Larry Drew's departure disgraceful, Indiana rising and more (cont.)
When you hear fans exhorting their favorite school to fire their coach, consider that Auburn's first-year coach Tony Barbee is making $1.6 million per year. That's the going rate right now. So you can complain about the guy you have all you want, but if you want to get rid of him, you have to ask whom you're going to replace him with. Not a lot of great (or affordable) choices out there.
I've been saying for a while that Cincinnati's NCAA tourney prospects are a lot worse than their 18-5 record would indicate. The Bearcats do have two wins over teams in the top 25 of the RPI (St. John's and Xavier), but their nonconference strength of schedule is ranked 284th nationally, and they have lost four of their last six to fall to 5-5 in the Big East. Further trouble now looms because Mick Cronin has indefinitely suspended his leading rebounder and second-leading scorer, 6-9 junior Yancy Gates, for showing a bad attitude. The Bearcats' hopes are far from dead, but the trend lines aren't good.
Here's a scary thought: Baylor freshman Perry Jones is starting to figure it out. The 6-10 forward, whom many are projecting as a top-three draft choice next spring, had by far his best game as a collegian in the Bears' overtime win at Texas A&M. Jones played 43 out of 45 minutes and finished with 27 points (including 9-for-9 from the foul line), seven rebounds and two assists.
Gotta say I'm pretty stunned by Washington's three-game losing streak. Losing at Washington State is no crime, and even a bad hiccup at Oregon State can be somewhat understandable. But to have lost those games back-to-back and still lose at Oregon tells me something is up. Defense has never been this team's forte, but the Huskies are having a hard time shutting teams down without fouling. Those three opponents shot 30, 38 and 23 free throws, respectively. That's a lot of cheese to be giving away.
Purdue misses Robbie Hummel's rebounding a lot more than they miss his scoring.
I love the play where a guy throws the ball inbounds from under his own basket off an opponent's back, then catches it and drops in an easy layup. How come there is no name for this play? Any suggestions?
Finally, a programming note. I know there was a lot of hoopla last spring when the NCAA announced that it had agreed to a 14-year contract with CBS and Turner to broadcast the NCAA tournament, but there is still a lot of confusion about how it will all work. That includes from those of us who work for CBS and Turner. I spent the day at the Turner campus in Atlanta last Thursday, and the bottom line is that this partnership is going to be a huge win for the viewers. (Editor's note: Turner Sports is in partnership with SI.com and runs the site's business operations.)
The first four games of the newly-expanded tournament are going to be shown on TruTV in Tuesday and Wednesday doubleheaders. During the first and second rounds, the games will be aired across four networks: CBS, TNT, TBS and TruTV. There will be two studios servicing those four networks. The Atlanta studio will include me, Steve Smith and host Matt Winer. In the New York studio, Ernie Johnson will rotate with Greg Gumbel as host, and they'll be joined by analysts Greg Anthony, Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley. Reggie Miller and I will also be in the New York studio for the second week, when the games will be shown on CBS and TBS during the Sweet 16. The regional finals, Final Four and national championship game will air on CBS.
All of this means that you will never again be taken away from a game you want to watch. You will also get a lot more studio programming, with long halftimes and bridge shows between games. During that first week we will also produce a 90-minute pregame show each day on TruTV, and the games will be followed by an hourlong postgame show. So you can sit on your couch from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. every day and not miss a thing. I suggest you call your boss now and say you're gonna be home with the flu that week.
(Last week's rank on my ballot in parentheses)
1. Ohio State (1)
2. Texas (2)
3. Kansas (3)
4. Pitt (4)
5. Duke (6)
6. Villanova (7)
7. Notre Dame (8)
8. BYU (9)
9. San Diego State (11)
10. Georgetown (16)
11. Connecticut (5)
12. Florida (19)
13. Kentucky (10)
14. Wisconsin (23)
15. Missouri (13)
16. Purdue (14)
17. Louisville (15)
18. Syracuse (21)
19. Utah State (18)
20. Vanderbilt (20)
21. Arizona (25)
22. North Carolina (NR)
23. Saint Mary's (NR)
24. Wichita State (NR)
25. Texas A&M (12)
Dropped out: Minnesota (17), Washington (23), Tennessee (24).
Let's start with a hearty welcome back to North Carolina. I've been promising that a surge from the Heels was coming, though I admit after they lost that game at Georgia Tech I started to doubt them myself. After they dispatched Boston College (on the road) and Florida State by a combined 52 points, they certainly deserved to be ranked. And Duke had better be ready to play Wednesday night.
To show how fickle all of this is, consider Georgetown and Florida, two of the biggest movers on my ballot. The Hoyas have won six in a row, but the last three came by a total of seven points -- including last Saturday's two-point escape over Providence after the Hoyas blew an 18-point lead. Florida also scored two big wins last week at home over Vanderbilt and Kentucky by a combined six points -- and the Vandy win was in overtime. It also came courtesy of one of the worst no-calls I've seen in a long time after Commodores guard John Jenkins, one of the best shooters in the country, was blatantly fouled on a late three-point attempt.
Wisconsin performed a nice leapfrog on the basis of its home wins over Purdue and Michigan State, but the Badgers need to score a decent win away from Madison to really make me a believer. Their Madison Magic will really be tested on Saturday when Wisconsin hosts Ohio State. If the Buckeyes don't lose that one, I'm not sure when (or if) they're going to lose before the Big Ten tournament.
I was inclined to drop Texas A&M out of my top 25 after the Aggies lost four of their last five. However, two of those losses were to Texas, one was on the road at Nebraska, and the fourth was at home to Baylor in overtime. If I could find a suitable team to rank 25th, I would have. But I couldn't.
This is the first time all season I am ranking Saint Mary's. The Gaels lost at Portland on Jan. 29, but that is their only defeat in West Coast Conference play. Their other three losses came against Vanderbilt, BYU and San Diego State. That's a pretty strong resume.
I ended up going with Wichita State at No. 24, because frankly I couldn't find anyone else to put there. The Shockers have had their share of close shaves (they beat Indiana State at home in triple overtime three weeks ago), but three of their four losses were by three points each. The fourth was by 14 points at San Diego State. This is the deepest the Missouri Valley Conference has been in a long time, so it's mighty impressive to me that the Shockers have entered February in sole possession of first place.
The last thing I expected was to consider ranking a team from the SEC West, but it's hard not to notice Alabama's five-game winning streak, which includes a victory at home over Kentucky and a win at Tennessee in Knoxville over the weekend. I couldn't just brush aside the Crimson Tide's nonconference record, but this team has won 10 of its last 11, and if it wins two more (the Tide are at Vanderbilt and at home against Ole Miss this week), I will strongly consider ranking them next week. Go figure.
It's too bad both Xavier and Duquesne lost games they shouldn't have (to Charlotte and St. Bonaventure, respectively). Had they won, they probably would have gotten ranked. Still, their game on Saturday in Pittsburgh is going to be the biggest of the Atlantic 10 so far this season. Xavier also has a golden opportunity to score a road win at Georgia on Tuesday. Win 'em both, and next week the Musketeers will get a number next to their name.
I also thought about ranking Baylor, but the Bears have to do a lot more than win by a bucket in overtime, even against a good team like Texas A&M on the road. In their previous game, the Bears lost at Oklahoma. But hey, if they want to get ranked, all they have to do is beat Nebraska at home this week and then knock off Texas in Austin. Simple, right?