Brad Stevens allowed himself a smile after Butler's wild win over Gonzaga. (USA Today Sports)
Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college basketball, where the Nevin Shapiro Ripple Effect is now being felt in Columbia, Mo.:
VIDEO EVIDENCE TO THE CONTRARY, BRAD STEVENS IS NOT AN ALIEN
In what was only the second-strangest story of last week, thanks to Manti Te'o's fake girlfriend, Butler coach Brad Stevens (1) was suspected of being a Vulcan or some other non-emotional life form after his team's victory over Gonzaga on Saturday night.
With his team trailing by a point in the final seconds in a Hinkle Fieldhouse cauldron of tension, Stevens watched Roosevelt Jones steal a wayward Gonzaga lob pass, drive into the frontcourt and launch a shot at the buzzer that improbably swished for a dramatic victory. Stevens observed this thrilling, stunning turn of events with his arms folded across his chest, looking more like a man watching the grass grow than his team snatching another last-second triumph.
When Jones launched his shot, Stevens started to turn and walk to the Gonzaga bench, arms still folded. When it went in, he did not break stride, did not change body language, did not pump a fist or let out a howl or dance a jig. As his players dashed around the floor in celebration and the fans poured out of the stands to join them, Stevens paid no heed. He walked down and shook the hand of Gonzaga coach Mark Few (2).
"Unfortunately," Stevens told The Minutes on Monday, "I've probably turned into too much of a coach."
What Stevens meant is that the analytical side of his job has in many ways shut down the in-game emotions that he felt in his youth.
"I'm not a fan," he said. "I miss that sometimes."
Stevens' loss as a fan was his gain as a coach. He is analytical enough to know that his team's performance cannot be accurately appraised on the basis of a single shot going in – and they are going in at a crazy rate for the Bulldogs this season. Butler is on an epic-shot-a-month pace this season:
There was Rotnei Clarke (3) with the buzzer-beating 3-pointer to beat Marquette in Maui in November.
There was walk-on guard Alex Barlow (4) with the driving push shot to beat Indiana in the final seconds in December.
And there was Roosevelt Jones (5) with the steal and shot to beat Gonzaga.
The luck is all going Butler's way, which would tempt most coaches to claim some kind of superior endgame genius. Not Stevens. One of the reasons he was already turning to walk when Jones' shot was in the air is because it was almost irrelevant to how he viewed his team's performance.
"What goes through my mind is, the hay is in the barn," Stevens said. "If a guy makes a shot like that or doesn't, it doesn't define who we are. It doesn't affect how I evaluate our team. It doesn't break our season.
"I'm a huge person on growth over prize."
As such, Stevens knows that growth comes more from the daily habits in practice and preparation, the small pieces that make up a whole body of work. It's less dramatic than a game-winning shot, but more valuable. For that reason, Stevens likes a phrase he once read in a book: "The mundanity of excellence."
"It's boring," Stevens said. "But I'm OK with being the boring guy."
He was the boring guy in the middle of a madhouse Saturday night. He was also the winner.
OTHER FAMOUS FACES OF VICTORY
Jim Valvano (6). The vain search for someone to hug. The moment: 1983 national championship game. The situation: Valvano's North Carolina State Wolfpack were in a tie game with heavy favorite Houston when guard Dereck Whittenburg hurled a desperate 35-foot shot toward the rim. It was the perfect airball, landing in the hands of Lorenzo Charles, who dunked home the stunning game winner at the buzzer. Valvano commenced a wild dash around the court, looking for someone to embrace. He finally converged with several of his players under the basket where Charles shocked the world.
Rick Pitino (7). The successful search for someone to hug. The moment: 1993 Maui Invitational final. The situation: Pitino's Kentucky team trailed Arizona by a point in the final five seconds. Out of timeouts, Pitino could not diagram anything for his team and it got an ill-advised (and early) 3-point launch from Rodrick Rhodes. Then Jeff Brassow snuck in to tip the miss off the glass and in at the buzzer. Brassow set off in a sprint to halfcourt, and the first person to intercept him was Pitino for a pirouetting hug. Pitino then recovered and went in search of beaten Lute Olson for the postgame handshake.
Al McGuire (8). Give me a moment. The moment: 1977 national championship. The situation: Closing seconds of Marquette's victory over North Carolina. With assistants Hank Raymonds and Rick Majerus next to him on the bench, McGuire wiped tears from his eyes at the culmination of a lifelong journey. McGuire left the floor and went to the locker room to have a good cry before returning and enjoying the postgame celebration. It was his final game as a coach before moving on to a legendary second career as a broadcaster.
Steve Merfeld (9). Like a beetle on its back. The moment: 2001 NCAA tournament first round. The situation: Merfeld's 15th-seeded Hampton scored in the final seconds, then weathered a final drive from second-seeded Iowa State to pull a massive upset by a point. At the final horn, Merfeld ran onto the court with two fists in the air, then was lifted up from behind by one of his players – feet kicking wildly and euphorically. "There's a man who turned into a 3-year-old right there!" said the CBS play-by-play man.
Tom Crean (10). Shock. The moment: Christian Watford's 3-pointer to beat Kentucky in December 2011. The situation: Crean's reaction was a precursor to Stevens' on Saturday – with one exception. He stood perfectly still, hands behind his back, as Watford's shot was launched and hit net. Crean then turned and matter-of-factly walked toward Kentucky coach John Calipari – but the slack-jawed, knitted-brow look on his face betrayed the swirling inner emotions after his biggest victory as coach of the Hoosiers.
Roy Williams (11). Empathy. The moment: 2005 national championship. The situation: When Ol' Roy finally got his ring, he was embraced by assistants and players right after North Carolina beat Illinois. But when Williams didn't at first find Illini coach Bruce Weber, he actually jogged after him, intercepting Weber on his way to the locker room to offer consolation and support. After so many years of not winning the big one, Williams knew better than most how Weber felt.
Bill Self (12). Relief. The moment: 2008 regional final. The situation: Self's heavily favored Kansas team was clinging to a lead over 10th-seeded Davidson in Detroit. The final shot belonged to the Wildcats, and Self watched it on bended knee on the raised court at Ford Field. When Jason Richards' 3-pointer missed, Self hauled himself to his feet and breathed a huge sigh. He'd finally made a Final Four and would go on to win the national title – but there were many tense moments to endure in the high-pressure game against Davidson.
Mike Krzyzewski (13). The towel slam. The moment: 1992 regional final. The situation: The Duke coach was actually seated, white towel in his hands, when Christian Laettner launched what would become the most famous shot in college basketball history. When it went in to beat Kentucky and The Spectrum erupted – Laettner running, Antonio Lang collapsing, Thomas Hill crying – Krzyzewski stood up and threw the towel to the floor before walking down to shake hands with Pitino. Later, Krzyzewski would go out of his way to console Kentucky guard Richie Farmer and even got on the Kentucky radio network to say some gracious words to a stricken fan base.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR – REWRITING THE SCRIPT
When the season began, the two guys getting the most Player of the Year buzz were Cody Zeller (14) of Indiana and Doug McDermott (15) of Creighton. Both are having very good seasons and are still in the discussion, but now they've got a lot of company – some of it more surprising than others:
Mason Plumlee (16), Duke. He was first in ESPN's initial media POY straw poll last week. A contributor for three seasons, the senior center has adjusted impressively to a leading man role for the No. 1 Blue Devils. He's better at everything, upping his scoring (17.4 points per game) and rebounding (11.5 per) to career highs. With fellow big man Ryan Kelly out indefinitely, he'll have to do even more for Duke to keep rolling.
Russ Smith (17), Louisville. Smith comes with the endorsement of efficiency guru Ken Pomeroy, among others. Talk about an out-of-the-blue candidate: Smith was buried on the bench as a freshman and a highly unpredictable reserve as a sophomore. He still has some cringe-worthy possessions, but he's become the most indispensible player on a team with talent at every position. Smith has improved his 2-point field-goal percentage 10 points from last year (from 38 to 48) and also is shooting better from the 3-point arc and the foul line.
Trey Burke (18), Michigan. Might be The Minutes' choice of the moment. Burke was a preseason All-American but wasn't getting a lot of POY love then. He is now. The sophomore point guard can score (a team-high 18 points per game) and distribute (7.2 assists) while shooting excellent percentages (57 percent from 2-point range, 40 percent beyond the arc and 80 percent at the line). And his team is winning.
Michael Carter-Williams (19), Syracuse sophomore point guard. He's the nation's assist leader and the most improved player from last year to this year – thanks mostly to the fact that Jim Boeheim is playing him, as opposed to stapling him to the bench as a freshman. He already has seven double-double games in points and assists, but still needs to take better care of the ball (five games with at least six turnovers) and shoot better (41 percent from inside the arc, 27 percent from outside it).
WHERE ARE THE FRESHMEN?
You'll notice there are none on the above list of six POY candidate names. That's a year after Anthony Davis of Kentucky was the consensus Player of the Year and teammate Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was a top contender, as well. They went 1-2 in the NBA draft, with fellow freshman Bradley Beal of Florida going third – but this year is a different story. TNT analyst and Auburn alum Charles Barkley said during the Kentucky-Auburn telecast Saturday that all of the current freshman Wildcats should return to school next year – they're not NBA-ready.
Here are the six freshmen making the most noticeable impact this season:
Anthony Bennett (20), UNLV. He hasn't done much the past two games, averaging just nine points and four rebounds in a victory at San Diego State and a loss at Colorado State. But Bennett remains a versatile force for the Runnin' Rebels, capable of dominating the glass inside or hurting opponents shooting from the 3-point line. In four games against teams from Big Six conferences (Oregon, Iowa State, California and North Carolina), Bennett has averaged 21 points and 10.8 rebounds.
Ben McLemore (21), Kansas. He's a second-year guy after being ineligible to play last season, but still a freshman. There's not much the 6-foot-5 wing can't do, whether it's shooting from deep (6-of-6 on 3s against Iowa State), blocking shots (seven of them in the last four games), making free throws (25 of his last 27) or grabbing rebounds (12 in his first game). He's a prime reason why the Jayhawks are a strong threat to return to the Final Four after making the championship game last year.
Nerlens Noel (22), Kentucky. The amazingly athletic big man is becoming a progressively stronger presence on the defensive end of the floor. He's blocked 20 shots in his last three games, and surprisingly ranks among the national leaders in steals. Noel is still just an OK offensive player who struggles catching the ball and at the foul line, but he's been a very adequate Anthony Davis Lite for the Wildcats.
Shabazz Muhammad (23), UCLA. He's been instant-impact since gaining his eligibility, scoring 15 or more points in 12 of his 16 games. Muhammad rebounds well for a wing player and can score from anywhere on the court – unless it's a road court. On the Bruins' two-game swing to Utah and Colorado, he was 9-for-29 from the field and just 1 for 4 from the line.
Glenn Robinson III (24), Michigan. There is another freshman Wolverine averaging more points – that would be deadeye shooter Nik Stauskas. But Robinson can do more things and is more vital to coach John Beilein's system – which is why he's sat out a total of just 10 minutes in Michigan's last three games.
Marcus Smart (25), Oklahoma State. His scoring average is good (13.3 per game), but it only begins to tell the story of Smart's contributions to the Cowboys. He's second on the team in rebounding (5.4), first in assists (4.4) and first in steals (2.8). Smart doesn't shoot well (40 percent overall, 29 from 3), but he's got the clutch gene – his shots seem to go in more often at the end of close games.
IMPORTANT AND UNAVAILABLE
Five players who are out of uniform for undetermined (or undisclosed) periods of time. Their teams need them back to reach their potential:
Ryan Kelly (26), Duke. Why he's out: foot injury. How many games he's missed: two and counting. Record without him: 1-1. Impact of his absence: Kelly has developed into a classic Krzyzewski big man, capable of dragging opposing big men outside to honor his perimeter shooting. His absence has meant more minutes for freshman Amile Jefferson and a bigger workload for Mason Plumlee. Kelly probably won't be back for the Blue Devils' trip to Miami on Wednesday.
Laurence Bowers (27), Missouri. Why he's out: knee injury. How many games he's missed: three and counting. Record without him: 1-2. Impact of his absence: Losing your leading scorer and No. 2 rebounder has certainly not helped the Tigers adjust to life on the road in the SEC. Without Bowers, Mizzou was steamrolled from the start at both Mississippi and Florida. Missouri's offense is much easier to guard inside when the fifth-year senior is out of the lineup. Bowers is likely out for the Tigers' home game against South Carolina on Tuesday.
James Southerland (28), Syracuse. Why he's out: indefinitely suspended for an "eligibility issue," reportedly related to a lengthy and wide-ranging NCAA investigation of the Orange program. How many games he's missed: three and counting. Record without him: 3-0. Impact of his absence: The lanky forward has been a versatile and consistent scorer this season, averaging 13.6 points, but Syracuse has compensated well. Freshman Jerami Grant in particular has been called upon to fill the void. Nobody knows when (or if) Southerland will be back.
Willie Cauley-Stein (29), Kentucky. Why he's out: an undisclosed surgical knee procedure. How many games he's missed: one. Record without him: 1-0. Impact of his absence: The Wildcats are not as deep inside or as imposing defensively without the 7-footer, but if it translates to more minutes for sophomore Kyle Wiltjer that should improve their offense. Wiltjer played 29 minutes Saturday at Auburn – his highest total since November – and responded with 17 points, five assists and four rebounds. It's unclear when Cauley-Stein might return.
Reggie Johnson (30), Miami. Why he's out: broken thumb. How many games he's missed: eight. Record without him: 6-2. Impact of his absence: He was averaging a double-double, and the Hurricanes have had to make do without a back-to-the-basket offensive threat and a guy who can control the paint defensively and on the glass. Yet Miami has gotten elevated play from seniors Kenny Kadji and Julian Gamble to fill the void. Johnson will not play against Duke on Wednesday, but is back doing some basketball drills one month after the injury. The original prognosis was that he would miss at least six weeks.
STREAKING AND SLUMPING
Teams roaring in opposite directions after the first couple weeks of conference play:
Florida (31). Streaking. The Gators aren't just 4-0 in SEC play, they're destroying teams. The smallest margin of victory in those four games is 21 points at Texas A&M, and that was a complete beatdown from the start. With seven juniors and seniors on the roster – and all of the contributors – this looks like Billy Donovan's best team since the back-to-back title teams of 2006 and '07.
Illinois (32). Slumping. After a 12-0 start, the Illini are 2-5 since then and on a three-game losing streak in the Big Ten. Average margin of defeat in those three games: 18 points. And when the last one is an emphatic home loss to Northwestern, something is amiss. Illinois overachieved early and is now coming back to Earth. A team that has lived by the 3 is now dying by the 3, shooting a ghastly 8-for-58 in the three-game losing streak.
Oregon (33). Streaking. Dana Altman is quiet and uncharismatic enough that you forget about him, which is a shame. His team is reminding everyone now that he's a high-quality coach by racing off to a 5-0 start in the Pac-12, including a sweep of USC and UCLA on the road and handing Arizona its only loss. The Tony Woods reclamation project has been a solid success so far, filling a major gap on the Ducks' interior.
Notre Dame (34). Slumping. After a 14-1 start, the Fighting Irish have lost three of the last four – two of them at home. Notre Dame has not been very good defensively in Big East play, the most recent evidence coming from an offensively challenged Georgetown team that shot 53 percent from the field and 47 percent from 3 in an easy victory over the Irish on Monday.
Stephen F. Austin (35). Streaking. Danny Kaspar has built an underappreciated program here, turning it into an annual Southland Conference contender. This 16-1 edition might be his best team. The defense-first Lumberjacks have won 11 in a row and own victories this season over Oklahoma and Tulsa on the road. Their seven Southland wins have come by an average margin of 18.4 points.
Texas (36). Slumping. The Longhorns have been to 14 straight NCAA tournaments, but that streak will end unless they somehow reverse course and win the Big 12 tournament. Right now they're 8-10 overall and 0-5 in a pretty mediocre league. Rick Barnes' team handles the ball atrociously without suspended point guard Myck Kabongo, and can't shoot it either. Ugly offensive team.
Mike Muscala (37), Bucknell. Attentive fans know about Muscala, a senior who has had an excellent career for the Bison. But it's time for the more casual fans to hear about the 6-foot-11 center, who is now the centerpiece of the Patriot League after the injury to Lehigh's C.J. McCollum. Muscala is averaging 20.1 points and 11.2 rebounds, with career-high averages in assists, blocks and steals, as well. If he gets his foul shooting back on track – he's at a career-low 80.4 percent – that scoring average will go even higher.
COACH WHO EARNED HIS COMP CAR THIS WEEK
Rick Byrd (38), Belmont. After years of dominating the Atlantic Sun Conference, Byrd and the Bruins took at least a moderate step up in class (and geographic proximity) by joining the Ohio Valley Conference this year. So far, Belmont is the class of its new league: 6-0 and leading the OVC East, and 15-4 overall. Belmont will visit Murray State on Feb. 7 in what could well be a preview of the conference tournament final with an NCAA bid on the line.
COACH WHO SHOULD TAKE THE BUS TO WORK
Frank Haith (39), Missouri. It was bad enough that Haith mismanaged the end of the UCLA game, which could have been an excellent résumé-builder. It got worse when Mizzou looked lost in recent road games. Now come reports that Haith has been hit with NCAA allegations that date to his time as coach at Miami – allegations that could result in a show-cause penalty that earns him either a lengthy (like, a year) suspension from coaching or an outright dismissal.
When hungry and thirsty and in need of basketball viewing in Charlotte, The Minutes recommends Duckworth's (40), a place stocked with sports-fan essentials: scads of TVs situated at angles to cover every seat in the house, unique and tasty chicken wings, and approximately a million beers on tap. Try a local Birdsong Free Will Pale Ale and thank The Minutes later.
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