Commentary

'In The Know' Blinded by the Boss

Originally Published: January 27, 2012
By Dana O'Neil | ESPN.com

I know every word to every song on Bruce Springsteen's "Greetings From Asbury Park" and "Born to Run" albums. I am a Jersey Girl by birth, and in high school, back in the stone ages when we still had typing class, if I fouled up timing with too many typos, I'd just start writing out the words to "Blinded by the Light." (Manfred Mann covered it. Bruce wrote it. Trust me.)

I do not, however, know how Bruce could be so cruel as to schedule his two Philadelphia shows on March 28 and March 29, when I'll be in New Orleans for the Final Four.

Next time, Boss, check with me.

As for college basketball, here are five things I know, five things I think I know and five things I don't know.

Five things I know

1. Syracuse needs Fab Melo.

It's amazing how much a guy who didn't factor into the plan a year ago can become indispensible so quickly.

That's the case with Melo. A work in progress as a freshman, he's now a vital cog for the Orange's success.

I watched Syracuse play against Cincinnati on Monday night without Melo, who is being withheld for what Andy Katz has reported is due to academic issues. Rakeem Christmas did an admirable job filling in, but the Orange are a different team sans Melo. His ability to adjust and alter shots not only helps Syracuse on defense, it helps get the all-important transition game going.

The Syracuse Post-Standard reported on Wednesday that the university said it could be a while before the issues are resolved.

For those in central New York hoping to book trips to New Orleans, I'd suggest holding off until you know if Melo would be able to dance on Bourbon Street, too.

[+] EnlargeCameron Crazies
AP PhotoSome of the Cameron Crazies apparently aren't so crazy about what it takes to get a seat in the Duke section.
2. Duke students need to get their act together.

The Chronicle, Duke's student-run newspaper, reported this week that attendance among the famed Cameron Crazies has dwindled steadily in the past five years, forcing school officials to sell tickets to regular Joes to fill the section.

Once 1,200 strong, the Crazies are down to about 650 a game this season.

That's horrible.

The newspaper reported that students complained they had to arrive too early, that it was cold, that the home games this season weren't very good.

Really? You're in college. You're not 50.

And welcome to the reality of being a fan. Sometimes you have to spend some time outside. Like, for example, if you're a football fan at a Big Ten school, where the temperatures plummet in November.

Duke prides itself on having the best student section in the country, but you can't be the best if you show only for North Carolina.

You're the best when you show up with the same numbers and energy as for UNC-Asheville.

3. UCLA could really use Mike Moser about now.

Moser transferred from Westwood to Vegas after getting very little playing time in his freshman year.

And now here we are. UNLV is 19-3, ranked 15th in the nation, and Moser is averaging 14.2 points and 11.7 rebounds per game.

UCLA, meanwhile, is 11-9 and 4-4 in a putrid Pac-12.

But it's not just the scoring and talent from Moser that UCLA could use. The Bruins this season have been a dysfunctional train wreck, with Reeves Nelson booted from the team and Josh Smith showing less than a serious dedication to conditioning.

Moser, on the other hand, is a kid who is known for his work ethic. Even when he was riding the pine at UCLA, he'd come in late nights after home games to work on his game. Ben Howland said at the time Moser announced his transfer that Mike is a "good kid, a great student and a very hard worker."

UCLA could use a little of all three and a lot of Moser.

4. Read "The Last Great Game."

Even if you hate Duke, even if you're a Kentuckian who still can't bear to watch the replays of Christian Laettner's shot, Gene Wojciechowski's book is terrific.

It chronicles not just that unforgettable 1992 game, but how the key players  Mike Krzyzewski, Rick Pitino, Christian Laettner  got on their collision course for history.

It's rich with detail, anecdotes and information.

I was at the game, barely out of college, working for The Trentonian, a newspaper in Trenton, N.J.

I can't remember why the paper sent me to the Spectrum, but I do remember feeling pretty lucky when I took my seat right behind the Duke bench.

And I vividly remember walking into the press room and hearing one veteran reporter say, "We're not worthy to write this game," and thinking, if he's not, what in God's name am I supposed to do?

I'd love to go back into the archives to read what I wrote -- or maybe not. Lacking that, "The Last Great Game" is a terrific stroll down memory lane, bringing both the history of the teams and players and the behind-the-scenes frenzy of that night to life.

5. Chris Mack knows good food, and so do readers.

I received tons of great suggestions for places to eat in Cincinnati and thank you all kindly for them. Sadly, I couldn't go everywhere for fear of not fitting on the plane on the way home.

I did, however, take up the Xavier coach's suggestion to try Nada, a downtown Mexican place. At the manager's suggestion, I went with the homemade guacamole and three tacos -- redfish, carnitas (pork and pickled onions) and pork belly. All were great, but the pork belly was illegal. Think spicy, crispy, thick piece of bacon on a taco and you get the idea.

At the suggestion of many readers, I also hit Montgomery Inn.

Great view.

Better ribs.

Now back to my own measly cooking.

Five things I think I know

1. The SEC has helped Kentucky but could hurt the Cats.

The conference gave the Wildcats a manageable January schedule -- no ranked teams in the league, no games with 48-hour turnarounds, no terribly tough road games. It's a nice start for a young team that needed to build its confidence and get its legs beneath it.

And that's the good thing.

Here comes the bad. It's called February.

Kentucky will play Florida twice, Mississippi State in Starksville and Vanderbilt at Rupp.

It's about as unbalanced and lopsided as a schedule could get and a freight train of reality for a young team.

Should Kentucky emerge unscathed, it will head to the NCAA tournament battle-tested and ready.

But there's also the potential here for some confidence-popping troubles.

The league also isn't making a lot of friends. Coaches have noticed that the imbalanced schedule has created even more imbalance. Kentucky won't endure a single Thursday-Saturday hammer run this season. Ole Miss, in the meantime, has three and Florida two.

"Our league should not put teams at a disadvantage competitively,'' Billy Donovan said. "I think we all agree that we need to play Thursday, Saturday, Tuesday. We've done it. But I think everybody needs to do it.''

[+] EnlargeDexter Strickland
AP Photo/Don PetersenHow North Carolina adjusts after Dexter Strickland's injury will be a key to the Tar Heels' season.

2. Losing Dexter Strickland is big for UNC.

It's not sky-is-falling big, but it's big. Strickland is a terrific defender -- and terrific and defense don't often go together in Chapel Hill -- and a decent scorer, but where Strickland was especially critical for the Heels was at the point guard spot.

Kendall Marshall is averaging a team-high 31.4 minutes per game. Clearly he's capable, what with his 9.6 assists per game.

But the issue is what happens if Marshall gets in foul trouble and, more, what happens in the NCAA tournament, when the games come in a hurry? Reggie Bullock will be plugged in as the backup, but it's a serious dropoff -- Bullock averages just one assist per game.

Running the Heels' scoring machine is an absolutely critical job. North Carolina leads the nation in scoring not just because it's stocked with talent, but because Marshall is so good at finding the open man.

Carolina fans should start the novenas that Marshall has the endurance of a camel.

3. The Big 12 is the best at the top.

I gotta admit. I didn't see this coming. But then again, who did?

Joe Lunardi awarded the league one No. 1 seed and two No. 2s in his latest Bracketology. Jerry Palm went a step further, giving Missouri and Baylor each top seeds and Kansas a 2.

Either way, that's pretty astounding for a league that was considered a mishmash back in October.

In order, remember this was the collective thinking on Missouri: The school made a bad hire in Frank Haith, a hire that looked all the worse after he was named in the Miami NCAA allegations. Then the school spent the better part of the offseason tap dancing with the SEC, creating a circus atmosphere of distraction. Laurence Bowers blew out his knee, leaving the Tigers with one guy over 6-foot-6.

Yep, No. 1 or 2 seed all the way.

And then there's Kansas. Yes, the Jayhawks were picked to win the league, but that's sort of a tradition more than a reflection of what Kansas was supposed to be this year.

Yet here's KU once again, back at the top of the league and among the top in the nation.

4. Dayton has been unleashed.

This shouldn't be read as a criticism of Brian Gregory. He's a terrific coach who did a great job in his years at Dayton.

But sometimes change is good and change is necessary.

Archie Miller has been a breath of fresh air for the Flyers, pushing the tempo and allowing his players a little more creative freedom on offense.

A team that once hovered closer to the 60- to 70-point range is now pushing into the 80s in league play.

It's all added up to a 4-2 Atlantic 10 record and 14-6 mark for a team that wasn't expected to do much at all.

5. You should keep an eye on Oral Roberts.

The Golden Eagles are 11-0 in the Summit League and that's no mistake.

Scott Sutton has a veteran-laden team, starting two seniors, two juniors and a sophomore, and aside from a double-overtime win against Western Illinois, Oral Roberts hasn't really been challenged in conference.

When it comes time to start looking for first-round upset picks, this could be a good one.

Five things I don't know

1. Why top teams need more uniforms.

Full disclosure: I'm a Penn State graduate, which means I don't even register on the uniform Richter scale.

Still, I can't understand why athletes need to have more uniforms in their lockers than Kim Kardashian has pencil skirts in her closet.

Home, away, enough.

This week Nike unveiled its new platinum uniforms with a full dog and pony show in New York City. Nine schools will wear the new unis, which, according to the press release, were "designed at the intersection of 'sustainability and performance.'"

Funny. I thought they were developed on the corner of Commerce Street.

Forget whether they are attractive or ugly (though I lean toward the latter).

Here's the real kicker in this. Earlier this week, thieves swiped Old Dominion's white uniforms, forcing the Monarchs to wear their blues for their home game against Northeastern.

The uniforms were later recovered, but that's not the point. There are plenty of schools that barely have the budget to scrap together full sets of uniforms. A few years ago, I spent a road trip with Alcorn State, and like many HBCU schools Alcorn didn't have any shoe contract. Players got by wearing worn sneakers all season and sometimes for two or three years.

So maybe instead of holding a press conference to debut their latest threads for the haves, Nike could hold a press conference announcing it's going to help the have-nots.

2. How the selection committee is going to find 68 teams.

I spoke to a member of the committee this week and he already is preparing for the annual backlash, because what was supposed to be a more clear-cut basketball picture is even muddier than last season.

Trying to discern who is a No. 1 seed and who is a No. 2 isn't easy. Trying to find 68 qualified teams is even harder for obvious and not so obvious reasons.

The obvious: The Pac-12 is a debacle. Who in that league deserves an at-large bid?

The not so obvious: Some perennial power mid-majors aren't so powerful.

Case in point: The Colonial Athletic Association at the beginning of the season looked like it had the makings of some serious Cinderella juice. Now the CAA is a likely one-bid league. The conference doesn't have a single win against a team in the top 50 RPI and none of the best teams have a decent strength of schedule to fall back on -- Virginia Commonwealth (219), Drexel (256), George Mason (293).

It all makes the committee's thankless job even more impossible.

Oh, and did we mention? There's also that tricky decision of where to seed Murray State.

[+] EnlargeJohn Shurna
AP Photo/Paul BattagliaNorthwestern's hopes have been tempered by a couple of recent losses.
3. If Northwestern will ever change its fate.

I thought maybe this would be the year. You know, the one in which the Wildcats make the Big Dance? But here we are again, late January and Northwestern has once again put itself in a precarious position.

That would be on the bubble.

After what I thought might be a fate-changing, season-swinging win against Michigan State, the Wildcats have lost back-to-back games to Wisconsin and Minnesota. That drops Northwestern to 2-5 in the Big Ten and 12-7 overall.

That isn't the sort of résumé that will get you into the tourney.

There is still time, of course, and the Big Ten will offer plenty of chances for quality wins.

But there's also plenty of opportunity for more losses.

4. Why anyone would publicly protest the naming of the court.

OK, so former Maryland coach Lefty Driesell doesn't like the idea that the university is naming its court after Gary Williams.

Or, excuse me, the ex-coach doesn't think his old players would like it (which is lousy cover for the truth that Driesell doesn't like it).

Anyway, why say it out loud? What do you gain? You sound petty and mean-spirited. You sully what should be a celebratory night for a good man and a great coach, and you draw negative attention to your university when there should be nothing but positives heading their way.

I believe an amended kindergarten mantra fits here: If you don't have something nice to say, keep your mouth shut.

5. Who is the top villain in college basketball?

Comcast SportsNet in my home city of Philadelphia is starting a fun, sure-to-generate-discussion feature -- naming the top 20 villains in Philly sports history.

There's no shortage here, needless to say.

But it got me to thinking. Who are the top 20 villains in college basketball history? Not just the ones who dissed your particular school, but the ones we could all agree on, the universal bad guys, if you will.

Hit me on Twitter (@dgoneil1) with suggestions. We'll offer a top five next week.

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

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