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Forde Minutes: The courts-on-trial edition

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college basketball ("Timekeeping For Dummies -- Cameron Indoor Stadium Edition" [1] sold separately):

HERE'S SOMETHING NEW: REFS GIVE DUKE KEY BREAK

Let The Minutes get this off its chest before we get to this week's main course.

Item: Duke (2) got a major assist in its last-second victory over Clemson (3) last week from the home timekeeper and the officials who blew the review of the mismanaged clock.

Minutes reaction: It sure would be easier to dismiss the Duke-gets-all-the-breaks chatter if, ahem, Duke didn't get such unforgettable and egregious breaks as this one.

Perhaps the only thing worse than the officials' deducing that an errant inbounds pass and methodically hoisted three-pointer by Vernon Hamilton took six-tenths of a second to complete was the statement released by ACC supervisor of officials John Clougherty. In it, Clougherty -- who was one of the very best with a whistle, by the way -- laid it off as a "timing error." Thing is, timing errors are correctable by competent refs -- and Clougherty's refs proved utterly incompetent in fixing the problem.

Awarded at least two seconds more than it deserved and 4.4 seconds in total, Duke went the length of the court to score the winning basket at the buzzer. (Anything less than 2.5 seconds requires Grant Hill and Christian Laettner.) The Minutes has to give credit to Tigers coach Oliver Purnell, who took his hosing like a man.

"Do I believe in conspiracies? Yes, I do. A Duke conspiracy? No, I don't," he told the Anderson, S.C., Independent Mail.

FLOORED

Now on to this week's pressing issue: Is it just The Minutes, or has an epidemic of horrific court designs swept America? Everywhere you look, normally inoffensive 94-foot-by-50-foot rectangles of hardwood has been overtaken by cheesy, gargantuan logos, profligate paint jobs and/or excessive signage?

Sufficiently alarmed, The Minutes stepped in with the help of colleague Andy Glockner to identify the best and worst college basketball floors in America.

The offenders, grouped by category:

Animal Gigantism
Boise State Bronco (4). Ostensibly forbidding blue-and-orange horse heads consume the entire area inside both 3-point arcs of Taco Bell Arena (ugh). And you thought the blue turf was bad.

Kansas Jayhawk (5). Why a school with that much tradition would devote so much floor space to a lame cartoon bird is a mystery to The Minutes.

SMU Pony (6). Nearly goes from 3-point line to 3-point line, nose to tail. Add in the fact that the two-point area is all painted red and you have an aesthetic disaster.

Fresno State (7) and James Madison (8) canines. Bad dogs. Madison's wears a crown, Fresno's a spiked collar. Both would look better playing poker.

Ramkind (9): Colorado State Ram, Rhode Island Ram, Fordham Ram, VCU Ram. We're overrun with ram-related crimes against aesthetics. Clearly, our nation is in desperate need of a graphic artist who can come up with a decent male sheep logo.

Letters/Symbols Visible from Space
Clemson Tiger paw (10), Rutgers "R" (11), Western Illinois initials (12) and Alabama "A" (13). Apparently designed by the same people who form crop circles for aliens to see when landing in our midst.

Liberty lettering (14). Give the Falwellian Flames credit for being original and avoiding center-jump trash. But the words that blare above and below the circle overpower the court. Editor's note: We have been informed that Liberty replaced that floor for this season.

Parquet Faux Pas
Western Illinois, Texas A&M and Massachusetts (15). Just because it worked for the Celtics doesn't mean it will work for you. In fact, most schools with parquet floors are notably lacking in significant hoops tradition.

Clutter

Southern Illinois (16). In the picture The Minutes saw, there were nine logos on the floor. Looked like an outfield wall in the Carolina League. Then again: If you've got nine, might as well go for double digits. Surely there's a Carbondale muffler shop willing to grab some of the remaining floor space.

Statewide Ugliness
Idaho (17). From Boise to Moscow (Idaho has a towering "I" and a huge script "Vandals") to Pocatello (a not-terrible tiger and block "Idaho State"), this is the land that taste forgot. Runner-up is Kansas, where the Jayhawks and Kansas State Wildcats -- who should know better -- are saved only by the relative restraint of Wichita State.

Unacceptable State Outline
Texas A&M (18). The Aggies just had to have a bigger state-of-Texas outline than the Longhorns, so theirs stretches very nearly from key to shining key. Combine that with parquet and a too-large logo on top of the state outline and you have The Minutes' vote for the ugliest floor in America.

Now the winners:

Acceptable State Outline
Indiana (19). Tastefully sized and fundamentally unaltered for years.

Staying Centered
Stanford (20), UCLA (21), Michigan State (22). All of them contain their midcourt logo to midcourt, and keep it simple. Stanford uses its university logo: the "S" and the tree. UCLA's says, of all things, "UCLA." Michigan State goes with a block "S," but takes a small demerit for turning the free-throw circles into basketballs.

Hottie Exemption
Kentucky (23) has a logo larger than its lordly station should countenance. However, occasional center-court appearances of Ashley Judd (24) to wave to the fans have a positive diminishing effect on the overgrown "UK."

Animal On A Leash
Butler (25). They keep the (non-cartoonish) Bulldog logo contained to the center jump circle in hallowed Hinkle Fieldhouse. And the rims are 10 feet high. Just ask Norman Dale.

Animal Gigantism Exceptions

Montana and Arkansas (26). The Grizzlies get a pass because their Grizzly bear looks semi-authentic, and because he's indigenous. The Razorbacks get a pass on their monster pig because their fans can appreciate the silliness. They wear plastic pig hats, after all.

The Anti-Trend
Arkansas-Little Rock (27) has absolutely nothing but a circle at center court. No words, no logos, no identifier at all. Makes for quite a contrast with the prodigious porcine in Fayetteville.

ADDITION BY SUBTRACTION
Sometimes it takes a loss -- a game, a player, something -- to snap a team into focus. Four programs currently showing they learned something the hard way:

North Carolina (28): Since the Tar Heels were stunned at Virginia Tech, they've trampled four straight opponents -- three on the road, two ranked -- by an average margin of 23.5 points. Their decimation of Arizona in Tucson might have been the single most impressive performance of the season, by anyone.

Kansas: After being upset by Texas Tech, the Jayhawks have spun off three straight wins by an average margin of 23 points. That was capped by the first-half emasculation of Nebraska Monday night in Lincoln. After 17½ minutes, Kansas led 39-6.

Butler: The Bulldogs are now 6-0 since losing in overtime at Illinois-Chicago, capped by a 26-point revenge whipping of the Flames in Indianapolis Monday night. Average margin of victory in this streak: 17.3 points.

Louisville (29): The Cardinals are 3-5 when talented-but-troubled freshman Derrick Caracter (30) plays, 12-1 when he doesn't play due to suspension or coach's decision. Last 10 games Caracter has missed? All Louisville victories. Caracter clearly is having an immediate-impact season -- the opposite of the impact Rick Pitino had envisioned. The less he's around, the better Louisville plays.

RUTHLESS INTERROGATION

The Minutes caught up with what has to be the most law-abiding player in Division I basketball, Wisconsin guard Kammron Taylor (31). In 708 minutes of playing time heading into the 21-1 Badgers' Big Ten showdown game at Indiana, he's been whistled for all of 11 personal fouls. How does he do it in a physical league while playing in a defense-first program? Let Wisconsin's second-leading scorer explain.


Forde Minutes: Are you just a clean player or what?

Kammron Taylor: I'm a pretty clean guy. I'm not a cheap-shot guy or anything like that. I move my feet pretty well, and I don't reach. I don't reach at all. I want to stay out on the floor as long as possible, and you can't stay out there if you get into foul trouble.

Minutes: But it's not like you're slacking off on defense, right?

Taylor: Oh, you can't do that. To play for coach [Bo] Ryan, you've got to play defense. Everyone does. But the one thing we do, we play great team defense.

Minutes: When was the last time you fouled out of a game?

Taylor: Oh, man, I'd have to go back maybe to sometime in high school. I can't even remember. I haven't in college, I don't think.

Minutes: So, have all 11 fouls been good calls?

Taylor: For the most part, I'd have to say so. There might've been a couple questionable calls on the road, but that comes with playing on the road.

Minutes: Have you gotten away with any that haven't been called?

Taylor: (Laughs.) I don't want to give away my secrets. So, no, I haven't gotten away with anything.

Minutes: Have you allowed yourself to think ahead to the NCAA Tournament and a possible No. 1 seed?

Taylor: Any player always looks at that. But we know that in order to get a No. 1 seed and go far in the tournament, we have to take care of our conference first. We still have nine Big Ten games, plus the Big Ten tournament.

I definitely look at the rankings, though, every Monday, to see if Florida lost. I check 'em all out, but I keep my eye on Florida. If they lose you know what that means: first No. 1 ranking in school history.

Minutes: It's an old subject, but honestly: How many times have you been compared to your look-alike, Chris Rock (32)?

Taylor: Pretty much every away game we play. That's the only thing they can dig up on me. Like I said, I'm a clean guy -- nothing else they can get on me. If the worst thing they can say about me is that I look like Chris Rock, then I'm doing OK.

FEBRUARY: GO TIME OR GO-HOME TIME

Six programs that packed plenty of preseason promise but are now sliding, and need to rebound to make the Big Dance:

Connecticut (33): With an RPI of 88, a 13-7 overall record and a 2-5 Big East mark, the two-time national champions are on the outside of the NCAA Tournament looking in -- but it gets worse. If the season ended today they'd also be outside the Big East tournament, which takes only the top 12 teams in the league to Madison Square Garden. The good news is that UConn should have a reasonable expectation of winning at least half of its remaining 10 games. The bad news is that coach Jim Calhoun is snapping -- at his young players, at unhappy fans, at his favorite foes in the media.

LSU (34): The Tigers have lost three straight to drop to 13-7 overall, 2-4 in the SEC and an anemic No. 74 in the RPI. Why? They can't score. It's been more than a month since LSU cracked the 70-point barrier, and the Tigers haven't even broken 60 in two weeks. The good news: The Tigers have double-digit wins over Texas A&M and UConn on their résumé . The bad news: A rotten road team is going to have to beat someone away from home down the stretch to avoid a losing SEC record.

Alabama (35): The only thing that could be separating the Crimson Tide from a four-game losing streak is a traveling no-call on Ronald Steele's cha-cha jumper to beat Georgia on Jan. 20. If you think LSU is bad on the road, they're nothing compared to Bama, which has lost by 14 at Notre Dame, by 27 at Arkansas, by 21 at Vanderbilt and by 24 at (cough) Auburn. The good news: Strength of schedule has the Tide in the top 35 in the RPI. The bad news: Five road games remain, all against top-90 opponents. Lose them all and Bama goes sub-.500 in league play. (Note: Bama and LSU play each other in Baton Rouge Wednesday. Winner has a glimmer of hope, loser feels terrible. Games like that are why the college hoops regular season does matter, and why the notion of a 128-team tournament is ridiculous.)

Illinois (36): The Fightin' Illini look far removed from the Williams-Head-Brown days, losing six of their last nine and falling to 3-5 in Big Ten play and 45th in the RPI. Most recent: a 17-point loss to former pin-cushion Purdue. The good news: The schedule lightens up, and the 'Ni could be favored in six or seven of their last eight. The bad news: Eighth place in a sketchy league means they're not exactly operating from a position of strength.

Wichita State (37): The Shockers' 2006 Sweet 16 run and 8-0 start on this season seem a long time ago. They're 5-8 since then and 5-6 in the Missouri Valley, where every game seems to be decided by a handful of points. Packing a 61 RPI doesn't help. The good news: Early wins at LSU and Syracuse will resonate with the committee. The bad news: A losing record in the Valley will resonate just as much, maybe more.

Georgia Tech (38): At 13-7 and a damaging 2-5 in the ACC, losers of three straight by a total of 39 points, the Yellow Jackets have slid down that slippery slope onto the bubble. The good news: Six home games left, and just four on the road. The bad news: Tech is winless (0-5) in true road games to date.

BUZZER BEATER

When thirsty in the biggest of big cities, New York, The Minutes suggests a pint of Brooklyn Lager (39) at Mustang Harry's (40), just a couple blocks down Seventh Ave. from Madison Square Garden. Just don't go there looking for a lot of upbeat chatter about the local basketball teams, from college right through the pros.

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.