Commentary

'In The Know' stuck in a time warp

Originally Published: February 3, 2012
By Dana O'Neil | ESPN.com

I know the 1970s weren't kind to anyone.

Had to gather up family photographs this week, which forced me to drive down the Memory Lane of photo albums. If anyone came through that decade unscathed -- without either a Dorothy Hamill haircut (guilty), your name silk-screened in bubble letters on the front of a T-shirt paired with terry cloth shorts (guilty again), plaids mixed with checks (step up, big brother), shag haircuts or, as we know them now, girl mullets (mom, that's you), or a vacation wardrobe of cut-off shorts, tank top, knee socks and a really cheesy mustache (introducing my dad) -- please submit photographic evidence.

Even my dog looked goofy.

And let's not even talk about the floppy-haired, short-short wearing guys we called college hoops stars.

Here's what I don't know: In 30 years, will my kids look back aghast at the clothing I put them in now and the hairdos I presently call fashionable?

And will future basketball stars chuckle at the baggy shorts/tight shirt era? Personally, I hope they scoff at the gray uniform trend.

As for the college basketball non-fashion segment, here's what I know, think I know and don't know.

Five things I know

1. Who college basketball's villains are.

Basketball fans clearly have good memories.

Twenty years ago, Christian Laettner etched his name into the marble slab of this game's history with his epic buzzer-beater in the Elite Eight against Kentucky.

People still hate him for it.

Last week I asked you to help me identify college basketball's top villain. Via our thoroughly scientific Twitter/email poll, Laettner emerged as the winner. He is detested for beating Kentucky, for going to Duke and, apparently, just for existing.

Mostly, however, it is his sneaker-meet-Aminu Timberlake's-chest moment that left people soured.

As @Otterman34 wrote, "Christian Laettner. Who steps on someone's chest when they are down on the floor?"

The silver medal goes to Kentucky coach John Calipari. Why? Let @L0rv explain: "To the vast majority of college basketball, John Calipari is the mustachioed villain tying damsels to train tracks.'' Calipari narrowly beat out the Fab 5, named as a group and also independently.

Among the others receiving votes: Kelvin Sampson, J.J. Redick, Bob Knight, Billy Tubbs, Demarcus Cousins, John Thompson, Bob Huggins, Carl Krauser and the entire 2008-09 Binghamton basketball team.

My thoughts: No real surprises here. I thought the controversial Knight might have generated a few more votes. I also found the omission of Jerry Tarkanian altogether to be rather interesting. Painted by the NCAA as the worst thing to happen to college basketball, apparently fans weren't nearly so offended.

[+] EnlargeTim Cluess
AP Photo/Frank Franklin IITim Cluess deserves his extension but he's far from alone.

2. Some other contracts need to be extended.

Kudos to Iona for locking up coach Tim Cluess until 2017. Now we all know that won't stop Cluess' name from being linked to any and every big job that comes up at the end of the season.

Nor does it mean he'll technically coach there for five more months, let alone five more years. In sports, contracts tend to be written on tissue paper.

Still the gesture is a significant one and a good preemptive strike by a school that knows it has a good thing.

Here are a few other schools that would be wise to get the contract lawyers busy:

Murray State: Yes, Steve Prohm inherited this team but the way he's handled the Racers' sudden success is no accident. This is a very good coach with a solid head on his shoulders.

Oral Roberts: The school wisely gave Scott Sutton a seven-year deal after his name surfaced for the open Wichita State job. There's only two years left on that contract and the Golden Eagles are 20-5 and 12-1 in the Summit League.

Saint Louis: Odds are Rick Majerus isn't leaving anytime soon, but if you're a Billiken fan, do you want to play those odds?

Southern Miss: Larry Eustachy may not be interested in abandoning the school that threw him a lifeline, either. But let's be honest. What got him fired at Iowa State would barely register on the scale in these scandal-ridden days in college athletics. He's smart, talented, proudly sober and, oh by the way, 20-3 and atop the Conference USA standings. Another school would be wise to hire him.

Butler: Brad Stevens is signed through 2021. I'd add 25 more years, just because.

3. Patrick Chambers gets it.

In recent months, Penn State has made enough bad decisions to fill a landfill. The university did, however, make one smart choice: hiring Patrick Chambers.

I don't know if Chambers can turn the Nittany Lions into a winner (though making this undermanned roster competitive ought to merit a few coach of the year votes in the Big Ten).

I do know that Chambers has understood from Day 1 that building a program in a land of apathy requires more than winning on the court. He has flat-out stumped for his team's cause, handing out T-shirts on campus to drum up interest in a student body desperate for something to cheer for in the winter months.

On Tuesday he took it a step further. In Penn State's first home game since the death of Joe Paterno, Chambers rolled up his pant legs and laced up a pair of black sneakers in homage to the iconic coach.

Plenty of people outside of Penn State are conflicted about Paterno. Few within the university community are. Chambers' simple statement will win him even more of the fans he desperately needs to succeed.

4. I want Ricardo Ratliffe on my H-O-R-S-E team.

And not just because my jumper isn't what it used to be.

Lost in the ardor for all things below the Mendoza Line of 6-8 on the Missouri basketball team is how good the one guy with some height has been.

Ratliffe has been at his best when his team needed him most, upping his scoring average by taking only smart shots.

How smart? The senior leads the nation in field-goal percentage, knocking down 75 percent from the floor.

His off nights are most people's career nights. Consider, just four times this season did he miss three or more of his shots.

That's just silly.

It's also a hidden reason to the Tigers' success.

5. Life isn't fair.

We all know that, of course, but sometimes the reminders are delivered with a hammer.

This week the news out of Arizona is that guard Kevin Parrom is done for the season with a broken foot. It only adds to the Job-like trials Parrom has endured this season.

In September he went home to visit his mother, who was dying of cancer in the hospital. Intruders shot him in the leg, delaying the start of his season. A month later, his beloved mother died.

I had the privilege of talking with Parrom and his dad earlier this season. I was amazed at their determination, how Kenneth Parrom forced his son to get out of his hospital bed and how Lisa Williams taught them both to fight.

Now this.

He is technically not eligible to apply for another season at Arizona since he already appeared in 20 games, but if anyone is deserving of a bend to the NCAA rules, it is Parrom.

Parrom will be the last person looking for pity or sympathy. If anything, this will make him tougher and stronger but allow me to say what he will not:

It's just not fair.

Five things I think I know

1. John Adams is putting the emphasis on the wrong syll-ABLE.

The NCAA's director of officiating sent out an edict last weekend, imploring his officials to be more mindful of bad language and what he termed unsportsmanlike behavior.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with that. Bad behavior needs to be punished, and technical fouls are the perfect antidote, hoops' version of being given a timeout, if you will.

I also know that more people get up in arms about missed calls than salty language and this week there were too many mistakes. One game-changing bad call, frankly, is too many.

Human error happens and despite fans who think officials are creatures conjured up by an evil witch doctor, they are human.

But when the human errors pile up as they did this past week, skeptical fans and, worse, coaches start to lose their faith in the men in stripes. That can't happen.

It's good that officials guard against boorish behavior but being the potty-mouth police shouldn't be the big concern here.

Getting calls right matters more.

[+] EnlargeTerrence Jones
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireTerrence Jones has been lost in the shuffle at Kentucky.

2. The key to Kentucky's success is Terrence Jones.

LSU coach Trent Johnson said it as succinctly as it can be said after Jones went for 27 against his Tigers.

"If Terrence is going to show up and play like that, you need to crown them right now.''

Pure hyperbole? Well, sure. That's the first chapter in a coaching manual.

There's also a dose of truth here.

While everyone has been salivating over Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (and rightfully so), Jones has sort of been lost in the shuffle. It was his decision to return to school, remember, that most people thought elevated the Wildcats' even further up the standings.

But Jones has been enigmatic at best, sometimes a bystander to his whippersnapper teammates' exploits. It's not that his scoring numbers are down. That's to be expected with the wealth of talent on the roster. It's the consistency. He sandwiched a 27-point exclamation point against LSU between just five points against Georgia and 11 against Tennessee.

Fortunately, Kentucky has been doing just fine without a reliable contribution from Jones but with a loaded February upon the Cats and March looming around the corner, it's time for Jones to show up regularly.

3. The Big 10 could be this season's Big East come March.

Eleven Big East teams earned bids to the NCAA tournament last year. Only two survived the first weekend, a catastrophic tsunami of a conference wipeout.

Now it's the Big Ten's turn. Arguably the deepest conference in the country, the Big Ten could get as many as eight teams in the field; Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and perhaps Minnesota and Purdue are all in Joe Lunardi's latest Bracketology.

After Ohio State and Michigan State (if Draymond Green is healthy), how many are safe bets to advance? Indiana will be in its first tourney since 2008. Illinois and Michigan, though talented, have been unpredictable all season and Minnesota and Purdue are decidedly on the bubble.

4. News of Pittsburgh's death may have been premature.

I jokingly told my editor two weeks ago that Pitt will win the Big East tournament.

If I turn out right, I'll insist I said it with authority.

It's probably still a bit of a stretch, but the Panthers could be the most dangerous cellar-dwelling team in a conference anywhere.

Why? Tray Woodall. The point guard is back in the lineup for Pitt and that is not exactly minor news. With Woodall, the Panthers are 9-1. Without him, 5-8. He not only gives Jamie Dixon another much-needed scoring option -- as evidenced by his critical 24 points against West Virginia -- but he allows Ashton Gibbs to slide back to his more natural 2-guard spot.

Pitt has a long way to go to respectable but with three wins in a row and a favorable schedule -- the Panthers have just one ranked opponent (Louisville) between now and the regular season's end -- don't think other teams in the Big East aren't getting a little nervous.

And rightfully so.

5. It is time to believe in the Yurt.

Two years ago I went to Southern Miss to watch a Conference USA game between the Golden Eagles and SMU, deciding upon first view that the arena looked like a yurt.

This is what I wrote about Reed Green Coliseum:

"The walls, presumably, were once yellow but now sit on the color spectrum somewhere between dirty mustard and old oatmeal. … The lighting would be welcome in prison. Thirty minutes before tipoff, 19 people are in the stands.''

It was as dismal a college basketball scene as I had witnessed in some time, the perfect setting for the Land of Misfit Toys that was C-USA.

On Wednesday night, the yurt was rocking when Southern Miss beat Memphis, ending an 18-game losing streak against the Tigers. The building still needs a facelift but the energy and excitement practically seeped through the television.

Credit Eustachy for breathing life into Hattiesburg and turning the once-decaying yurt into shabby chic.

Five things I don't know

1. Are all the characters disappearing?

It's been a tough few weeks for college basketball. Bobby Cremins announced he will not finish his season at the College of Charleston because of undisclosed health reasons and St. Louis' Charlie Spoonhour passed away, following closely on the heels of the passings of Gene Bartow and Larry Finch.

They are among what could be the last generation of truly colorful college coaches, men who spoke their minds no matter the consequences.

They weren't salesmen. They weren't recruiters. They weren't pitchmen.

They were basketball coaches.

And above all, they were characters.

I'm thinking about John Chaney and Dean Smith, Bartow and Dale Brown, Jerry Tarkanian and Pete Carril, John Thompson and Nolan Richardson.

There are still a few good ones in the game -- Jim Calhoun, Bob Huggins, Tom Izzo, Majerus and Jim Boeheim -- but the herd is thinning.

Times have changed. Now it's about selling, about convincing kids you're the guy to get them to the NBA, not necessarily that you're the guy who will make them better.

Coaches are savvier, smart to the business of the game but at times it comes at the expense of the game.

"It was different, it was the old days, we all hung out,'' Huggins told Andy Katz after Spoonhour's passing. "This business has changed so much. We used to do clinics and go in on Friday and leave on Sunday. We broke bread together. Now we all fly in and out.''

2. What seed North Carolina or Duke should get.

Not since 2003 has the NCAA deigned to host an NCAA tournament without the Tar Heels or Blue Devils slated in one of the four top-seed lines.

Might this year be the exception?

Both have very good records, strong RPIs, all those numbers that everyone loves. But when you look at them -- when you watch the Heels look rather pedestrian against lowly Wake Forest, when you see Duke struggle to put away freshman-heavy St. John's -- do they pass the eyeball test?

Because that matters. How you play, how you look to the selection committee is up for discussion, regardless of what your numbers say.

Strangely, the ACC isn't helping its two star teams, either. The conference is better -- Virginia and Florida State have finally made for some viable competition.

But, presuming Kentucky and Ohio State are reserving places on two of those top-seed lines, is the ACC champion more deserving of a top seed than whoever emerges from the Baylor/Missouri/Kansas triangle?

Then there's the pesky little fact that, because of the way the endgame schedule breaks, Florida State just may win the ACC. Likely? Probably not. Possible? Absolutely. With wins in Chapel Hill and Durham, the Seminoles' biggest remaining hurdles are a home-and-away with Virginia and the Blue Devils in Tallahassee.

I am no bracketologist. Nor do I play one on TV.

I will, however, be curious to see how this all pans out.

[+] EnlargeDeonte Burton
Douglas C. Pizac/US PresswireIt's hard to figure out how good Nevada really is.

3. How good is Nevada?

The endless, and at times fruitless, search for good basketball continues in the western part of the country.

Today's stop: Reno, where we find an 19-3 Wolfpack rolling through the WAC with a perfect 8-0 record.

Which means what, exactly?

One thing I do know: David Carter has done a terrific job taking what Mark Fox built and continuing it.

Nevada, though, is one of those impossibly hard teams to judge. There's simply not a whole lot to look at -- an early loss to UNLV, an overtime win against Washington, a Nov. 25 loss (the Wolfpack's most recent) to BYU and a lot of average-to-bad WAC thereafter.

Carter has reliable veterans -- he starts two seniors, a junior and a sensational sophomore in Deonte Burton -- but this is a team that will remain something of a mystery until March.

4. If anyone has a more difficult job than Mark Macon.

Schooled at the knee of the irascible Chaney, Macon isn't one to blanch in the face of struggles. If you can endure Chaney for four years, you can endure almost anything.

Stress the word "almost" because surely Macon is testing the theory. The head coach at Binghamton, Macon took over in the middle of the school's 2009 scandal, one that sent six players, a coach and an athletic director out the door.

That isn't a rebuilding job. That's a job only Sisyphus could love.

Macon somehow guided that first team to a respectable 8-8 record in the America East, but it has been downhill sledding ever since,. Last season, the Bearcats finished 8-23 and this season now remain the lone Division I team without a victory, inheriting the longest losing streak mantle from Towson.

It would be hard for most people to stomach but it has to be especially difficult for Macon, a tough, hard-nosed person who played like Chaney lived.

5. Who are the game's greatest heroes?

Last week we asked about college basketball's all-time villains. Now time to turn the tables. Who are the heroes? The ultimate good guys?

I'm holding out hope that there are too many viable candidates to list but my inner cynic worries.

I'll share your votes and my thoughts next week.

Send suggestions to @dgoneil1 on Twitter.

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

Dana O'Neil | email

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