Commentary

Hoops schools vs. non-hoops schools

Originally Published: February 10, 2009
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making A-Rod-free news in college basketball (elbow pads [1] sold separately):

Are You Fan Enough?

Two recent attendance-related items have caught The Minutes' eye. The first was the sight of Indiana (2) players and coaches engaging in a virtual group hug with the crowd of 14,247 in Assembly Hall after (finally) winning a Big Ten game last week against Iowa. The second was the news that Arizona State (3) is hoping to draw more than 11,000 fans for the first time this season when UCLA comes to Tempe on Thursday.

[+] EnlargeIndiana Basketball Fans
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesIndiana fans have gone above and beyond in supporting this year's Hoosiers.

You read that right. The Hoosiers are 6-16, enduring what might be the worst season in school history -- and easily outdrawing the 18th-ranked, 18-5 Sun Devils.

This is what's known as the difference between a basketball school and a non-basketball school.

At Indiana, the winning percentage is .273 this season, but the gym is full to 79.8 percent capacity (average attendance is 13,933). The fans are overachieving.

At Arizona State, the winning percentage is .783, but 14,198-seat Wells Fargo Arena has been only 58.2 percent full. The fans are missing out on a good show from coach Herb Sendek, James Harden & Co.

Ticket sales are brisk enough at Indiana that they're almost completely sold out for the Hoosiers' Sunday game against Illinois.

"To be where we're at and to get this kind of support, it's hard to believe," Indiana coach Tom Crean (4) said. "This really does show that Indiana is a separated program in the country. It just blows me away and blows our coaching staff away, and hopefully it blows our players away."

Ticket sales are soft enough at ASU that the school's athletic Web site is using Valentine's Day as a marketing tool. "Surprise a loved one with tickets to a Sun Devil men's basketball game!" says the large headline on the site, listing the Thursday-Saturday visits from the Bruins and USC.

With that in mind, The Minutes decided to perform an unscientific check of the fan-support barometer at 15 other schools, almost all of which are enjoying tremendous seasons. The schools are ranked by the difference between attendance percentage and winning percentage (through Sunday's games).

(Caveat: The Minutes used listed arena capacities. Some schools routinely exceed listed capacity, which is annoying and contradicts the very idea of a listed capacity, but the numbers are the numbers.)

(Caveat II: Some schools list tickets sold, some list actual butts in seats. The Minutes has no ironclad way of knowing who is fudging their figures and who is playing it straight.)

(Caveat III: The Minutes doesn't care whether your team's attendance was hurt by playing a home game in an ice storm or in any other kind of weather-related difficulty. Or whether the big archrival hasn't yet come to town. Or whether your team uses an NBA arena that is too big for its fan base. Or whether it plays in a crackerbox. To repeat: The numbers are the numbers, interpret them as you wish.)

The list, ranked best to worst:

Kentucky (5). Team performance: 16-7 record, .696 winning percentage. Fan performance: 22,655 average attendance, 98.5 percent of capacity at Rupp Arena. Difference: plus .289.

Louisville (6). Team performance: 18-4 record, .818 winning percentage. Fan performance: 19,337 average attendance, 102.5 percent of capacity at Freedom Hall. Difference: plus .207.

[+] EnlargeKansas fans
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesThe Kansas faithful have packed Allen Fieldhouse to the rafters for every game this season.

Kansas (7). Team performance: 19-4, .826 winning percentage. Fan performance: 16,363 average attendance, 100.39 percent of capacity at Allen Fieldhouse. Difference: plus .174.

Michigan State (8). Team performance: 19-4, .826 winning percentage. Fan performance: 14,759 average attendance, 100 percent of capacity at the Breslin Center. Difference: plus .174.

Duke (9). Team performance: 20-3, .870 winning percentage. Fan performance: 9,314 average attendance, 100 percent of capacity at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Difference: plus .130.

Memphis (10). Team performance: 20-3, .870 winning percentage. Fan performance: 17,562 average attendance, 96.7 percent of capacity at the FedEx Forum. Difference: plus .097.

North Carolina (11). Team performance: 21-2, .913 winning percentage. Fan performance: 20,922 average attendance, 96.2 percent of capacity at the Dean E. Smith Center. Difference: plus .049.

Connecticut (12) at Gampel Pavilion. Team performance, 22-1, .957 winning percentage. Fan performance: 10,011 average attendance in five games, 99.8 percent of capacity. Difference: plus .041.

Clemson (13). Team performance: 19-3, .864 winning percentage. Fan performance: 8,311 average attendance, 85.3 percent of capacity at Littlejohn Coliseum. Difference: minus .011.

Oklahoma (14). Team performance: 23-1, .958 winning percentage. Fan performance: 11,212 average attendance, 93.4 percent of capacity at Lloyd Noble Arena. Difference: minus .024.

UCLA (15). Team performance: 19-4, .826 winning percentage. Fan performance: 9,593 average attendance, 74.8 percent of capacity at Pauley Pavilion. Difference: minus .078.

LSU (16). Team performance: 19-4, .826 winning percentage. Fan performance: 9,979 average attendance, 73.3 percent of capacity at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. Difference: minus .093.

Connecticut at XL Center. Team performance: 22-1, .957 winning percentage. Fan performance: 14,021 average attendance in seven games, 86.1 percent of capacity. Difference: minus .096.

Florida State (17). Team performance: 18-5, .783 winning percentage. Fan performance: 7,334 average attendance, 56.4 percent of capacity at the Tallahassee-Leon County Civic Center. Difference: minus .119.

Penn State (18). Team performance: 17-7, .708 winning percentage. Fan performance: 7,195 average attendance, 47.2 percent of capacity at the Bryce-Jordan Center. Difference: minus .236.

Missouri (19). Team performance: 20-4, .833 winning percentage. Fan performance: 8,321 average attendance, 55.3 percent of capacity at Mizzou Arena. Difference: minus .280.

When Do They Hand Out Helmets?

In a season that has been blissfully short on major knee injuries (knock on Wooden), that doesn't mean it's been an especially safe year in college basketball. To the contrary, in some areas.

Derek Glasser
AP Photo/Chris PietschDerek Glasser suffered a bruised neck after getting hit on a back screen.

It's no secret that basketball players are stronger than ever, many of them using the weight room to morph into adequate body doubles for strong safeties or defensive ends. But with football size come football collisions. When players run into each other these days, it hurts.

Arizona State point guard Derek Glasser (20) was violently whiplashed Thursday night by a back screen he never saw coming from Oregon wide-body Joevan Catron (21). Glasser, who was just coming off a concussion, lay on the court for several minutes. He was helped off and missed the Sun Devils' next game, against Oregon State, with a bruised neck. (ASU spokesman Doug Tammaro said Monday that Glasser is day-to-day but expected to be back when the Devils play UCLA -- tickets available.)

If you want to blame anybody for what happened, it should be Glasser's teammates, who apparently failed to call the screen and got him blindsided. But the point is that increasingly large and muscular players are colliding with greater force and velocity in the same confined area. Quite simply, the game seems to have become more dangerous.

Way back in November, Kentucky's Ramon Harris (22) laid out North Carolina's Tyler Zeller (23) with a breakaway-stopping foul at the rim. The force of the foul sent Zeller flying and ultimately broke his wrist when he hit the floor. Zeller hasn't played since, and might not return to the floor this season. A couple of weeks later, Harris himself had a head-to-head collision with teammate Michael Porter going for a loose ball against Lamar -- a smash-up so violent that Porter needed stitches and Harris left Rupp Arena on a stretcher, subsequently missing five games.

Both Catron's screen of Glasser and Harris' foul of Zeller appeared to be completely clean. But both plays occurred late in games when the injured player's team was well ahead and in control.

More recently, Purdue point guard Lewis Jackson (24) missed a game with a concussion suffered when he was hammered by a similar screen from Wisconsin's Joe Krabbenhoft -- except there was nothing clean about that screen. Krabbenhoft appeared to very deliberately deliver an ejection-worthy blow with his forearm/elbow that somehow was not whistled by the officials.

Tyler Zeller
Bob Donnan/US PresswireUNC's Tyler Zeller suffered a broken wrist after just two games.

Not only are the players bigger, they might be angrier, too. Elbows are flying with hockey-match frequency, in search of an opponent's face -- or groin. Michigan (25) had two players tossed in consecutive games last week for throwing 'bows, after Zack Novak nailed P.J. Hill of Ohio State late in a blowout loss, and Manny Harris broke the nose of Purdue's Chris Kramer.

Now Indiana has indefinitely suspended Devan Dumes (26) after he nailed Michigan State's Goran Suton in the groin with one elbow and swung for the face of Tom Herzog with another -- also in a lopsided defeat for the perpetrator's team.

"As soon as I saw the clip where he elbowed Suton, [a suspension] had to be done," Crean said. "That's not what we're doing here."

(The Big Ten office chimed in by supporting Indiana's suspension and reprimanding Dumes for "unsportslike" behavior that violated the league's "Sportslike Conduct Agreement." Which seems to be a Herculean effort to twist commonly accepted verbiage in the name of gender neutrality.)

The Big Ten is either running amok with cheap play, or is simply more forthright about calling out and penalizing its elbowers than other leagues. Some insiders say you could find a dangerously thrown elbow in nearly every Big East game if the officials chose to look for it -- and, ill-intentioned or not, UConn center Hasheem Thabeet was whistled for elbowing Saturday against none other than Michigan.

The Minutes has been impressed by the diligence and high profile of the NCAA's new coordinator of officials, John Adams. He's been all over the country this season, watching games in person and taking notes. Hopefully he and the zebras can find ways to take some of the high-impact collisions out of basketball.

Streaking Down The Stretch

At some point in time, we doubted every one of the teams on this list. But over the past few weeks, they've been busy burying those doubts beneath a mounting pile of victories, and with the help of at least one thriving senior:

Zaire Taylor
AP Photo/L.G. PattersonZaire Taylor kept Missouri hot, hitting the game-winning shot against Kansas on Monday.

Missouri (27) -- In Mike Anderson's third year in Columbia, he has assembled a team that plays his way -- namely, as hard as any in America. The Tigers' fatigue-inducing pressure (why don't more teams play this way?) wilted defending national titlist Kansas on Monday night. Just as it wilted Texas in Austin five days earlier. Mizzou is now 8-2 in the Big 12 and has won four straight -- and in the process it has outscored its last four opponents by a combined 49 points in the second half. Senior: DeMarre Carroll, averaging 22.8 points and 7.3 rebounds during four-game streak.

Memphis -- The Tigers have won 14 straight, 12 of them blowouts. But beating up on Conference USA is one thing. Going to Spokane on Saturday and backhanding Gonzaga for 40 minutes says something else. Namely, it says that the Tigers refuse to step back from their three-year run of 30-win seasons, and refuse to be counted out from the 2009 national title chase despite major personnel losses from last year. Senior: Antonio Anderson, a team-first defensive stopper who stands alongside Louisville's Terrence Williams and Duke's Greg Paulus as seniors who care a whole lot less about points than they do about wins.

North Carolina -- The Tar Heels have won seven straight by an average of 16 points a game. That two-game wobble, losing to Boston College and Wake Forest? Seems like ancient history now as the Heels roar into Cameron Indoor for a game of some interest Wednesday night. Seniors: Tyler Hansbrough -- whose very active feet will be watched closely by Dookies on Wednesday night -- and Danny Green are a prominent half of Carolina's Big Four, along with juniors Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington.

Villanova (28) -- On a five-game winning streak by an average margin of 12 points, in a league that actively discourages five-game winning streaks. The Minutes predicts that when the regular season is over, the Wildcats will have worked their way into the Big East's top four seeds -- kicking out Marquette -- for that 16-team rager of a conference tournament. Senior: Dante Cunningham has been huge, taking a major step forward as a scorer from his junior year. He's had some foul trouble in a couple of the Wildcats' losses, but when Cunningham stays on the floor, they usually win.

UCLA -- Killing opponents and, in a departure from Ben Howland form, actually scoring points while doing it. The Bruins have won four straight by an average of 22.8 points per game and have scored at least 76 points in each of those games, buttressed by better offensive production from their big men. Seniors: Darren Collison, Josh Shipp and Alfred Aboya. Merely the Nos. 1, 2 and 4 scorers on the team; all of them have finished every preceding season in the Final Four.

LSU -- The Tigers have won four straight and seven of their last eight, scoring at least 70 points in eight straight games. Some of that is a byproduct of playing in the largely awful SEC West, but credit LSU with playing far beyond preseason (and even midseason) expectations. Senior: Leading scorer Marcus Thornton, a junior-college transfer who has had 28 20-point games in 54 Division I outings.

Kansas State (29) -- The Wildcats are on a five-game winning streak and are growing up in the process. They were 0-3 in games decided by five points or less heading into January; they're 3-0 since then in close games. This has been a team of wild mood swings (win five, lose three, win six, lose four, currently on five-game roll), but the Wildcats are playing well at just the right time. Senior: center Darren Kent, who scored 104 points total in his first three years of college and has nearly doubled that (202 points) this year.

Stumbling Down The Stretch

These are teams that at one point in time were ranked in the top 10 or led their conferences or both. Whether it's a confidence crisis, a chemistry failure or something else, they're now trying to figure out how it's come to this:

[+] EnlargeLuke Harangody
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesNot much to be happy about for the Irish these days.

The Big East threesome of Notre Dame (30), Georgetown (31) and Syracuse (32) -- The Fighting Irish have lost seven straight, bottoming out in a 26-point loss at UCLA on Saturday. The Hoyas have lost five of their last six -- including a sweep at the hands of middling Cincinnati. The Orange, by comparison, have tenaciously won two of their last seven and one of their last five -- but also surrendered 100 points to Providence and 102 to Villanova in their last three outings. Next up is a game at Connecticut, which looks like a fourth double-digit road beatdown in league play.

Texas (33) -- The Longhorns have lost three straight by a total of 11 points, two of them at home. They're now 2-6 on the season in games decided by six points or less, pointing out the deficiency in point-guard play that has been an issue since D.J. Augustin left early for the NBA.

Kentucky -- If the Wildcats lose Tuesday in Rupp Arena to Florida, they'll have their first three-game SEC home losing streak ever. But then again, they've only been in the league since it was formed in 1933.

Tennessee (34) -- The Volunteers have lost three of five and six of 11. That's not terrible, you say? Well, think of the league they're doing it in. If you can't get on a roll in the SEC, how good can you be? "It's been a difficult year," said associate coach Tony Jones. "We've gone through every approach -- the positive approach, getting into them, a mixture of the two." So far, nothing has had a lasting effect.

Saint Mary's (35) -- There might be a team more dependent on a single player (OK, Davidson), but not many. When extraordinary point guard Patty Mills went down with a broken right hand, so did the Gaels. They've lost three of their last four, including an 18-point wipeout at the hands of a Santa Clara team that is 13-13. The only victory was over 9-15 San Francisco. If Mills doesn't come back, neither does Saint Mary's.

Plodding Down The Stretch

In the Big Ten (36), slow is beautiful. Once February arrives, the pace of play grinds to a predictable halt. In the last nine league games this weekend, the losing team has scored 60 or fewer every time. Four times the loser wound up in the 40s. And don't forget Illinois' immortal 36-point effort at Minnesota on Jan. 29.

Minutes Man

The Minutes loves players who love to play, and last week nobody loved playing more than Saint Louis guard Kevin Lisch (37). He logged 92 minutes in two games -- 52 on Sunday in a triple overtime win over Richmond, and 40 on Wednesday in an OT win over Duquesne. Lisch averaged 24 points and 6.5 rebounds in the two victories.

In fact, he might be the most-played guy in the country over the course of his career. Lisch has averaged at least 30 minutes per game for four straight years, maxing out at 35.2 per game this season. He's logged more than 3,750 minutes of court time as a Billiken.

Road Trip Packing Tips

The Associated Press reports that New Mexico State freshman guard Terrance Joyner (38) was arrested last week after authorities discovered marijuana inside his luggage as the team departed on a two-game road trip to Utah State and Nevada.

Joyner reportedly was arrested at the airport at nearby El Paso, Texas, when he checked a bag containing 1½ marijuana cigarettes. Aggies coach Marvin Menzies (39) suspended Joyner indefinitely.

The Minutes could imagine what else Joyner checked for the trip:

A certain compromising photo of Michael Phelps (40) for inspirational purposes. Caption: "Party like a world champion today."

A fake ID. Because a joint and a half will last only so long on the road. Sooner or later a liquor store run would be in order.

A human dummy to fool coaches doing bed check.

iPod. Heavy on Bob Marley.

And as a last resort, in case he got truly bored, textbooks.

Buzzer Beater

The Minutes was home all week, with nothing but good home cookin' and no restaurant recommendations to make. We'll try harder next week.

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.