- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Bottom 10 inspirational thought of the week:
I made it through the wilderness
Somehow I made it through
Didn't know how lost I was
Until I found you
I was beat incomplete
I'd been had, I was sad and blue
But you made me feel
Yeah, you made me feel
Shiny and new
-- Madonna, "Like a Virgin"
Let me be clear: Your humble Bottom 10 correspondent is not a huge Madonna fan. By that he means he has never actively chosen to listen to Madonna; the only songs he's heard -- snippets, really, if he's being honest -- are the stuff of atmospheric absorption of cultural detritus. It's the kind you can't help but take in when the artist in question is as popular and ever-present as Madonna Louise Ciccone. There's some "Like a Virgin" in there. "Ray of Light" makes an appearance. "Like A Prayer" was huge at the bars in college. And what's that one song Ozzy Osbourne's daughter remade? Oh, right: "Papa Don't Preach." The Osbournes, huh? Remember that?
Anyway, why was the Bottom 10 so inspired by Madonna this week? Two reasons:
1. On Sunday, Madonna will perform at halftime of the Super Bowl, becoming the first female performer (or headliner, lest we forget about certain members of the E Street Band) to don the big stage since Janet Jackson's infamous "wardrobe malfunction." It's apropos.
2. Last Saturday, three-time Bottom 10 member Towson was touched for the very first time -- by a win, that is. (Sorry.) The Tigers held off UNC-Wilmington at home Saturday, winning 66-61 on the strength of forward Robert Nwankwo's double-double. The sweet, sweet victory snapped a 41-game losing streak that stretched all the way back to Dec. 29, 2010. No, Towson didn't win a game in 2011, and it started the 2011-12 season 0-22. But guess what? You never know when love, or a win, may come along. Kind of inspirational, right?
Let's hope that's the case for the rest of the Bottom 10, which is populated this week by officiating blunders, naughty fans and just plain bad basketball. It is not, however, populated by Towson. The Tigers are off the schneid, and our hats are off to the Tigers.
If only the rest of the list had been so lucky. With apologies to Steve Harvey and the girl from Bay City, Mich., who somehow ended up with a British accent, 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. The Syracuse-West Virginia officiating crew
Offense: Selective vision
Bottom 10 judgment: "Promise To Try." There were 10 seconds remaining in West Virginia's heated upset bid of Big East rival Syracuse. The Mountaineers had fought all game to stay in striking distance of their league's favorite, no easy feat, especially in front of a sea of orange at the Carrier Dome. With a little more than 10 seconds remaining, trailing 63-61, West Virginia had its chance: Truck Bryant's bad air ball landed in the hands of forward Deniz Kilicli, who hoisted a quick putback against the backboard. Syracuse forward Baye Keita blocked the ball -- but not before it hit the glass. It was an obvious goaltend, both on replay and in real time, and the referees just flat-out missed it. Blame the atmosphere, blame the intensity, blame the sheer speed of the play: It was a horrendous no-call any way you slice it, and it cost West Virginia a tying bucket with 10 seconds remaining. Bob Huggins was, ahem, less than pleased. He had every right. But there's nothing he can do now.
"Keep your head held high -- ride like the wind/Never look behind, life isn't fair/That's what you said, so I try not to care."
2. Illinois 42, Michigan State 41
Offense: Enough said
Bottom 10 judgment: "Like A Prayer." This is the undisputed clubhouse leader for ugliest game of the year. For Illinois fans, well, at least they got a win. For Michigan State fans, well, at least Draymond Green's knee wasn't seriously hurt. For the rest of us? This game was our nightmare. These two schools -- both Division I programs with very good basketball players in the lineup -- combined to shoot 29-of-104 on the evening. Process that momentarily, if you can. There are other incredible statistics available, like how both teams combined to average .74 points per possession, how they both shot 6-of-31 from beyond the arc, how Michigan State managed to rebound more than 50 percent of its misses and still lose -- but they're the kind of statistics any sanity-conscious college hoops fan would like to forget. In fact, let's pretend this never happened.
"It's like a dream, no end and no beginning/You're here with me, it's like a dream."
3. BYU fans get messy
Offense: Uncharacteristic hooliganism
Bottom 10 judgment: "Love Makes The World Go 'Round." Typically, BYU fans are great. They're passionate, sure, but in my time as a college hoops scribe, I've found them to be unusually intelligent, reasonable and often downright hilarious. (Last season's epic Jimmer-inspired Facebook thread remains one of the all-time great Internet things I've ever seen.) Which is why Saturday's behavior came as such a surprise. During BYU's home loss to Saint Mary's, Cougars fans responded to a questionable charge call by throwing paper and other objects onto the court. Referees paused the game and warned the fans that they would be assessed a technical if they continued. In the first minute of the second half, BYU guard Matt Carlino was called for a block, and the fans let loose again. The technical came soon thereafter, as did a five-point Saint Mary's possession.
Needless to say, the scene devolved from there -- players were visibly urging the fans to calm down, fans were chanting "worst refs ever," and by the final whistle, the angry bunch had unleashed a torrent of garbage onto the Marriott Center court. Brigham Young's athletic director issued a statement urging fans to participate in the game with "passionate but respectful" support, and the Cougars beat Gonzaga at home Thursday night without incident, so the message was apparently heeded. But of all fan bases to let the tiger out of the cage, it's BYU? Strange times in Provo.
"Make love not war we say/It's easy to recite/But it don't mean a damn/Unless we're gonna fight."
Offense: Houston, we still have a problem
Bottom 10 judgment: "This Used To Be My Playground." The 2012 Butler Bulldogs' offense has, save for the occasional exception, picked up right where the Bulldogs left off in April. In other words, Butler can't score. The Bulldogs rank No. 228 in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency, per Ken Pomeroy; they rank eighth -- yes, eighth -- in the Horizon League in points per possession. Last week, unfortunately, Butler's offense hit new lows (Thursday night's win over Wright State, notwithstanding). The Bulldogs scored just 42 points in a Jan. 26 loss to Wisconsin-Milwaukee, shooting 28.1 percent from the field and 1-of-16 from 3. They missed their first 12 3-pointers; no starter made a 3 in 12 separate tries. All told, it was the program's worst offensive performance of the past 15 years, with but one exception: April's national title loss to Connecticut. Yeesh.
"Don't look back/Keep your head held high/Don't ask them why/Because life is short."
Offense: Continued underachievement
Bottom 10 judgment: "Why's It So Hard." In the preseason, Connecticut, sans NBA rookie Kemba Walker, was pegged by many as a potential national title contender. We're still waiting to see exactly why. It's not that the Huskies aren't talented; Jeremy Lamb and Andre Drummond are likely future lottery picks, and Alex Oriakhi, Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright are hardly slouches. It's that the Huskies are considerably worse than the sum of their parts. The latest disappointment came Wednesday night, when Jim Calhoun's team scored just 44 points in its loss to Georgetown. Drummond finished with 18 points on 9-of-12 from the field. The rest of the Huskies combined to shoot 9-of-48, 18.8 percent, if you're scoring at home. The loss was UConn's fourth straight and sixth in its past eight games. If this swoon had come in early January, it could be forgiven. To have it this late in the season speaks to something fundamentally at work here. National title contender? At this point, the Huskies look more like a bubble team.
"What do I have to do to be accepted/What do I have to say/What do I have to do to be respected/How do I have to play?"
Offense: Winless in conference play
Bottom 10 judgment: "Over and Over." Texas Tech may not be the worst team in a power-six conference this season -- USC has a legitimate claim to the wooden spoon throne -- but the Red Raiders have done their best to convince us otherwise thus far. As of Tuesday, when Tech was throttled 80-63 at home by Oklahoma State, Billy Gillispie's rebuilding squad is 0-9 in Big 12 play. The Red Raiders are being outscored by nearly one-third of a point per possession in conference play. It's bad. Even worse? Their next two games are on the road at Texas and Kansas State, and their final five contests -- after a two-game homestand versus Oklahoma and Texas A&M -- are as follows: at Kansas, at Iowa State, Texas, at Baylor, Missouri. It brings me no joy to say it, but a winless conference season is not out of the question.
"You try to criticize my drive/If I lose I don't feel paralyzed/It's not the game it's how you play/And if I fall I get up again now."
Offense: Bubble-bursting bummers
Bottom 10 judgment: "I'm Going Bananas." Last Wednesday, the Dayton Flyers lost a road game at Saint Joseph's. OK, no big deal. Road loss in conference play? It happens. Which would be all well and good, except the part when Dayton turned around and lost to Rhode Island -- yes, the 5-18 Rhode Island that had yet to get a win in A-10 play -- and, a few days later, Duquesne, both at home. The Flyers are an NCAA tournament bubble team. Or, at least they were before those losses. Now, a once-decent but unspectacular résumé, filled with the mental inconsistencies of a young but encouraging team under a first-year head coach, appears unworthy of even fringe bubble consideration. This is the same team that beat Minnesota on a neutral floor three days before it lost by 29 to Buffalo at home. You figure it out.
"I'm going bananas/And I feel like my poor little mind is being devoured by piranhas/For I'm going bananas."
Offense: A hype-deflating losing streak
Bottom 10 judgment: "Live To Tell." The Seton Hall Pirates began this season as one of its most heartwarming stories. Forward Herb Pope -- whose life and career were in jeopardy when he collapsed on the court in 2010 -- was having a momentous senior campaign, leading the Pirates to an 11-1 nonconference record and a 15-2 start that included wins over West Virginia and UConn (back when everyone thought UConn was actually, you know, good). Since Jan. 10, though, the wheels have come off: The Pirates have lost their past five games, and with two more road games in the next week (at UConn, at Rutgers), they're at serious risk of extending the losing streak to seven. Once upon a time, this team was a near-lock to make the NCAA tournament. Now it appears the Pirates are destined to scrap for the postseason existence.
"The truth is never far behind/You kept it hidden well."
Offense: Unique winlessness
Bottom 10 judgment: "Love Tried To Welcome Me." Binghamton coach Mark Macon is probably a much better person than I am, so he probably wasn't upset when Towson won its first game of the season Saturday. But if I were him, I would have been the only person in the country not rooting for the Tigers. Why? Because now that Towson is on the board -- woo, Tigers! -- Binghamton becomes the last winless team of the 2012 college hoops season. The good news? Two of the Bearcats' next three games are at home, including a Feb. 15 date with a bad Maryland-Baltimore County team. Ken Pomeroy's projection system gives Binghamton a 54 percent chance of victory in that game. Let's hope it works out. Being at the bottom of the bottom can't be much fun, but it must be especially tough to go it alone.
"And I must confess that I am usually drawn to sadness/And loneliness has never been a stranger to me."
Offense: Just being bad, basically
Bottom 10 judgment: "Bedtime Story." This week's non-Binghamton, non-Towson (woo, Tigers!) sympathy is headed firmly in the direction of the Kennesaw State Owls, who have had a tough time of it in 2011-12, and, yeah, that's putting it politely. The Owls opened the season at Wisconsin, where they lost 85-31, and things haven't improved much since. The Owls are 3-20, their only wins coming over Chattanooga, something called Reinhardt and Texas A&M Corpus-Christi, and they were blown out twice in the past week -- by Florida Gulf Coast, then Stetson. They're also 0-11 in the Atlantic Sun, a league that no team should be allowed to go 0-11 in. It's brutal stuff, but what can you do? Sometimes, life in the bottom reaches of college basketball is, well, brutal. So it goes.
"Today is the last day that I'm using words/They've gone out, lost their meaning/Don't function anymore."
Eamonn Brennan covers college basketball for ESPN.com.
With a little help from Madonna, the Bottom 10 salutes Towson after the Tigers snapped their 41-game losing streak.