketball.
His decency hides a fire-breathing dragon that isn't afraid to lay into his players.
His teams always look average in November. Nobody wants to play them in March.
This year's Temple squad started out 3-2, losing at Bowling Green. Of course the Owls had good reason for their struggles -- two of their best players, Scootie Randall and Micheal Eric, were out with injuries.
Fast-forward to the end of February: Randall never returned and will redshirt, and Eric just recently returned. Yet Dunphy has retooled his lineup and regrouped his team, and Temple hasn't lost since Jan. 14, winning 11 in a row.
VCU is the best pep band
Sometimes email attacks can work against you, and Virginia Commonwealth band fans inundated the inbox this week after I asked for the most unique pep bands.
But when you're good, well, you're good.
How good? The Rams' band has a CD. And it's tremendous.
I saw VCU's band in action during the Rams Final Four run a season ago. The timeouts sometimes were more entertaining than the actual game action.
I will throw in a personal shoutout to George Mason's Doc Nix and the Green Machine, having seen that terrific show in person, as well, which is why this is filed under think I know instead of know. It's a pretty close race between these two Colonial Athletic Association rivals.
Others earning some online love (deservedly):
Xavier: As @johnnyfire817 reports: XU also finishes every win with "Respect,'' has the Blues Brothers lineup and, if we're particularly cheeky, breaks out "Get Low."
Oregon: From @kennyOcker: Oregon's band plays "Sell Out" and "She Has a Girlfriend Now" by Reel Big Fish, and both of those songs are amazing at games.
The one that didn't get a mention that I thought for sure would: Stanford.
|Darius Johnson-Odom and Marquette have won 11 of 12 but continue to fly under the radar.|
What I don't know
Where the selection committee will find 68 teams
I said this before, but now I'm even more flummoxed.
Joe Lunardi revealed his latest bracket. After seeing the last four in -- Texas, Northwestern, Seton Hall and Miami -- and last four out -- North Carolina State, Central Florida, South Florida and Oregon -- all I could think was, "Blech."
In a season like this, I hope the committee errs on the side of the mid-major. Why? Because the high majors in the name-brand conferences are given a conference season's worth of opportunities to pump up their résumés with key wins. If they fail over and over again, they shouldn't be rewarded.
Why you would stop a court storming
Seton Hall fans, living uncomfortably on the bubble in recent weeks, wanted to celebrate the Pirates' decisive thumping of Georgetown, a win that probably launches Seton Hall onto the bracket.
Instead, security officers decided there would be no joy in Newark and stopped the court stormers at the gate. They even went so far as to tackle one student who managed to squirt his way through.
Did they just wax the floors?
It's a game. It's supposed to be fun.
And truthfully, trying to hold back a wave of rowdy students -- not to mention tackling one for having the gall to be happy -- will cause more injury than just letting them go.
How Florida will survive the postseason
There is no way to tiptoe around the loss of Will Yeguete: It's huge and at exactly the worst time.
Losing the forward, who broke his foot against Auburn on Tuesday, leaves the Gators without their best rebounder and a key part of their press. Worst of all, it leaves them woefully short-handed in the frontcourt.
Patric Young will have to play yeoman's minutes through the toughest part of the season, and Bradley Beal and Casey Prather will have to play more forward than guard.
The situation is not entirely unsalvageable, so long as everyone picks up the slack, but it is a horrific blow at the worst possible time.
Whom to trust in the Mountain West
This league jilts its lovers faster than a Hollywood starlet.
Fall in love with San Diego State, and the Aztecs promptly drop three in a row.
Hop on the UNLV bandwagon, and the Runnin' Rebels abandon you on the side of the road with back-to-back losses, including a head-scratcher to TCU.
Decide to go all-in with New Mexico and the Lobos, and poof! Here comes a loss to Colorado State.
So whom do you commit to without fear that they will leave you in tears at the NCAA tournament altar?
I'm withholding my heart now until what could be a very entertaining Mountain West tournament sorts this out.
Once bitten, twice shy and all that.
The most effective furry critter in hoops
All right, since we're in the support-staff section of basketball, what with pep band voting, let's bring on the mascots.
I will admit I am partial to certain Pennsylvania-residing Lions who wear nothing but scarves, rub their ears a lot and body surf through football stands, but I have an open mind.
Name the best for hoops. Not just because he's cute or he's yours, but because he's perfectly irreverent and entertaining.
My vote goes to Wolfie from Stony Brook.
Send yours to me on Twitter: @dgoneil1 or via email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
|There was no joy in Newark as far as security was concerned.|
Dana O'Neil covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Dana on Twitter: @dgoneil1.