Forde Minutes: Who needs a course correction before March Madness?

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college basketball (“Make San Francisco Great Again” hats sold separately): 

[Also in this column: February predictions, revisited | Breaking down conference tourneys]

Happy March, everyone. We’ve made it to the Most Wonderful Time of the Year for basketball fans. Prepare your excuses now for skipping work and school to watch tournament games, for filling out endless brackets, sniffing out Cinderellas and reveling in the mayhem that is sure to come at the end of a most unpredictable season.

WHO NEEDS A MARCH REBOOT

The Minutes examines 10 entities heading in the wrong direction at the wrong time:

Grayson Allen and Mike Krzyzewski (1). Duke’s best player can’t keep his feet to himself. Allen has intentionally tripped opponents twice in Atlantic Coast Conference play, against Louisville and Florida State – the first called a flagrant foul and the second not, but both of them cheap moves beneath a player of his caliber. After the latest trip last week, of Seminoles guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes, the ACC issued Allen a reprimand instead of a suspension. Krzyzewski declared this appropriate punishment, even calling it “the stiffest reprimand a player has gotten in our conference all year.” (He later clarified that it’s the only reprimand the league has given a player, thus making it both the stiffest and softest all year.) Duke has conveniently shrunk the focus of this to just the play against FSU, refusing to acknowledge Allen’s Serial Tripper status, as K bemoaned the fact that “the world doesn’t move on because it’s Duke.” Yes, the spotlight giveth fame and acclaim and publicity, and it also taketh a pound of Dukie flesh when an All-American acts like a punk. That’s kind of how it works. After three decades in this position, Krzyzewski should be well into the acceptance stage of the rare negatives that come with Being Duke.

Will Grayson Allen's dirty tactics continue in March? Can the Blue Devils overcome a short bench? (Getty)
Will Grayson Allen's dirty tactics continue in March? Can the Blue Devils overcome a short bench? (Getty)

But whether the ACC was scared to suspend a Duke star or not, the fact remains that the Blue Devils are too paper-thin to avoid any more personnel losses. Krzyzewski’s tendency toward a micro-bench is a calculated risk that can make any significant injury a crippling blow – this year the Devils are dealing with the loss of Amile Jefferson after just nine games, with no return date known. Populating the latter half of the bench with walk-ons who can’t play dead in a Western instead of scholarship players has its price when attrition is a factor. That’s why a Grayson Allen attitude adjustment is of elevated importance: Duke doesn’t have the bodies to get by without him.

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Kentucky’s big men (2). John Calipari threw out the T-Word Monday: tweak. Two years ago he famously “tweaked” the Kentucky offense heading into March to try and salvage the season – basically telling Andrew Harrison to quit shooting and pass the ball, and it worked. The Wildcats made it to the national championship game before losing to Connecticut. If there is going to be another miracle tweak this March, it has to start up front. Cal’s big men have regressed more than they have developed as this season has gone along.

Skal Labissierre was the No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2015, according to Rivals.com. He scored zero points for the Wildcats in a loss at Vanderbilt on Saturday, and has averaged three points over Kentucky’s last nine games. Marcus Lee was the No. 19 recruit in the Class of 2013. After scoring in double figures in eight of Kentucky’s first 13 games this season, the junior has been in single digits 15 of the last 16 games. Alex Poythress was the No. 8 recruit in the Class of 2012. He also was scoreless against Vandy, continuing a four-year career of consistent inconsistency. Some combination of that trio has to provide reliable production the rest of the way. Kentucky fans holding hope of forward Derek Willis being an in-the-paint answer when he returns from an ankle sprain are asking a bit much of a guy who has scored 60 percent of his 245 career points from the 3-point line. The greater burden is on guards Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray to continue carrying the Cats, and there is concern about the tiny Ulis wearing down – he’s 0-for-10 from 3-point range the last two games and has averaged nearly 39 minutes per game over the last nine.

The entire Southeastern Conference (3). Road teams in this league are 31-81, and none of the 14 has a winning road record (Texas A&M is best at 4-4). Which means nobody has been able to generate a dominant stretch of games that would indicate an elite team. Kentucky’s 5-1 run from Feb. 6-23 was nice, but it was bookended by a horrible loss at Tennessee and a disappointing loss at Vanderbilt. Mostly, this seems like a bunch of middling teams taking turns defending home court against bad road teams. The result is that SEC teams are all over the bubble (Vanderbilt, Florida, Alabama, LSU), and a lot of those who do make the Big Dance are going to have bad seeds. Right now, the SEC looks like a league that might not get more than one team to the second weekend of the NCAA tourney.

The state of Iowa (4). At one point this season, Iowa was ranked No. 3 in the nation. At another point, Iowa State was No. 4. Right now, both programs are staggering toward the finish line. The Hawkeyes have lost three straight, four of their last five, and their last three road games. They haven’t beaten an NCAA tournament team since Jan. 24. The Cyclones finally won consecutive games for the first time since late January on Monday when they held on to beat Oklahoma State, but they're still just 5-5 over their last 10 games. Current rankings: Iowa No. 16, Iowa State No. 21. Both teams could use some rejuvenated defensive tenacity (if the Cyclones ever had it) to avoid early punchouts in the next two tournaments.

Maryland (5). There were big expectations on the Terrapins, who now teeter on the verge of being a crashing disappointment. They’ve lost three of their last four, including a shocker at Minnesota, and have fallen from No. 10 in the Pomeroy Ratings on Feb. 1 to No. 21 now. In February Big Ten games, guard Melo Trimble made just 11 of 40 two-point shots and 7 of 26 3-pointers. In the last four games he also has 18 assists and 19 turnovers. There is enough time and talent for a turnaround, but Mark Turgeon has to push the right buttons to get it started.

Will Buddy Hield and the Sooners find their range again in March? (Getty)
Will Buddy Hield and the Sooners find their range again in March? (Getty)

Oklahoma (6). The Sooners have lost four of their last seven. Big 12 opponents are defending this spectacular shooting team better the second time around the league, but with four players averaging 30 minutes or more per game, you wonder whether the Sooners are starting to hit the wall as well. Oklahoma is starting to misfire at a higher rate: from Jan. 4 through Jan. 30, Buddy Hield made 55 percent of his 3-pointers; in February he made 39 percent. Fellow sharpshooter Isaiah Cousins is just 4-for-17 outside the arc his last four games. And point guard Jordan Woodard has missed 34 of his last 44 3s. If Oklahoma can build a big lead at TCU on Saturday, it might be an opportunity for Lon Kruger to get his core players some extended second-half rest with an eye toward the postseason.

Notre Dame (7). The Fighting Irish scored nice home victories over North Carolina and Louisville, and the schedule was set up to turn a three-game winning streak into six heading into March. But the Irish squandered the opportunity with a one-point loss at Georgia Tech and a complete dud at Florida State on Saturday, losing by 21. Notre Dame is a bad defensive team but a good home team; it gets Miami and North Carolina State in South Bend this week for a chance to improve its seed line by one heading into the ACC tourney.

USC (8). After thumping UCLA on Feb. 4, the Trojans’ vault from 20 losses last year to 20 wins this year seemed a certainty – they were 18-5 and one of the surprise teams in the nation. But now they’re 19-10, losing five of six, still searching for that 20th victory heading into a home stand against Oregon State and league-leading Oregon. USC was due to come back to Earth, but the landing has been particularly jarring: it's lost its last three games by an average of 17.7 points. Opponents are getting a whole lot of easy shots against the Trojans lately.

Providence (9). The Friars went 2-5 in February, plummeting out of contention in the Big East. On a team that doesn’t shoot very well, Ed Cooley could really use a reliable third option to step up alongside guard Kris Dunn and forward Ben Bentil. (Worth monitoring: Ironman Dunn went consecutive games without shooting a free throw last week, something that he hasn’t done since February 2013.) The schedule at least presents a couple of opportunities this week to build momentum for the postseason: home against Creighton on Wednesday, and at abysmal St. John’s on Saturday.

Dayton (10). The Flyers have lost three of their last four and really haven’t played an impressive game since Feb. 6. Their only victories since then have been by two points over Duquesne, two points over Rhode Island and three points in overtime over Saint Louis – combined Atlantic-10 record of those three is 18-28. The losses include their last two home appearances, against Saint Bonaventure and Rhode Island. Road/neutral non-conference wins over Iowa and Vanderbilt make an NCAA bid highly likely, but this late slide is damaging Dayton’s seeding.

FEBRUARY FORECAST, REVISITED

A month ago in this very space, The Minutes made some prognostications of what would happen in moving month, aka February. Time to look back and apply the accuracy meter to those predictions.

Prediction: Indiana (11), West Virginia (12) and Notre Dame will be bloodied. Result: 33 percent accurate. The Hoosiers have clinched at least a share of the Big Ten title, so that forecast was clearly off-target – they won five of seven February games, highlighted by victories over Iowa and Purdue. West Virginia was tied for first in the Big 12 on Feb. 1 and now sits in second, having gone 5-3 during the month, including a sweep of Iowa State. Given how tough the schedule was, that’s a good month. As noted above, the Irish excused themselves from ACC title contention with a couple of bad road losses late in February.

Will Chris Mack's Musketeers rebound after their stunning loss to Seton Hall on Sunday? (Getty)
Will Chris Mack's Musketeers rebound after their stunning loss to Seton Hall on Sunday? (Getty)

Prediction: Xavier (13) will make a run at a No. 1 seed. Result: Highly accurate until the Musketeers were thumped at Seton Hall on Sunday. Prior to that Xavier was 6-1 in February, highlighted by the big victory last week over Villanova. Chris Mack’s team remains in the top-seed discussion, but non-conference victories over Michigan, USC and Dayton have lost some luster in the last couple of weeks. Xavier probably would need to win the Big East tournament – and beat Villanova again – to have a strong case for a No. 1 seed.

Prediction: Maryland is due to make a move. Result: Inaccurate. As mentioned above, the Terrapins have moved, all right – just not in the direction The Minutes expected. They’ve lost three of their last four, including a shocker at Minnesota, and fallen from No. 10 in the Pomeroy Ratings on Feb. 1 to No. 21 now. In February Big Ten games, guard Melo Trimble made just 11 of 40 two-point shots and 7 of 26 3-pointers. In the last four games he also has 18 assists and 19 turnovers.

Prediction: Iowa and Texas A&M (14) will take steps toward historic high seeds. Result: Inaccurate. At the beginning of February, the Hawkeyes were a No. 1 seed in virtually every mock bracket, and the Aggies were a No. 2. Both of those would have been the best seeds in school history. But as noted above, the Hawkeyes are in a tailspin that has cost them 2-3 seed lines. And the Aggies were hurt by a four-game losing streak earlier in the month – they have rebounded to win their last four, but appear more likely to be a No. 4 or 5 seed now.

Prediction: South Carolina (15) is about to hit the rocks. Result: Half accurate. The Gamecocks went 4-4 in February, which is not great after a 19-2 start but not a disaster. They had two big wins (at Texas A&M, and at home in overtime over Florida) but also three bad losses (home by 27 to a Kentucky team that played more than 37 minutes without John Calipari, at Missouri and at Mississippi State). At this point, the Gamecocks may have played themselves out of the top half of the bracket and into a No. 9 seed or lower – but they’ve all but locked up a bid.

Prediction: Arizona (16) will roar back. Result: 71 percent accurate. That’s their winning percentage for the month. The Wildcats were a wobbly 5-4 in the Pac-12 heading into February, then went 5-2. They had been perfect in February before a rocky trip to the Rocky Mountains last week, losing at Colorado and at Utah. Sean Miller’s team answered the coach’s challenge, but not well enough to continue dominating the conference. After winning the Pac-12 by three games each of the previous two seasons, Arizona will need to sweep this weekend’s games and get a lot of help elsewhere to earn even a share of the regular-season title this year.

THE LITTLE DANCE

A Minute Waltz through the mid-major tournaments, which begin Tuesday. If you are among those suitably committed to the cause to enter The Jerome, consider this your cheat sheet. And also consider yourself a raging disappointment if you feel compelled to substitute The Minutes’ picks for your own.

America East (17)

Dates: March 2-12, at campus sites.

Top seed: Stony Brook. The Seawolves (23-6, 14-2) have had a great season but also a tortured America East tournament history. This is the fifth straight season they’ve won at least 22 games and 12 in conference play, yet they’ve never been to the NCAA tournament. Last year’s was the cruelest blow yet, losing to nemesis Albany by a point on a last-second shot. Double-digit losses in two of their last three games again raise questions about Stony Brook’s postseason readiness.

Dark horse: Albany. Will Brown has his team peaking right on time yet again – the Great Danes have lost just once in their last 10 games, and that was by a single point at New Hampshire on Feb. 11.

Pomeroy Conference Rank: 27th of 32.

Evan Singletary (L) and the Great Danes were competitive in an early season loss to Kentucky. (AP)
Evan Singletary (L) and the Great Danes were competitive in an early season loss to Kentucky. (AP)

League’s Last NCAA Tournament Win: 2014. Albany won play-in game over Mount St. Mary’s. Last round-of-64 NCAA tourney win was No. 13 seed Vermont over Syracuse in 2005.

Minutes Pick: Albany (18). A fourth straight NCAA bid for the Great Danes, and more heartbreak for the Seawolves.

Atlantic Sun (19)

Dates: March 1-6, at campus sites.

Top seed: North Florida (21-10, 10-4). Ospreys don’t play a lot of defense, which can make any team vulnerable at tournament time. But they’re also one of the great shooting teams in the nation, capable of raining 3s on opponents from all five positions. They’ve scored 80 or more points 23 times, 90 or more 11 times and 100 or more four times.

Dark horse: Kennesaw State (11-19, 7-7). Led by a resuscitated Al Skinner, who took Boston College to the NCAA tournament seven times, the Owls have their most wins since 2010 and enter the tournament having won four of their last five. That includes an upset of top seed North Florida on Feb. 11.

Pomeroy Conference Rank: 24th of 32.

League’s Last NCAA Tournament Win: Florida Gulf Coast in 2013, when Dunk City floated dreamily into the Sweet 16.

Minutes Pick: North Florida. After never experiencing the NCAA tourney, this will make back-to-back Big Dance trips for Matthew Driscoll’s team.

Big South (20)

Dates: March 3-6, Buies Creek, N.C.

Top seed: High Point (20-9, 13-5). The Panthers have had a fine season, but hopes for their first NCAA tournament bid are on hold pending the status of star John Brown’s injured foot. The nation’s leading scorer and one of the best players in Big South history hurt his foot in the first half of his final home game and did not play Saturday in the regular-season finale against Presbyterian.

Dark horse: UNC Asheville. The problem: the Bulldogs are 2-9 in games decided by five points or less. And in conference tournament play, you almost always have to win close games. Especially a conference as balanced as this one.

Pomeroy Conference Rank: 23rd out of 32.

League’s Last NCAA Tournament Win: UNC Asheville won a play-in game in 2011. Last round-of-64 victory came in 2007, when Gregg Marshall-coached Winthrop upset Notre Dame.

Minutes Pick: Coastal Carolina (21). The Brown injury could be a game-changer, and Chanticleers coach Cliff Ellis knows what it takes to win this tourney. He’s won his last six Big South tournament games to earn the league’s last two bids, and this year’s team has won 10 of its last 12.

Colonial (22)

Dates: March 4-7, in Baltimore.

Top seed: Hofstra (22-8, 14-4). Last time the Pride made the NCAA tournament, Jay Wright was the coach and the year was 2001. Now in his third season, coach Joe Mihalich is trying to replicate the success he had in getting Niagara to the Big Dance twice. Only one of Hofstra’s last 10 games has been decided by double digits – and it's won eight of those 10.

Dark horse: UNC Wilmington. The Seahawks are led by Kevin Keatts, who learned harassing defense (and how to win in the postseason) from Rick Pitino. The program went through six straight losing seasons before Keatts led them to a 40-21 record in two seasons.

Pomeroy Conference Rank: 9th out of 32.

League’s Last NCAA Tournament Win: 2013. James Madison won a play-in game over LIU Brooklyn. The last round-of-64 victory came in 2012, when former member VCU and Shaka Smart beat Wichita State.

Minutes Pick: UNC Wilmington earns its first NCAA bid in a decade.

Horizon (23)

Dates: March 5-8, in Detroit.

Top seed: Valparaiso (26-5, 16-2). The Crusaders are long and disciplined defensively, making them one of the hardest teams to score against in the country. But four of their last six games have been decided by two points or in overtime, indicating that the rest of the league isn’t going to roll over against the defending champions.

Alec Peters (R) and the Crusaders have won 15 of their last 18 games. (AP)
Alec Peters (R) and the Crusaders have won 15 of their last 18 games. (AP)

Dark horse: Tempted to say Green Bay, which runs the fastest offense in college basketball (average possession length: 13.3 seconds, per Pomeroy). But the Phoenix hasn’t done much away from home, so the not-very-dark horse is the No. 2 seed, Oakland, which also loves to play fast and can fill it up.

Pomeroy Conference Rank: 17th of 32.

League’s Last NCAA Tournament Win: 2011, when former member Butler made the national championship game.

Minutes Pick: Valparaiso (24). Alec Peters will lead the Crusaders back to the Big Dance. And after scaring Maryland last year, don’t be shocked if they win at least one game this time around.

Metro Atlantic (25)

Dates: March 3-7, in Albany, N.Y.

Top seed: Monmouth (25-6, 17-3). The Hawks have been one of the freshest stories in college hoops, grabbing attention early for their Bench Mob antics and non-conference victories over Notre Dame, USC, UCLA and Georgetown. Then they sustained it in winning a conference title for the first time since 2005, when the school was in the NEC. But their lone senior, swingman Deon Jones, underwent surgery on a broken hand a couple of weeks ago and may not return.

Dark horse: Iona (19-10, 16-4). The Gaels are more legitimate threat that dark horse. Especially after spanking Monmouth by 16 on the road Feb. 19, part of a closing five-game winning streak. Coach Tim Cluess knows his way around March, having led Iona to the MAAC final in each of his five seasons, winning the tourney twice.

Pomeroy Conference Rank: 19th out of 32.

League’s Last NCAA Tournament Win: 2009, when No. 9 seed Siena and Fran McCaffery beat No. 8 Ohio State in double overtime.

Minutes Pick: Iona. The Gaels have momentum, a proven postseason coach and a star in senior guard A.J. English (27.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, five assists over the last four games).

Missouri Valley (26)

Dates: March 3-6, in St. Louis.

Top seed: Wichita State (23-7, 16-2). The Shockers are 51-3 in league play the last three seasons, the most dominant conference run anyone has had nationwide in that time span. Led by the senior backcourt Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker, Wichita State has won 21 games this year by 13 points or more. Its two Valley losses came by a total of eight points.

Dark horse: Northern Iowa (19-12, 11-7). The Panthers have won nine of their last 10, including the shocker of the year in the Valley: a three-point win at Wichita. They’re also the defending tourney champions.

Pomeroy Conference Rank: 12th out of 32.

League’s Last NCAA Tournament Win: 2015, when Wichita State advanced to the Sweet 16 and Northern Iowa made the round of 32.

Minutes Pick: Wichita State (27). The nation’s No. 1 team in adjusted defensive efficiency figures to put a choke hold on this tourney from the get-go. And the Shockers will be a very tough out in the next tourney, too.

Northeast (28)

Dates: March 2-8, campus sites.

Top seed: Wagner (20-9, 13-5). Bashir Mason’s Seahawks are on a five-game winning streak, play at their preferred tempo and guard well in a league that doesn’t have many good offensive squads.

Dark horse: LIU-Brooklyn (15-14, 9-9). Will take some work for the sixth-seeded Blackbirds to reach the final, but if they face Wagner there they can go in confident. They’ve beaten the league champs twice this season.

Pomeroy Conference Rank: 30th out of 32.

League’s Last NCAA Tournament Win: 2008, when Mount St. Mary’s defeated Coppin State in a play-in game in Dayton. Robert Morris also won a game in the original play-in round, in 1983, when the tourney was only 52 teams.

Minutes Pick: Wagner. The Seahawks will make the tournament for the first time since 2003.

Ohio Valley (29)

Dates: March 2-5, in Nashville.

Top seed: Belmont (20-10, 12-4). As usual, the free-flowing, smart-passing, sharp-shooting Bruins are the best offensive team in the conference. That said, Belmont was by no means on top of its game down the stretch, finishing just 5-4.

Will we see Rick Byrd's Bears back in the NCAA tourney this year? (AP)
Will we see Rick Byrd's Bears back in the NCAA tourney this year? (AP)

Dark horse: Morehead State (18-11, 11-5). The Eagles ended the regular season on a six-game winning streak, including a victory over Belmont on Feb. 13. Probably wise not to disregard perennial contender Murray State, despite the Racers having their lowest OVC seed (No. 6) since 1987.

Pomeroy Conference Rank: 22nd out of 32.

League’s Last NCAA Tournament Win: 2012, when sixth-seeded Murray State defeated Colorado State in the round of 64 before losing to Marquette and finishing 31-2.

Minutes Pick: Belmont (30). Rick Byrd is 12-1 in conference tournament games since 2010. With a bye into the semifinals and the games being played in Belmont’s hometown, he’ll make it 14-1.

Patriot (31)

Dates: March 1-9, at campus sites.

Top seed: Bucknell (17-12, 14-4). The Bison led the Patriot in both offensive and defensive efficiency in league games, per Ken Pomeroy. They also played at the fastest tempo. And they’ve won four straight.

Dark horse: Colgate (13-16, 9-9). An altogether unspectacular team, with one large exception. The Raiders somehow swept Bucknell – and if they beat Army in the quarterfinals they likely will get a shot at the hat trick in the semis.

Pomeroy Conference Rank: 25th out of 32.

League’s Last NCAA Tournament Win: 2012, when No. 15 seed Lehigh, led by C.J. McCollum, memorably beat Duke.

Minutes Pick: Lehigh. The Mountain Hawks started the season 0-7, were 6-14 heading into February – and haven’t lost since. They enter the tournament as the No. 2 seed and on a nine-game winning streak.

Southern (32)

Dates: March 3-7, in Asheville, N.C.

Top seed: Chattanooga (26-5, 15-3). The Mocs have had a great season in their first year under former Florida assistant Matt McCall, highlighted by road wins over Dayton and Georgia and a nine-game SoCon winning streak from Jan. 11 through Feb. 8. But a couple of upset losses in the last six games should give the rest of the league hope.

Dark horse: UNC-Greensboro (14-17, 10-8). The sixth-seeded Spartans caught fire late, winning their last five games – highlighted by a 15-point romp at Chattanooga.

Pomeroy Conference Rank: 20th out of 32.

League’s Last NCAA Tournament Win: 2008, when Davidson made the regional final and came within a shot of making the Final Four. Some kid named Curry led that team.

Minutes Pick: East Tennessee State (33). Steve Forbes has stocked up on high-major transfers, getting Ge’Lawn Guyn from Cincinnati, Deuce Bello from Missouri and Peter Jurkin from Indiana to come to the garden spot that is Johnson City, Tenn. The Buccaneers bring a five-game winning streak into Asheville, and it will be eight by the time they leave.

Summit (34)

Dates: March 5-8, in Sioux Falls, S.D.

Top seed: IPFW (23-8, 12-4). The Mastodons revolve around senior guard Max Landis, who in February averaged 24.6 points and has played all 40 minutes in each of his last five games. The problem for IPFW Mastodons is a potential semifinal matchup with No. 4 seed IUPUI, which swept the series this season.

Dark horse: South Dakota State (35) (23-7, 12-4), even if that’s a complete misnomer. The Jackrabbits finished tied for first with the Mastodons but lost the tiebreaker, and have an instant-impact freshman in forward Mike Daum.

Pomeroy Conference Rank: 14th out of 32.

League’s Last NCAA Tournament Win: 2014, when No. 12 seed North Dakota State took out Oklahoma.

Minutes Pick: South Dakota State. Coach Scott Nagy is a consistent winner who has taken the Jackrabbits to the Big Dance twice in the previous four years, now soon to be three out of five.

West Coast (36)

Dates: March 4-8, in Las Vegas.

Top seed: St. Mary’s (24-4, 15-3). The Gaels are a gorgeous offensive team that is on a five-game winning streak and swept league kingpin Gonzaga. Their losses have come by a total of 24 points.

Dark horse: Pepperdine (17-12, 10-8), which for some reason has the Gaels’ number. The Waves have beaten St. Mary’s the last three meetings, including both of them this season.

Pomeroy Conference Rank: 11th out of 32.

League’s Last NCAA Tournament Win: 2015, when Gonzaga made the regional final as a No. 2 seed.

Minutes Pick: St. Mary’s (37). The Zags don’t have great guard play, and the Gaels do in the form of sophomore Emmett Naar. The Australian will lead St. Mary’s back to the NCAA tourney for the first time since 2013.

COACH WHO EARNED HIS COMP CAR THIS WEEK

Cuonzo Martin (L), Jaylen Brown and the Bears ran the table in February. Can they keep their momentum? (AP)
Cuonzo Martin (L), Jaylen Brown and the Bears ran the table in February. Can they keep their momentum? (AP)

Cuonzo Martin (38), California. In a league where momentum had been a myth, Martin’s Golden Bears went 7-0 in February – six of the victories by double digits – to lock up an NCAA bid. It took Martin a couple of months to fully integrate freshman five-stars Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb with a solid returning cast, but Cal is clicking now. (In a related note, Tennessee is 13-16 on the season and 29-32 since Martin left Rocky Top.)

COACH WHO SHOULD TAKE THE BUS TO WORK

Fran McCaffery (39), Iowa. As noted above, his team is tanking. And Fran was not feeling overly conversational after the latest loss, at Ohio State on Sunday. His postgame press conference lasted all of 82 seconds. Tuesday is another day at least, as the Hawkeyes host Big Ten-leading Indiana in a game they need to reverse their current slide.

BUZZER BEATER

When hungry in Durham, N.C., as a lot of basketball fans figure to be prior to Duke-North Carolina II on Saturday, pay a visit to Dame’s Chicken & Waffles (40). There are 10 variations on the trusty chicken-and-waffle theme, with flourishes ranging from a sweet potato waffle to peach sauce. And there are multiple Triangle-area microbrews available as well. Keep a lookout for famous former Dukies; Grant Hill and others have been known to drop in. Thank The Minutes later.