Forde Minutes: Finding role models for boorish behavior
Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college basketball (Anthony Grant (1) bidding slips sold separately in Athens and Tuscaloosa):
Attitude AdjustmentIt has come to The Minutes' attention that there has been an outbreak of anger and boorish behavior in college basketball. That pretty well comes with the calendar -- as the pressure of the season begins to rise, so do the adverse reactions to it. Hoopsworld tends to be a grumpy place when we hit February.
But to keep this season from buckling under the weight of all the bad manners, it's time for a dose of perspective as we head down the February stretch. Time to get happy, people!
To improve the mood, The Minutes considered sending lollipops to all 343 Division I teams. After checking the postage on that, it's on to Plan B. Let's give every angry man (or bird) a positive role model to follow:
Bad actor: South Alabama coach Ronnie Arrow (2).
Transgression: Arrow napalmed the game administers at Louisiana-Lafayette on Jan. 24 after losing on a last-second 3-pointer by the Ragin' Cajuns' Randell Daigle -- the second of three straight two-point losses for the Jaguars. Arrow wanted the officials to review the shot on a courtside replay monitor to ensure that it beat the buzzer -- but there is no courtside monitor at ULL. Which turned the coach into a flaming Arrow, as caught on videotape by television station KLFY:
Arrow demanded that the referees return to the court, then started yelling at a cop who came onto the court to try to calm him down. After attempting to watch replays on the arena's large video screen, Arrow found a different ULL administrator to freak out on.
"You've got a [bleep] university if you can't have a monitor out here for a Division I game!"
He might be right about that, but there's probably a better way to get that point across. Amazingly, Arrow was not suspended by the Sun Belt Conference after losing it for nearly 10 minutes on the court.
Role model: Mahatma Gandhi (3), who had the peaceful protest thing down pretty well.
Transgression: Wolverines freshman Novak nailed Ohio State guard P.J. Hill with a premeditated, intentional elbow along the free throw lane late in the Buckeyes' 72-54 victory Jan. 28. That earned him an ejection from the game, and then some. The school added a one-game suspension, removing the Chesterton, Ind., product from a semi-homecoming game Saturday at Purdue.
Transgression II: Harris was tossed from Michigan's 18-point loss at Purdue on Saturday when he crumpled Purdue pest Chris Kramer with an overloaded elbow while squaring up into triple-threat position. Wolverines coach John Beilein defended Harris, saying it was not malicious and deserving of an ejection, but that heat-seeking clear-through qualified as excessive force. The Minutes is a Beilein fan, but two ejections in two games is troubling. He's got to get his players to keep their sharp edges away from the faces of Big Ten opponents.
Role model: Venus de Milo (6). She's never elbowed anybody.
(Florida guard Walter Hodge threw a similar, get-outta-my-grill elbow that dropped Tennessee's Scotty Hopson on Saturday night. That one drew a technical foul but no ejection and less outcry, largely because Hopson was not left in a pool of blood like Kramer -- and because there was no incident involving a Gator throwing a 'bow in their previous game.)
Bad actors: Maryland coach Gary Williams (7) and senior associate athletic director Kathleen Worthington (8).
Transgression: Public sniping between the two related to former recruits Gus Gilchrist and Tyree Evans, and why neither of them became a Terrapin. Williams fired last, dismissing Worthington as someone who "doesn't speak for me, she has never won a national championship, she has never done anything. She's an associate AD. This is just giving you guys stuff to make me look bad." Actually, Williams is doing a good enough job making himself look bad by, say, losing to Duke by 41 points and making 2002 seem as long ago as 1982. Athletic director Debbie Yow tried to clear up things Monday by giving Williams the vote of confidence, but the public hissing match last week made the whole athletic department look bad.
Role model: Joe Torre (9). You keep the dissension internal while it's happening, then take your shots in a book after you've moved on.
Bad actor: Texas Tech coach Pat Knight (10).
Transgression: In a truly shocking outburst, given his parentage, the Red Raiders' coach went crazy on the officials Saturday in a home loss to Nebraska. Twice. The first screaming sprint onto the court earned him two technical fouls and an ejection. The second, a crisp 180 while being escorted off the floor, was straight out of the Dad playbook. The call that sent Knight ballistic was terrible, and it's certainly no fun going 1-5 in the Big 12 -- but we've already seen this act once and it doesn't need reprising. At least there were no chairs involved.
Role model: Tony Dungy (11). The anti-Knight in terms of sideline demeanor.
Bad actors: The coaching staffs at Rice (12) and Tulane (13).
Transgression: After the Green Wave capped a 19-point comeback with a coast-to-coast drive to beat the Owls in Houston, Tulane coach Dave Dickerson and Rice coach Ben Braun had words instead of handshakes. According to a Houston Chronicle report, Dickerson did some brief celebrating with his players and was later than desired by the losers in joining the handshake line. Things escalated when a Rice assistant got in Dickerson's grill, and Dickerson responded by folding his arms and laughing at the guy. There was even some brief suit-on-suit shoving among anonymous staffers.
Role models: Memphis (14) and Tennessee (15). If those two staffs could pretend to like each other long enough to get through a postgame handshake Jan. 24, so can Rice and Tulane.
(What is it with coaches from Houston? Cougars coach Tom Penders went completely off his rocker last week when he suggested ESPN had doctored videotape of guard Aubrey Coleman forcibly planting his Nike on Chase Budinger's face, apparently in an attempt to make Coleman look bad. Hate to tell you, Tom, but ESPN has better things to do with its time during Super Bowl week than picking on a semi-anonymous guard from Conference USA. The officials apparently thought Coleman looked plenty bad to the naked eye, because they tossed him out of the game.)
Bad actor: Sammy the Owl (16).
Transgression: In the same game that ended with the above friction, the Rice mascot head-butted official Curtis Shaw as he stood along the baseline. Clearly, this was the rare case of an unwise owl. If he'd done his homework, he'd have known the zebra he bumped is known as "Quick Draw" Curtis Shaw for his famously short fuse. He's dished out more than a few technicals and ejections in his day -- but this probably was the first time he ejected an owl. Shaw ran the bird without hesitation, and Sammy responded with a sarcastic salute.
Role model: The Tree (17). The chaste and circumspect Stanford mascot would never get ejected from a game -- unless it's for drunkenness (at Cal, 2005) or scuffling with security and dancing in a no-dance zone at the NCAA tournament (women's tournament, 2006). On second thought, pick another role model, Sammy. Maybe one of the football mascots like Ralphie or Bevo, who look menacing but have a bunch of handlers to keep them out of trouble.
Flashy First SeasonsWith Alabama and Georgia already leaping into the 2009 job fair, The Minutes takes a look to see which schools are getting the best returns on their '08 hires. (Admittedly, most of the guys on this list walked into pretty good situations in terms of returning talent.) Seven coaches doing the best job in their first seasons at new schools:
Buzz Williams (18), Marquette. Last season's RPI: 22. This season's RPI (through Monday): 14. It's a beautiful thing to inherit three senior guards who can really play -- but still, nobody was expecting to see the Golden Eagles undefeated in Big East play halfway through the conference schedule. Williams has taken Tom Crean's foundation and built upon it, and now Marquette is a top-10 team heading into February.
Mike Montgomery (19), California. Last season's RPI: 98. This season's RPI: 39. Monty's jarring switch of Bay Area allegiances wasn't as surprising as his quick upgrade of the Golden Bears to NCAA tournament contender status. Cal owns two of the Pac-10's seven nonconference victories over RPI top-50 competition.
Craig Robinson (20), Oregon State. Last season's RPI: 293. This season's RPI: 147. Robinson has endured some massive life changes in the past year -- from East Coast to West Coast, from Ivy League to Pac-10, from brother-in-law of a senator to brother-in-law of the POTUS. So far he's wearing it well, with the Beavers on a four-game winning streak that includes their first sweep of the Bay Area in 16 years.
Darrin Horn (21), South Carolina. Last season's RPI: 157. This season's RPI: 47. With thrilling one-point victories over Florida and Kentucky, the Gamecocks have unexpectedly moved toward the forefront of the Southeastern Conference. Add a one-point victory at Baylor, and South Carolina is a factor in the NCAA tournament discussion. Not bad work for a guy who was under pressure at Western Kentucky a year ago, before taking the Hilltoppers to the Sweet 16.
Keno Davis (23), Providence. Last season's RPI: 134. This season's RPI: 63. Until being dump-trucked by Connecticut on Saturday, the Friars had been the biggest unexpected mover in the Big East. They rode a user-friendly early conference schedule to a 6-2 start. But the February schedule will remind Davis he's no longer in the Missouri Valley.
Greg Gary (24), Centenary. Last season's RPI: 288. This season's RPI: 255. Off the beaten path, but worth mentioning because he's gotten the Gentlemen off their path of being beaten routinely in the Summit League. Centenary is 5-5 in the Summit, marking its most victories in league play in five years. Record the previous four: 10-54. The Gents are only 7-15 overall, but chalk much of that up to suicidal scheduling -- every December game was on the road, and all eight of them were losses.
Freshman Report CardBack in November, The Minutes offered up the top five impact freshmen to watch, plus five honorable mention candidates. Time now to check their progress:
Willie Warren (25), Oklahoma. Warren has come through even better than expected, serving as a strong perimeter complement to powerhouse Blake Griffin. He's averaging 15.5 points per game and, unlike many freshmen, he's shooting excellent percentages: 51 percent from the field, 39 percent from 3-point range and 78 percent from the line. Warren's 3-point stroke has gotten better as the season has gone along; he's made 31 of his past 65 3s over Oklahoma's past 13 games.
Samardo Samuels (26), Louisville. His role has waned slightly with the flowering of fellow freshman center Terrence Jennings, who has been the better defensive post man. Samuels has had some struggles finishing, and coach Rick Pitino wants him to play more above the rim. But he still has been a consistent offensive force, averaging 12.4 points and 5.4 rebounds and shooting 56 percent from the field. And on a flaky free throw shooting team, he's one of the most dependable at the line.
Jrue Holiday (27), UCLA. The Bruins guard hasn't really busted out, but he just completed his best week of the season, averaging 14 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2 steals in emphatic victories over California and Stanford. Unlocking his game will be a key for a UCLA team that occasionally has struggled to put points on the board. Holiday has been solid on the defensive end for a coach who prizes defense.
DeMar DeRozan (28), USC. Thank goodness high school kids can no longer go straight to the NBA, because that likely saved DeRozan from being devoured on the pro level this season. The sensational athlete has had a productive season (averaging 12.4 points and 5.1 rebounds), but his game still has plenty of holes (1-for-18 from 3-point range, twice as many turnovers as assists). He'd probably be better off with a second year of college.
Tyreke Evans (29), Memphis. Credit Tigers coach John Calipari with perhaps the in-season personnel move of the year. After a 6-3 start, he moved the 6-foot-6 Evans to point guard, and Memphis hasn't been beaten since. Evans has handled the move with aplomb, averaging 16.3 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.9 assists on the season. Playing point has helped rein in Evans' spotty perimeter shooting while simultaneously improving the team's offensive flow. His scoring has dipped the past couple of weeks, but that's likely just a blip.
The preseason honorable mention five:
Al-Farouq Aminu (31), Wake Forest. He's been a beast. Eight double-doubles, averaging 13 points and 8.8 rebounds, very good defense, very little forcing shots while fitting in on a talented team. The only thing he hasn't done well is shoot with range (2-for-20 from 3-point range). He's been a key factor in the Demon Deacons' rise from 17-13 last season to a top-10 team this season.
JaMychal Green (32), Alabama. Green's offensive game has clicked in recent weeks, catching up with his productive work on the boards (especially the offensive glass). He's been active defensively as well, averaging 1.5 blocks and 1.1 steals per game. But the team has been awful, so it's hard to call him a difference-maker.
Scotty Hopson (33), Tennessee. Might have had his breakout game Saturday night against Florida (20 points fueled by a career-best four 3-pointers). Prior to that, he hadn't met the hype. The problems: questionable shot selection, shaky defense, iffy handle and possibly a negative effect on team chemistry (if you saw center Wayne Chism's on-court anger at Hopson against Memphis, you had to wonder). Yet if the McDonald's All-American keeps playing like he did against the Gators, the Volunteers might yet make an impact in March.
Greg Monroe (34), Georgetown. The Hoyas are crumbling, but Monroe's numbers remain consistent (13.1 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.7 blocks per game). The only signs that playing 30 minutes a game might be wearing on him are his turnovers (18 in the past five games) and foul shooting (13 of his past 22, after an excellent start at the line).
And one more freshman The Minutes missed, along with every recruiter in big-time college basketball: Seth Curry (35) of Liberty. Yes, little brother of Steph. All he's done is lead the nation's freshmen in scoring at 20.3 points per game -- which is fitting, since big brother leads all players in all classes in scoring. Seth has struggled a bit of late from 3-point range (12 of his past 43), but not from one-point range (he's missed two of his past 37 free throws). Bottom line: The Currys are the most under-recruited family in college basketball history.
Get Well Soon, PattyWatching Saint Mary's without point guard Patty Mills (36) is like watching Britney Spears sing fully clothed or watching Dario Franchitti drive without gratuitous cutaway shots of Ashley Judd (37). What's the point?
Since the fabulously gifted Mills went to the sideline with a broken right hand at halftime against Gonzaga on Thursday, the Gaels have been outscored by 31 points across three halves and lost twice. Losing to Gonzaga is one thing, but being housed by Portland 84-66 is another. Saint Mary's will have to hope it can remain afloat in the relatively soft West Coast Conference until Mills returns in four weeks.
The Lords Of ImprovementLast year, The Minutes did an item on what might have been the youngest team in college basketball history. That was The Citadel, which played 13 freshmen, had zero upperclassmen and had freshmen account for its top six scorers. The natural byproduct of all that youth: a 6-24 season (1-19 in the Southern Conference).
It's taken only a year to see that the experiment is succeeding. Today, The Citadel is 13-10, 8-4 in the SoCon, and riding a startling five-game winning streak. That includes an upset of College of Charleston and a 25-point clubbing of Samford on the road -- two things very few people thought possible for the Bullpups a year ago.
"It's fun," said Conroy, an alum of the school and cousin of famed author Pat Conroy, who has written a couple of books referencing The Citadel. "You hope you did the right things in developing them and in the progression you choose. ... The young guys are all so much more confident.
"With all they do as cadets and students, last year was incredible. You can't fathom the number of things I had to walk them through the first time. I was the most experienced cadet, and my experience was 20 years ago. Now we can focus more on basketball."
Conroy has benefited from getting back senior Demetrius Nelson, who redshirted last season after suffering a stress fracture in his foot. Nelson is the leading scorer -- followed by three sophomores who survived last season and are among nine on the roster.
"We've had a huge change on the defensive end," Conroy said. "Last year, contrary to my personality, I didn't hammer on guys about playing right on the defensive end. I'd go home at night and wonder if I was crazy, but I thought I might lose them a little bit. This year, we've stayed really, really consistent on defense."
While battling through last season, Conroy made an example of last year's group of seniors at Washington State -- how they were beaten down badly in the Pac-10 at the beginning of their college careers but finished up taking the Cougars to new prominence in the league and into the 2008 NCAA Sweet 16.
"A group of guys can come in, go through some tough times, but still stick together and sometimes change a school's culture forever," Conroy said.
The Citadel experiment will be worth watching over the next two-plus seasons.
Buzzer BeaterWhen hungry and thirsty in the oddly interesting town of Winston-Salem, N.C., The Minutes recommends a visit to the excellent Village Tavern (39). The New York strip and hot crab dip are tremendous, and the locals swear by the meat loaf. Pair your meal with a locally brewed Red Oak (40) lager and thank The Minutes later. (Caveat: This is one of the last tobacco towns in America, which means if you eat at the bar, you'll do so with smoke hovering overhead. But the help will take your mind off it by talking basketball as long as you're willing to sit there.)
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.