Interpretive Dance: Noel, Mildcats still far from NCAA tourney lock

Still recuperating from your midweek bar crawl? Are you nostril deep in term paper research? Have no fear, fellow bracketeers. As a companion to the Bracket Big Board, 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 McLovin’s fake Hawaiian driver's license, there's nothing fake about this I.D. …

[Watch: Sniper Michael Snaer hits another game winner for FSU]

If records are made to be broken, rules are made to be changed. At least, that’s the NCAA authority's belief when it comes to governing college basketball. This past May, the Men's Basketball Rules Committee established new standards on what should be deemed an offensive charge. To many, the college game, much like the pro, had become wrought with flops. Officials, often swayed by Oscar-worthy dives, routinely blew whistles at contact around the basket, inadvertent or not. To clean up the action and increase accuracy in calls, the NCAA released the following guidelines clearly defining what a charge violation is:

  • Before the offensive player (with the ball) becomes airborne, the defender must have two feet on the floor, be facing the opponent and be stationary to draw a charge. Otherwise, it should be a blocking foul.

  • Secondary defenders (help defenders) moving forward or to the side are also in violation and those should be blocking fouls.

  • Contact that is “through the chest” is not de facto proof of a charge. The rule in its entirety must be considered before determining a foul.

To be fair, officiating is a thankless profession. Subjectivity in interpretation is unavoidable. Processing plays at blazing speeds then immediately making a judgment call, most times in environments where you’re as popular as Mr. Burns, is bound to lead to questionable outcomes and variations in assessment.

However, after watching ample hours of hoops since the opening tip in November, I can say without a reasonable doubt, the NCAA’s words fell on deaf ears. Miscalls in the paint are seemingly more epidemic than ever before. Offenders are sliding under and jumping into defenseless offensive players at an alarming rate, more times than not encouraging referees to place hand behind head. It’s a significant problem. The punishing whistles disrupt game flow, transform game-plans, squelch momentum and, in some cases, decide games in controversial fashion (e.g. Michigan St./Indiana).

Karl Hess, the NCAA leader in fouls called, the finger is pointed at you.

College basketball is an infectious thrill-ride that instantaneously hooked yours truly as a kid growing up in the cornfields of Central Illinois. But until refs get on the same page on what is truly a charge, it will remain a game flawed by idiomatic enforcement.

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 biggest bracket bulls and bears:


Miami Hurricanes (16-3, RPI: 2, SOS: 1, Current Seed: 2)

Comment: Some commenters tabbed Miami's initial No. 2 seed Big Board ranking 'ridiculous.' A bear riding a Segway fits that description, but my assessment of arguably the hottest team in the country does not. The Hurricanes are a violent force who've carved a destructive path through the ACC. Their 27-point thrashing of Duke on South Beach was no fluke. Currently unblemished in conference play, Jim Larranaga's club has dominated with defense. Through six games, league foes have netted just 0.82 points per possession against it, tops in the division. And preseason All-Conference pick Reggie Johnson only played in two of those contests. Experienced, well-coached, enormous in the post and, at times, lethal from distance, Miami is well-equipped for a deep tournament run. It's humiliating November loss to 'mighty' Florida Gulf Coast, sans leading-scorer Durand Scott mind you, was eons ago. Emerge victorious at NC State Saturday, and the Hurricanes could runaway with the ACC. That happens and a No. 1 seed would be very realistic.

Villanova Wildcats (13-8, RPI: 54, SOS: 20, Current Seed: 10)

Comment: Prior to last week's earth-shattering victories over top-five opponents, Syracuse and Louisville, the only headline 'Nova had garnered this year was a manufactured accusation head coach Jay Wright romped around with a coed. His image untarnished, college basketball's sharp dressed man has done a marvelous job mentoring a very young lineup that was pulverized by Mario Van Peebles-U (Columbia) earlier this season. Spurred by the offensive execution of Darrun Hilliard, who was a perfect 7-for-7 inside the arc against the Orange and Cardinals, and interior brawn of import Mouphtaou Yarou, 'Nova is a team ascending rapidly. Given their turnover proneness (302nd nationally in offensive TO%) and general inexperience, maintaining consistency is imperative. Despite crashing back down to earth in South Bend Wednesday, the Wildcats are in good shape for an improbable at-large bid, provided they finish 9-9 or better in Big East play.

Indiana State Sycamores (14-7, RPI: 37, SOS: 43, Current Seed: NR)

Comment: For high-major schools with both cheeks squarely planted on the bubble, the Sycamores are Public Enemy No. 1. On Tuesday, they traveled to Wichita, controlled an excellent Shockers team from start to finish and cemented their position in the upper-crust of the Missouri Valley Conference. Couple that triumph with impressive non-conference, neutral-court wins against Miami and Mississippi, and Larry Bird's Alma Mater is deservedly in the at-large discussion. Compared to several higher-profiled institutions (e.g. Kentucky, North Carolina and Maryland), it boasts a more attractive resume. Despite having a nickname that suggests height, the Sycamores are a poor rebounding team, ranking north of No. 150 in offensive and defensive rebound percentage. They also aren't particularly effective from three, swishing just 32.1 percent of their attempts. But Indiana St. excels at attacking the basket, cashing in often at the charity stripe. Nearly 25-percent of its points have come from freebies. Jake Odum, the team's leading scorer, averages a ridiculous 7.6 free-throw attempts per game, the second-most in the country. Without a single senior logging meaningful minutes, Greg Lansing has a young, feisty club that isn't intimidated by anyone. If it can protect home-court against Creighton (Feb 6) and Wichita St. (Feb 16), Indiana St. might just add another trophy to the case. Goliaths be warned. The Sycamores could be a giant killer come March.

Also Flaming: Cincinnati, Georgetown, Oklahoma


Syracuse Orange (18-2, RPI: 9, SOS: 35, Current Seed: 2)

Comment: Uneasiness is abound in upstate New York. Already down James Southerland indefinitely, the Orange was forced to swallow another bitter pill. Tuesday it was announced freshman lane-clogger DaJuan Coleman will miss at least the next four weeks after undergoing a surgical procedure on his left knee. Jim Boeheim may need to host a midseason tryout to find fresh bodies. Right now, he has just seven scholarship players. Committee members will heavily weigh the unforeseen absences come Selection Sunday, but, in the meantime, Syracuse's incredibly lack of depth leaves it very vulnerable to upset. Michael Carter-Williams, though a dynamite talent, is the epitome of erratic. At times he's positively brilliant, scoring in bunches from all points on the floor. Other times, however, his questionable shot selection and turnovers (18 past three games) have crippled the 'Cuse. Despite the shrinking bench, the Orange still has enough length and athleticism to make the 2-3 zone effective, but if the fouls mount and the three-ball, which has vexed Boeheim all year, doesn't materialize (32.7 3PT% on year), they will undoubtedly crumble. Pittsburgh, which welcomes Syracuse with open arms Saturday, must be giddy.

Illinois Fighting Illini Fighting Abes (15-6, RPI: 31, SOS: 15, Current Seed: 9)

Comment: Admittedly, speaking as an Illinois gradute and proud owner of an '89 Kenny Battle throwback jersey, the Illini's rapid deterioration has greatly taxed my sanity, and liver. After racing out to a 12-0 start, pundits showered head honcho John Groce with adulation, vaulted Brandon Paul into the Wooden conversation and began to reassess Illinois' standing in a loaded Big Ten. However, once the smoke cleared and the mirrors cracked, the Illini's weaknesses became visible. This is a PG-less team brimming with jump shooters that, frankly, don't put ball-into-basket particularly well. Converting just 24.5 percent from downtown in conference play, the Illini have laid enough bricks to repave Green Street 10 times over. Combine that with dwindling defense and a shyness for sharing the sugar (rank 344th in Assists/field-goals made), and it's no small wonder why they've posted a 2-5 mark in B1G action. Still, with convincing wins against Butler, Gonzaga and Ohio St, Illinois should go dancing provided it grinds out six more league wins.

Kentucky Wildcats (14-6, RPI: RPI: 49, SOS: 48, Current Seed: 11)

Comment: Ashley Judd must be beside herself. Forget her impending divorce, her beloved Wildcats are toeing a delicate line. Barely at-large worthy, and that's probably a stretch, Kentucky is currently engaged in an uphill battle. John Calipari has again amassed an extremely talented bunch. But five-star ratings can take you only so far. Every team needs glue guys to absorb hits, set screens and take out the trash. Darius Miller, Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb were those cogs last year. This year, Calipari hasn't received maximum production from some of his periphery players. More concerning, freshmen point guard Archie Goodwin, along with sophomore Ryan Harrow, hasn't facilitated the offense particularly well, notching a near 1:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Unbalanced offensively, underwhelming at the free-throw line (64.5-percent) and occasionally accommodating on defense, the 'Cats have transformed into a middling bubble team. Willie Cauley-Stein's tender knee only complicates matters. Block partier Nerlens Noel, who logged one of the most disruptive games in memory despite scoring just two points, was instrumental in Kentucky's much-needed road upset at Mississippi Tuesday. However, with only three high-profile matchups remaining (vs. Mizzou, Florida (2)), the defending champs must seize the moment in order to stave off the NIT. For now, the 'Cats are straddling the fence.

Also Laming: Missouri, Minnesota, Wyoming, Maryland, Oregon


This segment sifts through the bountiful weekend slate to highlight five titanic games that will bear the greatest impact on a team's "Bracket Big Board" standing

1. Michigan (BBB seed: 1) at Indiana (2)
Currently a handful of really good teams dot the college basketball landscape, but none inspire true greatness. A win at Assembly Hall, however, and the Wolverines enter the pantheon. Michigan is an offensive machine. Wooden candidate Trey Burke, Glenn Robinson Jr. and sharp-shooting freshman Nik Stauskas each rank inside the top-20 nationally in offensive rating according to Well-rounded, explosive and highly-efficient, the Wolverines average 1.24 points per possession. Spearheaded by jumping bean Victor Oladipo, IU is no pushover, but this game will be won/loss on how well Mitch McGary and an ankle-tweaked Jordan Morgan neutralize Cody Zeller in the post. Minimize the seven-footer and hinder Jordan Hull's contributions from outside, and Michigan will take a seat among elites (alongside Florida).
Prediction: Michigan 76 Indiana 74

2. Syracuse (2) at Pittsburgh (8)
As stated above, Jim Boeheim's depth is rapidly shrinking. Down Southerland and Coleman, the Hall of Fame coach will need to lean heavily on his starting five in order to weather the storm. Unfortunately, it's been a tale of two halves for the 'Cuse of late. Against Cincinnati and Villanova, Carter-Williams and company shuffled about in a Nyquil-like daze. Against a well-balanced Panthers squad that's executed at an admirable level on both sides of the ball, it's imperative the Orange start fast, especially on the road. Because only 20.9-percent of Pitt's points have come from the perimeter and based on the Orange's inconsistencies outside, what team patrols the paint best will win. Given 'Cuse's shallow bench, the raucous Zoo crowd and Steven Adams' ability to generate second-chance opportunities, look for the Panthers to purr.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 66 Syracuse 63

3. Baylor (9) at Iowa St. (9)
In terms of irrelevant national rankings there are more important games on the docket, but for bracketologists trying to weed out toxic properties in Bubbleland, Saturday's showdown in Ames is potentially game-changing. Dropping a bubble battle at Oklahoma St. Wednesday, the Cyclones need to regain their composure quickly. The friendly surroundings should definitely help. Stretching back to last year, Iowa St. has won 18 straight games at Hilton Coliseum. Baylor's Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson tower over the Cyclones' diminutive line, but arc assassins Tyrus McGee (44.8 3PT%) and Korie Lucious will be the difference. Finish on the right side of the ledger, and Iowa St. bolsters its at-large argument. Baylor, meanwhile, fresh off a home loss against Oklahoma seriously needs to get back on the plus side, especially with a road matchup at Oklahoma St. looming.
Prediction: Iowa St. 73 Baylor 70

4. Miami (FL) (2) at North Carolina St. (4, and falling)
The Hurricanes and Wolfpack are headed in two different directions. Conference kings Miami, which made a cannonball splash onto the national scene against Duke, is rising fast. Meanwhile, NC State, struggling away from Raleigh, has slipped against meek competition, dropping road battles against Maryland, Wake Forest and Virginia. The reason for the 'Pack's ills solely rests in its abhorrent defense. They've forced few turnovers, gotten destroyed on the glass and given up easy baskets inside. On the season, State ranks 126th in defensive efficiency. It's undefeated at home this season, recording weighty wins against Stanford, Duke and, most recently, rival North Carolina. But Miami goes 6-foot-10 (Reggie Johnson), 6-foot-10 (Julian Gamble) and 6-foot-11 (Kenny Kadji) across the front line, a major disadvantage for a team with serious rebounding issues. If Jim Larranaga's lock-down defense travels north, the Wolfpack will succumb to the storm surge.
Prediction: Miami 62 NC State 58

5. UNLV (7) at Boise St. (NR)
Rightfully, hoops heads from coast-to-coast are slobbering over the depth and scope of the Big Ten, but in terms of competitiveness and quality of play, the Mountain West doesn't lag far behind. At worst, the conference should garner four bids come March. However, six isn't far-fetched. For the Broncos, currently on the outside looking in, Saturday's bout with the Rebels is a must-win. Boise is a split-brained team – fantastic on offense (29th in offensive efficiency), giving on defense (144th in defensive efficiency). It really is the NC State of the West. When the money-balls are falling, which has happened often this year (40.6 3PT%), Anthony Drmic and friends can hang with anyone. Conversely, when they aren't, they can be easily preyed upon. Jeff Elorriaga's possible return from a head injury this weekend should provide a psychological boost, but now 2-4 in MWC action, the Broncos must quickly get their heads above water if they want to dance. Anthony Bennett's explosiveness and versatility around the rim, though, will likely keep them submerged.
Prediction: UNLV 75 Boise St. 70

Other Notable Games: Wisconsin at Illinois, Kansas St. at Oklahoma, Marquette at Louisville, Oklahoma St. at Kansas, Wyoming at Colorado St., Mississippi at Florida, Arizona St. at Washington


What underrated player earned his bust?

Rotnei Clarke, Butler, G

Clarke's frightening collision with a backboard support roughly three weeks almost put his season in jeopardy. Carried off on a stretcher, he was diagnosed with a severely sprained neck. Ever-resilient, the Bulldogs' leading scorer bounced back quickly, missing only three games. In his triumphant return to the lineup last Saturday against Temple he didn't skip a beat, dropping 24 points and a season-best nine dimes. Clarke is one of college basketball's wettest rainmakers. He's splashed three or more treys in a game an astounding 13 times this season, converting 43.4-percent of his attempts from beyond the arc. Because of his hot hand, Andrew Smith's presence in the paint and Brad Stevens' brilliance, this year's Butler team might be better than the Shelvin Mack/Matt Howard-led clubs that made consecutive appearances in the NCAA title game. Beware of the Bulldogs.


What high-profiled player took a long, embarrassing walk home?

Marshall Henderson, Mississippi, G

The trigger-happy marksman doesn't possess shooter's remorse. He's the eternal optimist. No shot, no matter how challenging, is out of bounds. When nailing his intended targets, Henderson is impossible guard. His limitless range, general amnesia and perpetual green light can cause defensive fits. But when off, his selfish play severely handicaps the solid group of players around him. His seesaw performance against Kentucky Tuesday was a prime example. He finished with a laudable 21 points, but was only 2-of-11 from three and 5-of-19 from the field. The demonstrative guard's wild, reckless abandon, particularly in the first half, often failed the Rebels in their quest to remain a fixture near the top of the SEC. If Mississippi has any hope of keeping pace with an underappreciated Florida squad Saturday, Marshall must exercise selectivity.


Each week, per your tweets, the Noise will attempt to get inside the mind of Selection Committee chairman Mike Bobinski.

No amount of deer antler spray (Platypus bill extracts however...) could strengthen Virginia's emasculating non-conference SOS. The damage has already been done. Out of 347 Division I teams, the Cavs' pre-conference slate checks in at No. 330.

You have to look at the big picture. The Selection Committee has stressed repeatedly over the years the importance of coaches challenging their teams. As a result, those that fail to venture off the reservation and/or don't schedule quality opponents are usually punished. Virginia Tech, which in 2010 didn't attract an at-large bid despite winning 25 games, is Exhibit A. That year, the Hokies played the Sisters of the Motherless Poor outside of league play (303 SOS). Though they won 10 conference games, they didn't earn a pass for their early season cakewalk.

As Jeff Eisenberg noted Tuesday, the Cavaliers are an interesting case study. But based on the precedent set by the Committee, their five wins against the RPI top-100 are not enough, even their impressive W at Wisconsin in December. Take care of business against Maryland (twice), at North Carolina and split against Duke/Miami and they will have a strong argument. Unsurprisingly, the back-end of the at-large field is again very weak.

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