Three questions about a lot of things
Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college basketball (Zach Ingles bobblehead dolls sold separately):
The Minutes salutes the weekend's big winners: Ohio State and the First Dancers (1): Penn, Winthrop, Central Florida, Eastern Kentucky and Chattanooga. The Buckeyes put a bow on the end of a trying season by marring Illinois' unbeaten run. For the first five teams to win NCAA bids: enjoy the dance floor while you have it to yourselves.
Slackers of the world, unite around your television sets and computer screens. The Minutes demands to know: Who among us can be expected to work, go to class or adhere to familial responsibilities when basketball games are being played at all hours of the day for the next two weeks? Are we not duty-bound to watch when conference and NCAA tournament games are contested from lunch hour through happy hour and right up to closing hour?
Of course we are. To aid in the noble and selfless pursuit of total immersion in wall-to-wall ball, The Minutes offers this March Permission Slip. Print it, clip it and submit it to problematic authority figures who don't live to hear Bill Raftery (2) announce that someone is opening the game playing "manaman!"
Dear boss/professor/spouse (circle one):
Please excuse (blank) from work/school/playing with the children (circle one) for the next seven days. (Blank) is severely ill/has a death in the family/has car trouble (circle one) that will keep him occupied during Championship We -- uh, the week of March 6-12.
There is also an excellent chance that (blank) will still be ailing/mourning/working on the transmission (circle one) for the Big Dan -- uh, the week of March 13-19.
In fact, lingering symptoms/prolonged grief/a faulty timing belt (circle one) could hinder (blank)'s attendance and performance into early April.
We appreciate your compassion, understanding and flexibility during March Mad -- uh, during this difficult time in (blank)'s life.
In anticipation of the week ahead, The Minutes asks and answers three burning questions for each of the top league tournaments yet to tip off:
(3) How many teams get No. 1 NCAA Tournament seeds? North Carolina looks pretty certain after Sunday's crazy comeback win over Duke. Wake Forest or the Devils could get another by winning the tournament, or perhaps just advancing to the ACC final. Then you wonder how many of the Big Three share space (and tickets) next week in Charlotte.
(4) How many ACC teams get in?
Probably five, which means times are still tense for Georgia Tech, Maryland, Virginia Tech and North Carolina State. Half of those four will probably be squeezed out.
(5) Is this the last stand for Virginia coach Pete Gillen and North Carolina State coach Herb Sendek?
Gillen is a foregone conclusion, with most Cavaliers fans moving on weeks ago to speculation about his successor. Sendek, who won the ACC coach of the year award in 2004 and has worked an academic reformation in Raleigh, has been publicly supported by athletic director Lee Fowler. But Wolfpack fans are feeling mutinous, and Fowler isn't yet ready to guarantee that Sendek will be back in Raleigh for a 10th season.
(6) Is this a one-bid league? One year after getting four teams in the Dance and two years after getting three, yes. The A-10 enters this week with St. Joseph's its highest-rated RPI team at No. 60.
(7) After the Goonball fiasco, how do St. Joseph's and Temple coexist in the same building?
Having John Chaney out of the picture should help. So should the fact that St. Joe's plays its first game Thursday at noon and Temple plays at 8:30 p.m. But a potential meeting in the final could have emotions running on high.
(8) Can Xavier replicate last year's tourney blitz?
Despite the roster changes and new coach, don't rule out a run by the X-Men. The Musketeers, who won seven of their final nine A-10 games, will have the hometown crowd advantage.
(9) Who's the hot team?
Oklahoma, beyond a doubt. The Sooners grabbed the 1-seed in the conference tourney when Kansas lost on Sunday. They have won six straight -- three on the road -- by an average of 18.5 points, capped by a pounding of Texas Tech in Lubbock. Kelvin Sampson rejiggered his rotation after some mid-winter struggles and has gotten inspired play from freshman David Godbold and juco transfer Terrell Everett.
(10) Can Kansas or Oklahoma State collar a No. 1 NCAA seed? The Cowboys fumbled that by losing in Stillwater to Texas on Saturday. Kansas still has its nonsensical No. 1 RPI ranking, but losing Sunday at Missouri makes that questionable -- even if KU wins the Big 12 tourney title. (With the final on Sunday afternoon, it will end too late for serious consideration from the selection committee.)
(11) Texas is in. What about Iowa State?
The leading contender from the Official Bubble State (Iowa State, Iowa, Northern Iowa) is in after squeezing past Colorado on the road Saturday. The committee will overlook the unimpressive RPI in favor of beating ranked opponents four straight Saturdays.
(12) Is Connecticut warming up for a national title repeat?
It's not out of the question. Nobody nationally is finishing any stronger than the Huskies, with sophomores Marcus Williams and Charlie Villanueva raising their games right on time. UConn might not get a No. 1 seed -- but it didn't get one last year, either.
(13) Which bubble team(s) get in?
Notre Dame might need simply to win its first-round Big East game to ensure a spot. West Virginia put itself back in jeopardy by losing to Seton Hall and might need to win two games (including a potential second-round game with regular-season champ Boston College) to feel secure. Same with Georgetown, which flopped against Providence. When the smoke clears, expect no more than seven Big East bids.
(14) Will BC gets its mojo back?
Any team that loses by 22 at home on Senior Night has some proving to do. The Minutes suspects that the Eagles are susceptible to an early out in MSG.
(15) So how does Illinois respond?
With renewed vigor and no excess weight on its shoulders. The Minutes turned out to be wrong in its prediction that the Illini would roll into the Big Dance 33-0, but that's a good thing for the Orange People. Carrying a perfect record is more burden than Illinois needs, and this loss to Ohio State won't affect its seeding.
(16) How many coaches at this tournament won't be back next year?
Purdue legend Gene Keady is the one sure bet. The Minutes guesses that one of the four coaches who have felt a lot of heat this year -- Iowa's Steve Alford, Indiana's Mike Davis, Michigan's Tommy Amaker and Minnesota's Don Monson -- to go down. And it definitely won't be Monson.
(17) What does Ohio State do for an encore?
If the Buckeyes don't emotionally call it a season after the landmark upset of Illinois, they'll be a very dangerous team in Chicago. With no NCAA to play for, this is it for Ohio State. Don't expect the Bucks to go meekly.
(18) Is there a fifth bid for this league?
There might not even be a fourth if DePaul loses its first-round game against Tulane. (If the Blue Demons don't make it, they can lament a Thanksgiving weekend home loss to Northern Illinois.) But assuming the Blue Demons join Louisville, Charlotte and Cincinnati in the Dance, the only other at-large possibility is UAB. The Blazers might need to make the final and get some help in other locales.
(19) Can a team with 20 losses actually make noise here?
Maybe. Saint Louis (9-20) finished the regular season by upsetting Memphis at home and Marquette on the road. In Round 1 the Billikens get a Memphis team that appears to be folding its tents, and their slow-down style could be a problem for a wobbling Charlotte team in a potential quarterfinal game.
(20) How high can Louisville's NCAA seeding go?
By winning this tournament the Cardinals would seem a near-lock for a No. 2 seed. The nation's No. 9 team would be 29-4 and would have finished the year by winning 18 of its last 19, including 10 straight away from home.
(21) Can literally any team win this tournament?
Yes. The top five seeds all lost their final regular-season games. The biggest shocker: last-place Marshall beat champion Miami on Saturday.
(22) The MAC has a history of NCAA upsets, but will the committee invite more than one team? Only if someone other than Miami wins the tournament. And even then, we'll see whether the selection committee buys into the Redhawks' No. 29 RPI. Undefeated at home and 5-9 on the road, Miami is the poster team for the RPI inflation that has helped the mid-majors in 2005. Even losing to the 7-21 Blundering Herd on Saturday didn't damage its ranking.
(23) What longshot can get hot and win it?
Bowling Green struggled in as a No. 8 seed, but the Falcons have had three games this season where they shot 65 percent or better from the field. Nobody else in the league has had one.
(24) Can anyone stand up to Utah and Andrew Bogut?
The only realistic spoiler would be New Mexico, which beat the Utes in Albuquerque and has won six straight.
(25) Are the Lobos an NCAA team?
Even at 23-6, they're not a lock. They might need some help from other bubble teams and can't afford an early stumble in the league tourney in Denver. But three of the losses happened without top player Danny Granger, which might be a balance-tipping factor in the Lobos' favor.
(26) Can UNLV salvage an underachieving season?
The Rebels have been playing better down the stretch and draw Wyoming -- a team they've beaten twice this year -- in the quarterfinals. Win there and they'd likely get their big shot at redemption in the semis against Utah.
(27) Is Arizona ready to buckle down?
We'll see. The Wildcats have Final Four talent but sometimes seem to play with first-round-upset focus. Witness the regular-season finale against Arizona State, when 'Zona jumped out to a 22-4 lead -- and lost it. Then 'Zona jumped out to a 58-43 lead -- and lost it. The 'Cats needed a Salim Stoudamire jumper with two seconds left to win.
(28) Has Preparation H soothed Stanford's bubble discomfort?
Yes. Chris Hernandez and Matt Haryasz have helped the Cardinal survive a rocky start and the season-ending injury to Dan Grunfeld. With an 11-7 Pac-10 record, including upsets of Arizona and Washington and a sweep of UCLA, Stanford should get in.
(29) What about UCLA?
The Bruins are 8-3 over their last 11 games, with all the losses to likely NCAA teams. That's good. The Bruins have only two wins against potential NCAA teams, Washington and at Notre Dame. That's not so good. But the guess here is that they're in and now just playing to improve their seeding.
(30) Can anyone in this league compete with Kentucky's depth?
No. Provided they make it that far, expect the Wildcats to be much fresher on Saturday and Sunday than their opponents. Tubby Smith has been playing as many as 13 guys in the first half recently, and he'll go to his bench liberally in Atlanta. "You've got to compete every day for your minutes," sub Josh Carrier said. "It's like throwing food out to hungry dogs."
(31) Is Kentucky that good, or is the league that bad? The Minutes suspects the latter. Kentucky is maximizing its talent and has shown a remarkable ability to rally from deficits on the road (Sunday's one-point loss at Florida aside), but this version is less dominant than the last two UK teams -- both of which blitzed the SEC, got No. 1 NCAA seeds and then lost short of the Final Four.
(32) Can anyone among the first-round teams make a run?
Mississippi State has the best shot. The Bulldogs have been a crashing disappointment, but they have a first-round walkover against depleted Georgia and then would face the Gators, a traditional SEC tournament underachiever fresh off a huge upset win, in the quarterfinals.
(33) Bonus question: Will Ashley Judd show in the Georgia Dome? The Minutes' Magic 8-ball predicts a Saturday-Sunday appearance from Our Girl.
(34) Does anyone else matter beyond the Nevada-UTEP rivalry?
Not really. These two have dominated the WAC the last two seasons. They met in the WAC title game last year, and four of the five meetings have been decided by six points or fewer. They've each won two straight on the other team's home court -- which should fill the Miners with optimism, since the WAC tourney is in Reno.
(35) So do they both get in the Dance?
Nevada should be solid. UTEP is iffy, with just one win over a top-65 RPI team (at Nevada, in overtime). The Miners might be in right now but can't afford an early pratfall in Reno.
(36) Why should we root for Rice?
Simple. No WAC team can even come close to the Owls' 35-year NCAA Tournament drought, and no coach in any of the above conferences can match Willis Wilson's 12 seasons at his school without an NCAA bid.
Ohio State's Thad Matta (37), now the official Unbeaten Killer of college basketball. Last year Matta's Xavier team took down the last unbeaten, St. Joseph's. This year his Ohio State team took down Illinois (big-time shot, Matt Sylvester). That's two big scalps in two straight Marches.
Maryland's Gary Williams (38), whose team is 1-4 since finishing a sweep of Duke. The only win in that time was in overtime against miserable Virginia, as the Terrapins have backslid onto the bubble.
... A classic out-of-nowhere-and-right-back-to-nowhere March hero, former Weber State scoring maching Harold "The Show" Arceneaux (39). In 1999, he shockingly shot North Carolina out of the NCAA Tournament in the first round. The Minutes appreciates any updates on The Show's whereabouts.
Last week's subject, Hoosier icon Damon Bailey, is back in his hometown of Bedford working as a businessman, fathering kids and still dabbling in hoops. Bailey, who once put more than 41,000 people in the RCA Dome to see him win the state high school championship, organizes an annual spring barnstorming tour and has run summer basketball camps around the state.
Damon's popularity remains such that he could run for public office -- any office -- and win without ever taking a stand on anything.
The Minutes arrived in the Raleigh-Durham area Saturday and wound up sharing hotel space with hundreds of hard-partying basketball fans here for the Division II Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association tournament (40). The Minutes is working on acquiring a CIAA tourney T-shirt, which read, "What happens at the CIAA, stays at the CIAA."
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.
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