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Forde Minutes: Is UK the Florida State of college basketball?

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Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college basketball (scorpion venom serum sold separately in Corvallis):

IS KENTUCKY THE FLORIDA STATE OF COLLEGE BASKETBALL?

The Minutes was on “The Tony Kornheiser Show (1)” Monday, also known as the Best Radio Show Extant. On said show, Mr. Tony suggested that perhaps Kentucky (2) is the Florida State of college basketball, comparing the Wildcats to the college football Seminoles.

Kornheiser’s question is whether Kentucky is undefeated largely because of middling conference competition, not due to sheer dominance. That was Florida State, which slithered through the soft Atlantic Coast Conference 13-0 and then was exposed by Oregon when the competition grew tougher in the College Football Playoff semifinals. Could there be a similar unpleasant surprise awaiting these Wildcats when they get outside the Southeastern Conference?

That might be enough to send this rather avid UK fan into labor. But is it really an apt comparison? The Minutes examines both sides of the issue.

(Credit: Heather McKnight/Twitter)
(Credit: Heather McKnight/Twitter)

Reasons maybe yes: Jeff Sagarin’s football ratings ranked the ACC the fifth-best conference in America; Ken Pomeroy’s basketball ratings rank the SEC the fifth-best conference as well. Sagarin says Florida State did not face a single top-10 team in ACC play; Pomeroy says Kentucky has not faced a single top-25 team in SEC play. (That may change by the time Arkansas, currently No. 26, gets to Rupp Arena on Feb. 28.) Florida State was fortunate to escape Clemson at home, Louisville and Miami on the road; Kentucky has been fortunate to escape Mississippi at home, Texas A&M and LSU on the road. Come the Sweet 16 – or maybe even the round of 32 – there is likely to be an opponent who has been through a tougher grind than the Cats.

Reasons maybe no: Kentucky played a rigorous non-conference schedule and handled all challenges – at Louisville, Kansas and UCLA on neutral courts, North Carolina and Texas at home. But more importantly, poll voters and selection committee members alike saw through the undefeated but unimpressive Seminoles. That’s why they were ranked No. 2 in both the AP and USA Today polls, and No. 3 by the committee heading into the playoff. But Kentucky? You won’t find any number cruncher, poll voter or sentient human being who doesn’t rank the Wildcats No. 1. (Well, there is one USA Today coach voting Gonzaga on top over the Wildcats. Randy Bennett of West Coast Conference rival St. Mary’s, perhaps? The Gaels host the Zags on Saturday; does a “1” in parentheses for Gonzaga add a little juice for the home team?) While plenty of people believed Oregon, Alabama and Ohio State – not to mention TCU and Baylor – were better than Florida State in football, almost nobody is convinced that Virginia, Wisconsin, Duke or Villanova is better than Kentucky.

But they may all be more seasoned and tourney-tough one month from now, after playing in more difficult conferences.

The thing to remember is that one loss now would do absolutely nothing to change Kentucky’s NCAA tournament standing – it would simply alter the storyline from chasing a perfect season of historic proportion to simply chasing a national title. The Minutes remains convinced that the latter would be the easier path – but, again, that is another column for another day.

HALL OF FAME – RETIRE FIRST, THEN INDUCTION

The finalists were announced last week for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2015. Among them were two current coaches: John Calipari (3) of Kentucky and Bo Ryan (4) of Wisconsin.

To which The Minutes asks: what’s the rush?

The basketball Hall says coaches simply need 25 years experience before being eligible for induction. It’s a bad rule. Putting active coaches in the Hall of Fame is counterintuitive and could end badly for all involved.

There are five active Hall of Famers in college basketball – Mike Krzyzewski, Rick Pitino, Larry Brown, Jim Boeheim and Roy Williams. None should be enshrined in Springfield yet.

Hall of Famers are immortalized on their body of work. For those men, the body of work is incomplete. Just as it is for the 56-year-old Calipari and the 67-year-old Ryan.

There is no need for a five-year waiting period post-retirement, as there is for players. But there should be a need to know the full career story before voting someone in.

Because stuff can happen. Ask Roy Williams (5), inducted in 2007 at the premature age of 56. His North Carolina program has been stained by a damning report on widespread academic fraud that included many Tar Heels basketball players. The NCAA is investigating. If one or both of his NCAA championship banners come down, how is that Hall of Fame status going to look?

Syracuse's Jim Boeheim yells to his players during their loss to Duke on Feb. 14. (AP)
Syracuse's Jim Boeheim yells to his players during their loss to Duke on Feb. 14. (AP)

Ask Jim Boeheim (6) of Syracuse about stuff happening. He was inducted in 2005, at the age of 61. His school has self-imposed a postseason ban for this year because of violations of NCAA rules, and a ruling from the Committee on Infractions on that case is expected any day now. There likely will be additional penalties administered. And remember, this is Boeheim’s second postseason ban: Syracuse sat out the 1993 tournament for NCAA reasons, too, after acknowledging at least 15 rules violations within the basketball program. But, hey, Hall of Famer!

Ask Larry Brown (7), voted in at the age of 61 in 2002, about stuff happening. Both of his previous college coaching stops ended in probation for the schools – first at UCLA, then at Kansas. Now he’s looking to achieve the Triple Crown of compliance issues, with an ongoing NCAA investigation at SMU. Brown is a Hall of Famer based on NBA coaching alone, but his NCAA recidivism sullies the résumé.

Jim Calhoun was voted into the Hall after his second national title at Connecticut. He was 61 at the time. He went on to win a third title in 2011. And when he retired, he left behind a program banned from the NCAA tourney due to academic under-performance. Did they rewrite the plaque in Springfield to get that information into the permanent record?

The Hall waited for the entire body of work with Jerry Tarkanian. In fact, they left him out for 11 years after his outlaw career ended – but he eventually got in, and was alive to see it happen.

The College Football Hall of Fame has a better rule than basketball – active coaches must be at least 75 years old. But even that can lead to post-induction complications. (See: Paterno, Joe.)

There are fewer Hall of Fame-worthy college basketball player résumés over the past 20 years, because the best ones have fleeting stays at that level. Thus there is a greater reliance on coaches to go down in history as the guardians of the game. But the Hall should resist the urge to immortalize mere mortals before their careers are over. What happens thereafter can get rather awkward.

BUBBLE FACTOR: CONFERENCE SOS

With the size of many conferences, round-robin play no longer is possible. Which means some schools get it easier than others when it comes to league scheduling. That can be a factor for the NCAA tournament selection committee to consider. It used to be that teams with winning records in the power leagues almost automatically got into the Big Dance, but not all 10-8 conference marks are created equally anymore. Thus The Minutes takes a look at the schedule within the schedule, particularly where it affects bubble teams (all SOS rankings come from Ken Pomeroy):

Atlantic Coast (8). Teams: 15. League games: 18. Clemson (15-11, 7-7) at least still had a glimmer of hope in part because it has played the 14th-toughest ACC schedule to date – and that was before flopping at 12-14 Georgia Tech on Monday night. The Tigers have just one game each against Virginia, Duke, North Carolina and Louisville – which could actually work against them down the stretch, as they hunt for quality wins. The flip side is North Carolina State (15-11, 6-7), which has played the second-toughest league slate. The Wolfpack has played six games against the top five teams in the league, and just one game against the bottom three of Boston College, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech. N.C. State is at Clemson on March 3.

Big Ten (9). Teams: 14. League games: 18. League-leading Wisconsin has played the easiest Big Ten schedule so far – largely because the Badgers don’t have to play themselves, but also because they’ve drawn Northwestern and Nebraska twice and have yet to play Michigan State, Ohio State or Maryland. Other end of the spectrum is Iowa (15-10, 6-6), which already has played Wisconsin and Ohio State twice. The Hawkeyes have started a lenient stretch of the schedule – but started it with a home loss to Minnesota last week and a loss at Northwestern on Sunday. Current tourney status: slippery.

SEC (10). Teams: 14. League games: 18. One reason why Arkansas sits alone in second place: it has played the easiest league schedule so far – and it will only get easier this week, with games against Missouri (7-18) and Mississippi State (12-13). Florida, on the other hand, has played the second-toughest schedule, which has contributed to the Gators’ 5-7 SEC record.

Pac-12 (11). Teams: 12. League games: 18. Stanford (16-9, 7-6) has benefited from the third-easiest schedule – but still has road losses to Washington State and Colorado. UCLA (16-10, 8-5) has played the third-hardest schedule – and that’s before the Bruins’ trip this week to face Arizona State and league-leading Arizona. The Bruins’ sweep of Stanford could loom large when all is said and done.

Atlantic-10 (12). Teams: 14. League games: 18. Teams with league schedules ranking 13th (Dayton), 14th (Rhode Island), 11th (Massachusetts) and 10th (Davidson) not coincidentally occupy spots 2-5 in the standings. The Flyers and Rams each have enjoyed four games against co-cellar dwellers Fordham and Saint Louis. St. Bonaventure (13-10, 6-6) is scrapping to stay afloat while playing the league’s hardest schedule.

FIRST-YEAR COACHES WHO ARE CRUSHING IT

The Bulldogs are second in the Big East thanks to first-year head coach Chris Holtmann. (AP)
The Bulldogs are second in the Big East thanks to first-year head coach Chris Holtmann. (AP)

Chris Holtmann (13)

, Butler. Assistant was pressed into the interim head-coaching role when Brandon Miller took a leave of absence for personal reasons. Miller never returned, and Holtmann was made the full-time coach – and it’s worked out splendidly. In its second year in the Big East, Butler is 19-7 overall, 9-4 in the league and solidly in the tournament after the Bulldogs’ win Monday at Creighton. The season took a tough twist after a last-second loss to Villanova on Saturday night, when starting forward Andrew Chrabascz was lost for two-to-four weeks with a broken hand. But ‘Nova coach Jay Wright was full of praise for Butler’s challenging defense, which takes away first and second options and forces opponents to think their way through offensive possessions. “They put you through that mental grind,” Wright said. “It’s really, really cool.”

Chris Jans (14), Bowling Green. The former Wichita State assistant was Gregg Marshall’s defensive gameplan guru, and he’s brought that mindset to a school that hasn’t had a winning season since 2009. The Falcons are 17-6, 9-3 in the Mid-American Conference and in first place in the MAC East. Pomeroy rates them 15th nationally in defensive efficiency. Bowling Green could end up with its first 20-win season since 2002.

Wayne Tinkle (15), Oregon State. The latest guy to try and revive the Beavers is doing a pretty solid job of it – they’re currently 7-6 in Pac-12 play. If they can get to 9-9, it would be their first non-losing league record since 1993. They’re also 14-0 at home and have a shot at going unbeaten in Gill Coliseum for first time since 1983-84. The hitch: the last three home games all are 8 p.m. tip-offs, Corvallis time. Which doesn’t help when a significant number of your fans live 90 miles away in Portland. Oregon State has one home shocker under its belt, beating Arizona in January. Thursday night the Beavers take a shot at No. 9 Utah.

FIRST-YEAR COACHES WHO ARE BEING CRUSHED

(Note: almost all of these guys inherited a flaming bag of poop from his predecessor. Patience is advised.)

Kelvin Sampson (16), Houston. The Cougars are 9-15, 1-11 in the American. Say this much for Sampson, the reclamation project who had been in the NBA after encountering NCAA trouble at both Indiana and Oklahoma: he has three pretty good wins. He beat Murray State on the road to open his tenure (Murray is now 23-4); he beat crosstown rival Rice; and his lone league victory is over defending national champion Connecticut. So there is quality, if not quantity. The good news is that there are two games left with similarly awful South Florida. Speaking of which …

Orlando Antigua (17), South Florida. The former John Calipari assistant isn’t used to losing like this. The Bulls are a half-game below the Cougars in the American cellar at 7-19, 1-12. They’ve lost 11 in a row, most recently a 27-point home blowout against Memphis. Best win of the season: at UAB by two in overtime. Before Thanksgiving.

Buzz Williams (18), Virginia Tech. The Hokies are 10-15, 2-10 in the ACC. Their two league victories are at home by a total of five points. There have been plenty of closes losses, too – seven of them by three points or less. Boston College at Virginia Tech on March 2 probably qualifies as the ACC’s Crummy Game of the Year. (However, let it be said that The Minutes was a fan of Williams’ argyle sweater in school colors he wore last week. Purple and orange aren’t a match made in designer heaven, but it wasn’t bad.)

Steve Wojciechowski (19), Marquette. Williams’ replacement in Milwaukee is laboring in his first season as a head coach. Wojo is a woeful 11-14, 3-10 in the Big East. Only win in the last month was over a Seton Hall team that is doing its own unraveling at the moment. Like Antigua, the former Mike Krzyzewski assistant is having to adjust to far more losing than he’s accustomed to.

Doc Sadler (20), Southern Mississippi. Nobody was handed a worse situation than Sadler – program under investigation, players ineligible, it’s been a mess in Hattiesburg. The Golden Eagles (7-17, 2-11 in Conference USA) bottomed out last week against Florida International, finishing the game with four players on the floor after three others fouled out. The fact that only seven were dressed speaks volumes for the situation.

Missouri's Kim Anderson looks on during a loss. (AP)
Missouri's Kim Anderson looks on during a loss. (AP)

Kim Anderson (21), Missouri. This is another program beset by injuries and suspensions – and Anderson hardly had a flush hand to begin with. (Sorry, Frank Haith, your ludicrous assertion to USA Today about being able to win 20 games with this team had you stuck around is a joke.) The Tigers (7-18, 1-11 in the SEC) are by far the worst team in the league, and Anderson has done little to assuage concerns about him making the jump from Division II to a power-five league. But believe it or not, it could have been worse: Anderson was on a private plane that had to make an emergency landing last week while he was out recruiting. It landed safely.

RUNNING THE LEAGUE TABLE

Five teams are perfect in conference play. The Minutes assesses their chances of finishing the job:

Albany (22). Conference: America East. Record: 12-0. Overall league winning streak: 15 games. Games remaining: four. Biggest challenge: finale at home against a Vermont team that is 11-2 in conference play and has won five straight. Will the Great Danes do it? No. Catamounts ruin the run.

North Carolina Central (23). Conference: Mid-Eastern Athletic. Record: 12-0. Overall league winning streak: 30 games. Games remaining: four. Biggest challenge: at Savannah State on March 2, NCC’s last remaining road game. Will the Eagles do it? Yes. LeVelle Moton’s defense-minded team is on one of the great runs in MEAC history and it won’t end anytime soon.

Murray State (24). Conference: Ohio Valley. Record: 13-0. Games remaining: three. Biggest challenge: At Tennessee-Martin on Feb. 28 to close the regular season. Will the Racers do it? No. UT-Martin lost by three at Murray and had the game tied late, and the SkyHawks have won six straight at home.

Kentucky. Conference: SEC. Record: 12-0. Games remaining: six. Biggest challenge: home against Arkansas, which beat UK twice last year and is playing well, on Feb. 28. Will the Wildcats do it? Um, yes. And probably without anything as tense as the escapes against LSU, Texas A&M and Ole Miss.

Gonzaga (25). Conference: West Coast. Record: 14-0. Games remaining: four. Biggest challenge: at rival St. Mary’s on Saturday. Will the Bulldogs do it? Yes. St. Mary’s ain’t what she used to be. BYU could provide a challenge Feb. 28, but that’s the home finale and it’s difficult to envision the Zags not being locked in for that game.

RUNNING THE LEAGUE TABLE IN REVERSE

These teams are winless in conference play heading down the stretch.

Grambling (26). Conference: SWAC. Record: 0-13. Games remaining: five. Best chance for a win: regular-season finale at home against Alabama A&M. Can the Tigers do it? Doubtful. They lost by 51 points at home Monday night to Prairie View; pretty hard to see a team that does that beating anyone the rest of the way.

San Jose State (27). Conference: Mountain West. Record: 0-12. Games remaining: six. Best chance for a win: at Nevada on Feb. 28, in a rematch of a game in which San Jose State only trailed by one in the final two minutes. Can the Spartans do it? No. That’s the only game they’ve come remotely close to winning since early January, and the closest they’ve come to a league win on the road is 17 points. This is the worst team in Mountain West history.

RATING THIS WEEK’S RIVALRY GAMES

Rivalries make college sports go 'round, and there are a bunch of rivalry games this week. The Minutes breaks 'em down:

Duke's Mike Krzyzewski shakes hands with UNC's Roy Williams. (USAT)
Duke's Mike Krzyzewski shakes hands with UNC's Roy Williams. (USAT)

North Carolina-Duke (28). When: Wednesday. Where: Durham. How good is it: Awesome, although slightly less so by the standards of this rivalry. Neither team leads the ACC, and only the Blue Devils are ranked in the top 10. Still, it’s an important game in terms of jockeying for a top-four double-bye in the ACC tourney – and because they hate each other’s guts. But expect the recent death of Dean Smith to alleviate some of the bitterness this time around – there should be a classy show of support for the Tar Heels from the Duke fans. Who will win: Duke, 80-75.

Indiana-Purdue (29). When: Thursday. Where: Bloomington. How good is it: Always heated, but this one is better than it’s been in several years. Both teams have a chance to finish in the Big Ten top four, something that last happened in 2008. Since then they’ve both made the NCAA tournament in the same season only once, in 2012. Both teams have exceeded expectations to get here: Purdue is 9-4 in league play and tied for second; Indiana is 8-5. The Boilermakers won big in West Lafayette, and Assembly Hall should be rocking in anticipation of a payback. Purdue coach Matt Painter said Monday, “We’ve got to be able to keep the crowd out of it. We’ve got to be able to keep the refs out of it, to be honest.” That prompted a follow-up question from The Minutes about “keeping the refs out of it,” and Painter acknowledged the truism that home teams get a better whistle – especially home teams with pronounced home-court advantages. “It’s the nature of the beast,” Painter said. “Been going on for 100 years.” Putting the refs on blast the week of a rivalry game? That provides just a little more juice to this game. Who will win: Indiana, 73-67.

Xavier-Cincinnati (30). When: Wednesday. Where: UC’s Shoemaker Center. How good is it: Vicious most of the time, but perhaps a bit more civilized in this return to campus after two years of being played at a downtown arena. The Bearcats are without head coach Mick Cronin (medical leave due to an aneurysm), and plopping the game down in February for the first time in a decade changes the dynamic as well. But expect intensity, especially with both teams still trying to sew up NCAA bids. Cincinnati is coming off a damaging home loss to Tulane, and Xavier lost last time out at home to St. John’s. Who will win: Xavier, 59-57.

Gonzaga-St. Mary’s (31). When: Saturday. Where: Moraga, Calif. How good is it: When the Gaels are good, it’s really good. But Gonzaga has won the last seven meetings, including a 21-pointer in Spokane earlier this season, and St. Mary’s would seem overmatched again this time around. Worth tuning in to see the atmosphere and how the Zags handle it, but don’t expect anything shocking. Who will win: Gonzaga, 74-65.

St. John’s-Georgetown (32). When: Tuesday. Where: Washington, D.C. How good is it: Pretty good, not great. Fans of the original Big East fondly remember Walter Berry and Chris Mullin vs. Patrick Ewing, but that was an eternity ago. Sad fact is, St. John’s has been to one NCAA tournament in the last 12 years – and hasn’t won a game in the tourney since 2000. This St. John’s team has given itself a chance to get back to the Dance, and two games against the Hoyas in an 11-day stretch could go a long way toward deciding that. Who will win: St. John’s in an upset, 65-64.

UCLA-Arizona (33). When: Saturday. Where: Tucson. How good is it: Good, with the potential to get very good if the Bruins uphold their end of the bargain. Unfortunately, the two Pac-12 schools are only meeting once during the regular season last year and this year. But they did clash in the Pac-12 tournament title game last year, with the Bruins scoring the upset. It would be a bigger upset this time around, although UCLA has shown signs of progress in winning five of its last six. Who will win: Arizona, 75-66. Wildcats tore through the state of Washington last week in bouncing back from an upset loss to Arizona State; they may have found something on that trip.

Michigan-Michigan State (34). When: Tuesday. Where: Ann Arbor. How good is it: Been better. Beilein vs. Izzo normally is one of the nation’s best matchups, but neither has a vintage team. The Wolverines are crippled by injuries and have lost four straight. The Spartans are trying to hit their stride in an arduous closing stretch that has them playing four of their last six on the road. Who will win: Michigan State, 58-52.

Don't expect John Calipari's Wildcats to run into any trouble against Tennessee. (AP)
Don't expect John Calipari's Wildcats to run into any trouble against Tennessee. (AP)

Kentucky-Tennessee (35). When: Tuesday. Where: Knoxville. How good is it: Lopsided. As The Minutes pointed out two weeks ago, Kentucky has beaten nobody more often than the Volunteers. And John Calipari has done his part to add to the all-time series total, beating Tennessee six times in eight tries as coach of the Cats. This Tennessee team is coming off a home beatdown against LSU, which does not augur well for bothering Big Blue. Who will win: Kentucky, 79-62.

Alabama-Auburn (36). When: Tuesday. Where: Auburn. How good is it: Meh. This isn’t football, which means interest is way down and quality of play is down further. Still, Anthony Grant’s best chance of salvaging some of his shrinking job security is sweeping Bruce Pearl – 'Bama won the first meeting, 57-55. Who will win: Auburn, 69-66.

Mississippi-Mississippi State (37). When: Thursday. Where: Starkville. How good is it: Not very. Like Auburn-Alabama, the basketball version of the rivalry is a poor imitation of the football version. State fans don’t even have Marshall Henderson to hate anymore. Who will win: Mississippi, 73-72.

COACH WHO EARNED HIS COMP CAR THIS WEEK

Mike Anderson (38), Arkansas. Homecourt Mike needs a new nickname. He won back-to-back league road games last week, raising the Razorbacks’ record to 4-2 away from Bud Walton Arena in SEC play. And you have no idea how significant that is. Last time Arkansas won more than three SEC games on the road in one year? Try 20 years ago, the last time the Hogs made the Final Four. Their SEC road record between 1996 and 2014: a horrific 35-119. Kudos to Anderson for making some hay away from home for the first time in a long time.

COACH WHO SHOULD TAKE THE BUS TO WORK

Tubby Smith (39), Texas Tech. The Red Raiders are 12-14 overall, 2-11 and last in the Big 12. And in a development that should leave Kentucky and Minnesota fans nodding their head in understanding, Tubby’s team cannot score. Tech is No. 271 nationally in offensive efficiency, and these are the point totals in the Red Raiders’ last nine losses: 54, 51, 42, 43, 36, 58, 38, 51, 41. Average margin of defeat in those games: 24.1 points. Oh, and there still are four games remaining against ranked opponents.

BUZZER BEATER

When hungry in the great college basketball city of Louisville, The Minutes recommends a visit to Momma’s Mustard, Pickles & BBQ (40). The name suggests that the 'cue comes third, but Momma is fibbing. You can buy the housemade mustard and pickles in the humble restaurant – but don’t leave without chicken wings and a pulled pork sandwich. And you may want to make a return trip for the ribs, burnt ends and brisket. Try them all and thank The Minutes later.