Putting hoops stars on ice and snow
Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college basketball (victory celebration still ongoing at Alcorn State (1), which improved to 1-24 with a one-point win over Mississippi Valley State on Saturday -- then returned to business as usual with a loss to Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Monday):
The buzzword today is "embarrassment." Maybe UConn coach Jim Calhoun (2) should announce his embarrassment more often if it's going to prompt his Huskies to beat a top-five team on the road. And maybe Mississippi State (3) students who got hold of DeMarcus Cousins' cell number should feel some embarrassment after, according to Cousins, they phoned in racial epithets (and other salutations) to the Kentucky center.
The other ongoing athletic endeavor this month is the Winter Olympics. While The Minutes has always enjoyed a little citius, altius, fortius, many people have declared that this year's rendition is failing to generate sufficient enthusiasm in Sporting America.
If the public needs a few more recognizable names to identify with, The Minutes has a solution. Just import some guys from college basketball to enliven the proceedings.
Who wouldn't tune in to see the following:
Saint Louis coach Rick Majerus (4) as a curler. He'd be a terrific skip -- that's the guy who pushes the stone, then yells at everyone else to sweep. And as a Milwaukee native, he's from the Curling Belt of Minnesota-Wisconsin-Michigan.
Kansas (5) as hockey players. The Jayhawks are plenty willing to fight; just ask the Kansas football team. Center Cole Aldrich already is down a tooth, and he's shown some goon potential by leveling Texas' Damion James with an elbow to the chops and sending Texas A&M's Dash Harris to the locker room with a hard foul. Plus, he's from Minnesota -- he has to know how to skate. (That alone gives him an advantage over elbow-throwing Alabama native Cousins for the enforcer spot.)
Duke guard Jon Scheyer (6) is perfect for biathlon. He's a great shooter, and averaging 36.6 minutes per game shows he has the stamina to handle the cross-country skiing, too.
Tennessee center Brian Williams (7) is the snowboarder who gets caught with pot in the car on the way to Whistler.
Kentucky guard John Wall (8) as a speedskater. It's the only way he can go faster than he already does.
Texas (9) can suit up en masse for the downhill. Because that's the direction the Longhorns' season has been going for weeks now.
Villanova guard Scottie Reynolds (10) is ideal for the slalom, if you remember his Phil Mahre-like weave through Pittsburgh last year to put the Wildcats in the Final Four.
Syracuse forward Wes Johnson (11) is a natural for cross-country skiing, since he's already crisscrossed much of the country, going from Corsicana, Texas, to Ames, Iowa, to Detroit to Syracuse.
The always-popular Jamaican bobsled team might have qualified for the Vancouver games if it had tried Louisville center and native son Samardo Samuels (12) as a pusher or brakeman.
Missouri (13), welcome to ice dancing. The Tigers play a latter-day version of 40 Minutes of Hell. Watching an ice-dancing routine is Four Minutes of Hell.
North Carolina coach Roy Williams (14) would feel right at home in the kiss-and-cry area adjacent to the figure-skating rink. College basketball's resident drama queen teared up -- again -- during a recent interview with Yahoo! about the Tar Heels' struggles this season. Get the man a sequined jump suit, please.
UTEP post man Derrick Caracter (15) could be Bode Miller. A previously overhyped underachiever now finding a measure of redemption.
To the best of The Minutes' knowledge, the only remaining important nonconference basketball games are this weekend's BracketBusters (16), unless Tulsa at Duke on Feb. 25 turns you on. If it doesn't, then Xavier's road whipping of Florida on Saturday wrapped up the major-conference stuff, which makes this a good time to rank the 10 best conferences in the country.
The Minutes went into this exercise believing the Big East is the best league. That belief hasn't changed -- but the Big 12 is a very close second.
1. Big East (17). We know the league is good at the top, but how about some Valentine's Day love for the bottom? Rutgers, St. John's and Seton Hall all won Sunday -- and according to Tom Luicci of the Newark Star-Ledger, that hasn't happened on the same day since Feb. 12, 2002. Then there were the turnarounds from Louisville and Connecticut, which went from rock-bottom losses to St. John's and Cincinnati, respectively, to road upsets of Syracuse and Villanova, respectively.
That's the latest, greatest proof that there are no days off in the Big East, which could grab four of the top 12 seeds if the tournament started today, including half the No. 1s.
League record against the rest of the top 10 conferences: 5-7 vs. ACC; 17-5 vs. A-10; 2-1 vs. Big 12; 2-5 vs. Big Ten; 7-1 vs. C-USA; 2-0 vs. MVC; 0-1 vs. MWC; 3-0 vs. Pac-10; 7-8 vs. SEC. Total: 45-28.
Quality nonconference wins: Syracuse over California, Cornell and Florida; Villanova over Dayton, Maryland and Mississippi; West Virginia over Texas A&M, Ohio State, and Mississippi; Georgetown over Duke, Temple and Butler; Marquette over Xavier; Cincinnati over Vanderbilt and Maryland; South Florida over Kent State and Virginia; Connecticut over Texas and William & Mary; Providence over Northeastern; St. John's over Temple and Siena; Seton Hall over Cornell; DePaul over Northern Iowa.
Bad nonconference losses: Pittsburgh to Indiana; Louisville to Western Carolina; Notre Dame to Loyola Marymount; South Florida to Central Michigan; Providence to Boston College; Rutgers to Vermont; DePaul to American and Florida Gulf Coast.
NCAA teams as of now: Syracuse, Villanova, West Virginia, Georgetown, Pittsburgh, Marquette, Louisville.
2. Big 12 (18). This league has the nation's No. 1 team in Kansas, one of the nation's biggest surprises in Kansas State, and then a large pack of pretty good pursuers. There might not be as many Final Four contenders here and the bottom of the league is probably worse than the bottom of the Big East, but all seven prospective NCAA teams could be first-round winners.
League record against the rest of the top 10 conferences: 2-1 vs. ACC; 8-3 vs. A-10; 1-2 vs. Big East; 6-1 vs. Big Ten; 6-4 vs. C-USA; 3-3 vs. MVC; 5-4 vs. MWC; 13-4 vs. Pac-10; 6-4 vs. SEC. Total: 50-26.
Quality nonconference wins: Kansas over Temple, California and Cornell; Kansas State over Xavier, Dayton and UNLV; Texas A&M over Clemson; Texas over Pittsburgh and Michigan State; Missouri over Old Dominion and Illinois; Baylor over Xavier; Texas Tech over Washington and UTEP.
Bad nonconference losses: Missouri to Oral Roberts; Oklahoma to San Diego; Colorado to Oregon State and Colorado State; Nebraska to Creighton.
NCAA teams as of now: Kansas, Kansas State, Texas A&M, Baylor, Texas, Missouri, Oklahoma State.
3. ACC (19). Duke is the class of the league -- and Duke was drilled by Georgetown just a couple of weeks ago. There are no truly terrible teams in the ACC, but there are fewer truly impressive ones than we've seen in quite some time.
League record against the rest of the top 10 conferences: 5-4 vs. A-10; 1-2 vs. Big 12; 7-5 vs. Big East; 7-7 vs. Big Ten; 5-0 vs. C-USA; 0-1 vs. MVC; 0-0 vs. MWC; 2-2 vs. Pac-10; 7-5 vs. SEC. Total: 34-26.
Quality nonconference wins: Duke over Gonzaga and Charlotte; Wake Forest over Gonzaga, Xavier and Richmond; Clemson over Butler; Florida State over Marquette; Virginia over UAB; Georgia Tech over Siena and Charlotte; North Carolina over Michigan State and Ohio State; North Carolina State over Marquette.
Bad nonconference losses: Virginia to Penn State, Stanford and Auburn; North Carolina to College of Charleston; Boston College to Saint Joseph's, Maine and Harvard.
NCAA teams as of now: Duke, Maryland, Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech. 4. Big Ten (20). The top half is really good, with Purdue, Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin all having Final Four potential. But the bottom half is miserable, thanks primarily to Penn State, Iowa and Indiana. Michigan's underachieving season offsets Wisconsin's overachieving.
League record against the rest of the top 10 conferences: 7-7 vs. ACC; 3-2 vs. A-10; 1-6 vs. Big 12; 5-2 vs. Big East; 0-1 vs. C-USA; 2-3 vs. MVC; 0-2 vs. MWC; 3-0 vs. Pac-10; 3-5 vs. SEC. Total: 24-28.
Quality nonconference wins: Ohio State over California and Florida State; Michigan State over Gonzaga; Purdue over West Virginia, Wake Forest and Tennessee; Wisconsin over Duke, Maryland and Marquette; Illinois over Vanderbilt and Clemson; Minnesota over Butler; Indiana over Pittsburgh; Penn State over Virginia.
Bad nonconference losses: Wisconsin to Wisconsin-Green Bay; Illinois to Bradley and Utah; Indiana to Boston U. and Loyola, Md.; Iowa to Texas-San Antonio; Penn State to UNC-Wilmington and Tulane.
NCAA teams as of now: Ohio State, Michigan State, Purdue, Wisconsin, Illinois.
5. SEC (21). Stop The Minutes if you've heard this before: It's Kentucky and everyone else. Yeah, OK, Tennessee and Vanderbilt have their attributes -- but the Western Division is a quagmire, Florida is swooning (again) and South Carolina is dependant upon a 5-foot-9 guard to play like Superman. Turns out this league didn't make the strides some thought it would coming into the season.
League record against the rest of the top 10 conferences: 5-7 vs. ACC; 5-4 vs. A-10; 4-6 vs. Big 12; 8-7 vs. Big East; 5-3 vs. Big Ten; 8-3 vs. C-USA; 2-1 vs. MVC; 1-1 vs. MWC; 3-3 vs. Pac-10. Total: 41-35.
Quality nonconference wins: Kentucky over Louisville; Vanderbilt over Missouri and Saint Mary's; Tennessee over Kansas, Charlotte and Memphis; Florida over Michigan State and Florida State; South Carolina over Richmond; Georgia over Georgia Tech and Illinois; Mississippi State over Old Dominion; Mississippi over Kansas State and UTEP; Alabama over Baylor.
Bad nonconference losses: Vanderbilt to Western Kentucky; Florida to South Alabama; Georgia to Wofford; Mississippi State to Rider and Western Kentucky; Arkansas to Morgan State, East Tennessee State and South Alabama; Auburn to Central Florida and Troy.
NCAA teams as of now: Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Tennessee.
6. Mountain West (22). The demarcation between good (the top four teams in the league) and bad (the bottom five) is stark. New Mexico and BYU look like legit Sweet 16 contenders, while UNLV is trying to stay on the right side of the bubble and San Diego State is trying to make a charge into the bracket.
League record against the rest of the top 10 conferences: 0-0 vs. ACC; 1-0 vs. A-10; 4-5 vs. Big 12; 1-0 vs. Big East; 2-0 vs. Big Ten; 4-2 vs. C-USA; 4-5 vs. MVC; 5-6 vs. Pac-10; 1-1 vs. SEC. Total: 22-19.
Quality nonconference wins: New Mexico over Texas A&M, California, Dayton and Texas Tech; UNLV over Louisville; Utah over Utah State and Illinois.
Bad nonconference losses: New Mexico to Oral Roberts; San Diego State to Pacific; Utah to Seattle, Pepperdine and Idaho; Wyoming to Hampton, Monmouth, South Dakota State and Denver.
NCAA teams as of now: BYU, New Mexico, UNLV.
7. Atlantic 10 (23). Mayhem in the A-10! Richmond has risen to the top, Charlotte is better than advertised, Saint Louis is coming on strong, and preseason favorite Dayton is struggling along in sixth place. With a relatively huge number of NCAA bids to be had, this conference tourney will be one of the most interesting in the nation. And give A-10 teams credit -- they're not shy about scheduling the big boys.
League record against the rest of the top 10 conferences: 4-5 vs. ACC; 3-8 vs. Big 12; 5-17 vs. Big East; 2-3 vs. Big Ten; 4-2 vs. C-USA; 3-2 vs. MVC; 0-1 vs. MWC; 0-1 vs. Pac-10; 4-5 vs. SEC. Total: 25-44.
Quality nonconference wins: Richmond over Old Dominion, Missouri, Mississippi State and Florida; Xavier over Cincinnati and Florida; Temple over Villanova, Siena and Virginia Tech; Charlotte over Louisville; Rhode Island over Oklahoma State; Dayton over Georgia Tech and Old Dominion; Massachusetts over Memphis.
Bad nonconference losses: Saint Louis to Bowling Green and Missouri State; La Salle to Binghamton; Saint Joseph's to DePaul and Rider; Fordham too numerous to list.
NCAA teams as of now: Richmond, Xavier, Temple, Dayton, Charlotte.
8. Pacific-10 (24). In a word: yuck.
League record against the rest of the top 10 conferences: 2-2 vs. ACC; 1-0 vs. A-10; 4-13 vs. Big 12; 0-3 vs. Big East; 0-3 vs. Big Ten; 1-0 vs. C-USA; 0-0 vs. MVC; 6-5 vs. MWC; 3-3 vs. SEC. Total: 17-29.
Quality nonconference wins: USC over Tennessee, UNLV and Saint Mary's; Washington over Texas A&M.
Bad nonconference losses: USC to Loyola Marymount; UCLA to Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State; Oregon State to Seattle, Sacramento State and Illinois-Chicago; Stanford to San Diego.
NCAA teams as of now: California.
9. Conference USA (25). Upon further review, the West Coast Conference or Western Athletic Conference might be more deserving of this spot than C-USA.
League record against the rest of the top 10 conferences: 0-5 vs. ACC; 2-4 vs. A-10; 4-6 vs. Big 12; 1-7 vs. Big East; 1-0 vs. Big Ten; 1-2 vs. MVC; 2-4 vs. MWC; 0-1 vs. Pac-10; 3-8 vs. SEC. Total: 14-36.
Quality nonconference wins: UAB over Butler and Cincinnati; Tulsa over Oklahoma State.
Bad nonconference losses: UTEP to New Mexico State; Memphis to Massachusetts; Houston to San Diego and Texas-San Antonio; Southern Mississippi to Canisius and North Florida; SMU to Texas Christian and Texas State; Tulane to New Orleans, McNeese State and Lamar; Rice to Lamar, LSU and TCU.
NCAA teams as of now: UTEP, UAB.
10. Missouri Valley (26). See above C-USA comment. Valley teams didn't play enough high-profile nonconference games to get a good reading on the league's ability.
League record against the rest of the top 10 conferences: 1-0 vs. ACC; 2-3 vs. A-10; 3-3 vs. Big 12; 0-2 vs. Big East; 3-2 vs. Big Ten; 2-1 vs. C-USA; 5-4 vs. MWC; 0-0 vs. Pac-10; 1-2 vs. SEC. Total: 17-17.
Quality nonconference wins: Northern Iowa over Siena; Wichita State over Texas Tech; Bradley over Illinois.
Bad nonconference losses: Northern Iowa to DePaul; Bradley to Loyola-Chicago; Drake to SIU-Edwardsville; Indiana State to LSU
NCAA teams as of now: Whoever wins the conference tournament.
How secure are the No. 1 seeds in mid-February? Well, last year at this time Louisville, the team that would start the tournament as the top overall seed, was ranked seventh in both Top 25 polls. So a lot can still happen. With 26 days until Selection Sunday, it appears that eight teams have a chance of earning the four No. 1 spots when the bracket is revealed. A look at each:
Kansas (27). What's to like: After the Jayhawks withstood everything Texas A&M could throw at them Monday night, they now have road victories over four cinch NCAA teams: the Aggies, Texas, Kansas State and Temple. What's not to like: Nothing. Key games remaining: at Oklahoma State on Feb. 27; Kansas State on March 3; at Missouri on March 6. Outlook: It would probably take a three-game losing streak (at least) for Kansas not to be a top seed.
Kentucky (28). What's to like: Stayed unbeaten longer than anyone else, and the lone loss was a six-pointer on the road in league play. There simply haven't been any major gaffes so far. What's not to like: The Wildcats' statement victories in December -- over North Carolina, Connecticut and Indiana -- don't state much now. As of Tuesday, their InsideRPI strength of schedule was 69th, weakest of any team in the RPI top 20. Key games remaining: at Mississippi State on Tuesday; at Vanderbilt on Saturday; at Tennessee on Feb. 27; at Georgia on March 3. Outlook: Even with the lackluster SOS, Kentucky can lose at least one more game without worrying about falling off the top seed line. Maybe two.
Syracuse (29). What's to like: Only two losses so far, both to Big East opponents who currently figure to be in the field of 65 -- and plenty of résumé-enhancing wins. What's not to like: The home loss Sunday to Louisville was jarring, and the schedule ahead won't be easy. Key games remaining: at Georgetown on Thursday; Villanova on Feb. 27; at Louisville on March 6 for the final regular-season game ever in Freedom Hall. Outlook: Leading Big East candidate for a top seed -- and the Big East is a near-lock to get at least one No. 1.
Villanova (30). What's to like: Wildcats are 9-3 against the RPI top 60 and were on top of the Big East until Monday night. What's not to like: With the surprising loss to UConn, Nova has lost two of its last four while surrendering a lot of points. Key games remaining: at Pitt on Feb. 21; at Syracuse on Feb. 27; West Virginia on March 6. Average RPI of five remaining opponents is 25, so there are no gimmes. Outlook: After UConn loss, Villanova might have edged down to the No. 2 seed line for now.
Purdue (31). What's to like: Boilermakers are healthier and hotter than they've been all year, winning seven in a row. That included a championship-level performance at Michigan State last week. What's not to like: From an RPI perspective, Purdue's defeat at No. 74 Northwestern was the worst loss of all the top-seed contenders. Key games remaining: at Ohio State Wednesday; Michigan State on Feb. 28. Outlook: After a turbulent last couple of days in the Big East, the Boilers can stake a strong claim to a No. 1 seed by winning in Columbus.
Duke (32). What's to like: The Blue Devils have the No. 9 strength of schedule in the country and stand a decent chance of running the table the rest of the regular season. What's not to like: Against the two best teams Duke has played -- Wisconsin and Georgetown -- the Devils led for a total of 13 seconds. Key games remaining: at Maryland on March 3, North Carolina on March 6. Outlook: If Duke wins out and other teams take expected losses, the Blue Devils could easily wind up an artificially inflated No. 1 seed.
Kansas State (33). What's to like: Wildcats have very good home wins over Xavier, Texas and Texas A&M, and have added good road/neutral victories against Baylor, UNLV and Dayton. Oh, and they played the Jayhawks off their feet in Manhattan, too. What's not to like: Between Feb. 20 and March 3, K-State plays four losable games in a row. Key games remaining: at Oklahoma on Feb. 20, at Texas Tech on Feb. 23, Missouri on Feb. 27, at Kansas on March 3. Outlook: K-State would probably need to do what nobody has done in ages -- win at Kansas -- to have a chance. Either that, or win the Big 12 tournament. Maybe both.
West Virginia (34). What's to like: Of the eight contenders, nobody has played a tougher schedule (rated fourth nationally by Lunardi's InsideRPI) than the Mountaineers, who have scads of quality wins both in and out of conference. What's not to like: Tough schedule might be catching up with WVU, which has lost its last two games. Key games remaining: At UConn on Feb. 22; Georgetown on March 1; at Villanova on March 6. Outlook: It's definitely a long shot to get to No. 1, but WVU is in a similar situation to Louisville in '09.
In Case You Missed It
And you know you did, Cal State-Fullerton (35) and Cal State-Northridge (36) conspired for quite a freak show Saturday night. Final score: Fullerton 113, Northridge 112, triple overtime.
Give the Titans credit for finding ways to keep the game alive, and the Matadors blame for refusing to win.
CSF's Devon Peltier hit a 3 with four seconds left to tie the game at 76 and force the first overtime.
With 1:33 left in double OT, Fullerton led by five -- then trailed by three with 10 seconds remaining. Jacques Streeter hit a 3 with eight seconds left to bring about the third OT.
And then in triple OT, once again up three points, Northridge finally warmed up to the idea of fouling with four seconds left to avoid allowing a tying shot. That didn't work out too well. Gerard Anderson made the first free throw, missed the second intentionally, then watched teammate Eric Williams grab an offensive rebound, score and get fouled. He made the free throw to win the game, as Northridge went from trying to prevent a game-tying 3 to giving up a game-winning 4. Ouch.
Minutes Crush Of The Week
If you love shooters, you must have a place in your heart for Iowa guard Devan Bawinkel (37). He's launched 79 shots this season, and all 79 have been 3-pointers.
That, boys and girls, is what's called "knowing your role."
The good news is that Mr. Three Ball is hitting 39.2 percent of his shots. The bad news is that the unrepentant perimeter percher has shot all of four free throws in 406 minutes played this season. He hasn't shot a free throw since Jan. 2, and also has zero offensive rebounds on the year.
But living by the 3 is nothing new for Bawinkel. In three seasons of college ball (two at Iowa after transferring from West Virginia), he's attempted 247 3-point field goals, 16 two-point field goals and eight one-point free throws.
Coach Who Earned His Comp Car This Week
St. John's coach Norm Roberts (38) can be forgiven for thinking his first name has been changed to "Embattled," since that modifier seems to precede him in every sentence. But for a week at least, he has gone from Embattled Norm Roberts to Empowered Norm Roberts. His Red Storm shockingly ripped Louisville on Thursday, then followed that up with an upset win at Notre Dame -- the first Big East road win for St. John's since February, 2009.
Coach Who Should Ride The Bus To Work
The Minutes has to go with a repeat offender, LSU's Trent Johnson (39). Johnson has managed to plummet from SEC Coach of the Year to SEC Pinata of the Year overnight. After winning the league's regular-season title outright in 2009, his first season in Baton Rouge, Johnson is now overseeing an 0-11 league debacle that included consecutive losses to Kentucky and Arkansas by a total of 61 points. The Tigers, obviously last in the SEC West, could well be on the verge of the first-ever 0-16 season in league history when Eastern Division cellar-dweller Georgia comes to visit in the regular-season finale.
The Minutes actually stayed close to home last week and has no restaurant or bar recommendations for the readership. Instead, how about a gratuitous picture of Ashley Judd (40)?
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.