Interpretive Dance: Red Storm

Brad Evans

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. …

If asked to use one word to summarize the events that have transpired across sports genres this week, it would be scandal. Whether it's the Roger Clemens media spectacle on Capitol Hill or Arlen Specter's Spygate discussions with Roger Goodell, controversy has been the headline king. Unfortunately, college basketball hasn't been immune from the derogation.

The publicized allegations against Indiana's Kelvin Sampson aren't a surprise to anyone who bleeds Crimson and Cream. Sanctioned for making 577 impermissible phone calls while at Oklahoma, Sampson was on the fast-track to coaching irrelevance at an obscure mid-major or out of the industry entirely when the storied Hoosiers courted his services after squeaky clean Mike Davis inched IU toward mediocrity. Instead of getting canned in Norman, Sampson received a promotion in Bloomington.

Athletic Director Rick Greenspan and the IU Board of Trustees should have known better. The 100-plus illegal phone calls allegedly made to recruits under Sampson's probation-tainted watch at Indiana are not only reprehensible, but completely dumbfounding.

If the accusations of manufactured lies and incompliance detailed in the NCAA investigation prove true, a once proud, prestigious program, which had not committed a major infraction since 1960, will be contaminated.

The saddest part: the Hoosiers' most talented stock of players in over a decade will be unfairly smothered in mud.

Rehearse your choreographed moves one last time. Get into costume. And press "play" on your boombox. It's time for an Interpretive Dance …

Here are this week's bracket bulls and bears:

Team Conf W-L RPI SOS
Louisville Cardinals Big East 18-6 17 14
Comment: During Louisville's enormous 59-51 home triumph over BEAST frontrunner Georgetown, white-suited Rick Pitino and his Cardinals went all Tony Montana on the Hoyas. Winners of six of their past seven conference bouts, the Cardinals are jelling at the right time. In those wins, Louisville's stalwart defense has suffocated opponents, limiting teams to an average offensive rating of 84.8 per game and 0.84 points per possession. The effectiveness of a 100 percent healthy David Padgett on the Cards' offensive/defensive schemes cannot be underestimated. Averaging 20.6 percent of his team's shots while on the floor, the 6-foot-11 paint patroller has posted a dynamite 126.1 offensive efficiency rating, ranking him in the top 30 nationally. In his past two games, Padgett has averaged 19 points per game and netted 70 percent from the floor. His contributions from the interior have freed stat-sheet stuffer Terrance Williams to take more uncontested shots and run UL's offense more fluidly. On the verge of cracking the Bracket Big Board top 15, Louisville is clicking on all cylinders and should finish an incredibly rigorous remaining Big East slate (at Prov, Syr., at Pitt, ND, at 'Nova, G'Town) with a minimum of 13 conference wins.
Team Conf W-L RPI SOS
Purdue Boilermakers Big Ten 20-5 29 82
Comment: Eric Gordon might be the most talented freshman in the Big Ten, but 6-foot-8 forward Robbie Hummel is the most versatile. Behind Hummel's career-high 24 points and 12 rebounds, the baby Boilers steamrolled past Michigan St. 60-54 in West Lafayette on Tuesday. In that contest, Purdue's percolating defense forced 19 Spartans turnovers and limited the nation's 37th-most efficient offense to a pathetic 0.84 points per possession. Disrespected by obtuse pollsters, Purdue's current No. 24 AP rank is a travesty. Now 11-1 in conference play, the Boilers, 1.5 games up on Wisconsin, are officially the most underappreciated team in the country. Matt Painter's enveloping man-to-man defense ranks the Boilers 15th nationally in defensive efficiency and in the top 10 in turnover percentage. Their ability to vigorously contest shots and the continued offensive development of guards E'Twaun Moore and Keaton Grant will make them a very difficult team to upend in tournament play. If they can sneak wins at Indiana on Feb. 19 and at Ohio St. Mar. 4, the Boilers will finish the Big Ten regular season with just one loss and a probable three seed in the Big Dance – truly an amazing feat considering most preseason publications had them pegged as an NIT team.
Team Conf W-L RPI SOS
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers Sun Belt 20-5 56 165
Comment: Red towels have been twirling ferociously in Bowling Green. The Hilltoppers have coasted past patsy Sun Belt competition, compiling a 12-1 mark, while defeating opponents by an average margin of 17.4 points per game during their current 10-game win streak. Spectacular senior guard Courtney Lee has been a frightful force for opponents to contain. Among players who have taken a minimum of 28 percent of his team's shots, Lee's 124.8 offensive efficiency rating ranks 38th nationally. He has eclipsed the 20-point plateau 15 times this season and has knocked down 83.3 percent from the charity stripe. Backcourt compliment Tyrone Brazelton has also made a significant impact. Brazelton has drilled 43.1 percent of his long-range shots and has averaged 15.2 points per game in his past five. Although WKU has failed to notch an RPI top 50 win, its dominance in the Sun Belt has bolstered its RPI into at-large consideration. However, their mammoth clash with conference rival South Alabama (RPI 40), 12-2 in the Sun Belt, at E.A. Diddle Arena Feb. 21 will ultimately decide whether or not the Hilltoppers are at-large worthy. With so many high-major teams' tourney hopes hanging by a precarious thread, there's a moderate chance "Big Red" could shake his gelatinous frame come Selection Sunday.

Team Conf W-L RPI SOS
Kentucky Wildcats SEC 12-10 84 18
Comment: Not even the intoxicating beauty of Ashley Judd could have saved the Wildcats from the restrictive clutches of the Commodores. Vanderbilt absolutely humiliated UK on Tuesday, destroying the Wildcats by 41 points in Nashville. The embarrassing loss was Kentucky's worst downfall in SEC play since 1987 and the fifth-worst defeat in the school's illustrious history. Worst yet, the lopsided outcome ended Kentucky's five-game win-streak and sapped its tournament momentum. With four of its last seven games at Rupp, there's a slight chance Kentucky could re-enter the tournament picture, but, ultimately, another victory against Tennessee and/or a strong SEC tournament run might be in order considering the Cats have just two RPI top 50 wins. Outside of their debacle at Vandy, the Wildcats have improved defensively, but they will need more consistent arc production from Ramel Bradley and Joe Crawford, who were a combined 1-for-7 from three on Tuesday, and curtail their propensity for turnovers – they rank 300th nationally in offensive TO% – to finish the season on a high note.
Team Conf W-L RPI SOS
Syracuse Orange Big East 16-9 53 19
Comment: The Orange lost a significant amount of its tournament pulp on Wednesday, squeezed 89-78 by BEAST dungeon-dweller South Florida. In that setback, the inside-outside combination of 6-foot-8, 270-pound monster Kentrell Gransberry and freshman standout Dominque Jones buried a combined 62.5 percent of their attempts for 52 points and 13 rebounds. They also converted 19 charity stripe freebies on 24 attempts. Syracuse's erratic defense – they're 68th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency – turnover vulnerabilities (205th in offensive TO%) and lack of team chemistry has spurned it with regularity this season. Although its tournament prospects appear to be dwindling, it has an excellent shot at beefing up a resume that boasts only one RPI top 50 victory. Of 'Cuse's remaining six games, five are against the upper-crust of the conference (G'Town, at Louisville, at ND, Pitt, Marq). If they have any intention of dancing, the Orange must go 3-2 over that stretch. Until that happens, they're firmly planted on the bubble.
Team Conf W-L RPI SOS
Mississippi Rebels SEC 17-6 31 71
Comment: Once ranked in the AP top 15, the Rebels' NCAA aspirations are rapidly vanishing. After starting the season 15-1, the Rebels have dropped five of their past seven contests, including a nine-point loss at Alabama on Wednesday. Senior forward Kenny Williams has attributed their downward spiral to being "mentally weak," but, truthfully, it's Ole Miss' detestable, 83rd-ranked adjusted defensive efficiency that's responsible for its precipitous fall. In their six league losses, the Rebels have yielded an average offensive rating of 113.8 and 1.14 points per possession. Teams have converted nearly 35.2 percent from three (183rd nationally) against them and have gotten to the charity stripe nearly twice as much as they have. Chris Warren and Dwayne Curtis are a sensational one-two punch, but without even an average defense to counterpunch teams, they're efforts have gone fruitless. Three games below .500 in SEC action, the Rebels must finish their conference's regular season with a 5-2 record to attract at-large attention.

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. Michigan St. (20-4) at Indiana (20-4)
The Sampson smog will hang ominously over this marquee clash of Big Ten titans. The Hoosiers have struggled this season to create and convert turnovers, but the Spartans are a team comprised of banana-handed players (21.9 in offensive TO%). Both teams boast premiere paint scorers – the Spartans' Ryamar Morgan and the Hoosiers' D.J. White – but each have had difficulty getting consistent production from the perimeter. If Eric Gordon and Jordan Crawford can make it rain, IU will temporarily evaporate the cloud of controversy.
Prediction: Indiana 67 Michigan St. 62

Mid-Major Maverick
Lee Cummard
Junior, G-F

Skinny: Cummard is the Cuisinart of the Mountain West. Two-time MWC Player of the Week this year, the junior swingman is similar in style and substance as former Mid-Major Maverick and fellow Beehive State baller Jaycee Carroll of Utah St. Cummard's fiery competitiveness, limitless range and supreme ball-handling skills have made him one of the country's most efficient players. Of players who have taken a minimum of 20 percent of his team's shots while on the floor, his magnificent 124.6 offensive efficiency rating ranks alongside media heavyweights Ty Lawson, A.J. Abrams, Drew Neitzel and Darren Collison. In MWC action, the 6-foot-6 gunner's game has punctured the stratosphere. Cummard ranks in the top 10 in seven offensive categories in the MWC, including FG% (53.6), FT% (81.8), three-point field goals made (2.0/game), rebounds (8.2), assists (3.7) and points per game (16.0). His versatility and fearlessness will be crucial in the Cougars' ploy to advance to the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 1981.

2. Florida (19-6) at Vanderbilt (21-4)
Dynamite Vandy has returned after its 41-point shellacking of Kentucky on Tuesday. The Gators' Marreese Speights, Chandler Parsons, Walter Hodge and Alex Tyus are all netting an unfathomable 60-plus percent from inside the arc this season. But Florida's defensive inadequacies, especially from three, have proved costly in its three recent losses. No opponent has reached an offensive efficiency rating over 106 against Vandy in four straight. Also, keep in mind the Commodores are an immaculate 15-0 this season at historic Memorial Gym.
Prediction: Vanderbilt 85 Florida 77

3. Georgetown (20-3) at Syracuse (16-9)
With another loss, the Orange's hopes of dancing are destined for the juicer. The Hoyas squeaked out a two-point OT win versus Syracuse earlier this year. In that contest, G'Town yielded an obscene 16 offensive rebounds – forwards Paul Harris and Arinze Onuaku accounting for 11 of them. The Hoyas' underreported issues on the glass will undoubtedly be challenged again. If the Orange shoots 40-plus percent from the field, they pull the much needed upset.
Prediction: Syracuse 65 Georgetown 64

4. UCLA (21-3) at USC (15-8)
In the clash of Cali rivals, defense will dominate the headlines. Both teams rank in the top 13 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. However, the catastrophic back and oblique injuries to sophomore guard Daniel Hackett could prove crippling for the Trojans. In USC's nine-point upending of UCLA at Pauley back on Jan 19, Hackett scored six points, dished out eight assists and grabbed five boards. His flexibility and defensive stalwartness on the perimeter will be sorely missed. Unless Angelo Johnson plays above his abilities, Darren Collison goes berserk.
Prediction: UCLA 67 USC 61

5. UNLV (19-5) at BYU (19-5)
Points will be a premium in the battle of MWC Matterhorns. The Rebels should change their moniker from "Running" to "Reluctant." Indicative of its fourth-ranked offensive TO%, UNLV doesn't make many mental mistakes offensively, but its 77th-rated adjusted O efficiency is quite unattractive. Similar to the Rebels, BYU has been erratic offensively this season, ranking 110th in offensive efficiency. Both squads are superb defensive teams, but BYU's stark size advantage will prove pivotal on the boards. Oh, and BYU has won 43 straight games at the Marriott Center, the nation's second-longest home win streak. The Cougars avenge UNLV's 29-point thrashing from Jan. 15.
Prediction: BYU 68 UNLV 60

6. Stanford (20-4) at Arizona (16-8)
Bedeviled by Arizona St. on Thursday, Stanford hopes its next Copper State contest won't have a similar result. The Lopez twins will be unstoppable in the post as Arizona ranks 276th in offensive rebound percentage and 143rd in defensive rebound percentage. However, the neutralizing power of the three-point basket can work wonders and, considering 'Zona is netting 40.2 percent from downtown, this game should be tighter than expected. Cardinal guards Anthony Goods and Mitch Johnson will need to play commandingly on both ends of the floor for Stanford to sneak a road win.
Prediction: Stanford 62 Arizona 60

7. Texas (20-4) at Baylor (17-6)
Longhorn fans still relishing UT's 72-69 takedown of Kansas on Feb. 11 better not overlook the feisty Bears. On the unfortunate end of three straight road games, Baylor needs a victory to solidify its NCAA resume. Texas fended off the scrappy Bears 80-72 in Austin on Feb. 2, taking advantage of a 29-to-17 discrepancy in free throw attempts. Both teams showcase outstanding guards and rather poor defenses, meaning points won't be elusive in this game. Baylor must shackle Damion James on the offensive glass to have a chance.
Prediction: Texas 84 Baylor 79

Other Notable Games: Oral Roberts (18-5) at IUPUI (20-5), Washington St. (19-5), at Oregon (15-9), Memphis (24-0) at UAB (17-7), Ohio (16-8) at Kent St. (20-5), California (14-8) at Arizona St. (16-8)

Last week's results: 6-1
YTD: 21-7

Off-the-cuff thoughts, observations and blather from the "Big Noise."

Indiana officials held a press conference Friday afternoon detailing a new university investigation into NCAA allegations that Kelvin Sampson lied to Indiana and the NCAA. Per the Indianapolis Star, Sampson is "expected to remain head coach for at least another week, and probably longer." Presumably, IU is simply doing this to cover its legal backside given the precedent established in the Jim O'Brien/Ohio St. wrongful-termination lawsuit.

Regardless of their findings, it's seems likely Sampson will be removed at the end of the season, if not before. Local sports talk stations in the Indy area have been bombarded with rumors of possible replacements. The more prominent names mentioned: Steve Alford (New Mexico), Anthony Grant (VCU), Brad Stevens (Butler), Sean Miller (Xavier) and Scott Drew (Baylor).

Out of that prestigious group of up-and-comers, Drew is the best fit. His legendary father, Homer Drew, has coached at Valparaiso since 1988, leaving the coaching ranks briefly (2002-2003) so Scott could carry on the family legacy. He is a graduate of Butler University and has deep roots planted in the Hoosier State. More importantly, Drew has earned the reputation of being a coaching janitor of sorts after transforming a once-destitute Baylor program, defiled by murder and scandal, into a tournament-caliber team. He's the perfect candidate to step in and mop up the Sampson mess.

Move over Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen, Stanford's Brook and Robin Lopez are poised to become the most recognized twins in America. Alongside the Grants (Harvey and Horace), the Taylors of UAB fame (Donnell and Ronnell) and the Collinses (Jason and Jarron), also of Cardinal esteem, the Lopez's are the headliners of my All-Twinkie team. In Stanford's 72-68 OT loss to surging Arizona St. on Thursday, the twin towers shot a combined 15-26 (57.7 FG%) from the field, scoring 46 points and totaling 14 rebounds. Unfortunately, the rest of their team shot an abysmal 7-for-28 (25.0 FG%).

Forget the conference races in the Big East, Big 12 and Big Ten, the tightest championship battle is in the wild WAC. Four teams – Utah State, Boise State, New Mexico State, and Nevada – are within one game of each other. Interestingly, Utah State and Boise face-off against one another one more time, but neither plays NMSU or Nevada in their remaining six games. NMSU and Nevada also tango once more before the end of the regular season. Regardless who nets the No. 1 seed, the wiggity, wiggity WAC championship could be the finest conference tournament this season … and fans in Las Cruces can't wait. The WAC tournament will be held at the Pan American Center, the home of New Mexico State.

Here's a tasty tournament tidbit: Of the 14 teams – Florida and UCLA twice – that have reached the holy grail of college basketball, the Final Four, during the past four seasons, only Michigan State in 2005 ranked outside the top 20 in adjusted defensive efficiency. Teams currently ranked in the AP top 20 that are not among the defensive efficiency elite include Tennessee, North Carolina, Butler, Michigan State, Texas, Xavier, Indiana, Drake, Connecticut and Notre Dame.

Rick Pitino's admission of having a "Bruce Pearl" moment while wearing a white suit during the first half of last week's mammoth battle with Georgetown was absolutely hilarious, yet somewhat disturbing. Even more nightmarish, gut feeling tells me that, based on Pearl's previous shirtless escapades, going "commando" on the sidelines is an acceptable practice.

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 Margin of victory/defeat is noted in parentheses. BBR stands for last week's "Bracket Big Board" rank.

W-L 20-4 22-2
RPI 20 11
SOS 93 88
Top 50 4-2 2-1
Key Ws USC (6)
Arizona (4)
at Washington St. (2)
Illinois St. (6, 3)
Ugly Ls at Siena (13) None
BBR 9 (3 seed) 14 (4 seed)

Drake has more wins, fewer losses, a better RPI and SOS than Stanford. What makes the Cardinal a three and the Bulldogs a four, other than media hype? If Drake were Memphis, they'd be a one seed. – Andy, Fairfax, VA

Noise: Comparing Drake to Stanford or Memphis is like measuring how Pat Summit would look in a bikini next to Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue cover girl Marissa Miller. In other words, it's no contest.

Drake's low Valley profile and vapid basketball history has limited its presence somewhat on the national stage this season. That, you and I agree on. But there are two glaring reasons why the Tree has a markedly higher Triple-B ranking than the Bulldogs.

First, Stanford plays in a much tougher conference. The Pac-10 ranks second behind the ACC in the RPI. Although the Valley is not nearly as down as many pundits have mistakenly suggested, it ranks eighth.

Second, Stanford has four RPI top 50 victories. Sure, the Cardinal had no ostentatious wins in non-conference play, but their wins over rigid league foes Arizona, Washington, USC and Oregon are prestigious. Unfortunately for Drake, its only challenging non-conference contest was against St. Mary's on Nov. 10, a game it lost 72-66. The Bulldogs' two wins against Illinois St. are their only top 50 triumphs.

Finally, the Selection Committee has already established a precedent for Valley teams with lofty RPIs. Last year, conference darling Southern Illinois finished the regular season with an RPI of seven and SOS of 30. Unlike Drake, the Salukis had tallied two impressive non-conference RPI top 50 wins (Virginia Tech and Butler). Instead of rewarding SIU's stout RPI and impressive slate of wins with a top three seed, the Selection Committee branded them a four.

Ultimately, Drake's colossal battle with Butler at Hinkle Fieldhouse on Feb 23, and whether or not they run-the-table in their conference tournament, will ultimately seal its seeding fate. If it can procure both accomplishments, it'll most certainly be a four seed, but not anything higher.