State of the basketball union

Originally Published: February 6, 2005
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college basketball (Dee Brown orange mouthpiece sold separately):

FALL GUY

The good news is that Mike Krzyzewski (1) was able to joke about it afterward. But the sight of the game's Ming vase toppling onto the court named in his honor was the Scare of the Year in college basketball. Take an antibiotic for that upper respiratory infection, eat a decent pregame meal and try not to stand up too abruptly, OK, Coach K?

Quite honestly, The Minutes watched the videotape and had an unsettling flashback to the horrible day when Hank Gathers (2) went down and never got up. Thankfully, this was nowhere near as serious.


STATES OF THE GAME

Which states are having the best seasons? The Minutes averaged the RPIs of the top three Division I teams from each state to find out. (Fourteen states have two or fewer D-I teams and thus didn't make the cut.) The state on top is no shock, but after that some of the results might surprise you.

North Carolina (3)
Top teams (with RPI rank): Wake Forest (No. 2), Duke (No. 7), North Carolina (No. 8). Tobacco Road rules, and it's up to the rest of America to deal with it. Average RPI of top three teams: 6

Illinois (4)
Top teams: Illinois (No. 4), Southern Illinois (No. 15), DePaul (No. 38). (Another reason the RPI is ludicrous -- the Illini are the No. 4 team in the country? Earlier in the week they were No. 6.) Average RPI: 19

Washington (5)
Top teams: Washington (No. 6), Gonzaga (No. 11), Washington State (No. 59). This has to be the best ever showing for America's upper-lefthand corner. Average RPI: 25

Ohio (6)
Top teams: Cincinnati (No. 21), Miami (No. 23), Kent State (No. 41). The state doesn't even need Ohio State to pull its weight. Average RPI: 28

Forde Minutes is saving Ashley a seat.
Kentucky (7)
Top teams: Kentucky (No. 10), Louisville (No. 17), Western Kentucky (No. 69). And that doesn't include the No. 1 entity in the MHI -- Minutes Hottie Index -- Ashley Judd (8). Average RPI: 32

California (9)
Top teams: St. Mary's (No. 28), Pacific (No. 29), UCLA (No. 34). Prior to Saturday, none of California's top three RPI teams was from the Pac-10. Average RPI: 32.3.

Massachusetts (10)
Top teams: Boston College (No. 3), Holy Cross (No. 42), Boston U. (No. 56). The Crusaders should win the Patriot League. If they don't, they're at least in the argument for a previously unimaginable at-large bid. Average RPI: 33

Pennsylvania (11)
Top teams: Villanova (No. 19), Pittsburgh (No. 45), Drexel (No. 55). The Keystone State has the most teams in the RPI top 100 with seven, from five different conferences. Average RPI: 39.6

Texas (12)
Top teams: Texas (No. 27), Texas Tech (No. 32), UTEP (No. 61). The Longhorns are in a free fall, the Red Raiders are playing well. Average RPI: 40

Oklahoma (13)
Top teams: Oklahoma State (No. 5), Oklahoma (No. 14), Oral Roberts (No. 119). Too bad Tulsa has fallen completely off the map. Average RPI: 46

Bust of the Year, state division: Indiana (14). The veritable capital of the game, the state that gave us Wooden and Bird and Oscar and dozens of other hoops heroes, has become a disaster area. The Hoosier State has zero teams in the RPI top 50 and might land zero in the Dance for the first time since 1972. Norman Dale (15) would be appalled.

Bust of the Year, city division: New York (16). It's true that The City exports most of its top talent, but there's no excuse for having no teams in the RPI top 150. Norm Roberts and Dereck Whittenburg are doing decent cleanup jobs on the toxic dumps that had become St. John's (RPI 161) and Fordham (172), respectively. But the bottom has fallen out on 2004 darling Manhattan (156), which is packing a losing record in the Metro Atlantic Conference. And Columbia (250) is, as former Louisville philosopher Milt Wagner once said of Drexel, "one of them academic schools."


MARATHON MAN

Most of America missed it, but tucked into the small print last Sunday was one of the most remarkable performances of the season -- Arkansas-Little Rock point guard Zack Graber (17) played all 65 minutes of the Trojans' five-overtime, 118-115 loss to Florida International.

No, it wasn't a record for minutes played. The NCAA doesn't keep records in that category, but we do know that Bobby Austin of Cincinnati played 73 minutes in a seven-overtime game between the Bearcats and Bradley in 1981. But we here at The Minutes pride ourselves on going the full Forde every time out, and we've been humbled by Mr. Graber's endless effort.

After 5 OTs, Graber was a little leg weary.
"It was just one of those deals where you feel like you can't come out," Graber said. "You've just got to play through being tired. There were a couple times I wanted to [come out], but with the situation we were in I wanted to stay in, try to make some plays and help us win.

"Coach [Steve Shields] asked me a couple times, 'You feel OK? Do I need to get you a quick one?' I told him, 'No, I'm all right. I'm going to play through it,'" Graber said.

Graber is accustomed to spending an inordinate amount of time on the court. The son of the principal at Salina South High School in Salina, Kan., he had a key to the gym and was your classic gym rat. He was there at all hours refining his game and mimicking his childhood hero, Kansas point guard Jacque Vaughn.

After two seasons at Coffeyville Community College, Graber came to UALR -- and he hasn't left the court much since. The five-OT extravaganza was his sixth game playing 40 or more.

Graber dished out a career-high 13 assists in the game while taking only four shots -- not out of character for a pass-first point guard. In fact, he's taken two or fewer shots in 13 of the Trojans' 22 games this season.

While he's never tried to wear out his shooting arm, he's put a lot of wear and tear on his legs. Even after playing 65 minutes on Jan. 30, Graber came back to play 37 last Thursday in a win over South Alabama and 35 more Saturday in a win over New Orleans.

"I felt like I could have (gone) another 30 minutes (against Florida International)," Graber said. "It was one of those days where you're in a zone and you feel like you can go forever. But the next morning was a little rough."


COACH WHO EARNED HIS COURTESY CAR THIS WEEK

If he even has a courtesy car, that is. Old coaching warhorse Gary Garner (18) of Southeast Missouri State has guided his Redhawks to five straight victories, topped off by a road upset of perennial Ohio Valley Conference kingpin Murray State on Saturday.

Few coaches this side of Tex Winter can run the triangle offense any prettier than Garner, now in his 22nd year as a college head coach. His 362 career wins include a 49-game winning streak with Division II Fort Hays State and a successful tenure at Drake. When he had the players to make the triangle work at Southeast Missouri, he won the OVC in 2000 and nearly upset LSU in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

This year the Redhawks wobbled off to a shaky start. But their current winning streak makes them one more team that could win what should be a wide-open OVC tournament.


COACH WHO SHOULD TAKE THE BUS TO WORK THIS WEEK

We applaud Michigan's Tommy Amaker (19) for doing what Memphis' John Calipari (20) would not -- namely, applying a long-term suspension to a player accused of assaulting a female. But Tommy Turtleneck's team is a mess in Ann Arbor.

The Wolverines have lost six straight, including four since point guard Daniel Horton (21) was pulled from the team. Rock bottom arrived Saturday in a 26-point loss to rival Ohio State, in which Michigan had four assists and 29 turnovers and failed to get off a shot in the first 3:45. Combine that with a 17-point home loss to Minnesota and a 29-point loss to Big Ten pushover Purdue last week and you have a team that appears to be unraveling.


MINUTES MAKE-GOOD

Last week The Minutes mentioned 10 teams that were undefeated in league play and weighed their chances of completing the quest. (That group is down two members since then -- Monmouth (22) and UMKC (23) both lost.) Along the way we overlooked Southern Conference leader Davidson (24), to the chagrin of a remarkably large number of Wildcats fans.

The school might only have 1,700 students and but The Minutes might have heard from all of them. And their parents.

So today we come to shed a little light on a program that has churned through 11 SoCon games without a defeat. Chances of completing their final five league games without a loss -- pretty strong, although a trip to College of Charleston on Valentine's Day will be tough.

"We have an experienced, veteran team that understands how to play the game the right way," said 16-year coach Bob McKillop (25), a New Yorker who has unexpectedly made Davidson his home.

A guy who coached the likes of Matt Doherty and Bill Wennington in high school came to Davidson at age 39, straight from the prep ranks, and figured it would be a way station on the way to the big-time. He wound up never leaving, despite having winning records in 11 of his last 12 years.

"The grass is pretty green here," McKillop said. "Sometimes people get sidetracked and forget how green it is where you are.

"I was a young, ambitious, I guess cocky high school coach. You think you wave a magic wand, turn a program around and move into the promised land of big-time programs. I had to get socked in the head and knocked to my knees to realize it doesn't work that way. It was humbling. That opens your eyes as to what your responsibility is as a coach, instead of think about what your next move is," he said.

Among McKillop's responsibilities the last three seasons has been coaching his son, Matt, one of the SoCon's top three-point shooters. McKillop is one of six players averaging between 6.5 and 17 points per game.

"We've got a lot of versatility," Bob McKillop said. "We've got different people scoring each night, different people making big plays each night."

Duly noted. And The Minutes will not overlook Davidson again.


FANTASY 3-POINT SHOOTING CONTEST

The Minutes is ready to stage a five-week head-to-head shoot-off of the best 3-ball shooters in America, with the winners advancing to Maui for a beachfront shooting contest on our nickel. (We said this was fantasy, right?)

Round One matchup: Charlotte's Brendan Plavich (26), who leads the nation in 3s made per game at four, vs. Arizona's Salim Stoudamire (27) who is making a mere 54 percent of his 3s.

Check back next week for the next fantasy matchup.


BUY/SELL

The NCAA Tournament selection committee pays attention to how teams perform in their final 10 games of the year, and we're now in that territory. With five weeks until Selection Sunday, at-large bids and seeding are on the line. The Minutes examines which teams' stock would be worth selling and which are worth buying (beyond the obvious blue-chip calls on Illinois and Boston College):

Teams to Buy:

Utah State (28) -- The Aggies have been blowing out the Big West the past few weeks, winning six straight by an average margin of 26.5 points. They're now 17-5 overall and host Big West unbeaten Pacific on Saturday. The Tigers pulled out a double-overtime win in Stockton in January. If Utah State doesn't win the league's automatic bid, it could be haunted come selection time by three bad losses -- to Central Florida (RPI 149) on a neutral floor, at IUPU-Fort Wayne (RPI 308) and at Idaho (RPI 263).

Utah (29) -- The Utes have won 14 straight, which is strong. They've all been by double digits, which is phenomenal. In a mediocre Mountain West, they're just three road games away from a likely conference sweep.

Commonwealth of Kentucky (30) -- Louisville has won nine straight. Its three losses have been by a combined 10 points, and in two of those games key starters missed most of the game with injuries. Kentucky has won seven straight, and its two losses are to North Carolina and Kansas. (Once again, though, playing in a soft SEC is doing the Wildcats no favors for March.)

Texas Tech (31) -- Don't look now, but Bob Knight University has won six of its last seven and nine of its last 11. The Red Raiders rolled Oklahoma in Norman on Saturday to grab the nation by the throat (Neil Reed reference) and get Kansas in Lubbock on Valentine's Day.

Penn (32) -- The Quakers have been streaky, currently riding seven straight wins after five straight losses. The next three games are at home, and Penn could be solidly favored every time out until the season finale at Princeton March 8.

Teams to Sell:

Mississippi State (33) -- Losing at LSU wasn't good. Losing at Tennessee was flat-out bad. Losing by 49 at Alabama was worse. But losing by 16 at Auburn, which was previously 1-6 in the SEC, is a flat-out debacle. With Winsome Frazier's broken foot, the Bulldogs can plead their case to the committee for mitigating circumstances -- but they need him back in uniform to convince anyone they can again be the team they were earlier this year.

Georgia Tech (34) -- Another team with injury issues -- this time, B.J. Elder's pulled hammy. He hasn't played since New Year's Day, and in that time the 2004 national finalists are an un-regal 4-5. Tech will make the tournament, but it probably needs to hold serve at home and at least split its four remaining road games to be on track for a top-eight seed heading into the ACC tournament.

Iowa (35) -- The Hawkeyes showed some grit coming back to lose close to Michigan State on Saturday, but without alleged serial woman assaulter Pierre Pierce, they're in trouble. Iowa has lost five of its last eight and will be hard-pressed to get beyond .500 in Big Ten play entering the league tournament.

Western Michigan (36) -- The Broncos started 6-0 in the MAC but are now just 8-4 and 14-7 overall. Their Bracket Buster game at Northern Iowa on Feb. 19 is shaping up as a must-win to remain in consideration for an at-large bid.

Texas (37) -- The Longhorns have three near-guaranteed wins left on the schedule, which will get them to 18 victories on the season and should lock up an NCAA Tournament bid. Outside of that, there isn't much good to say about a team that has lost three out of four -- including a home loss to Iowa State -- and has floundered without ineligible leading scorer P.J. Tucker and injured big man LaMarcus Aldridge. Remember, the NCAA will be seeding the team that's played without Tucker, not the one that played with him.

PUTTING OUT AN APB FOR ...

... Former Missouri Band-Aid wearer and multipurpose forward Derrick Chievous (38). The Minutes would appreciate any updates on the whereabouts of the New York kid who battled on even terms with Kansas' Danny Manning and led the Tigers to the 1987 Big Eight title.

Meanwhile, The Minutes is happy to report that former Arkansas mad bomber Al Dillard (39) is alive and well and still jacking up 3s in church leagues in his hometown of Birmingham, Ala. Given the number of correspondents who reported playing with Dillard, he's playing in about 17 leagues around town.

LAST-SECOND SHOT

The Minutes' new favorite player is Jordan Snipes (40) of Guilford College, who by now you know from SportsCenter as the dude who threw in the roughly 90-foot slingshot to beat Randolph Macon at the buzzer. Doing it once was good enough for this lifetime, but Snipes was asked to recreate the shot by a local TV crew and sank another one in only 11 tries. Strong.

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

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