Valentine’s Day? If this is love, they want their money back
Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college basketball (dog biscuits sold separately at Baylor (1)):
Love is in the air Tuesday – well, in someone’s air. Not The Minutes’. Somebody has to be the crank on Valentine’s Day, right?
So today’s Forde Minutes has been declared a love-free zone. You want aggravation, anger and frosty relationships? You’ve come to the right place. We have rented out the un-huggable Bob Huggins (2) as Cupid and filled his quiver with poison arrows. Ready, aim, fire.
The worst relationships in college hoops
Ted Valentine (3) and the fans. Who else would lead this list but a guy named Valentine? “TV Teddy,” as he’s known, is a basketball official. A high-profile, high-visibility, high-theatrics basketball official. Sometimes not content to simply call a game, Valentine has been known to hijack a game. At the least, he usually can be counted on to make at least one showboat call against the home team, just to show he’s in charge.
He likes the attention.
Contrary to many people out there, The Minutes does not think Valentine is a bad official. He is not the worst ref in the world, as some assert – in fact, he wasn’t even the worst one on the court Saturday for the Michigan State-Ohio State game. But he did have a “TV Teddy” moment.
In a heated, physical game between Ohio State and Michigan State that at times had both teams upset, Valentine made a fairly grandiose show of assessing a bench warning to the Buckeyes for having a coach (or coaches) out of the box. In fact, it appeared that Valentine assessed the same warning twice during a media timeout, just to get the point across. The Minutes suspects that Valentine specifically was peeved at Ohio State assistant Jeff Boals, whose habit of mockingly clapping after calls go against the Buckeyes does not endear him to the stripes.
From that point on, Valentine was the object of Ohio State fans’ ire – which appears to be just the way he likes it. At game’s end, a fan leaned over the railing to heckle Valentine as he headed into the tunnel. Without looking up or breaking stride, Teddy saluted twice. It was a military-style salute, not the one-finger variety, but it still wasn’t a professional moment.
The Minutes has said this before and will say it again: Officiating a basketball game is incredibly hard, and the refs do a better job than most of us want to acknowledge. (Seriously, every fan in America says the conference their team plays in has the worst refs.) But the adage that nobody pays to see the refs show off is true – especially when it comes to “TV Teddy.”
Anthony Grant (4) and his players. Grant, Alabama’s coach, has suspended just about everybody who is somebody. Key players Tony Mitchell, JaMychal Green, Trevor Releford and Andrew Steele – combined average: 45.4 points per game – were indefinitely benched last week for an undisclosed violation of team rules. Mitchell, who has given the impression of a malcontent, has missed two games. The other three have missed one, having been suspended Friday and driven home from the Crimson Tide’s game at LSU for something that occurred before the trip. Grant said Monday that Releford and Steele likely will be back for Alabama’s game against Florida on Tuesday night. Green and Mitchell remain suspended.
Although Alabama has good power ratings (32nd in the RPI, 28th in Pomeroy, 27th in Sagarin), it is only 5-5 in SEC play after losing that game to LSU. The NCAA tournament is not assured at this point, and it’s hard to see a strong finish if Green and Mitchell don’t make it back soon. That makes Grant’s stand all the riskier – and stronger.
Chris Mack (5) and his upperclassmen. After Xavier was clobbered by Temple on Saturday night, the Musketeers’ coach got on his postgame radio show and ripped his veterans. “Xavier has always been led by its oldest players, and our older players aren’t getting it done,” Mack said. “… Our older players laid an egg. It’s embarrassing.”
Against the Owls, 7-foot senior center Kenny Frease contributed all of two points and one rebound in 18 minutes. Junior Mark Lyons made just 4-of-15 shots and has hit just 18-of-61 in his past five games. Leading scorer Tu Holloway had 23 points but just two assists, tying his season-low in that category.
Mack closed practice Monday, which Shannon Russell of the Cincinnati Enquirer said is a first in Mack’s three-year tenure. Mack has all week to work on his team’s attitude before a Saturday home game against rival Dayton, but he probably should save some blame for himself. The Minutes didn’t hear any of that on the radio Saturday.
One thing is sure: The Musketeers’ miserable play since the brawl against Cincinnati (they’re 8-9) seems to have put them on the wrong side of the bubble. They’ll need those underachieving upperclassmen to salvage this season.
Herb Pope (6) and other players’ personal space. The Seton Hall center seems to have difficulty playing well with others. In March 2010, he helped hasten the firing of Pirates coach Bobby Gonzalez by twice punching a Texas Tech player in the groin and being ejected from an NIT game. Last week, Pope again intruded, dropping a head butt on Rutgers’ Eli Carter after Carter was fouled on a drive. Then Pope flopped like he’d been run over by Justin Tuck when Carter shoved him.
Pope told the media after the game that he “leaned over to tell [Carter] something,” an assertion that is not supported by the video or by Carter.
“He definitely did [head-butt me], but it’s no hard feelings,” Carter said.
Fortunately for the ironically named Pope, he was not tossed by official Jim Burr, who reviewed videotape before assessing both players technical fouls.
“It wasn’t a great head-butt,” Burr said. “It was just a little tap.”
Whatever. After two strikes, Pope should be looking at a major suspension if he crosses the line again. Either that or misdemeanor assault charges.
The McDermotts (7). During Creighton’s dismal performance in a home blowout loss to Wichita State, coach Greg McDermott tore into his best player – who also happens to be his son, Doug.
Coach grabbed player by the shoulder and got into his face in a fury, with player appearing to give it back a bit verbally.
That outburst of McDermott-on-McDermott crime harkened to at least one Bob Knight-Pat Knight sideline moment, when The General did or did not kick Pat after pulling him from the game. (He claims he kicked a chair instead of his kid’s shin.)
Doug McDermott downplayed the dressing-down, saying he deserved it because he was playing poorly. No word on whether Mrs. McDermott thought different when her husband arrived home after the game.
Mark Turgeon (8) and Terrell Stoglin (9). The first-year Maryland coach and his leading scorer were not seeing eye-to-eye after the Terrapins’ loss to Duke on Saturday. Stoglin took to the wrong medium in a moment of frustration by Tweeting, “Loved sitting that bench today. Smfh wow.”
Stoglin played 30 minutes against the Blue Devils, his fewest since Jan. 17. But given his line – 4-of-16 from the field, including 0-of-6 from 3-point range – it seems he might have played too many minutes.
Bruce Weber (10) and Illinois fans. Is there an unhappier relationship than this in college basketball? The Minutes thinks not. And The Minutes thinks that relationship is in its final weeks.
First-year athletic director Mike Thomas was non-committal when asked about Weber’s job security recently, telling multiple Chicago media outlets he would evaluate his coach at season’s end. But he did say that he expects Illinois’ NCAA tournament status to be an annual question of what seed, not whether the Illini make it in at all. Yet that’s where Illinois is today after losing six of its past seven and sliding to 16-9 overall and 5-7 in the Big Ten.
Weber sounds beaten down by years of criticism. That he has been to one more national championship game in eight seasons than the rest of the coaches in Illinois history is outweighed by this persistent drumbeat: He did it with Bill Self’s players.
Since Dee Brown followed Deron Williams and Luther Head out of Champaign, Illinois has played sub-.500 ball in Big Ten play and won just one NCAA tournament game.
One factor Thomas will have to weigh is the cost of a potential coaching change. The school already is paying Ron Zook plenty not to coach the football program, and new coach Tim Beckman did not take a vow of poverty to replace him. Neither would a popular potential Weber replacement, VCU’s Shaka Smart (11).
Other coach-school relationships on the rocks
Going west-to-east, more or less:
Kevin O’Neill (12), USC. The Trojans are 1-12 and last in the truly dreadful Pac-12. Yes, there have been injuries – but if you’re last in this league, you’re in the running for worst major-conference team in America. On top of that, USC is just unwatchable offensively; it hasn’t scored 50 points in its last three games and has only hit 60 twice since before Christmas. Plus, O’Neill had an embarrassing confrontation last March with some Arizona boosters, which did not sit well with classy AD Pat Haden.
Doc Sadler (13), Nebraska. Now in his sixth season in Lincoln, with no NCAA tournament bids to show for it. With the Huskers now in the Big Ten – and taking their lumps at 3-10 – it might be time for the school to step up its game to compete.
Matt Doherty (14), SMU. He’s working on his fifth losing record in six seasons with the Mustangs, with the current edition last in Conference USA. Athletic director Steve Orsini is ambitious enough that perpetual losing cannot sit well with him, especially with a move to the Big East looming.
Chris Lowery (15), Southern Illinois. Since the Salukis won 29 games and advanced to the Sweet 16 in 2007, the bottom has dropped out on the program. Lowery is 67-85 since, including 8-18 this season and in ninth place in the Missouri Valley. Hard to believe he once turned down the Michigan job.
Bill Carmody (16), Northwestern. He has been given every opportunity to get the Wildcats to their first NCAA tournament. Hasn’t done it yet – and while this team is in contention, that 5-7 Big Ten record needs to improve to make it happen. (Playing some of the worst 1-3-1 defense ever seen Sunday night against Purdue didn’t help.) If Northwestern gets in the Dance, he’s off the hot seat.
Charlie Coles (17), Miami (Ohio). Accomplished old coach who is losing his touch. The RedHawks have one of the three worst records in the Mid-American Conference and are working on their third consecutive losing season. They’ve lost at least 13 games in each of the past six seasons.
Andy Kennedy (18), Mississippi. The Rebels are having a decent season but not an NCAA tournament season – and that’s the problem. Kennedy will be six years without a bid if Ole Miss doesn’t make it. He’ll need to do something spectacular to make it from here – like upsetting Kentucky in Rupp Arena and winning out in the regular season.
Darrin Horn (19), South Carolina. The Minutes suspects Horn will get another season, but there are a lot of antsy Gamecocks fans acutely aware of their 12-30 SEC record in the past two-plus seasons under Horn. Next season looks like NCAA-or-bust – if he gets the chance.
Jim Baron (20), Rhode Island. The Rams are a disaster: 5-21 overall and 2-9 in the Atlantic-10. Baron has won a lot of games there but never been to the NCAA tournament.
Stan Heath (21), USF. Unfair to put a guy who is 8-4 in the Big East at a perennial doormat on the hot seat? Maybe. But there are a lot of tough games ahead – the Bulls easily could wind up 9-9. And with nonconference losses to Old Dominion, Penn State and Auburn, an NCAA tournament bid still looks unlikely. Without that, he could be in trouble.
Coach of the year watch
It’s not all stress and strife out there in Coachland. Some fan bases and administrators couldn’t be happier with their teams and the men leading them. The dozen coaches doing the best work in 2011-12, in alphabetical order:
Jim Boeheim (22), Syracuse. Record: 26-1. AP ranking: 2nd. What he’s done right: In addition to winning every game but one, Boeheim and his staff absorbed the early-season firing of longtime assistant Bernie Fine – and the attendant media firestorm – with no noticeable negative effect. A potentially turbulent event exploded and dissipated without shaking the Orange’s focus.
[ Related: No luck involved in Irish’s hoops turnaround ]
Mike Brey (23), Notre Dame. Record: 17-8. AP ranking: 23rd. What he’s done right: When leading scorer Tim Abromaitis went down with a knee injury after playing just two games, it was supposed to spell doom for the Fighting Irish. And for a while, it did: They were 9-6 with a number of blowout losses through early January. But since recasting his team as a slower offensive unit, the Irish have rolled to an 8-2 record in their past 10 games, including six victories in a row.
John Calipari (24), Kentucky. Record: 25-1. AP ranking: 1st. What he’s done right: Recruited the nation’s best talent, but more important he has molded it into a low-maintenance, low-ego, high-effort juggernaut. By this time of year, you hear stories about which teams are struggling in the locker room and pouting over the stat sheet; you don’t hear those things about the Wildcats. And you don’t see them ever take a night off defensively, which is why they lead the nation in two-point field goal percentage defense and blocks.
Tom Crean (25), Indiana. Record: 19-6. AP ranking: 18th. What he’s done right: After three consecutive 20-loss seasons, the expectation was a step up to a winning record and maybe, if things really went well, an NCAA tournament bid. The Hoosiers vaulted past that in a hurry, shocking Kentucky, upsetting Ohio State, handling Notre Dame and throwing in victories over Michigan, Illinois and Purdue for good measure. Crean has seamlessly integrated freshman big man Cody Zeller into a lineup of veterans whose improvement over the past couple of years is pronounced.
Larry Eustachy (26), Southern Miss. Record: 21-4. AP ranking: unranked. What he’s done right: In a job where winning is hardly automatic, Eustachy has the Golden Eagles tied for first in Conference USA and well-positioned for an NCAA bid. For a school that hasn’t been to the tournament since 1991, only been there twice overall and never won an NCAA game, that’s heady stuff.
Steve Fisher (27), San Diego State. Record: 20-4. AP ranking: 13th. What he’s done right: The Aztecs had a breakthrough season a year ago and paid for it, losing five key seniors plus NBA draft early-entry sophomore Kawhi Leonard. But SDSU hasn’t gone away by any stretch, owning victories over California, Arizona, UNLV and New Mexico. The power ratings don’t love the Aztecs but the pollsters do. A solid finish against a manageable schedule should earn them an at-large bid if they don’t win the Mountain West tournament.
Frank Haith (28), Missouri. Record: 23-2. AP ranking: 3rd. What he’s done right: He has given the Tigers a sense of purpose offensively – a clue, if you will – after a lot of aimless activity at that end of the floor under previous coach Mike Anderson. The result has been a spectacular season so far, potentially the best in school history depending on how it finishes. For a guy who was widely panned as a bad hire (The Minutes pleads guilty to joining the chorus of detractors), he has become wildly popular in just 25 games in Columbia.
Leonard Hamilton (29), Florida State. Record: 17-7. AP ranking: 20th. What he’s done right: The Seminoles lost their best player from a Sweet 16 team, Chris Singleton, and barely blinked. Well, they blinked for a few weeks to start the season, but since Jan. 10, they have played remarkably. A hiccup at Boston College last week dropped the ‘Noles into a tie for first in the ACC with Duke and North Carolina, but they own the tiebreaker for the moment after beating both. FSU never has won an ACC title and has won only one conference title of any kind in basketball (1992, Metro Conference).
Tom Izzo (30), Michigan State. Record: 20-5. AP ranking: 7th. What he’s done right: He eliminated some problems from last season’s underachieving team and has bounced back with a group that is more in line with his personality – tough, consistent and confident. The remaining schedule is difficult, but the Spartans are tied for first in the Big Ten and could swipe the league from preseason top choice Ohio State.
Steve Prohm (31), Murray State. Record: 24-1. AP ranking: 16th. What he’s done right: Learned on the job. Quickly. In his first year as a head coach, Prohm reeled off 23 consecutive victories. Having a veteran roster helped, but Prohm also guided Murray through the six-game absence of leading rebounder Ivan Aska (broken hand) and the mounting pressure of being the last unbeaten in the nation. That burden finally caught up with the Racers last week in an upset loss to Tennessee State, but they bounced back by mauling Austin Peay and remain a viable at-large NCAA candidate if they can keep winning.
Dave Rice (32), UNLV. Record: 22-4. AP ranking: 11th. What he’s done right: Another first-year head coach who has pushed almost every button correctly. Rice inherited a veteran team from Lon Kruger and made an immediate impact, shocking then-No. 1 North Carolina in November and also beating Illinois and California in December. UNLV will battle New Mexico and San Diego State to the wire in the Mountain West race.
Bill Self (33), Kansas. Record: 21-5. AP ranking: 4th. What he’s done right: Self had to replace so many talented bodies after last season that The Minutes thought this was finally – finally – the season the Jayhawks slipped from atop the Big 12. It hasn’t happened. All the leftover parts have gotten better – most prominent Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor, but the supporting cast as well. Missouri at Kansas on Feb. 25 could decide the league race, and the Big 12 Coach of the Year race as well.
Who’s been great late
One of the marks of a good team is finishing a close game, despite pressure and adversity. The Minutes has seen four excellent examples of crunch-time performance in the past nine days alone. The list:
Syracuse (34) at Louisville, Monday night. The situation: Orange had lost an eight-point lead and trailed by five with 3:30 to go. The response: A 6-0 run to the final gun, stopping Louisville’s final five possessions, for a 52-51 victory. The big play: Dion Waiters’ steal of what he termed a “crazy pass” by Cardinals point guard Peyton Siva on a drive to the basket with seven seconds left. What if: Siva had passed to an open Kyle Kuric in the corner instead of flipping the ball backward in the vague direction of center Gorgui Dieng?
Kentucky (35) at Vanderbilt, Feb. 11. The situation: After coughing up a 14-point lead, the Wildcats trailed by two with 3:25 left. The response: An 8-0 run to finish the game for a 69-63 victory. The big play: A Doron Lamb 3-pointer, off an assist from Darius Miller, for the lead at the 3:19 mark. What if: Officials had called an apparent shot-clock violation before Miller’s layup made the score 68-63 with 1:13 remaining? (Still photos of the play show the ball in Miller’s hands when the shot clock was at zero.)
Duke (36) at North Carolina, Feb. 8. The situation: Duke trailed by 10 with 2:20 to play. The response: A 13-2 run to the end, including three made 3-pointers – each more clutch than the last. The big play: Freshman Austin Rivers’ shot that will live in Duke lore, a deep “3” over the outstretched arm of 7-footer Tyler Zeller with no time remaining. What if: Zeller hadn’t flukishly tipped a Ryan Kelly miss into his own basket with 1:09 left?
Missouri (37) vs. Kansas, Feb. 4. The situation: Mizzou trailed the Jayhawks by eight with 2:05 remaining. The response: An 11-0 rally, in which guard Marcus Denmon scored nine points in 68 seconds. The big play: Michael Dixon’s taken charge on Elijah Johnson with less than 10 seconds remaining, and subsequent foul shots. What if: A borderline charge call on Thomas Robinson at the 1:43 mark, with Kansas up five, had gone the other way?
Coach who earned his comp car
Mark Fox (38), Georgia. His Bulldogs are struggling this season, at 12-12 overall and 3-7 in SEC play, but they sure haven’t quit. That was evident last week when Georgia annihilated Arkansas in Athens (a 22-point win that was a blowout almost the entire way) and backed it up with a stunning road upset of Mississippi State. In a league where everyone but Kentucky has looked fallible lately, it’s not unreasonable to think the Bulldogs could pull another surprise or two in the next couple of weeks, including the SEC tournament.
Coach who should take the bus to work
Greg McDermott (39), Creighton. He yelled at his son on national TV, which was bad. He also has lost three consecutive Missouri Valley Conference games to jeopardize a once-solid NCAA at-large berth. In the eyes of Bluejays fans, that’s assuredly worse.
When thirsty in Chapel Hill, The Minutes suggests a visit to the venerable Top of the Hill Restaurant and Brewery (40). Location isn’t everything, but it helps to be right on the Franklin Street drag. Order an Old Well White Ale and thank The Minutes later.
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