Still recuperating from your midweek bar crawl? Are you nostril deep in term paper research? Have no fear, fellow bracketeers. The I.D. is here to highlight all the college hardwood action from the week that was and preview the most pivotal matchups of the weekend. Unlike Fogell's Hawaiian driver's license, there's nothing fake about this I.D. …
When Bob Knight tendered his resignation on Monday, college basketball lost an icon – and O'Reily Auto Parts stock lost several points. Whether you describe the controversial coach as a teacher, philosopher or commander of inappropriate English language words, there's one idea we can all agree upon: undeniably, he's a winner, 902 times over.
Although he once described my chosen profession as "one-to-two steps above prostitution," the white-haired, stern General is one of my favorite figures in sport. His riveting, often uproarious, press conferences will be sorely missed.
Rehearse your choreographed moves one last time. Get into costume. And press "play" on your boombox. It's time for an Interpretive Dance …
St. Mary's Gaels
|Comment: The Gaels' exhausting victory over conference arch-rival Gonzaga in overtime on Monday should finally garner the respect they so richly deserve from the basketball masses. Fifth-year senior Todd Golden was a perfect 6-for-6 from long-range. School blocks record holder Diamon Simpson posted his 12th double-double of the year. And underrated center Omar Samhan scored 11-plus points in his fifth straight game. More than a team comprised of Bloomin' Onions, Patty Mills and key role player Lucas Walker, the Gaels showcased their depth, versatility and scoring balance playing in front of a national television audience. On the year, St. Mary's is not only effective offensively – it ranks 19th nationally in two-point field-goal percentage – its also astute defensively, holding opponents to just 30.0 percent from long distance. Probably its most unheralded attribute is that it can execute offensively, regardless if the tempo is dizzying or dawdling, which will be very useful in tournament play. With six RPI top 60 victories, including a six-point upending of Drake, the Bulldogs only loss, in November, St. Mary's is without question better than their No. 25 AP ranking. The Selection Committee will likely label them a five or six seed, which is fair. But, make no mistake; this is a squad that possesses the characteristics of a bracket wrecking ball.|
|Comment: Lost in the Duke-North Carolina-Dickey V hoopla on Wednesday, Gary Williams' Huggies-wearing Maryland team won its fifth game out of its last six, moving the Terps to an eye-catching 5-3 in conference play. Outside of the Tobacco Road goliaths, the ACC is a league dominated by parity. However, beginning with the stunning upset of North Carolina at the Dean Dome, Maryland has ascended out of the dredges of mediocrity and vaulted into NCAA at-large contention – an amazing transformation when you consider it lost to American University by eight points in College Park back in late December. The Terps' astonishing turnaround is largely due to their stifling defense – they rank fifth nationally in effective field-goal percentage defense – and the play of interior bruisers James Gist and Bambale Osby, who have averaged a combined 32.3 points and 17.7 rebounds per game and netted 54.0 percent from the field in league play. With three of its next four at the Comcast Center (N.C. State, at Duke, Florida St. and Virginia Tech), Maryland could boost its RPI standing significantly if it defends homecourt. Despite a very difficult schedule, at this point, its a fringe tournament team with only one victory versus the RPI top 50 (North Carolina).|
|Comment: The real reason why Mitt Romney still has a smile on his face after a disappointing Super Tuesday: his Cougs are all alone atop the Mountain West standings. BYU's talented tandem of Lee Cummard and Trent Plaisted are the main reasons why it sprinted out to its best ever MWC start at 7-1. In conference play, the banner juniors have averaged a combined 30.2 points and 14.9 rebounds per game and converted 50.2 of their shots from the field. The true hallmark of the Cougars' success is their suffocating defense and rebounding prowess. Nationally, they rank 15th in adjusted defensive efficiency and fifth in defensive rebound percentage. Despite having just one marquee win, a two-point triumph over Louisville in Las Vegas on Nov. 22, BYU's, and the Mountain West's, healthy RPI standings – 45 and 8, respectively – have them NCAA bound, for now. However, if they do go dancing, Brazilian bomber Jonathan Tavernari will have to show more consistency from long range. If he can drain treys with regularity, like his five threes versus Louisville, the Cougars have an excellent chance of reaching the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 1981.|
Illinois St. Redbirds
|Comment: Dropping a crucial home battle 73-70 to Valley leader Drake on Tuesday, Tim Jankovich's club will have to emerge the victors in Arch Madness to qualify for the NCAA tournament for the first time in 10 years. Since Jan. 19, the Redbirds have been on the losing end of four of six contests, falling by an average margin of 4.5 points per game. Their downfall can be pinned on their once stellar defense coming unglued. In those four losses, opposing offenses have tallied an offensive rating higher than 115.0 – anything above 110 is exceptional – and have toed the charity stripe 23.5 times per game. Sophomore guard Osiris Eldridge has played brilliantly this season, knocking down 47.5 percent of his attempts and eclipsing double-figures in 20 of 23 games. However, his NCAA hopes could be squashed with the announcement that ISU will be playing the unexciting Wright State in Bracket Busters. Without an RPI top 50 win, it appears ISU has run out of time to pad their resume. Shockingly, the Valley may only produce one bid this season, the first time this century.|
Marquette Golden Eagles
|Comment: The consistently inconsistent Golden Eagles continued their rollercoaster season, smashed for the second time by Rick Pitino's Louisville Cardinals 71-57 at the Bradley Center on Monday. Defensively, Marquette, ranked 16th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, has played vigorously against teams that are equal in height and athleticism. However, Louisville's strong paint play was too difficult a task for the helpless Eagles to conquer. Key Krakens Earl Clark and David Padgett pounded their diminutive front line, opening up the perimeter for Edgar Sosa and Jerry Smith, who rained five threes combined. Tom Crean has tried to make adjustments to overcome his club's post pitfalls (e.g. forcing Dan Fitzgerald to play a true four), but nothing has worked. With Notre Dame paint ogre Luke Harangody (20.4 ppg, 10.1 rpg) looming on the horizon, the prospects of the Golden Eagles stealing a victory in South Bend are dismal. They'll likely enter the NCAA tournament as a five or six seed, but as soon as they face a team with a viable post presence, consider them endangered species.|
Washington St. Cougars
|Comment: After a 14-0 start, the best in Pullman in 80 years, the Cougars have been caged. Derrick Low and company's once intimidating homecourt advantage has become a place of comfort for road foes. The Cougars have dropped three straight hotly contested games at Friel Court, losing by an average margin of five points per contest. Now at 5-5 in the ultra-competitive Pac-10, Wazzu, who was supposed to challenge UCLA for the conference title, is reeling. After being out-rebounded 42-26 by Stanford on Feb. 2 and 27-16 by Kevin Love and his cohorts on Thursday, the pedestrian post play of Robbie Cowgill and Aron Baynes has crushed the Cougs. Aggressive paint prowlers and dribble-driving guards have had their way inside the arc against them, converting several high-percentage shots with little challenge. The hallmark of Tony Bennett's brief tenure in Pullman has been defense. But his normally restrictive, half-court palisade has come unhinged, largely due to Wazzu's ineffectiveness down low. In less than three weeks, Washington St. has plummeted from a sure-fired No. 2 seed to a fringe No. 5 seed. Kyle Weaver and Low are a lethal backcourt duo but, without consistency in the post, their chances of reaching the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in the expanded tournament age are shrinking.|
Named after a Clash classic, this segment sifts through the bountiful weekend slate to highlight seven titanic games that will bear the greatest impact on a team's "Bracket Big Board" seeding.
1. Purdue (18-5) at Wisconsin (19-3)
Bruises, bloodshed and black eyes will characterize the clash between the Big Ten's two most dominant defenses. In a physical battle royale at Mackey on Jan. 26, Purdue's aggressive man-to-man defense held Wisky to an 89.1 offensive efficiency rating, its worst output this season in Big Ten play. However, Wisconsin's ultimate sixth-man is the Kohl's Center, where the Badgers haven't dropped a league game their since Jan. 31, 2006. The matchup between grinders Joe Krabbenhoft and Robbie Hummel will be worth the price of admission.
Prediction: Wisconsin 57 Purdue 54
In what will surely be the most competitive game this weekend, the Cardinals have a slight advantage. Louisville's length, athleticism and defensive sprowess matches up effectively with the Hoyas' well-rounded attack. Both clubs rank in the top 10 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, which means whoever window washes best will likely tally the W. The Cardinals' Earl Clark, David Padgett and Derrick Caracter are a daunting frontline, fully capable of containing Roy Hibbert and dominating the boards. First team to 65 wins.
Prediction: Louisville 65 Georgetown 62
3. N.C. State (15-7) at Maryland (15-8)
The Wolf Pack and Terrapins are hoping to permanently rise above the ACC scrum of mediocrity. Fresh off Gary Williams' 600th career win at Boston College on Feb. 6, the Terps have found their offensive groove, burning the nets (53.3 FG%) in their past three wins. The Wolf Pack's turnover problems (259th in offensive TO%) and difficulties controlling the glass (281st in DR%) will leave them shell-shocked against a brawny Terrapins team.
Prediction: Maryland 73 N.C. State 62
4. Marquette (16-5) at Notre Dame (17-4)
Mentioned above, the Golden Eagles, now a third-tiered team in the Big East at 6-4, desperately need to play competitively on the road. In three conference losses away from Milwaukee, Marquette has been annihilated by an average margin of 17 points. The Eagles lack of interior muscle continues to plague them and with monster Luke Harangody averaging 24.1 points and 11.8 rebounds per game in league play, things won't get any easier. Surprisingly, Marquette's 20 fastbreak points helped it destroy Notre Dame by 26 on Jan. 12, but the story will be reversed in South Bend.
Prediction: Notre Dame 81 Marquette 69
5. St. Joseph's (15-6) at Xavier (18-4)
Due to Dayton's recent downfall and Rhode Island's two-point slide at U-Mass, the bout between St. Joe's and Xavier is for A-10 supremacy. The Hawks' Pat Calathes (see right) is a multifaceted monster who will present matchup problems for Sean Miller's gritty Xavier bunch. St. Joe's is an excellent three-point shooting team (27th nationally in 3-PT FG%), but struggles defensively. Because of the Musketeer's well-oiled offense and throng of glass crashers, they will emerge victorious.
Prediction: Xavier 76 St. Joe's 68
6. Indiana (18-3) at Ohio St. (16-7)
Coming off an emotional double-OT triumph over Illinois, the Hoosiers will have to muster a similar intensity against an overlooked Ohio St. team. No team nationally has gotten to the charity stripe more than the Buckeyes and, given Indiana's questionable inside presence outside of D.J. White, Kosta Koufos and Othello Hunter could be headaches down low. The Buckeyes must showcase their 17th-ranked three-point field-goal percentage defense to shackle long-distance callers Eric Gordon and Jamal Crawford. If they do, "Hang on Sloopy" will be heard through the night on High Street. Prediction: Ohio St. 67 Indiana 63
7. Mississippi (16-4) at Arkansas (16-5)
The Razorbacks' arch Magnolia State rival might be Mississippi St., but their tussle with the Rebels will be a hostile muddy water melee. Ole Miss' deficiencies on defense and problematic turnovers have led it to three losses in its past four games. Arkansas' blanketing defense (18th nationally in adjusted D efficiency) will neutralize three-point marksmen Chris Warren and baseline behemoth Dwayne Curtis. Currently 5-2 in the SEC West, John Pelphrey's Razorbacks are starting to jell at the right time.
Prediction: Arkansas 75 Mississippi 69
Other Notable Games: Baylor (17-4) at Kansas (22-1), Clemson (16-5) at North Carolina (21-2), Miami (Fla.) (15-7) at Virginia Tech (14-9), Arizona St. (14-7) at Arizona (15-7)
Last week's results: 5-2
Off-the-cuff thoughts, observations and blather from the "Big Noise."
• Journalists across the country described the cascade of Eric Gordon jeers by raucous Illinois fans Thursday night as "classless," "malicious" and "overboard." To a point they're right. Throwing objects or directing inappropriate verbal derision at someone's family is fan jerk-dom at its ugliest, regardless of the implications or supposed retaliation.
However, when Chester Frazier chest-bumped Gordon during introductions, it wasn't denigrating, harmful or unsportsmanlike. Sometimes people forget to realize that college basketball isn't a gentlemen's sport like golf. Its fans are obsessive, spirited and loyal, sometimes to a fault. And so are its players.
What happened in Champaign Thursday night, simply put, was an Orange and Blue vent session. The culmination of the Gordon saga, frustrating losses, abhorrent free throw shooting and the Illini's worst Big Ten season this century, was verbalized under the roof of the Assembly Hall. But, sadly for Illinois fans – and I am one – one of the finest single-game performances by a freshman in the storied history of the program – Demetri McCamey's 31 points, six rebounds and seven made threes – will be unfairly overlooked because of the villainous acts of a few juvenile-minded patrons wrought with vindictiveness. For me, that is what's truly embarrassing.
• Sitting at 399 wins, UNLV head coach Lon Kruger's quest to join the 400-win club was stymied by Utah in Salt Lake City on Wednesday. Despite the untimely loss, the half-court oriented Rebels (6-2) are off to their best ever Mountain West start. Losing four starters from last year's Sweet Sixteen team, UNLV has catapulted itself into at-large contention, sporting a healthy 32 RPI and 66 SOS. Ranked sixth nationally in offensive turnover percentage, UNLV's prudence with the basketball coupled with its excellent perimeter defense suggests a return to the Sweet Sixteen isn't inconceivable.
• For the second time in three weeks, Oklahoma's NCAA aspirations rest on the shoulders of a Griffin – and it's not the one you might think. With second-leading scorer Longar Longar out indefinitely with a broken leg, Taylor, not Blake, Griffin will be depended upon heavily as a paint enforcer. When younger brother Blake was sidelined by a sprained MCL on Jan. 19 versus Texas Tech, Taylor chipped in his best all-around performance of the year, racking 16 points and 12 boards. When put in a similar situation against Texas with Longar out, big brother delivered again, totaling 12 points and 15 rebounds. The Sooners' next three games are against teams buried in the bottom half of the Big 12. In order to pad their NCAA resume, Taylor Griffin must continue to perform admirably.
• Excuse-making Carolina fans will whine that the outcome versus Duke would have been reversed if standout point guard Ty Lawson had suited up. Frankly, it wouldn't have mattered. The Tar Heels' glaring defensive weaknesses were displayed repeatedly as Duke had plenty of space to execute its shots, evident in the Blue Devils' 13 made threes. UNC will be able to command the glass against most opponents, but its 65th-ranked three-point field-goal percentage defense will lead to its tournament extinction.
• Forget the infamous chair toss, game faces exhibition and the tutorial on bull-whip training, my all-time favorite Knight moment was when he channeled his inner Zoltar. It's funny how Knight's Damon Bailey prophecy came true. With all his additional free time, maybe Knight could start his own psychic friends hotline. At least his would be more truthful and entertaining than Dionne Warwick's.
Each week, per your emails, the Noise compares two closely matched resumes in an attempt to get inside the mind of Selection Committee chairman Thomas J. O'Connor. All statistical information is courtesy of kenpom.com. Margin of victory/defeat is noted in parentheses. BBR stands for last week's "Bracket Big Board" rank.
|Key Ws||Kansas St. (9)
West Virginia (14)
Ohio St. (7)
|Ugly Ls||Georgia Tech (1)||Wofford (3)
Iowa St. (3)
|BBR||28 (7 seed)||24 (6 seed)|
Noise: If I worked for the four-letter network, I would have been born with an unyielding urge to exchange bodily fluids with Mike Krzyzewski. Since my yearnings are only for one Larry Beil, it's only appropriate that I write for Yahoo! Sports.
Undeniably, the Irish are playing terrific basketball. Harangody has played like an uninhibited elephant in the post and, underappreciated guard Kyle McAlarney has been heavenly from downtown, but I stand by this past week's ranking. To a point, you're right; ranking Charlie Weis-U a seven seed grossly undervalued them.
At the start of the week, the two Hoosier State powers had nearly identical resumes. Both played patsy non-conference schedules – ND: 280 non-conf. SOS, PU: 257. Both had accumulated similar records versus the RPI top 50. Both ranked in the 40s of the RPI. And both showcased strength of schedules in the low 100s. Really, their ranking difference came down to one minor characteristic: their league records. Yes, the BEAST ranks two spots ahead of the downtrodden Big Ten in conference RPI, but, honestly, the deciding factor for me was the Boilers' one-loss Big Ten record.
Go ahead and blame my Big Ten roots. But we can agree on one thing, both teams deserve six seeds or better if the tournament tipped today. As for this week's Triple-B update, Notre Dame, who demolished Seton Hall to boost its RPI to 32, will surge ahead of Purdue.
Oh, and Randy, Butler might take offense to your label that Notre Dame is the "best team in Indiana." Matt Howard is one bushy-haired dude I wouldn't want to tick off.