Commentary

Forde Minutes: Catching up on college

Originally Published: January 19, 2010
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college basketball (foul-shooting tutorials sold separately in Austin):

[+] EnlargeFrank Martin
AP Photo/Charlie RiedelEven the intense Frank Martin was wearing a Jacob Pullen beard after KSU's win over No. 1 Texas.

Kansas State (1), welcome to For Real after taking down No. 1 Texas on Monday night. The Wildcats are as legitimate as they've been since Lon Kruger took them to the 1988 Elite Eight, where they lost to eventual national champion Kansas. There could be another memorable game or two between the rivals this season, with a Jan. 30 date in Manhattan and March 3 meeting in Lawrence.

Meanwhile, Texas' first three games in program history at No. 1 were marked by completely unimpressive play. The Longhorns trailed at halftime to all three opponents, and it wasn't murderers' row: Iowa State, Texas A&M, Kansas State. Rick Barnes' team had better get more comfortable wearing a bull's-eye.

Underachiever Call-out

In an eager attempt to make some money and perhaps also change the subject from football-coach desertion and player arrests, Tennessee (2) is e-mailing fans with the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to buy framed pictures from the Volunteers' remarkable, short-handed upset of No. 1 Kansas (3) on Jan. 10.

Among the moments suitable for framing (starting at $15.95 and ranging as high as $214.95) is a picture of young walk-on McBee hitting a crucial 3-pointer with the shot clock expiring. And really, what Tennessee fan's existence is complete without a $215 framed picture of Skylar McBee (4)?

But there is more. The school's athletic Web site offers 28 photos to choose from, including one entitled "Hobson Battles for the Bucket." A gentle correction: That's Scotty Hopson (5), Smokey. You should know the name, especially now that there are fewer names on the active roster.

Big as this victory was for the current Vols, it also underscores the dearth of really big victories in the program's history. Like, NCAA tournament victories of note. Fact is, Tennessee is one of just 17 programs in the power-six conferences not to have made at least one Final Four.

(Caveat: For many years there was no actual Final Four as we know it today. But The Minutes counted all programs that finished fourth or better in any of the 71 NCAA tournaments.)

The complete list:

Atlantic Coast Conference (6):

Clemson. Closest the Tigers have come: A 1980 regional final loss to UCLA. Where they rank on the underachiever scale: Fairly high, given their charter-member status with the ACC. Fact is, that '80 season was Clemson's first-ever NCAA appearance.

Virginia Tech. Closest the Hokies have come: A 1967 regional final loss to Dayton in overtime. Where they rank on the underachiever scale: Fairly high as well. Only six all-time NCAA victories. By comparison, in-state neighbor Virginia -- itself something of a hoops underachiever -- has won 22 NCAA games.

Miami. Closest the Hurricanes have come: Sweet 16 in 2000, where they lost to Tulsa. Where they rank on the underachiever scale: Not that high when you consider the school didn't even field a team from 1971 to 1985.

Boston College. Closest the Eagles have come: Three-time regional runners-up, in 1967, '82 and '94. The '82 team helped break open the bracket by stunning No. 1 seed DePaul before falling to sixth-seeded Phi Slama Jama in the regional final. Where they rank on the underachiever scale: High. Not much excuse for a school from a good basketball city that has been at it as long as the Eagles not to stumble into at least one Final Four.

Big 12 (7):

[+] EnlargeLance Jeter and Sek Henry
AP Photo/Nati HarnikForget never making the Final Four -- the Huskers have never even won a game in the NCAA tourney.

Nebraska. Closest the Cornhuskers have come: Ummm, they at least made the field on six different occasions. Have yet to win a game upon getting there. Where they rank on the underachiever scale: A school that size that has never won an NCAA game? That qualifies for select underachiever company.

Missouri. Closest the Tigers have come: Regional finalist five times under four different coaches, in 1944, '76, '94, 2002 and '09. Only the '44 team lost to the eventual national champion (Utah). Where they rank on the underachiever scale: Very, very high. No excuses.

Texas A&M. Closest the Aggies have come: Reached the Sweet 16 three times, in 1969, '80 and 2007. The '80 team lost in overtime to eventual champion Louisville. Where they rank on underachiever scale: Depends whether anyone cares. This is a school that once employed a football coach (Dana Bible) to moonlight as its basketball coach for seven years.

Texas Tech. Closest the Red Raiders have come: Made the Sweet 16 four times, in 1962, '76, '96 and 2005. All four times, the teams that eliminated Tech were in turn eliminated the next game -- even the '96 team, which was 28-1 at one point. So, no, the Red Raiders haven't really come very close to a Final Four. Where they rank on the underachiever scale: Mid-pack. Should have done more, but who wants to go to Lubbock to play basketball?

Big East (8): South Florida. Closest the Bulls have come: Made the field twice, in 1990 and '92, and did not win a game -- despite the best efforts of Yugoslavian sharpshooter Radenko Dobras. Where they rank on the underachiever scale: Low. Didn't start playing until 1971.

Big Ten (9):

Northwestern. Closest the Wildcats have come: Oh, let's not torture the NCAA virgins anymore by reciting their historic ineptitude. Where they rank on the underachiever scale: First.

Pac-10 (10):

Arizona State. Closest the Sun Devils have come: Regional runners-up in 1961, '63 and '75 under Ned Wulk. The '75 team was eliminated by John Wooden's final UCLA squad, which went on to win the title. Where they rank on the underachiever scale: High. Arizona has made its in-state rival look bad. It would help if the Sun Devils had spent all this time racking up football championships, but that isn't the case, either.

Southeastern Conference (11): (aka Underachiever Alley)

Alabama. Closest the Crimson Tide have come: Regional finalist in 2004. Upon arrival at that rarified spot, the Tide promptly capitulated, getting blown out by eventual champ Connecticut. Where they rank on the underachiever list: With 19 NCAA bids, they should have found their way to the last weekend once by now.

Auburn. Closest the Tigers have come: Made the 1986 regional final, where they lost by eight to eventual champion Louisville. Where they rank on the underachiever list: Didn't even get an NCAA bid until 1984. That's bad. Clear sign of institutional indifference: Football coach Shug Jordan, then an assistant, also coached hoops from 1933 to '43. More modern sign of institutional indifference: Jeff Lebo now in his sixth season as coach, with a single NIT bid to show for it.

Homer and Drew Bryce
AP Photo/John Gaps IIIMost have fond memories of Bryce Drew's buzzer shot in the 1998 NCAA tourney. Not Ole Miss fans.

Ole Miss. Closest the Rebels have come: The 2001 team made the Sweet 16. Rod Barnes remains the only coach in school history to have won an NCAA tournament game (he won three). Where they rank on the underachiever list: Given all the players that have come out of that state over the years, pretty high.

South Carolina. Closest the Gamecocks have come: Played in three straight Sweet 16s, 1971-73. Unbelievably, they have not won an NCAA game since, and have earned just five bids in that time. Where they rank on the underachiever list: Top five, easily.

Tennessee. Closest the Volunteers have come: Forget the Final Four; they've made zero appearances in a regional final. The high-water mark is the Sweet 16, which the Vols have reached five times (1967, '81, 2000, '07 and '08). Where they rank on the underachiever list: Also top five.

Vanderbilt. Closest the Commodores have come: Behind Clyde Lee, the 1965 team made the Elite Eight, where it lost by two points to eventual runner-up Michigan. Since then there have been five Sweet 16 appearances. Where they rank on the underachiever list: Low. Vandy is an academic school that plays good basketball, which, along with the successes of Duke and Stanford, help make Northwestern's futility all the more stark.

Remember Us?

Sports are a here-today, gone-tomorrow proposition, and perhaps none of them is more ephemeral than college basketball. Florida (12) goes from giant of the sport to NIT pip-squeak overnight. UCLA (13) makes three straight Final Fours under Ben Howland, but now is 7-10 and cannot come within 27 points of Portland. Davidson (14) is just another academic school with a sub-.500 basketball team.

But sometimes the opposite dynamic is at work, too. The Minutes has compiled a top 10 list of gone-yesterday, here-today for this 2009-10 season -- people and teams we had forgotten about or written off, but have forced their way back onto the scene:

Mike Davis (15).

Why we used to care: Davis succeeded Bob Knight at Indiana and took the Hoosiers to the 2002 national title game.

Why we stopped caring: He steadily lost his way out of Bloomington, moved down a rung to UAB and hasn't coached an NCAA tournament game since 2006.

Why we care now: Davis' Blazers are 15-2, with victories over Cincinnati, Butler and a pair of Southeastern Conference opponents. They're 7-2 in road/neutral games and should challenge for an NCAA at-large bid if they don't win Conference USA. The Blazers are flawed enough to trail SMU by 24 over the weekend, but gritty enough to come back and win. For everyone who was convinced they'd seen the last of Davis, guess again.

Syracuse (16).

Why we used to care: The Orange won 28 games last season, earned a No. 3 NCAA tournament seed and played one of the great games in college basketball history, the six-overtime extravaganza with Connecticut in the Big East tournament.

Why we stopped caring: Cuse lost its top three scorers (Jonny Flynn, Eric Devendorf and Paul Harris), leading rebounder (Harris) and top distributor (Flynn) from that team. The Orange were picked sixth in the Big East preseason poll.

Why we care now: With revelatory transfer Wesley Johnson leading the way, Syracuse is 18-1 and ranked fifth nationally. Cuse is enjoying addition by subtraction, with some players more amenable to coaching than last season. Jim Boeheim isn't grouching off into his dotage just yet.

[+] EnlargeCaracter
AP Photo/Alonzo AdamsHey, remember me? Derrick Caracter has resurfaced in the Land of Second Chances, C-USA.

Derrick Caracter (17). Why we used to care: Caracter was a renowned phenom starting in eighth grade, when he began overpowering older players in national shoe camps.

Why we stopped caring: He became fat, lazy, undisciplined, uncoachable and a general exemplar of everything that is wrong with American youth basketball. He wandered through several high schools, blew multiple chances at Louisville and finally was kicked off the team and/or out of school. He resurfaced at UTEP, which is pretty much the definition of obscurity.

Why we care now: Caracter is working on becoming the exemplar of the power of the second chance. By all accounts he has done an attitudinal 180, with the results to show for it. He's averaging 13.6 points and 8.3 rebounds per game for the 11-5 Miners, though his rebounding has tailed off after five straight double-figure efforts from Dec. 16 to Dec. 29.

The System Coaches (18). Specifically, Bo Ryan, Mike Anderson and Tony Bennett.

Why we used to care: All three have taken teams far beyond their talent level, winning big with their signature playing styles. For Ryan and Bennett, that's deliberate offense and airtight defense. For Anderson, it is frantic, full-court confrontation.

Why we stopped caring: After back-to-back 30-win seasons, Ryan's Wisconsin team slipped to 20 last season and was expected by some to backpedal even further in 2009-10 (The Minutes checked four different preview publications and could not find the Badgers picked higher than seventh in the Big Ten). Anderson's Missouri outfit won 31 games last season and advanced to the Elite Eight, but lost its top three scorers (and also was not ranked higher than seventh in four previews). Bennett relocated from Washington State to Virginia, where the Cavaliers lost 18 games last season and 16 the season before.

Why we care now: Ryan's Badgers and Anderson's Tigers both are in the Sagarin top 25, and both are 14-4 overall. Bennett's Cavaliers, picked as low as last in the 12-team ACC, are the surprise leaders at 3-0.

The top of the West Coast Conference (19).

Why we used to care: Twelve straight seasons of at least 23 victories for Gonzaga. Dynamic guard Patty Mills made Saint Mary's entertaining and successful, leading them to 53 wins the past two seasons.

Why we stopped caring: Gonzaga's Austin Daye and Mills went pro early. The Zags also lost Jeremy Pargo, Josh Heytvelt and Micah Downs and figured to take a dip.

Why we care now: Life after those guys is fairly splendid, thanks for asking. The Gaels are 15-3, with victories over Oregon, Utah State and San Diego State. Randy Bennett's team is riding 20-10 guy Omar Samhan to the top of the West Coast Conference. But the recession-proof Zags are still the boss of the league after winning at Saint Mary's last week. Looks like a multi-bid league.

Pittsburgh (20).

Why we used to care: The Panthers have been models of hard-nosed consistency, winning 25 or more games seven of the past eight seasons.

Why we stopped caring: They lost their leading scorer of the past two seasons (Sam Young). And their leading rebounder of the past two seasons (DeJuan Blair). And their leading assist man of the past two seasons (Levance Fields). Then they lost in December to rebuilding Indiana.

Why we care now: Look who is 5-0 in the Big East, with road victories over Syracuse, Cincinnati and UConn. The Panthers are characteristically among the best in the nation defensively and on the glass, and are sharing the ball beautifully on offense.

Steve Alford (21).

Why we used to care: Former Hoosiers hero and one-time coaching hotshot rose quickly up the ranks from Missouri State to Iowa.

Why we stopped caring: He won one NCAA tournament game in eight seasons at Iowa, failed to get the Indiana job and downsized to New Mexico.

Why we care now: After winning 46 games his first two seasons in Albuquerque but landing in the NIT both times, Alford has the Lobos pushing for their first NCAA bid since 2005 and just their second since 1999. They got off to a 12-0 start and have beaten California, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Dayton.

[+] EnlargeDunphy
AP Photo/Michael PerezTemple coach Fran Dunphy is on board for keeping the yearly Big 5 games going.

Temple (22).

Why we used to care: Quirkily entertaining coach John Chaney and his quirkily aggravating playing style led the Owls to five regional finals between 1988 and 2001.

Why we stopped caring: The Owls haven't won an NCAA game since '01. Chaney edged from quirky toward crazy before retiring in 2006 and was replaced by the sad-eyed and utterly flairless Fran Dunphy. And this season they had to replace three-time leading scorer Dionte Christmas. Expected Atlantic 10 finish: outside the top three.

Why we care now: Just because Dunphy isn't a sideline peacock doesn't mean he can't coach. His Owls are 15-3 overall and 7-1 on the road, with the only loss by a point at Georgetown. They are the only team to beat Villanova, and also have taken down Seton Hall, Virginia Tech and Siena.

The Atlantic 10 (23).

Why we used to care: The league has usually had at least one tough NCAA out, whether it was Xavier or Temple or, on occasion, George Washington or Rhode Island or Saint Joseph's.

Why we stopped caring: Depth started to dry up. GW and Charlotte hit the skids and Saint Joe's took a step back. Xavier switched coaches again last spring, and lost its top three scorers.

Why we care now: Joe Lunardi's latest Bracketology has four A-10 teams in, plus Richmond knocking on the door. The league has five teams in Jeff Sagarin's top 60.

Frank Martin (24).

Why we used to care: Called plays for Michael Beasley.

Why we stopped caring: Beasley left Kansas State after a single season for the NBA, and the Wildcats slipped back to the NIT in 2009.

Why we care now: Martin has proved there is life -- a better life -- after Beasley. Armed with a dynamic backcourt of Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente and an athletic front line, K-State is in the top 10 and looking like it plans to stay there for a while. The Minutes must admit: The first time Martin appeared on a sideline, alongside Bob Huggins, he looked like a strength coach whose primary purpose was to be the muscle if a bench-clearing brawl ever took place. In other words, it was hard to take him seriously as a coach in those days -- but it's not hard now. Martin, his tight fade, high-shouldered suits and maniac glare belong.

And a special Minutes welcome-back salutation to Ashley Judd (25), who like many other Kentucky fans, lost some interest in the Cats during the Billy Gillispie interlude ("era" is too strong a word for a two-season tap dance). The Minutes' favorite basketball fan was back in Rupp Arena on Jan. 9 to see Kentucky play Georgia, and showed up at Auburn over the weekend as well.

Meanwhile, Four Who Have Faded Away

Connecticut (26). The Huskies have gone from the '09 Final Four to tied for 10th in the Big East at 11-6 overall, 2-3 in league play. They've lost three straight and four of their past six, and are 1-5 away from home. Not exactly trending up toward what was supposed to be a spicy nonconference showdown with Texas on Saturday.

North Carolina (27). Defending national champions were supposed to take a step back this season -- but this has been a Beamonesque leap back. Tar Heels have been roadkill outside of Chapel Hill, going 1-5 in road/neutral games. But the problems appear to run deeper than that after the sloppy-handling Heels lost at home to Georgia Tech, sliding to 1-2 in the ACC.

Michigan (28). The Wolverines were reintroduced to expectations this season, and promptly fainted. They've taken questionable losses at home (Boston College, Northwestern), at neutral sites (Alabama) and on the road (Utah, Indiana). Beating UConn and Ohio State within a two-week span this month might signal that John Beilein's team is now ready to make a move -- but The Minutes must see it to believe it.

Washington (29). In the Land of Bad Basketball, otherwise known as the Pacific-10, the Huskies were expected to battle California for the league title. That may still happen, but we could be talking about winning a one-bid league. Until Washington proves it can do anything away from home (0-4 headed for a Los Angeles road swing this week), this is an NIT team.

First-Team All-Philanthropy

[+] EnlargeCalipari
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesJohn Calipari not only deserves praise for his 18-0 Cats, but also for his Hoops for Haiti telethon.

The Minutes is never shy about coach-bashing, but there are times when they also deserve praise. This is one of those times. College basketball coaches have been doing some noteworthy good deeds lately -- some of them new inspirations, some now-respected traditions.

Start with John Calipari (30) of Kentucky, who helped orchestrate a Sunday telethon, "Hoops for Haiti," that raised a remarkable $1 million very quickly to aid earthquake victims in that Caribbean nation. Callers and online donors contributed $525,000, and matching gifts from Calipari and Kentucky business leaders brought the total to seven figures.

Kansas coach Bill Self (31) devoted the front page of his Web site to fundraising for Haiti, asking Kansas fans either to donate at Allen Fieldhouse before the Jayhawks played Texas Tech on Saturday or to donate online. Self said he will personally match a portion of the funds raised by Wednesday.

Other coaches have been involved in the Haiti relief effort as well, including IUPUI's Ron Hunter (32) and the folks at Samaritan's Feet. Hunter earned national attention a couple of years ago for coaching barefoot to raise awareness for all the impoverished children worldwide who go without even a single pair of shoes. Hunter's work in that area has expanded to include 3,000 men's and women's coaches from across the country, at all levels of the game, who coached barefoot over the past weekend. This year, Samaritan's Feet hopes to send 10,000 pairs of shoes to Haiti.

And we are approaching the annual Coaches vs. Cancer (33) Suits and Sneakers awareness weekend, which runs Jan. 29-31. College coaches for years have taken one weekend per season to wear sneakers on the sidelines to help raise awareness for cancer research and prevention funding. Just because it isn't the newest hoops philanthropy project doesn't mean it isn't deserving.

The Minutes salutes these guys and the many other men and women in their profession who are taking some time to do something beyond simply coaching the next game. Well done.

Twitter Stars

The Minutes will give a weekly shout-out to college basketball people worth following on Twitter. This week's must-follow:

Colorado State coach Tim Miles (34), whose Twitter handle is CoachMiles. Miles offers something more than relentless top-spin. He gives you perspective beyond basketball, a sense of humor, occasional restaurant recommendations and candor (he called his team's 91-47 loss to BYU what it was: a "debacle").

The Minutes was going to tout the excellently insightful Kim English (35) of Missouri as well, but English has shut down his entertaining Twitter feed for the rest of the season "to get rid of distractions," as he told The Minutes.

"I loved it, love the fans getting to know the real me," English said. "But I want to concentrate on winning right now. I'll definitely start back up after the season."

Minutes Crush Of The Week

[+] EnlargeJordan Eglseder
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallJordan Eglseder and UNI, seen here after a win at Iowa State, are on a 15-game winning streak.

The college hoops landscape changes nightly, and The Minutes' affection can be fickle. This season The Minutes will declare affection for one team, player or coach every week, knowing full well that divorce proceedings might be on by next week.

First up: Northern Iowa (36), a team The Minutes first liked after watching the Panthers win the Missouri Valley Conference tournament last season. They pushed Purdue before losing in the first round of the NCAA tournament and brought back virtually the entire team this season. Clearly, this was a team to watch in 2009-10, and it has backed up the expectation so far.

Northern Iowa is 16-1, 7-0 in the MVC, with victories over teams from the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Mountain West and Conference USA. The Panthers play a key Valley game Tuesday night at Wichita State. If they win that one, it's hard to foresee when their next loss might be.

Coach Who Earned His Comp Car This Week

BYU's Dave Rose (37), who continues to put a life-threatening cancer scare behind him and continues to pile up wins this season. The Cougars are 18-1 and riding a 13-game winning streak.

Coach Who Should Take The Bus To Work

LSU's Trent Johnson (38). His 9-8 Tigers have won just a single game in the past month, against McNeese State. That was sandwiched between six losses. Last season's surprise SEC regular-season title seems a long time ago right now.

Buzzer-Beater

When hungry and thirsty in the eternally excellent city of New Orleans, The Minutes recommends venturing beyond the French Quarter to some of the city's many other spots. Specifically, grab a burger at Port of Call (39) and a beer at Mimi's (40), both of them appropriately eccentric Big Easy locales.

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