Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college basketball (knee braces and antidepressants sold separately in West Lafayette, Ind.):
Let the madness begin
There is only one explanation for a weekend where three top-five teams lose, a game is affected when a fire hydrant takes a charge from a beer truck, and a national coach of the year candidate drops some postgame potty mouth on an opposing player:
It's time for March, baby.
The final weekend of February saw second-ranked Kentucky (1) and top-ranked Kansas (2) lose in succession Saturday, to Tennessee and Oklahoma State. Third-ranked Purdue (3) followed suit Sunday against Michigan State, its excellent season imperiled without injured Robbie Hummel. In between, the Maryland-Virginia Tech game was delayed three hours when a Bud Light truck hit a hydrant outside Cassell Coliseum and took out a water main -- then the teams decided to make the day a little longer by playing double OT.
(KEY INFORMATION HERE: THE BEER WAS UNHARMED. REPEAT, THE BEER WAS UNHARMED.)
Oh, and New Mexico's Steve Alford (4) channeled his old college coach when he called BYU's Jonathan Tavernari a bad word after the Lobos beat the Cougars to win the Mountain West Conference. Imagine what Alford might have said and/or done if New Mexico had lost. (The two kissed and made up postgame, but that didn't prevent the MWC from rightfully reprimanding Alford for failing to be the adult in the situation as it went down.)
Meanwhile, the actual process of whittling down from 300 dreamers to one national champion begins Tuesday, with the first conference tournaments tipping off. If you are not jazzed by early-round games in the Ohio Valley Conference, the Big South and the Horizon League, turn in your fan card.
In fact, The Minutes is so stoked for those tournaments and March in general that we are actually going triple OT today -- yep, 55 minutes. But before predicting those, it's time to talk bricks and mortar.
In the arena
This Saturday marks the final game played by the primary tenant at one of the special addresses in college basketball: Freedom Hall (5) in Louisville, Ky. (Unless, of course, Louisville winds up in the NIT and hosts a game or two.)
The city of Louisville's affection for its 54-year-old arena runs so deep that The Courier-Journal published a 12-page special section commemorating the joint on Sunday. Scalpers are set to make a killing on tickets for the finale against Syracuse, and not because the Orange are ranked No. 1. It's for a chance to say goodbye to the Hall.
But the building's legacy is not just local; it's national. From 1958 to 1969, Freedom Hall was the Final Four location of choice -- it hosted the event six times. Among those who played there during that span: Lew Alcindor, Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor and Elvin Hayes. Among those who coached in those Final Fours: John Wooden, Dean Smith and Adolph Rupp. Many more playing and coaching legends have come through since then.
"If there's a spot in the Basketball Hall of Fame for arenas," wrote Courier-Journal columnist Rick Bozich, "Freedom Hall goes in first ballot."
That spurred The Minutes to come up with a few other ballots for the best and worst arenas in college hoops (dates and capacities courtesy of ESPN College Basketball Encyclopedia):
The very best places to experience basketball, in reverse order:
Gallagher-Iba Arena (6). Who plays there: Oklahoma State. Opened: 1938, as the 4H Club and Student Activity Building. Capacity: 13,611. It was called "The Madison Square Garden of the Plains" back in the day -- but, clearly, you cannot have a great arena named after the 4H Club. The school was wise to make the switch to Gallagher Hall and then more recently add the Iba moniker in honor of OSU's greatest coach. The one thing that has stayed the same is the original white maple floor, after all these decades.
Hinkle Fieldhouse (7). Who plays there: Butler. Opened: 1928. Capacity: 10,000. More famous as the former home base for Hoosier Hysteria, the Indiana high school basketball tournament -- but still a wonderful place to watch a game. The size is impressive (capacity has been significantly reduced), and the history is palpable. Close your eyes and you can see Bobby Plump hitting the winning shot for Milan High. Or, if you prefer the Hollywood version, Jimmy Chitwood hitting the winning shot for Hickory High. Both shots happened there.
Allen Fieldhouse (8). Who plays there: Kansas. Opened: 1955. Capacity: 16,300. Looks cool outside. Looks better inside. Another place redolent with history and great tradition. Even a Missouri alum can enjoy visiting the Phog.
Cameron Indoor Stadium (9). Who plays there: Duke. Opened: 1940. Capacity: 9,314. Not just special because of the students who make it jump. The Gothic exterior and old-school interior are classic. First time The Minutes walked into the gym, there was a pigeon sitting on a banister. It's a very uncomfortable place to cover a game, but nobody cares -- which says a lot, considering the media's ability to whine about working conditions.
The Palestra (10). Who plays there: Penn (and the rest of the Philadelphia Big 5). Opened: 1927. Capacity: 8,722. Shamefully, The Minutes has never been there. So let's turn over the description to ESPN.com's Philadelphia bureau and Dana O'Neil:
"It's old and dark and almost perfectly unchanged. It's literally like stepping back in time, no lie. Old-style concessions, tiny entryway for the ticket windows, cement steps to the upstairs seats, a ramp to court level.
"Around the concourse they have display cases for all sorts of historical stuff. They have banners for every school in the place, even one for John McAdams, the PA guy who died a few years ago.
"They split the house for Big 5 games, so the place is literally divided down the middle, with dueling student sections, bands and fan bases. Students still unfurl the rollouts.
"When it's full, Jack Scheuer, the AP guy who has been there forever, always says, 'Corners.' Which means the seats are full up to the corners. Horrible seats and no one cares. The teams sit on the bleachers -- no chairs -- right at the base of the fan sections.
"It's the single greatest building in all of college basketball. And, yes, that includes Allen and Cameron."
The truly old guard
Five gyms that predate the Depression, the jump shot and the now-vital compression sleeve for "injured" arms:
Matthews Arena (11). Who plays there: Northeastern. Opened: 1910. Capacity: 6,000. This one comes with an asterisk, since the Huskies have played basketball there only intermittently, spending more time at the Boston YMCA (1920-54) and the Cabot Center (1954-80 and 1997-2005). The place is more famous for being the host of rallies and/or receptions for Franklin D. Roosevelt, Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart and John F. Kennedy.
Rose Hill Gym (12). Who plays there: Fordham. Opened: 1925. Capacity: 3,200. The real old-school champion for continuous use. Right across the street from the Bronx Zoo. When the gym opened, the zoo housed a triceratops and a woolly mammoth.
Lavietes Pavilion (13). Who plays there: Harvard. Opened: 1926. Capacity: 2,050. Another asterisk ostrich. The Crimson didn't start playing basketball in that gym until 1982, when it used to be called the Briggs Athletic Center. It was renovated and renamed for a rich dude in 1995-96. Harvard's streak without an NCAA tournament bid is nearly as old as the gym itself, dating to 1946.
McArthur Court (14). Who plays there: Oregon. Opened: 1927. Capacity: 9,087. This is the last Pacific-10 season for "The Pit," which will be replaced by a state-of-the-art, Nike-funded edifice in January 2011. How old is Mac Court? When Oregon's "Tall Firs" team was playing its way toward the first NCAA tournament title in 1939, the arena already was 12 years old. (Eugene Register-Guard columnist George Schroeder's description for The Minutes: "It's a firetrap, but it's three wooden balconies, complete with a few obstructed views. From the third balcony, you're right on top of the action. When the place is full and rocking, the balconies vibrate and the baskets shake and opposing players swear the overhead scoreboard sways -- and who knows, it just might.")
Hec Edmundson Pavilion (15). Who plays there: Washington. Opened: 1927. Capacity: 10,000. The 1949 and '52 Final Fours were played there, and it was the home of the state high school tournament for more than 50 years. Name was elongated to Bank of America Arena at Hec Edmundson Pavilion a decade ago after a $40 million renovation.
The five gyms built to house hordes:
Carrier Dome (16). Who plays there: Syracuse. Opened: 1980. Capacity: 33,633, They outdid capacity by about 1,000 for the Saturday game between Syracuse and Villanova, making it the most-watched on-campus game ever. This is the only place in big-time college hoops where a football stadium works as an everyday basketball arena.
Rupp Arena (17). Who plays there: Kentucky. Opened: 1976. Capacity: 23,000. Announced crowds regularly exceed 24,000, and there has been talk about an outdoor Midnight Madness gig at the football stadium that could attract up to 70,000. Rupp is especially impressive when fan quantity is augmented by quality, and Ashley Judd (18) is in the house.
Marriott Center (19). Who plays there: Brigham Young. Opened: 1971. Capacity: 22,700. Ambitiously built, sporadically filled. The Cougars haven't averaged even 18,000 fans per game since 1995, and even in this spectacular season attendance is at 14,000 per game.
Dean Smith Center (20). Who plays there: North Carolina. Opened: 1986. Capacity: 21,750. Some of those cushy blue seats have gone empty during this dismal season. Tar Heels are averaging 18,493 fans per home game.
Thompson-Boling Arena (21). Who plays there: Tennessee. Opened: 1987. Capacity: 21,678. Arena foolishly built to be bigger than Rupp, checking in at 25,000. School wisely downsized a few years ago while adding luxury suites. Now one of the nicest arenas in the nation.
Cracker box palaces
CSU Fieldhouse (22). Who plays there: Charleston Southern. Opened: 1965. Capacity: 798. They can actually wiggle more than a grand into the gym -- but it's still on the tiny side by high school standards.
Kimbel Arena (23). Who plays there: Coastal Carolina. Opened: 1974. Capacity: 1,039. They build 'em small in South Carolina.
Justice Center (24). Who plays there: North Carolina-Asheville. Opened: 1964. Capacity: 1,100. The third member of the Big South to have a not-so-big arena.
Hornets Nest (25). Who plays there: Sacramento State. Opened: 1955. Capacity: 1,200. Seems just a bit cramped for a school with an enrollment of 29,000 students.
Pope Center (26). Who plays there: St. Francis (N.Y.). Opened: 1960. Capacity: 1,200. Small, but plenty of seats available at most home games. The Terriers averaged 520 fans per home game this season.
Memorial Gym (27). Who plays there: Vanderbilt. Opened: 1952. Capacity: 14,316. Clearly designed by a dyslexic. The benches, as everyone knows, are in the wrong place. The court is elevated along the sidelines. The press box used to be way up at the top of the gym.
Williams Arena (28). Who plays there: Minnesota. Opened: 1928. Capacity: 14,625. Known as "The Barn," and yes, you could store a lot of hay in the place. It's cavernous, with seemingly a mile of space between the floor and the ceiling. And that floor is elevated here, too, with the benches down below. The sight of Tubby Smith sitting on a stool up above his team is enduringly strange.
The Pit (29). Who plays there: New Mexico. Opened: 1966. Capacity: 18,018. The place literally is a pit, with the floor 37 feet below ground level. The roof was built first, then they excavated beneath it to put in the seats.
Arena-Auditorium (30). Who plays there: Wyoming. Opened: 1982. Capacity: 15,028. There are signs in the place advising visitors of the altitude: 7,220 feet above sea level, the highest college hardwood in the land. And there's a sign in the visitors' locker room that asks, "How's your oxygen?" Outside, the dome's roof is made of copper but has turned black.
Charles E. Smith Athletic Center (31). Who plays there: George Washington. Opened: 1975. Capacity: 5,000. The only real quirk is the location of the visitors' locker room, which is just off a hallway the media walks down to the workroom, with a kind of lounge area alongside. The Minutes once started down the hallway only to encounter Charlotte coach Bobby Lutz standing in the lounge area, F-bombing his team to one of his assistants before going into the locker room. Charlotte was new to the Atlantic-10 then; presumably Lutz has since figured out a place to vent out of media earshot.
Pauley Pavilion (32). Who plays there: UCLA. Opened: 1965. Capacity: 12,819. Beyond the banners and hopefully a glimpse of John Wooden at courtside, there's nothing special about the place. Boxy, with way too much space behind the baskets. UCLA announced last spring a $100 million renovation project, which hopefully will improve the ambience and appearance.
Dunkin' Donuts Center (33). Who plays there: Providence. Opened: 1972. Capacity: 12,993. Just not much to get excited about there.
Bramlage Coliseum (34). Who plays there: Kansas State. Opened: 1988. Capacity: 13,344. Aside from the octagonal shape and (at least currently) loud student section, this is a clunky building bereft of charm. Especially when compared with a couple of nice arenas built around the same time (see: Cincinnati and Michigan State).
Huntsman Center (35). Who plays there: Utah. Opened: 1969. Capacity: 15,000. Why the NCAA insists on returning the tournament to this aging and pedestrian place on a regular basis is beyond The Minutes.
Almost everything built between 1965 and 1975 (36). This was basically the disco period for America's sporting architects -- nothing but bad ideas. Look at the baseball/football stadia built then: the cookie-cutter round blocks of bland in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Many of the college basketball arenas constructed at the same time are similarly lacking.
The Little Dance
Saluting the smaller tournaments that start this week and help set the dance card for the big fandango to come:
America East (37)
When: March 6, 7, 13
Where: Hartford, Conn. (championship game at higher-seeded team)
Regular-season champ: Stony Brook
Who wins the tournament?: Vermont. Has the second-highest Pomeroy Rating in the league, an advantageous No. 2 seeding and has won eight of its last nine.
Storyline: Last year's champion, Binghamton, has buried its program in a pile of scandalous news since then and will not participate in the league tournament.
Atlantic Sun (38)
When: March 3-6
Where: Macon, Ga.
Regular-season champ: Lipscomb
Who wins the tournament?: Belmont. Won eight of nine down the stretch. Might have to beat Lipscomb along the way, which it has not done in two tries this season, but it's hard to beat Belmont three times in one season, by golly.
Storyline: For the first time in seven years, the A-Sun tournament will not be held in Tennessee -- this time it's in Macon, Ga. Perhaps not coincidentally, a Tennessee school has won the last four league tourneys. Does a change in location mean a change in geography for the champion as well?
Big Sky (39)
When: March 6, 9, 10
Where: Campus sites (semifinals and final in Ogden, Utah)
Regular-season champ: Weber State
Who wins the tournament?: Weber State, which will play its games at home, where it has won 12 straight.
Storyline: The threat to Weber is Northern Colorado. In just its third season as a Division I member, the Bears are 24-6. Four years ago they were 4-24.
Big South (40)
When: March 2, 4, 6
Where: Campus sites (semifinals at Conway, S.C.; championship at higher seed)
Regular-season champ: Coastal Carolina
Who wins the tournament?: Radford. Split with Coastal Carolina during the season but won in Conway, which is where the tourney final could be played. Experience of winning the league tourney last year could make the difference.
Storyline: Chanticleers are coached by former Clemson and Auburn boss Cliff Ellis, attempting to take another team to the NCAAs.
When: March 5-8
Where: Richmond, Va.
Regular-season champ: Old Dominion
Who wins the tournament?: Old Dominion. Tempting to pick Northeastern, which won its only matchup with the Monarchs, but not when the Huskies wobble in having lost three of their last five.
Storyline: Tune in to see the "new" Blaine Taylor (41), coach of the Monarchs. He looks so much more, um, brunette than the "old" Blaine Taylor.
Horizon League (42)
When: March 2, 5, 6, 9
Where: Campus sites first round; second round and semifinals in Indianapolis (championship at higher seed)
Regular-season champ: Butler
Who wins the tournament?: Butler
Storyline: Can anyone touch the Bulldogs, who bulldozed through the league 18-0?
Metro Atlantic (43)
When: March 5-8
Where: Albany, N.Y.
Regular-season champ: Siena
Who wins the tournament?: Siena. Saints were dominant, going 17-1 in the league.
Storyline: Its at-large bubble busted, does Siena handle the pressure and earn a third straight NCAA trip? And if so, does coach Fran McCaffrey earn a bigger job?
Missouri Valley (44)
When: March 4-7
Where: St. Louis
Regular-season champ: Northern Iowa
Who wins the tournament?: Northern Iowa. Relies on a surplus of experience and depth.
Storyline: Panthers and Illinois State played an overtime thriller last year in the tourney final, then had a tense game to close the 2010 regular season. UNI won both of those; can the Panthers do it again, if it comes to that?
When: March 4, 7, 10
Where: Campus sites (championship at higher seed)
Regular-season champ: Quinnipiac
Who wins the tournament?: Mount Saint Mary's. Hot team after enduring a bizarre schedule. Played one home game between Nov. 25 and Jan. 14. The Mount closed the season with seven of last 10 at home -- and won all 10 of them, home and away.
Storyline: Former UConn assistant Tom Moore, who has guided Quinnipiac to a No. 1 seed, has a chance to head to the Big Dance while his former boss, Jim Calhoun, may have to settle for the NIT.
Ohio Valley (46)
When: March 2, 5, 6
Where: Campus sites for quarterfinals; semifinals and championship in Nashville, Tenn.
Regular-season champ: Murray State
Who wins the tournament?: Morehead State. Eagles have the experience of winning the tourney last year, and the star power of high-rising forward Kenneth Faried.
Storyline: Can Billy Kennedy become the sixth straight coach to take Murray State to the NCAAs, a remarkable streak dating back to 1988?
When: March 3, 7, 12
Where: Campus sites (championship at higher seed)
Regular-season champ: Lehigh
Who wins the tournament?: Bucknell. It's been a crapshoot league all year; nothing's changing now.
Storyline: Regular-season champion has won the league tourney four years in a row. Can the status quo continue, or is it time for an upset?
When: March 5-8
Where: Charlotte, N.C.
Regular-season champ: Wofford won the South at 15-3; Appalachian State won the North at 13-5
Who wins the tournament?: Wofford. Has lost one game, by two points, since Dec. 29.
Storyline: Can Davidson gain any postseason mojo from its freak-show victory to close the regular season? The Wildcats were down 14 Saturday to Elon with 5:40 to play in regulation. Then Davidson still was down six with 25 seconds to play. J.P. Kuhlman hit two 3s in the last 23 seconds to send it into overtime. Then it went into double overtime. Then, down three in the final seconds of the second OT, coach's son Brendan McKillop made a 3 to tie it. And to top it off, Steve Rossiter stole the inbounds pass and quick-triggered a haphazard 3 at the buzzer. Naturally, it swished for the win.
When: March 6-9
Where: Sioux Falls, S.D.
Regular-season champ: Oakland
Who wins the tournament?: Oral Roberts. With wins over New Mexico, Missouri and Stanford, the Golden Eagles are tested -- and hot. They've won five straight.
Storyline: Do ORU fans have any working nerve endings left? They've endured 15 games decided by six points or fewer this season. ORU record in those games: 6-9.
Sun Belt (50)
When: March 6-9
Where: Hot Springs, Ark.
Regular-season champ: North Texas in the West; Middle Tennessee and Troy in the East
Who wins the tournament?: Western Kentucky
Storyline: Hilltoppers have won the league tourney the last two years and have represented the Sun Belt well in the NCAAs. They staggered through a horrible midseason malaise, but regrouped to finish strong and will be a threat to the Trojans, Mean Green and Blue Raiders.
West Coast (51)
When: March 5-8
Where: Las Vegas
Regular-season champ: Gonzaga
Who wins the tournament?: Gonzaga. What, you were expecting Pepperdine?
Storyline: Saint Mary's is a motivated and talented bubble team, but it is 0-2 against the Zags and probably would face a heady Portland team it split with for the right to play Gonzaga. Tough road to a second bid from the WCC.
Coach who earned his comp car this week
Mike Brey (52), Notre Dame: He lost All-American candidate Luke Harangody to a knee injury -- and shrugged. Brey's Fighting Irish actually have played better the past couple of games without their star big man, upsetting Pittsburgh and Georgetown by double digits to butt back into bubble conversation for the NCAA tournament. Tim Abromaitis and Ben Hansbrough have stepped up when called upon by Brey.
Coach who should find a ride to work
Dino Gaudio (53), Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons have plunged from near lock to somewhat iffy NCAA status after three straight losses, two of them to lower-division Tobacco Road residents North Carolina and NC State. Gaudio did a spectacularly bad job in the postseason last year, being upset in the first round of the ACC tourney (by Maryland) and the first round of the NCAAs (by Cleveland State). Is the late fade happening again?
When hungry and thirsty in the pretty cool town of Knoxville, The Minutes recommends dinner at Café 4 (54) downtown, and then beers at Hannah's Café (55) in the Old City. Café 4 has a solid menu and a nice dining area, despite also doubling as a live-music nightclub -- the trick is some seriously sound-resistant floor-to-ceiling glass separating the two. And if you fail to have fun at Hannah's, seek therapy.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.