Bubble begins to take shape
Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college basketball, where Wyoming (1) has kick-started the coaching carousel by whacking Heath Schroyer:
Busts of the year
For every pleasant surprise in college hoops, there is a stunning disappointment. Maybe two. There's still time to turn things around, but it's getting late. For now, these are The Minutes' top 10 underachievers, listed from most flagrant to least:
Michigan State (2)
Preseason rank: No. 2 from ESPN/USA Today.
Now: Unranked, no votes. Record: 13-10 overall, 5-6 in the Big Ten.
Bubble status: With five defeats in their past six games and 10 overall, the Spartans have played their way out of the NCAA tournament -- not necessarily for good, but for now. They're No. 42 Sagarin, No. 50 Ken Pomeroy and No. 48 RPI.
Low point: Michigan State just lost consecutive games to Iowa and Wisconsin by a combined 46 points. For a Tom Izzo team coming off consecutive Final Fours, that's mind-boggling.
What's gone wrong: Take it all the way back to Izzo's extended flirtation with the Cleveland Cavaliers in the summer. Not much since then has been positive against a brutal schedule. The Spartans have not defended or attacked the paint like traditional Izzo teams and seem to lack their customary leadership and solidarity. The recent dismissal of guard Korie Lucious might have hurt the team, but whatever issues are at play run deeper than Lucious. Losing a moderately valuable guard is not sufficient explanation for this collapse. If the Spartans weren't winning the close ones (with their past three victories all in overtime), they'd be an absolute grease fire.
Kansas State (3)
Preseason rank: No. 3 from ESPN/USA Today.
Now: Unranked, no votes. Record: 16-8 overall, 4-5 in the Big 12.
Bubble status: Barely in, according to Joe Lunardi's Bracketology, but The Minutes isn't sure how. When the best victory on your résumé predates Thanksgiving (at home over fellow underachiever Virginia Tech), there isn't a lot of meat on the bone. The Wildcats are No. 35 Sagarin, No. 43 Pomeroy and No. 30 RPI.
Low point: Home loss to Colorado on Jan. 12. Before that, star guard Jacob Pullen was suspended for three games and fellow starter Curtis Kelly for six after violating NCAA rules. More recently, Wally Judge, a highly touted sophomore power forward who hasn't done much, quit the team.
What's gone wrong: Obviously, there have been significant off-court issues. On the court, K-State has missed high-energy point guard Denis Clemente, and moving Pullen into more of a point guard's role has not played to the diminutive senior's strengths. Until going 8-for-16 on Saturday at Iowa State, Pullen hadn't shot 50 percent from the field in a Big 12 game, and he has only four more assists than turnovers in league play.
Preseason rank: No. 12 from ESPN/USA Today.
Now: Unranked, no votes. Record: 15-9 overall, 5-3 in the West Coast Conference.
Bubble status: Outside looking in. The Bulldogs have some decent nonconference wins (Marquette on a neutral court, Baylor in Dallas and Xavier at home), but they have done nothing but hurt their résumé since the calendar flipped to 2011. The Zags are No. 55 Sagarin, No. 59 Pomeroy and No. 73 RPI. It's almost certain that Mark Few's team will have to win the WCC tournament to get a bid.
Low point: Consecutive league losses to Santa Clara, San Francisco and Saint Mary's. For the first time since last century, Gonzaga might not win its league; the Zags currently sit 2½ games behind the Gaels.
What's gone wrong: Gonzaga always has the best talent in the WCC by a wide margin, but this whole does not equal the sum of the parts. Forward Elias Harris was a freshman sensation but has been a sophomore question mark. Guard Steven Gray is averaging a career-high 14.9 points per game but shooting a career-low 44 percent from the field. Center Robert Sacre has improved his all-around numbers but still leaves you wanting more. And point guard has been an ongoing issue.
Mississippi State (5)
Preseason rank: Unranked, but received votes and favored to win SEC West.
Now: Unranked, no votes. Record: 12-10 overall, 4-4 in the SEC.
Bubble status: Nonexistent. Bulldogs must win the SEC tournament. They've lost to Florida Atlantic, East Tennessee State, Hawaii and several other unremarkable teams to sink their profile. They are No. 154 with Sagarin, No. 163 with Ken Pomeroy and No. 146 with RPI.
Low point: The lowest point any team has had this season was the nationally televised fistfight in the stands in Hawaii between teammates Renardo Sidney and Elgin Bailey, followed by Bailey's "transfer." It gets no more embarrassing than that.
What's gone wrong: Coach Rick Stansbury has mortgaged his credibility for Sidney and gone broke in the process. Sidney has been a headache all season -- suspended twice, lazy defensively and most recently guilty of what could perhaps be termed "insubordinate tweeting" after a State loss to Alabama. But Stansbury has been more interested in punishing other players -- Ravern Johnson for tweets critical of the coach and State fans, and Bailey's "transfer." Dysfunction is a recurring theme on this list, and nobody has been more dysfunctional than the Bulldogs.
Preseason rank: No. 14 from ESPN/USA Today.
Now: Unranked, with a smattering of votes received in this week's AP poll. Record: 15-7 overall, 5-4 in the Big 12.
Bubble status: Tenuous at the moment; Lunardi has Baylor among his last four in. The Bears beat nobody even decent in the preconference schedule, and haven't beaten anyone in Big 12 play with a winning league record. They are No. 57 Sagarin, No. 48 Pomeroy and No. 75 RPI.
Low point: The Feb. 2 loss at Oklahoma was Baylor's third straight Big 12 road defeat to a non-contender.
What's gone wrong: Preseason All-American guard LaceDarius Dunn missed the first three games after being charged with breaking his girlfriend's jaw. Although the suspension could easily be judged soft, it got Baylor off to a bad start. Not leaving Texas until Dec. 22 did nothing to prepare the Bears for the Diamond Head Classic, where they lost two of three games, and the struggles have carried over to league play until a big road win over Texas A&M on Saturday. Baylor has searched all season for productive point guard play, and Dunn's volume shooting has been problematic at times.
Preseason rank: No. 18 from ESPN/USA Today.
Now: Unranked, no votes. Record: 16-9 overall, 8-5 in the Horizon League.
Bubble status: Needs several teams to wilt or it will have to win the league tourney. The Bulldogs played a rigorous nonconference schedule and won the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii, but an 8-5 record in a mid-major conference is a bubble-burster. And without a BracketBusters game, Butler has no more résumé-enhancing games left in the regular season. It is No. 59 Sagarin, No. 65 Pomeroy and No. 50 RPI. But don't rule out a run in the Horizon tourney.
Low point: Losing at Youngstown State (RPI No. 275) on Feb. 3 to cap a three-game losing streak.
What's gone wrong: Butler so completely epitomized team basketball on its way to the national title game last year that we all underestimated the loss of the Bulldogs' star, Gordon Hayward. He was their best rebounder, most versatile defender and most creative offensive player. And, quite clearly, he made everyone around him look better.
Preseason rank: No. 16 from ESPN/USA Today.
Now: Unranked, receiving a sprinkling of votes in both polls. Record: 15-8 overall, 5-5 in the Big Ten.
Bubble status: Would make the tourney today but they don't select the teams today, and the Illini are trending the wrong way at an alarming pace. They've lost five of their past seven games, three of them to Big Ten also-rans. Victories over Wisconsin, North Carolina and Maryland are the saving grace. They're No. 27 Sagarin, No. 15 Pomeroy and No. 40 RPI.
Low point: Scoring 49 points in a road loss to Indiana qualifies, though it could be argued that an earlier loss at Penn State and a later loss at Northwestern were equally inglorious.
What's gone wrong: Guard Demetri McCamey is Illinois' best player, but he sure hasn't played like it recently. In the team's seven-game struggle, he has made just 20 of 69 shots -- and just 9 of 38 2-point field goals. A team that often labors to score in late-game situations has looked even more lost with its go-to guy struggling.
Preseason rank: No. 20 from ESPN/USA Today.
Now: Unranked, no votes. Record: 15-8 overall, 5-3 in the SEC.
Bubble status: In the eye of the beholder. Someone looking through orange-tinted glasses would see a neutral-court victory over Villanova, an all-but-road victory over Pittsburgh and solid wins over Missouri State, Memphis, Georgia and Vanderbilt. A doubter would see home losses to Oakland, College of Charleston and USC, plus road losses to Charlotte and Arkansas. But let's face it: It's a bad bubble, and Tennessee has quality wins. The Volunteers are No. 39 Sagarin, No. 46 Pomeroy and No. 21 RPI.
Low point: The 13-point, never-in-it home loss to Charleston on Dec. 31, completing a run of four losses in six games against underdog opponents. Of course, going eight SEC games without coach Bruce Pearl on the bench has been a humiliation in and of itself.
What's gone wrong: Good thing the Vols have been a strong offensive rebounding team because they miss plenty of shots (44 percent as a team from the field, 32 percent from 3-point range -- the latter ranking 11th in the SEC). The wildly inconsistent performances suggest a lack of focus, and it's reasonable to wonder what Pearl's ability to focus has been like with the controversy swirling around him all season.
Preseason rank: No. 19 from ESPN/USA Today.
Now: Unranked, no votes. Record: 17-6 overall, 5-3 in Conference USA.
Bubble status: Probably outside looking in (Lunardi has Memphis among his first four out), and no huge résumé-enhancers ahead. The Tigers haven't beaten anyone in Sagarin's or Pomeroy's top 50 and are saddled with a 20-point loss to fellow bubble-dweller Tennessee. Memphis is No. 71 Sagarin, No. 89 Pomeroy and No. 46 RPI.
Low point: A home loss Feb. 2 to Tulsa, coming on the heels of a 15-point loss at Marshall.
What's gone wrong: The Tigers are crazily athletic and undeniably talented -- but scarily young and occasionally clueless. So they tend to throw the ball around, shoot poorly from the foul line and fail to block out on the defensive glass. Those are understandable growing pains, but they've jeopardized Memphis' ability to win a league it theoretically should dominate.
Virginia Tech (11)
Preseason rank: No. 23 from ESPN/USA Today.
Now: Unranked, no votes. Record: 15-7 overall, 5-4 in the ACC.
Bubble status: The Bubble without Seth Greenberg is like "American Idol" without Simon Cowell -- where's the entertainment value? Fortunately, Seth is in his customary place; Lunardi has his Hokies as an 11-seed right now, very much on the fault line. Victories over Maryland and Florida State are nice; losses to Virginia and the Georgia Tech Psycho Jackets are not. The Hokies are No. 37 Sagarin, No. 32 Pomeroy and No. 68 RPI.
Low point: A home loss to the rival Cavaliers on Dec. 5 was Virginia Tech's third in a row and fourth in eight games to start the season, as the Hokies promptly crumbled under high preseason expectations. It's been a laborious rebuilding process ever since.
What's gone wrong: The season-ending foot injury to double-digit scorer Dorenzo Hudson was a big blow. Thanks to other injuries, only five players have appeared in every game. Guard Malcolm Delaney is Tech's best player, but he's a streak shooter who hasn't gotten red-hot in a while -- he's gone nine straight games without shooting 50 percent from the field.
How clutch is your team?
The Minutes watched games from noon to midnight Saturday and suspected something funny was going on -- a ton of them went down to the last minute.
After consultation with ESPN's exceptional Stats & Information crew, that suspicion proved correct: Saturday was the closest collection of games in at least two years. Of the 149 Division I games played, 72 of them were decided by six or fewer points (two possessions) or went into overtime -- a whopping 48 percent.
The second-most suspenseful day with 100 or more games in the past two seasons was Feb. 20, 2010, when 61 games (42 percent) were decided by six or fewer or in OT. Of the past 20 dates with 100 or more games, those are the only two with more than 40 percent close games.
What does it mean? It's a reflection of conference play, when the games always are more competitive than in November and December and the teams know each other intimately. But why was Saturday so much closer than other January and February days in 2010 and '11?
It could be a blip, an anomaly. Or it could be a reflection of increasing national parity, when the difference between, say, the nation's 10th-best team and the 100th-best team is a matter of a few possessions and home-court advantage. Or it could be a case of slower games with fewer possessions that naturally lend themselves to being close.
Or some combination of all the above.
"Competitive balance in close games, I believe, is a function of the players' talent and the ability of coaches to get the most out of that talent," ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla told The Minutes. "There are less impact newcomers this season than in recent years, so the reliance on talented, highly recruited players is negated by more experienced, less talented teams. This is nothing new, and it's why we've seen bracket-buster upsets in the NCAA tournament yearly."
Added ESPN analyst Dino Gaudio: "I think there is tremendous parity because of kids at the high-major schools departing early for the NBA and the number of kids who transfer seeking more playing time has escalated."
If close games are going to become the increasing norm this season, The Minutes figured it's time to examine who has excelled at winning the close ones and who has not.
As part of that, The Minutes also has included Ken Pomeroy's Experience Ratings* for each team, under the premise that experienced teams should function better under duress than inexperienced teams. You'll see a mixed bag of data from that standpoint -- some supports the premise, some refutes it.
(* Pomeroy describes his experience formula as follows in an e-mail to The Minutes: "The experience rating is based on how much time each player is on the floor. Freshmen are assumed to have zero years experience and seniors are assumed to have three years experience. It's an average of all the lineups a coach uses during the season. More simply, it's just 'minutes-weighted' experience. So bench-warmers are not a factor in the calculation, while starters have a lot of impact.")
Whether experience is paramount or not, Gaudio and Fraschilla both believe coaching is a vital component to endgame success.
"In the same way that talent impacts games, coaching ability impacts the outcome of close games, as well," Fraschilla said. "Quantifying a coach's ability cannot be done in just wins and losses but, rather, if a coach is giving his team a chance to win those games."
Said Gaudio: "Coaches are judged by how their teams perform under two minutes. I really believe that."
The difficult part is deciding which coaches are just good enough to get an under-talented team into a close game, and which coaches let under-talented teams hang around. And how much comes down to bounces, breaks and maybe a single flick of the wrist.
"In a lot of those games, they really could have gone either way," said Florida coach Billy Donovan, whose team has played a ton of close games (12) and won most of them (nine), including a big one Saturday over Kentucky. "We could very, very easily have lost all those games. Our record would look totally different if we dropped all those games. You realize how fragile it all is."
It's a fragile season. These are the close-game results from the seven best leagues, through Sunday:
Best in the clutch: Boston College (12). Record: 7-2, .778 winning percentage. Overall winning percentage: 15-8, .652. Pomeroy Experience Rating: 32nd out of 345 teams.
North Carolina (13). Record: 6-2, .750 winning percentage. Overall winning percentage: 17-5, .773. Pomeroy Experience Rating: 311th.
Wake Forest (14). Record: 3-1, .750. Overall winning percentage: 8-15, .348. Pomeroy Experience Rating: 328th.
Worst in the clutch: Georgia Tech (15). Record: 0-5. Overall winning percentage: 10-12, .455. Pomeroy Experience Rating: 322nd.
Duke: 2-1. Overall: 21-2. Experience: 211th.
NC State: 2-1. Overall: 12-11. Experience: 324th.
Florida State: 3-3. Overall: 16-7. Experience: 179th.
Miami: 5-6. Overall: 14-9. Experience: 262nd.
Virginia Tech: 3-4. Overall: 15-7. Experience: 34th.
Maryland: 2-3. Overall: 15-8. Experience: 180th.
Virginia: 3-5. Overall: 12-11. Experience: 278th.
Clemson: 1-5. Overall: 16-7. Experience: 85th.
Best: Kansas (16). Record: 5-0, 1.000. Overall: 23-1, .958. Experience: 104th.
Worst: Iowa State (17). Record: 2-7, .222. Overall: 14-10, .583. Experience: 147th.
Missouri: 3-3. Overall: 18-6. Experience: 183rd.
Texas A&M: 4-2. Overall: 17-5. Experience: 139th.
Kansas State: 2-1. Overall: 16-8. Experience: 246th.
Oklahoma State: 5-3. Overall: 16-7. Experience: 145th.
Texas: 3-2. Overall: 20-3. Experience: 250th.
Oklahoma: 3-2. Overall: 12-10. Experience: 304th.
Nebraska: 3-3. Overall: 15-7. Experience: 133th.
Baylor: 2-2. Overall: 15-7. Experience: 237th.
Colorado: 2-3. Overall: 15-9. Experience: 117th.
Texas Tech: 3-4. Overall: 11-13. Experience: 20th.
Best: Notre Dame (18). Record: 5-0, 1.000. Overall: 19-4, .826. Experience: 19th.
Cincinnati (19). Record: 2-0, 1.000. Overall: 18-5, .783. Experience: 107th.
Worst: Seton Hall (20). Record: 1-8, .111. Overall: 10-14, .417. Experience: 60th.
Pittsburgh: 4-1. Overall: 22-2. Experience: 121rd.
Villanova: 3-2. Overall: 19-4. Experience: 101st.
Louisville: 4-3. Overall: 18-5. Experience: 245th.
Syracuse: 6-1. Overall: 20-4. Experience: 273rd.
Georgetown: 6-3. Overall: 18-5. Experience: 88th.
Connecticut: 6-2. Overall: 18-4. Experience: 331st.
West Virginia: 5-6. Overall: 15-8. Experience: 23rd.
Marquette: 3-7. Overall: 14-9. Experience: 135th.
St. John's: 5-4. Overall: 13-9. Experience: 4th.
Rutgers: 2-4. Overall: 12-11. Experience: 149th.
Providence: 4-4. Overall: 14-10. Experience: 314th.
USF: 3-6. Overall: 8-16. Experience: 182nd.
DePaul: 1-6. Overall: 6-16. Experience: 268th.
Best: Ohio State (21). Record: 6-0, 1.000. Overall: 24-0, 1.000. Experience: 225th.
Worst: Illinois (22). Record: 1-6, .143. Overall: 15-8, .652. Experience: 99th.
Purdue: 2-2. Overall: 18-5. Experience: 168th.
Wisconsin: 1-3. Overall: 17-5. Experience: 91st.
Penn State: 5-3. Overall: 12-10. Experience: 36th.
Michigan State: 6-4. Overall: 13-10. Experience: 108th.
Minnesota: 6-2. Overall: 16-7. Experience: 171st.
Northwestern: 2-3. Overall: 14-8. Experience: 164th.
Michigan: 3-4. Overall: 14-10. Experience: 335th.
Iowa: 1-4. Overall: 10-13. Experience: 289th.
Indiana: 2-4. Overall: 12-12. Experience: 286th.
Best: San Diego State (23). Record: 6-0, 1.000. Overall: 23-1, .958. Experience: 65th.
BYU (24). Record: 4-0, 1.000. Overall: 22-2, .917. Experience: 130th.
Worst: Utah (25). Record: 1-3, .000. Overall: 10-13, .435. Experience: 210th.
Colorado State: 5-3. Overall: 16-7. Experience: 134th.
UNLV: 4-2. Overall: 17-6. Experience: 155th.
New Mexico: 2-4. Overall: 16-7. Experience: 293rd.
Air Force: 4-2. Overall: 13-9. Experience: 163rd.
TCU: 2-3. Overall: 10-14. Experience: 190th.
Wyoming: 1-2. Overall: 8-15. Experience: 188th.
Best: Arizona (26). Record: 4-1, .800. Overall: 20-4, .833. Experience: 271st.
Worst: Washington (27). Record: 1-4, .200. Overall: 15-7, .682. Experience: 103rd.
UCLA: 4-2. Overall: 16-7. Experience: 307th.
California: 5-4. Overall: 13-10. Experience: 297th.
Washington State: 4-4. Overall: 16-7. Experience: 221st.
Oregon: 5-4. Overall: 12-11. Experience: 129th.
Stanford: 2-2. Overall: 12-10. Experience: 303rd.
USC: 3-7. Overall: 12-11. Experience: 158th.
Oregon State: 2-7. Overall: 9-13. Experience: 247th.
Arizona State: 5-5. Overall: 9-14. Experience: 212th.
Best: South Carolina (28). Record: 5-0, 1.000. Overall: 13-8, .619. Experience: 325th.
Worst: Vanderbilt (29). Record: 1-5, .167. Overall: 16-6, .727. Experience: 244th.
Florida: 9-3. Overall: 18-5. Experience: 185th.
Tennessee: 6-5. Overall: 15-8. Experience: 126th.
Georgia: 8-4. Overall: 16-6. Experience: 92nd.
Kentucky: 1-4. Overall: 16-6. Experience: 313th.
Alabama: 2-3. Overall: 15-7. Experience: 192nd.
Mississippi State: 5-2. Overall: 12-10. Experience: 66th.
Arkansas: 2-5. Overall: 14-8. Experience: 181st.
Mississippi: 2-3. Overall: 15-8. Experience: 137th.
LSU: 3-4. Overall: 10-13. Experience: 327th.
Auburn: 4-4. Overall: 8-15. Experience: 323rd.
Blow the whistle on overworked officials
Because The Minutes is basketball-addicted, watching the Iona-Fairfield game late this past Friday night came naturally. So did tuning in the next day at noon for West Virginia-Villanova.
That's when The Minutes noticed something ridiculous: official Brian O'Connell (30) worked both games -- one in Bridgeport, Conn., the other in Philadelphia, with tipoffs just 15 hours and more than 150 miles apart.
This is an approximation of O'Connell's timeline Friday and Saturday:
Work the game at Fairfield, which ended after 11 p.m. ET. The earliest he could have left the arena would figure to be 11:30.
Drive to his home in Middletown, N.J., which Google Maps puts at roughly a two-hour trip. Estimated arrival home: 1:30 a.m. No idea how long it took him to unwind and go to sleep.
Officials are expected to be at the arena at least 90 minutes before tipoff, so O'Connell had to be in the gym in Philly by 10:30 a.m. Driving distance from Middletown is about 90 minutes, which pins his departure from home at no later than 9 a.m.
Assuming O'Connell groomed and ate breakfast, he was probably up by 8. Which gives him a maximum of 6½ hours of sleep, and quite likely less.
Can a guy adequately perform a physically and mentally demanding job on such a tight turnaround? Yes. But it isn't easy. It opens up the ref to second-guessing if he has a bad game. And -- key part -- this was only part of O'Connell's grind.
Fact is, the WVU-Nova game was O'Connell's fourth in four days, according to Statsheet.com. And, for good measure, he worked another the next day: St. Peter's at Canisius in Buffalo, N.Y. Then he did Manhattan-Iona on Monday in New Rochelle.
That was his 11th game in 13 days. Through Sunday, he has worked 52 games this season.
One of the big problems in college basketball is officials overscheduling themselves all winter, resulting in fatigued refs when the games are their most competitive, contentious and important. They're independent contractors, free to sign up for as many games as they can work -- and most of the good ones will work a ridiculous schedule in search of profit.
John Adams, the admirably candid NCAA supervisor of officials, said O'Connell is "a quality official, a guy I really like." But he didn't like the sound of O'Connell's Friday-Saturday work schedule.
"It feels to me that any more than four games a week, you're probably entering into the law of diminishing returns," Adams said. "And eight hours of sleep before going to work a game would seem to be prudent."
But if O'Connell's schedule sounds crazy, it's relatively sane compared to a recent run by Ted Valentine (31). He's nicknamed "TV Ted" because he's on the air more than Anderson Cooper -- and he likes to make his presence felt. Check out this run:
Works an 8 p.m. ET tipoff at Alabama, Jan. 29. Works a 2 p.m. ET tipoff at Kent State, Jan. 30. Works the next four nights in Jackson, Miss., High Point, N.C., Birmingham, Ala., and Charleston, S.C.
The Minutes has no idea how you even get from Tuscaloosa, Ala., to Kent, Ohio, in time for a 2 p.m. game. Or how TV Ted's work schedule is good for anything but his bank account.
Rivalry Week got off to a snarling start Monday night. Missouri went border warring with Kansas, and Pittsburgh went backyard brawling with West Virginia. The Minutes has six other must-see games in a spicy week that should crank up the post-football interest in college hoops:
Tennessee at Kentucky (32), Tuesday (ESPN, 9 p.m. ET). Bruce Pearl comes back from Mike Slive-mandated SEC timeout. He'll bring his orange coat and maybe leading scorer Scotty Hopson (sprained ankle) with him to Rupp Arena. Location is key to Kentucky, which has been unbeatable at home and extremely beatable elsewhere.
North Carolina at Duke (33), Wednesday (ESPN, 9 p.m. ET). A rivalry you might have heard about. In preseason hype, the freshmen to watch here were supposed to be Duke's Kyrie Irving and Carolina's Harrison Barnes -- then Irving's big toe went rogue and Barnes was slow to progress. (Although he's been very good lately.) Instead, the spotlight rookie is Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall, fresh off a school-record 16 assists Sunday, in his first game after teammate Larry Drew II bailed on the team and left the point to Marshall alone.
Louisville at Notre Dame (34), Wednesday (ESPNU, 7 p.m. ET). Cardinals were picked to finish eighth in the league but are tied for third despite a plague of injuries. Fighting Irish were picked to finish seventh but are in second. Winner in this matchup of Rick Pitino and Mike Brey takes the lead for Big East Coach of the Year. If Louisville leading scorer Preston Knowles cannot go (hamstring), Brey should get the W easily.
Georgetown at Syracuse (35), Wednesday (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET). Hoyas are the hottest team in the Big East. A week ago, the Orange were among the coldest, losing four straight, but they have pulled it together to win their past two. In this league, that's a streak worth noting. Three in a row -- especially with a victory over Georgetown -- would be a streak worth celebrating.
Ohio State at Wisconsin (36), Saturday (ESPN, 2 p.m. ET). The Buckeyes are a sensational 24-0 but just now hitting the hardest part of their schedule. They'll visit Wisconsin on Saturday, and, if past is prologue, Ohio State is in trouble. The last time an undefeated, No. 1-ranked Ohio State team went to Madison, it lost -- that was the football team in October.
Pittsburgh at Villanova (37), Saturday (ESPN, 9 p.m. ET). Nova is moving this ESPN "College GameDay" game on campus, to its 6,500-seat Pavilion. That should create a suitably insane environment for this matchup between top-10 teams from the nation's best conference.
Coach who earned his comp car
Anthony Grant (38) of Alabama. The Crimson Tide improbably have the best record in the SEC at 7-1. Grant was at his imperturbable best Saturday, somehow refraining from breaking anything while watching his team go the final nine minutes at Tennessee without a field goal and still winning. (For the record: That was four minutes of regulation and all five minutes of overtime with seven missed field goals and four turnovers. Bama pulled it out thanks to 10-of-12 shooting at the foul line.)
Coach who should find his own ride to work
Lorenzo Romar (39) of Washington. He has the most talent in the Pac-10 and had the league lead until a dismal trip to Oregon this past weekend. The Huskies somehow lost by a dozen to Oregon State, then followed that up with a five-point loss to completely outmanned Oregon. A 7-4 record in this league is just poor.
When hungry in the gustatory playground that is Austin, The Minutes recommends a high-class meal at Eddie V's (40). The seafood and steaks are top-shelf. You can't live on Tex-Mex and barbecue every day -- even in Austin -- so mix in some shrimp cocktail and a filet and thank The Minutes later.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.