Interpretive Dance: Cleveland St. rocks

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. …

After a wacky Wednesday in which three top 20 teams were upended and the No. 1 team in the land was nearly Ramblin' Wrecked, underdogs just might rule the weekend.

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

Here are this week's bracket bulls and bears:

Team Conf W-L RPI SOS
Cleveland State Vikings Horizon 11-5 56 71
Comment: Hide the women and children. Barbarous Norsemen have overtaken the Horizon. More Leif Ericson than Hagar the Horrible, the Vikings' headline-grabbing four-point toppling of No. 12 ranked Butler – an amazing feat considering they were 1-26 versus ranked opponents since 1986 coming into the game – leaves them all alone atop the Horizon at 6-0. Holding the Bulldogs' dynamic backcourt duo of A.J. Graves and Mike Green to 15.3 percent shooting, Cleveland State's second marquee win – they upended Florida State in Daytona Beach back in November – moves them into at-large contention. Although they'll need to win a minimum of 12 conference games to seriously attract the Committee's attention, it's another sizable step toward returning to the tournament for the first time in 22 years.
Team Conf W-L RPI SOS
Boston College Eagles ACC 12-4 66 51
Comment: After an embarrassing six-point home loss to mighty Robert Morris on Jan. 7, the Eagles have soared, winning two straight conference games, including a 39-point demolition of the Wake Forest Demon Deacons last weekend. In that lopsided contest, Al Skinner's club netted an astoundingly efficient 1.5 points per possession. Thus far unblemished in ACC action, B.C. could easily enter Chapel Hill with a 5-0 mark on Jan. 31. Although 67th nationally in defensive efficiency, Tyrese Rice and his cohorts have improved defensively and have crashed the offensive glass with more vigor. With a marquee non-conference win (76-72 victory over Rhode Island) under their belts, they'll likely bounce off the bubble and into the "Bracket Big Board" with a win at Virginia on Saturday.
Team Conf W-L RPI SOS
Massachusets Minutemen Atlantic 10 12-4 21 24
Comment: The Minutemen have officially gained Mass appeal. On Wednesday, Travis Ford's club snapped Dayton's 13-game winning streak with a stunning 82-71 road triumph. Road warriors this season, the Minutemen have also racked striking wins at Syracuse and Boston College. Ricky Harris (19.9 ppg), Chris Lowe (12.9 ppg, 5.4 apg) and swingman Gary Forbes (20.6 ppg, 7.3 rpg) are quite possibly the most unheralded trio in the nation. UMass' lack of paint pounders won't help them win many battles on the boards, but their high-octane attack – they average 78.6 possessions per 40 minutes, third in the nation – and barrage of three-point marksmen, makes them a machine gun, not a musket-paced team to contain. Their RPI and SOS are toying with the brink of the top 20, labeling them a team on the rise.

Team Conf W-L RPI SOS
Oklahoma Sooners Big 12 12-5 44 29
Comment: Without standout freshman forward Blake Griffin (15.4 ppg, 9.1 rpg) for the next four weeks, the Sooners will be swooning. Already reeling from losing their first two Big 12 games to Sunflower State foes Kansas State and Kansas, Jeff Capel's worst fears have been realized. Forwards Longar Longar and Taylor Griffin, Blake's older brother, will have to play nearly flawless basketball over the next 7-8 games considering the enormous lack of frontcourt depth OU has. Due to their unfortunate situation, the Sooners will undoubtedly slide from a single to a double-digit seed on Monday's Big Board.
Team Conf W-L RPI SOS
North Carolina Tar Heels ACC 18-0 2 16
Comment: Sports pundits have always said, "Defense wins championships." But in North Carolina's case, only a dynamite offense will punch their ticket to San Antonio. The Boys in Blue dodged another intra-conference bullet this week winning by the slimmest of margins at Georgia Tech. Currently ranked 38th nationally in defensive efficiency, the Tar Heels inability to stymie even marginal opponents is a cause for concern. If matched against a half-court oriented club (e.g. Wisconsin, Washington St., or Butler) that can control the glass, Carolina would be in trouble. Unequivocally, they're still a No. 1 seed, but until their defensive inadequacies are remedied, they don't deserve a higher ranking than Kansas, Memphis or UCLA. The harsh reality for Carolina fans: Duke probably is the true king of Tobacco Road.
Team Conf W-L RPI SOS
Vanderbilt Commodores SEC 16-2 10 55
Comment: Tennessee's 20-point smackdown reinforces my perception that Vandy is far from dandy. A flimsy non-conference schedule, an ineffective defense (99th nationally in D efficiency) and marginal depth were clear signs of an impending downfall. Yes, Shan Foster and A.J. Olgilvy are a marvelous inside-outside combination, but until Vandy's rebounding and defensive pitfalls are righted, this is an above average, not a spectacular SEC team. With back-to-back games in Gainesville and Oxford upcoming on Jan. 19 and 27, they could easily enter February with a 2-4 record in the SEC East.

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 State (15-2) at Minnesota (12-4)
The Golden Gophers' Pillsbury Doughboy soft non-conference slate (274 SOS) will do them no favors in the minds of Committee members – they desperately need a meritable win. In their first tussle with the Spartans, a six-point loss in East Lansing, Minnesota played respectably, despite being out-rebounded 41-24, by creating turnovers and draining seven threes. Key contributors Dan Coleman and Spencer Tollackson will have to shackle Raymar Morgan for Tubby's team to finally get that quality W.
Prediction: Michigan State 63 Minnesota 60

Mid-Major Maverick
Matt Howard
Freshman, PF
Butler Bulldogs

Skinny: Obscured by media mammoths Kevin Love, Michael Beasley and DeJuan Blair, Howard has not been given the national recognition he deserves. Ask any college hoops junky who Butler's most important player is and they'll say A.J. Graves. But in reality, it's Howard. An ultra-competitive player who patrols the paint with blue collar zeal, the bushy-haired freshman's contributions are indispensable in Brad Stevens' methodical half-court system. His impeccable interior execution – he currently ranks No. 1 in the country in offensive efficiency – has transformed the Bulldogs from a perimeter-exclusive team into a multi-dimensional powerhouse. Butler's aspirations of advancing to the Elite 8 for the first time in school history could be achieved riding on the back of this fantastically effective freshman.

2. Marquette (13-3) at Connecticut (11-5)
Marquette's 20-point annihilation at the hands of a reinvigorated Louisville squad on Thursday exposed its flaws. The Golden Eagles are one of three teams (Kansas and UCLA the others) that rank in the top 10 nationally in offensive and defensive efficiency. But despite their terrific balance, they're undersized and have had difficulties controlling the defensive glass. With a frontline composed of 7-foot-3 Hasheem Thabeet, Stanley Robinson and Jeff Adrien, the Huskies should limit Marquette's second chance opportunities. Coming off a 12-pont home loss to Providence and still in search for a gold star sticker win, Connecticut pulls the upset in Storrs.
Prediction: Connecticut 68 Marquette 66

3. Arizona State (13-2) at Stanford (13-3)
Despite having three RPI top 50 wins (Xavier, Oregon and Arizona), many have unfairly questioned the Sun Devils' top-25 legitimacy. A win in Palo Alto would most certainly silence the haters. However, Stanford's twin 7-footers Robin and Brook Lopez, and junior forward Lawrence Hill, are glass commanders who'll be a daunting task for a diminutive ASU frontline. Freshman sensation James Harden, who has averaged 24.3 points per game in Pac-10 play, must continue to torch the nets for the Devils to stay undefeated in conference action. But the edge goes to the stiff Cardinal defense.
Prediction: Stanford 58 Arizona State 55

4. Illinois State (13-3) at Drake (13-1)
Few would have predicted Valley perfection in late January for two programs that have been perennial conference doormats. In the clash of Valley kings, look for Drake's band of three-point rifleman to establish their dominance in what will be the best game few will see. Tim Jankovich's bunch are outstanding on-the-ball defenders (16th in DI in defensive efficiency), but Jonathan Cox's inside-outside versatility (53.1 2-point FG%, 51.2 3-point FG%) will be tough to cage. If Drake comes out victorious, they could find themselves ranked for the first time since 1975.
Prediction: Drake 62 Illinois State 58

5. Villanova (12-3) at Syracuse (13-5)
L.A.D. (Life after Devendorf) has not been as devastating as most Orange fans would have you believe. Since their star guard's ACL injury, Jim Boeheim's club has won six of their past eight. Ballyhooed freshman guard Jonny Flynn has picked up most of the slack, averaging 14.4 points and 4.7 assists per contest during Devendorf's absence. Under the creature comforts of the Carrier Dome, the Orange is 12-2 this season. Windex wipers Donte Green and Paul Harris will declaw the Cats, given 'Nova's tribulations away from home in Big East play (lost at DePaul and Cincinnati) and troubles defensively (124th in DI in defensive efficiency).
Prediction: Syracuse 83 Villanova 73

6. Baylor (13-2) at Nebraska (11-4)
For the first time in conference play the Bears venture outside the cave to face a quality opponent. With back-to-back losses to Kansas and, humiliatingly, to Colorado, Nebraska's hopes of an NCAA birth are quickly evaporating. Meanwhile, the balanced Bears have been one of the nation's surprise sensations in the early going, winning 13 of their first 15 games. Cornhusker center Aleks Maric is one of the nation's best all-around post-men – he should be very effective against Baylor's miniature interior. However, the Bears' well-rounded offense (five players average double-digits in points per game) and variety of three-point shooters will be the difference.
Prediction: Baylor 68 Nebraska 64

7. Chattanooga (12-5) at Davidson (9-6)
With the Mocs and Wildcats untouched in conference play, this is the SoCon's premiere regular season bout. The Mocs may not have generated as much publicity as Davidson, but they too played a challenging non-conference schedule, facing Indiana, Southern Illinois, South Alabama and Tennessee. UTC's strength is controlling the paint with junior bruisers Nicchaeus Doaks and Khalil Hartwell. But to pull the road upset, they'll need to show significant improvement in perimeter defense – they rank 135th nationally in three-point field-goal percentage defense. Davidson's bevy of long range bombers should go berserk.
Prediction: Davidson 82 Chattanooga 73

Other Notable Games: Oregon (12-5) at Washington State (15-1), Clemson (14-3) at Duke (14-1), Ohio State (12-5) at Tennessee (15-1), Notre Dame (13-3) at Georgetown (13-2), Texas A&M (15-2) at Kansas State (11-4), Arizona (11-6) at California (11-5), Florida State (12-6) at Wake Forest (11-5)

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

Mississippi State defensive wizard Jarvis Varnado, whose last name is the perfect stage name for an illusionist, bewildered the Kentucky Wildcats with his supernatural swatting powers, totaling 10 blocks on Tuesday. Chipping in an additional 10 points and a dozen rebounds, Varnado became only the third Bulldog to register a triple-double in school history. He's undeniably the best post defender in the SEC. Just ask Kentucky's Patrick Patterson.

Has anyone else noticed how surprisingly inefficient Georgetown is on the boards? Undoubtedly, Roy Hibbert is a "Lord of the Rings" Ent in the paint, but at 7-foot-2, he should be more aggressive on the glass. Despite leading all players with 10 rebounds in the Hoyas' 69-60 loss at Pitt, Hibbert at times looked out of position and was outworked by the stronger, quicker DeJuan Blair. Last season G'Town ranked 8th in offensive rebound percentage, so far this year, they're 182nd. Jeff Green's physicality is sorely missed.

USC would be better without their freshman "superstar," O.J. Mayo – at least in his current form. Glancing at his superficial numbers (19.9 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 3.0 apg), Mayo appears to be a man amongst boys. However, his 3.0:3.9 assists-to-turnovers split and the Trojans' 2-5 record when he's jacked 19 or more shots overshadows his offensive contributions. Interestingly, in USC's four most efficient offensive performances this season (vs. South Carolina, Southern Illinois, Delaware St. and Cal Poly), Mayo averaged 10.8 shots per game. Tim Floyd needs to hold the Mayo if they want to go dancing in March.

Steve Lavin, who single-handedly keeps Vidal Sassoon in business, has to be the love-child of Purdue Pete and dedicated tanning salon patron/actor George Hamilton.

In an effort to collect 40,000 pairs of shoes, in honor of the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s tragic death, IUPUI bench barker Ron Hunter will coach shoeless next week against Oakland. Hunter's humanitarian efforts should be applauded, but his lack of foot attire begs the question: Wouldn't odiferous feet be a bench decorum violation?

For those of you that live outside The Centennial State, Chip, the University of Colorado mascot, "thugged out" for "kid's night" at a Denver Nuggets game last week. The lovable bipedal Buffalo was fitted with baggy jeans, a long white T, a do-rag, fake gold teeth, and to appeal to all the Tupac fans in attendance, a graphic teardrop tattoo below one eye. The university apologized for Chip's "insensitive, unfortunate and thoughtless" display. No kidding …

Here's an idea: maybe events coordinators in Palo Alto can have their own "gangsta-themed" night. That way, the Stanford Tree could pound forties of Colt 45 without repercussion.

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 12-4 13-3
RPI 63 34
SOS 145 103
Top 50 0-4 1-2
Key Ws None Cincinati (10)
Creighton (13)
Ugly Ls at UNLV (17) Eastern Michigan (9)
BBR NR 46 (12 seed)

Brad, I was wondering what makes a team like Illinois State more deserving than a team like Minnesota for one of the last bids. I realize Minnesota has not had a very challenging schedule, but neither has ISU. Each team has played one ranked opponent. In Minnesota's game, they played a tough MSU team to the wire in East Lansing . While in ISU's game, they were blown out by an equally talented Indiana team on a neutral floor. – David, Kokomo, IN

Noise: When you tally victories against a number of inglorious foes, it doesn't exactly build your resume. As you suggested, Minnesota's deplorable 274 non-conference strength of schedule will be their demise, unless they can record a couple of notable top 50 wins. They've come close at Michigan State and on Thursday versus Indiana, but this weekend's second go-around with Sparty is a necessity. Even if they finish above .500 in the Big Ten, their suspect pre-conference slate will likely qualify the Golden Gophers for the NIT, not the NCAAs.

The primary reasons why Illinois State was more deserving of a spot than a team like Minnesota in last week's "Bracket Big Board" is two-fold: 1. As you might have guessed, the Redbirds boasted a significantly stiffer non-conference schedule (104 SOS), 2. As a result of their stronger pre-conference slate, their RPI was nearly 30 places higher than Minnesota's.

People have unjustly discredited the Missouri Valley this season merely because projected titans Southern Illinois and Bradley have disappointed. Overall, the Valley ranks eighth in conference RPI, one spot behind the resurgent Atlantic 10 and ahead of the Mountain West, Horizon, West Coast and Conference USA. Even when their RPI has suffered, the Committee has been gracious to the Valley this century, selecting a minimum of one at-large team since 2000. Because Illinois State and Drake are the brass of the Valley currently, both should qualify for the NCAAs with double-digit conference wins, based on their strong RPIs and the continued vitality of the MVC.