Commentary

Bottom 10 hits the hardwood

Originally Published: January 10, 2012
By Eamonn Brennan | ESPN.com

The Bottom 10 inspirational thought of the week:


Flies are buzzing around my head
Vultures circling the dead
Picking up every last crumb
The big fish eat the little ones
The big fish eat the little ones
Not my problem give me some

You can try the best you can
If you try the best you can
The best you can is good enough

You can try the best you can
If you try the best you can
The best you can is good enough

-- Radiohead, "Optimistic"

Our college football brethren may not be as ruggedly handsome or stylish as their college hoops contemporaries, but occasionally they have a good idea or two. One such idea: a list tracking the worst teams in college football. Its name? The "Bottom 10."

The Bottom 10 has much to recommend it. It chronicles the often hilarious travails of the worst teams in the sport, and it gives my colleague Mark Schlabach the opportunity to quote lyrics from noted philosopher Kenny Chesney, among many others. Best of all, it's custom-made for college basketball, where the weekly parade of bad teams, bad plays, bad calls, bad suits and bad hairstyles desperately call for their own accounting.

That's right: This is the first college hoops Bottom 10 of the season. It comes with some formatting tweaks. The football version has rules. For example, if a team in the Bottom 10 wins one week, it is exempt from inclusion in the following week. We're going in a slightly different direction. We won't merely be ranking the worst teams in college hoops on a weekly basis; that feels too easy, and it's never nice to make fun of SWAC State for losing to Big East U by 30 points. We will, however, be ranking the most soul-crushingly bad performances, decisions, shots, clock errors (cough, Wisconsin) and anything else that feels worthy of such distinction. With so many teams in Division I hoops, with so much happening on a weekly basis, the tyranny of large numbers necessitates a different approach. One Bottom 10 rule remains sacred: No. 5 is reserved for the biggest major conference blunder.

In other words, the Bottom 10 sees all. None among you are safe.

In the wake (finally!) of college football's official finish, let's take a look at some of the worst of the 2011-12 college hoops season to date. And, in keeping with Bottom 10 tradition, let's set this inaugural college hoops edition to the dulcet sounds of one of the author's favorite bands -- in my case, Radiohead.

With apologies to Steve Harvey and Thom Yorke, here's the first college hoops Bottom 10 in the history of Western civilization. It's a wonder it took us this long.

1. Cincinnati-Xavier

Offense: Dec. 10 brawl
Bottom 10 judgment: "You And Whose Army?" The Bearcats and Musketeers take top honors for their near-equal participation in one of the dumber sports fights of recent years. Xavier was well on its way to a blowout when Xavier guards Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons helped trash-talk their way into a fight that cleared both teams' benches, led to Cincy forward Yancy Gates' incredible sucker-punch of Xavier big man Kenny Frease, and ended with Holloway and Lyons' regrettable press conference and a spate of poorly handled suspensions for players on both teams. From the fight to the postgame press conference to the punishments themselves, nothing has left us shaking our head quite this vigorously. "Come on if you think/You can take us on/You and whose army?/You and your cronies."

2. Pac-12

Offense: Egregious mediocrity
Bottom 10 judgment: "The Bends." The Pac-12 has zero quality nonconference wins to its name, its traditional marquee blueblood (UCLA) opened its season with back-to-back home losses to Loyola Marymount and Middle Tennessee, and 2012 favorites like Stanford, California and even Washington have all struggled against quality (and plenty of less-than-quality) competition. Throw in Arizona State -- which just saw its leading scorer Keala King, who was dismissed from the team this week, become the eighth Sun Devil to leave the program with remaining eligibility since 2008 (!) -- and Utah, which ranks alongside the worst low-major teams in every noteworthy statistic, and the end result is a likely one-tourney-bid league that must make the otherwise proud Pac-12 feel downright dizzy. "Where do we go from here?/The words are coming out all weird/Where are you now, when I need you?"

3. Towson Tigers

Offense: 0-16 record
Bottom 10 judgment: "Anyone Can Play Guitar." The Tigers are 0-16 this season, but that's not the worst of it: Combined with last season's Pat Kennedy-led squad, new coach Pat Skerry's team set an NCAA record for consecutive losses at 35 with Saturday's loss at Old Dominion. They also went the whole of the 2011 calendar year without a win. Even more brutal? Towson nearly upset ranked Virginia in Charlottesville -- and avoided the ignominious calendar-year stat -- on Dec. 30. But the Tigers fell late, the streak stayed intact, and Towson instead entered the history books at ODU on Saturday. College hoops is just like the universe it inhabits: cold and unfeeling. "Destiny, destiny protect me from the world/Destiny, hold my hand, protect me from the world."

4. Phil Martelli

Offense: Obstinate transfer position
Bottom 10 judgment: "2+2=5." Martelli's logic in his refusal to release little-used former player Todd O'Brien to UAB -- where O'Brien attends school as a graduate student, and where he hoped to play under the graduate year exception transfer rule -- makes as much sense as George Orwell's famous Big Brother slogan in "1984." Martelli has taken more flak than any coach in the country this season, and even after O'Brien resubmitted his appeal to the NCAA (and was denied again Monday), Martelli has refused to budge or provide a public reason for his stubborn decision. An allusion to the ruler gone mad with power probably fits here, but let's not push the analogy too far. "I'll lay down the tracks/sandbag and hide/January has April showers/And two and two always makes a five"

5. Big East schools from Pennsylvania

Offense: Failure to apear
Bottom 10 judgment: "How To Disappear Completely." In the past decade, Pennsylvania's two Big East squads, Pittsburgh and Villanova, have been two of the nation's most reliably successful. Then, out of nowhere, 2011-12 came along, and the programs we knew vanished, replaced by shells of their former selves. Pittsburgh has been playing the worst defense of Jamie Dixon's tenure; the Panthers are losers of their last four, including at home to Wagner and on the road to DePaul. Nova, meanwhile, fits the "disappeared" theme well: The Wildcats, a Big East power as recently as two years ago, have begun the season 8-8 with a 17-point home loss to South Florida as recently as Jan. 5. "Strobe lights and blown speakers/Fireworks and hurricanes/I'm not here/This isn't happening"

6. Sun Belt Officiating

Offense: Hardwood power play
Bottom 10 judgment: "Life In A Glass House." Even in a Sun Belt conference game with little on the line, college hoops sees every officiating blunder. So it was on Jan. 5, when Louisiana-Lafayette scored a go-ahead bucket at the buzzer to beat Western Kentucky in Bowling Green … and did so with six men on the floor. None of the Sun Belt officials at the game saw the sixth player on the floor, and as NCAA rules disallow a replay in such situations, the referees had no choice but to uphold the result and scurry out of the gym as quickly as possible. The Sun Belt suspended the referees, but not before the clip was streamed -- and the referees were gleefully ridiculed -- a gajillion times across the Web. "Once again, we are hungry for a lynching/That's a strange mistake to make"

7. Wisconsin

Offense: Misaligned timepieces
Bottom 10 judgment: "Airbag." The Badgers had one last chance to tie their overtime slugfest with Michigan State last week. Wisconsin forward Ryan Evans caught a rebound, sprinted to the 3-point line and hoisted a prayer of a 3 that -- guess what? -- kissed the backboard and fell through the rim, giving Wisconsin the unlikeliest of last-second ties. The referees went to the monitor to ensure the shot should count, and when they got there they found, believe it or not, that the Kohl Center's shot clock and arena scoreboard were off by about two-tenths of a second. On the scoreboard, Evans' shot counted. On the shot clock, it was too late. The referees followed the letter of the law, which states that the shot-clock countdown is the final authority, and Wisconsin was handed its second in a string of three straight losses in absolutely heartbreaking fashion. And all thanks to a quick burst of neon light. "In the neon sign/Scrolling up and down/I am born again/In an interstellar burst/I am back to save the universe"

8. Boston College

Offense: Overly enthusiastic hospitality
Bottom 10 judgment: "Wolf at the Door." Boston College coach Steve Donahue must feel under siege by the rest of New England this season, because his rebuilding Eagles have struggled against nearly every typically inferior team in the local vicinity. Among the losses for this now-5-10 squad: Holy Cross (86-64 in Worcester), UMass (82-46 at home), Boston U. (75-61 at home), Harvard (67-46 at home) and even one to 3-13 Rhode Island (78-72 in double overtime at home). This was always going to be a tough year for BC, but its inability to handle the mediocre teams in its own backyard -- in its own gym, no less -- is making things worse. "I keep the wolf from the door/But he calls me up/Calls me on the phone/Tells me all the ways that he's gonna mess me up"

9. Binghamton

Offense: 0-15 record
Bottom 10 judgment: "Karma Police." When Binghamton hired and then enabled former coach Kevin Broadus, it traded its academic reputation for a trip to the NCAA tournament. Broadus brought in talented players with questionable character, and in 2009, it wasn't long after leading scorer Emmanuel Mayben was arrested on charges of the sale and possession of crack cocaine that the program began to unravel. Broadus is long gone now, but Binghamton is still feeling the effects of his downward spiral: The Bearcats are 0-15 thus far this season, one of only three winless teams in Division I hoops. "This is what you get/when you mess with us/And for a minute there/I lost myself"

10. Chicago State

Offense: 0-16 record
Bottom 10 judgment: "Like Spinning Plates." In an attempt to at least partially hew to the spirit of the original Bottom 10, we couldn't leave that last winless team, Chicago State, off the list. But I don't feel good about it. Chicago State is the classic guarantee program, a batch of conference-less nomads who have to traverse the country and take ritual beatings in exchange for the high-major paychecks required just to keep the lights on each season. Thirteen of the Cougars' first 16 games came on the road, though on Tuesday night, they battled well against No. 22 San Diego State in a 73-65 loss (leading by as many as seven points in the second half!). The cold and unfeeling college basketball universe may not take pity on Chicago State, but we will: This is the last time we'll include them in our Bottom 10 this season. Deal? Deal. "While you make pretty speeches/I'm being cut to shreds/You feed me to the lions/a delicate balance"

Eamonn Brennan covers college basketball for ESPN.com.