Hair today, gone tomorrow
Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college basketball (Al Skinner bobblehead doll sold separately):
With the announcement Saturday that current New Mexico State and former Illinois coach Lou Henson is retiring immediately for health reasons, college hoops loses another member of its Hair Hall of Fame. It's been a few years since Henson modeled the famous Lou 'Do, a mystifying, multilevel, multicolored scheme that earned him nearly as much renown as his 779 career victories, but no one will forget it anytime soon.
The Lou 'Do is survived on the sidelines by the remaining active members of The Minutes' Follicle Famers:
The Gene Keady Combover (1) -- Also nearing retirement, the frightening Purdue coach will leave a mammoth void in the What's He Thinking? wing of the Hair Hall of Fame.
The Quin Snyder Club-Hopper Look (3) -- The Missouri coach actually ditched that style this year, lowering his Pretty Boy quotient significantly in favor of a more traditional cut. That's probably played well in Middle America, but it hasn't helped the 10-8 Tigers play any better.
The Lute Olson Permafrost (5) -- The only man in sports whose hair has moved less in the last 25 years is Jimmy Johnson.
The Bob Huggins Semi-Pompadour (7) -- Makes him look slightly boyish, even while he's spraying purple-faced profanities in all directions on the sidelines.
The Billy Donovan Buzz Cut (8) -- The Eddie Munster look is receding a bit, replaced by a cut that's tight enough to pass military inspection. Not sure what the inspectors would think about using that much "product," though.
The Eddie Sutton Brillo Pad (9) -- It's troubling, but still an improvement over the old perm.
The Tom Penders Peroxide Poodle Perm (10) -- If Sammy Hagar coached college basketball, he'd look a lot like the Houston coach.
The only thing The Minutes likes less than a column without a gratuitous picture of Ashley Judd (11) is a column that contains ref-bashing. Officiating high-level basketball is as difficult and thankless as any job in sports.
However, The Minutes is disturbed by the number of end-of-game controversies that seem to be lingering long after the end of games.
Indiana (12) was wronged in December when Charlotte's Brendan Plavich (13) threw in a half-court prayer at the buzzer. The shot shouldn't have counted, but officials looked at replays with a clock that wasn't synched to the game clock and said Plavich got it off in time. Then the Hoosiers were nearly wronged again at Purdue last week on a similar last-second call. For an IU team scrambling to re-enter the NCAA Tournament chase, that could make the different between dancing and sitting.
Boston College (14) nearly lost its undefeated season to a shot-clock non-call against Villanova (15) last week. The game was not televised and a monitor was not available for officials to review the play.
And there was the disputed 2-pointer/3-pointer by Michael Jones (16) of Arkansas that tied/beat LSU (17) last week. Miscommunication between officials resulted in the Razorbacks thinking they had won by a point, only to have the basket ruled a 2-pointer. That sent the game into overtime, where LSU won 66-63. SEC officials spent a good part of the day Friday trying to sort out the mess, finally declaring that the shot was still worth two points and LSU still was the winner, but finding a "miscommunication issue" with the officials.
The Minutes suggests that leagues hold mandatory end-of-game symposiums for their officials during the offseason to ensure that proper protocol is followed. You can't eradicate human error, but you can at least make sure officials are following the proper procedures in making game-turning decisions.
Virginia Tech's Seth Greenberg (18). His Hokies figured to be utter road kill in their first ACC season, yet they're currently riding a three-game league winning streak. Granted, the three wins are by a total of four points, so they're living right, but any underdog that can beat Georgia Tech on its home floor deserves some love from The Minutes. It was Virginia Tech's first road win over a ranked team in 23 years.
Georgia Tech's Paul Hewitt (19) gets the equal and opposite reaction from Greenberg. His Yellow Jackets have now lost three straight, and B.J. Elder's injury is not a valid enough excuse for that.
The saving grace for Kentucky (20) in a horrible offensive performance at Ole Miss (21) last Wednesday was this: The Wildcats grabbed the final 15 rebounds of the game, helping them come back from a 13-point halftime deficit to win 53-50. The Rebels didn't grab a live rebound in the final 11½ minutes, as Kentucky dug down for a classically gritty-not-pretty TubbyBall victory. Forward Chuck Hayes (22) got five of those rebounds, four of them offensive, further underscoring this truism: He will not beat you off the dribble or with his jump shot, but the senior is undefeated in want-to contests.
Speaking of Hayes, The Minutes applauds players who can fill a stat box in columns other than FGA and points. Five guys who don't mind getting their hands dirty to help their teams win:
Ike Diogu, Arizona State (23) -- The Sun Devils center is among the national leaders in scoring (21.9 points per game), rebounding (9.9) and blocked shots (2.8), and punishes defenses inside. He leads the nation in free throws attempted, at 187 in 19 games, and has shot at least five free throws in every game.
Eddie Basden, Charlotte (24) -- Heading into the weekend the swingman led the 49ers in scoring (14.3), rebounds (8.1), assists (3.5) and steals (3.0). Then he hung 23 points, eight boards, five assists and three steals on Marquette.
Mike Wilkinson, Wisconsin (25) -- The power forward has cranked it up with three double-doubles in his last four games, highlighted by a 28-point, 15-rebound performance against Michigan on Saturday. Wilkinson can hurt you from 3-point range, in the paint or at the foul line, where he's shot 32 free throws in the last four games. He's also pulled down 15 offensive rebounds in that time.
Julius Hodge, North Carolina State (26) -- Where would the Wolfpack be without him? The slender senior leads the team in points (18.4), boards (7.6), assists (4.6) and steals (1.5), and has shot 10 or more free throws each of the last four games. Now if only he can straighten out his perimeter stroke (just three made 3-pointers this season).
Francisco Garcia, Louisville (27) -- The Hodge of Conference USA ranks among the league leaders in scoring (16.7), rebounds (5.1), assists (4.2), steals (2.2) and blocked shots (1.7). After a slow start to the year, he's scored 20 or more points in six of his last nine games.
And then there are those who tend to specialize in perching and shooting:
J.R. Giddens (28) -- The Kansas sophomore has attempted just 13 free throws, pulled down just eight offensive rebounds and dished out less than one assist per game.
Richard McBride (29) -- The Illinois guard has taken 64 shots this season. All but seven have been 3-pointers. He's attempted one 2-point shot in calendar year 2005.
Marvett McDonald (30) -- McBride and McDonald are the McThree addicts. McDonald has taken 117 threes and 50 twos this season, and at least 50 percent of his field-goal attempts in every game have been outside the arc.
Kelenna Azubuike (31) -- Tubby Smith said last year that his sculpted-yet-sedate swingman looks like Tarzan but occasionally plays like Jane. He's had Jane outings against Louisville (31 minutes, one rebound), South Carolina (36 minutes, zero rebounds) and Ole Miss (32 minutes, zero rebounds).
Rashad McCants (32) -- There's no denying the Tar Heel star's talent; sometimes you just wish he manifested it in areas beyond shooting the ball. His two offensive rebounds Saturday against Miami were the first he's had since December, and he's recorded just two steals total in the past four games.
There's an entire world of interesting basketball being played outside the glam conferences, and you don't have to wait until March to appreciate it. The Minutes offers a half-dozen league races that every Hoopaholic should keep an eye on:
Missouri Valley (33) -- How good is the MoVal? It has seven teams ranked in the top 85 of the Sagarin Ratings -- same as the Big 12. It ranks ahead of Conference USA, the WAC and the Mountain West in every league power rating. And it looks capable of multiple NCAA Tournament bids for the fourth time in the last five years. Less than halfway through league play, every team has lost at least one conference game.
Teams to watch: Wichita State (RPI No. 22) and Southern Illinois (14). The Shockers beat the Salukis on Saturday to tie them atop the standings at 6-1. They play again in Carbondale on Feb. 26.
West Coast (34) -- The league RPI is an all-time high No. 7, one spot higher than the Missouri Valley's. Most significantly, it isn't just Gonzaga and an anonymous collection of Sans, Santas and Saints anymore. The Bulldogs are currently third in the league standings with two losses, and only one WCC member is below .500 on the year.
Teams to watch: Gonzaga (RPI 12), St. Mary's (52), San Francisco (47) and Santa Clara (RPI 129, but owning double-digit victories over North Carolina, Stanford and St. Mary's). The road to the title still goes through Mark Few's backyard, but the Zags are going to have to work for it.
Mid-American (35) -- You won't find a Chris Kaman, a Wally Szczerbiak or a Bonzi Wells in the MAC this year, but you will find six teams ranked in the RPI top 80 and eight in the top 105.
Teams to watch: Western Michigan (RPI 33), Kent State (34), Ball State (50) and Miami (OH) (71). Ball State underscored the league's competitiveness by upsetting the last conference unbeaten, Western Michigan, in Kalamazoo Saturday.
Sun Belt (36) -- There are at least four teams fighting to be the best in the Belt, from old standbys Western Kentucky, Arkansas-Little Rock and Louisiana-Lafayette to a school normally known for hockey, Denver. (The Pioneers, 5-0 in league play, are led by point guard Rodney Billups -- younger brother of NBA Finals MVP Chauncey Billups.)
Teams to watch: The Ragin' Cajuns (RPI 85) are 3-0 on the road in league play, which helps. But they've also already lost at home to West Division rival Denver (RPI 101). In the East, UALR (RPI 49) is 10-0 at home but still must travel to Western (RPI 88) on Feb. 17.
Patriot (37) -- No, you won't mistake this league for the ACC. But as more schools have added athletic scholarships for basketball, the level of play has risen in an academics-first league. For the first time this century it has two teams ranked in the RPI Top 100. In fact, they're both in the top 65.
Teams to watch: Bucknell (RPI 63) has won 10 straight games to stand 13-4, including a three-game sweep of St. Joseph's, Pittsburgh and league rival Holy Cross (RPI 60). Ralph Willard's Crusaders continue to be a team no prime-time opponent wants to play. They took undefeated Boston College into overtime, and lost to RPI Top 25 opponents Princeton and Vermont by a total of nine points.
Southern (38) -- The power ratings aren't quite as high in this league, but the stories are compelling. East Tennessee State won 27 games last year and returned the most celebrated mid-major player in America in 5-foot-9 Tim Smith -- but the Buccaneers are 6-11 overall, 2-5 in the league. Chattanooga lost its coach, Jeff Lebo, to Auburn -- but the Mocs are 5-1 in conference play under former assistant John Shulman. Furman is third in the nation in 3-pointers made per game and fourth in 3-point percentage -- but is just 3-3 in league games.
Teams to watch: UNC-Greensboro, 5-1 and the leader in the RPI clubhouse at No. 84, will be hotly pursued. Davidson (RPI rank 108) is 7-0 in league play but six of the games have been close. Chattanooga (RPI rank 137) is 5-1, leads the league in scoring margin and is second nationally in rebounding margin.
... Flamboyant former Alabama guard James "Hollywood" Robinson (39), who blew bubbles while working his armpit-high dribble and shooting from wherever it felt good in the 1990s. Robinson was a legendary high-school talent who became a 20-point-a-game scorer at Alabama, but never got out of single digits during a quiet pro career. Information on Hollywood's whereabouts is appreciated.
Videotape of the offensive pyrotechnics at Redlands is allegedly on the way from various outlets. In the meantime, Forde Minutes located the stylistic opposite: Division III Wisconsin-Stevens Point (40) is surrendering a national-low 51.6 points per game. The Pointers (isn't that clever?) might be scoring 70 points per game fewer than Redlands' 141.4, but they're 13-1 and have only given up more than 60 points twice in regulation.
Fittingly, this guard-'em-first program is coached by Jack Bennett -- brother of Dick Bennett, who took defense-obsessed Wisconsin to the 2000 Final Four.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com
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