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Forde Minutes: Valentine's Day messages

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college basketball (Gonzaga (1) mushroom-and-oregano "pizza toppings" sold separately).

With Valentine's Day on deck, The Minutes has gotten busy printing up its own sayings on those awful-tasting candy hearts and is passing them out this week:

MISS YOU
College hoops' Fellowship of the (Championship) Ring has largely recused itself from prominence this February. Check out the number of Hall of Fame coaches (present or future) whose teams are bombing right now:

Mike Krzyzewski (2): Four-game losing streak, losing record in ACC play, more losses to come. So many sad little Cameron Crazies beneath the face paint. It's gotten so bad that the Duke football players are rumored to be signing a sympathy card for Coach K.

What's gone wrong: Young Blue Devils are shockingly bad offensively and occasionally inept in close games.

Who's enjoying it: The rest of Tobacco Road, but that's hardly all. There is a schadenfreude outbreak from Chestnut Hill to Coral Gables and across much of the rest of the nation, as well.

Jim Calhoun (3): Connecticut has lost six of its last eight, has a losing Big East record and isn't going to the Big Dance without a Madison Square Miracle -- if the Huskies make the Big East Tournament. Haven't beaten an RPI top-50 opponent all season.

What's gone wrong: The top 13 players are freshmen and sophomores. No more explanation needed.

Who's enjoying it: Geno Auriemma is not believed to be steeped in depression in the women's hoops offices. Neither is the UConn media horde that has endured -- and occasionally fueled -- Calhoun's acidity.

Bob Knight (4): Texas Tech's five-game losing streak was The General's longest since 1972, his first year at Indiana, before Tuesday's buzzer-beating win at Texas A&M. Chances of avoiding a second straight sub-.500 record in Big 12 play: about the same as Knight's making it through practice without dropping an f-bomb.

What's gone wrong: The Minutes was going to ask on the Big 12 teleconference Monday, but no Red Raiders coach was on the call. Shocking.

Who's enjoying it: You mean besides Neil Reed, Ron Felling, Connie Chung, Rance Pugmire, Mike Davis, Clarence Doninger, the hunting buddy Knight plugged with buckshot, the former Texas Tech chancellor Knight verbally napalmed at a salad bar and every Aggie on the planet? Not many people.

Jim Boeheim (5): His Syracuse team has lost four of its last six -- none to top-50 opponents -- to slide into dangerous bubble territory. At 17-8 overall, 6-5 in the Big East and No. 63 in the RPI, nothing is guaranteed. The Orange's final five games are against progressively tougher opponents: South Florida (154 RPI), UConn (91), Providence (52), Georgetown (26) and Villanova (13).

What's gone wrong: Syracuse puts the ball in Eric Devendorf's hands a lot, and that can keep both teams in the game. He's had 41 assists and 38 turnovers the past 10 games, less than ideal for a lead guard. And you'd like to see a guy who's hoisted 250 shots hit more than 40 percent of them.

Who's enjoying it: Plenty of bubble teams, hoping they might be the one to slide in if Syracuse slides out.

Tom Izzo (6): A fourth straight loss, last week at Purdue, was bad. Scoring 38 points in that loss was worse. Scoring 12 in the second half might have been rock-bottom. Michigan State at least has four straight now at home, presenting a great opportunity to resolidify an NCAA Tournament bid that is danger of disappearing.

What's gone wrong: Scoring 65 points in a 40-minute game should not be that hard, even in the slow-paced, defense-oriented Big Ten. But the Spartans have had trouble getting there with regularity this year, especially in league play. They're 13-0 when scoring 65 or more, 3-8 when scoring 64 or fewer.

Who's enjoying it: Michigan coach Tommy Amaker. Because misery really does love company.

UR GREAT
Players The Minutes has a man-crush on this month:

Roy Hibbert (7), Georgetown: Not terribly exciting to watch, but it's amazing to think how far he's come. Why have the Hoyas won seven straight and asserted themselves as one of those Scary Teams To Watch the rest of the way? In large part because their monstrous center is playing like a monster. Hibbert has averaged 16.4 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.1 blocks in Georgetown's seven-game winning streak and shot a ridiculous 73 percent from the field. Not only that, he sets screens that are harder to get around than Beltway traffic (ask Marquette) and provides 86 inches and 280 pounds of defensive deterrent to would-be drivers of the lane.

Acie Law IV(8), Texas A&M: His back-to-back performances against Kansas and Texas -- in a span of 48 hours -- were as good as anything The Minutes has seen this year: 44 points, 22 assists, big shot after big shot, against two quality opponents. Law has a streaky stroke -- made 10 of 14 3s in the first seven games, then 2 of 16 over the next six, now 15 of 29 over the last 11 games -- but seems to be taking and making them at the right times now. Law appears to have at least two chapters of "The Great Gatsby" tattooed on one arm, which might preoccupy his defenders and allow him to get off those shots.

Chris Lofton (9), Tennessee: Speaking of Mr. Big Shot, this is him. No 6-footer in America is more successful at making jumpers with defenders in his face, especially with games hanging in the balance. His two most memorable shots this year: the absurd 28-footer with Kevin Durant flying at him with 18 seconds left in regulation against Texas; and the only shot he hit against LSU, after missing four games with an ankle injury, a gutsy 3 that triggered the decisive run in the game.

Julian Wright (10), Kansas: It's not just the 33-and-12 he hung on Missouri on the road Saturday -- although, hey, that's a pretty strong place to start. It's the fact that Wright can get you 11 boards in 19 minutes, like he did against Kansas State. Or six steals in 20 minutes, like he did against Colorado. Or five blocked shots in 28 minutes, like he did against Oral Roberts. There is no corner of the stat sheet he cannot stuff, and The Minutes loves a well-rounded baller.

Taurean Green (11), Florida: The Minutes adores all five Gators starters for their endless supply of unselfishness, but the terminally underrated Green has a knack for the big play at the right time. He immediately shut up more than 24,000 howling fans in Rupp Arena Saturday with a 3-pointer 12 seconds into the game, then added another big 3 when Kentucky had come back from 16 down to within four in the first half. With the lead just three midway through the second half, he drove and drew the third foul on Wildcats center Randolph Morris -- who was tearing up the Gators inside -- forcing him to the bench for a while. Naturally, Green made both of his free throws after that play.

YES OR NO?
Players whose on-court mood swings affect their teams' performance:

Cartier Martin (12), Kansas State: The Wildcats are 11-1 when he shoots 50 percent or better from the field and 7-6 when he shoots worse than 50 percent. But coach Bob Huggins says not to simply chalk that up to Martin's shot selection. "We've got to do a better job of getting him shots," Huggins said. (Might also be nice if Martin were doing a few other things besides shooting and rebounding. He's gone five straight games without an assist and 10 without a steal.)

Nick Young (13), USC: Young is averaging five free throws attempted per game in the Trojans' 18 victories, and just two FTA in their seven defeats. When he's putting pressure on defenses and getting to the line, USC is harder to guard.

Wayne Ellington (14), North Carolina: He's a gorgeous shooter, but the Tar Heels are 4-3 when he launches seven or more 3-pointers, 18-0 when he shoots six or fewer. Roy Williams is the king of inside-out offense, and it generally works best when the perimeter guys are doing more post feeding than 3-jacking. (Admittedly, there is more 3-jacking going on when coming from behind, as Carolina spent much of the time doing in its three losses this year.)

HOT STUFF
Underappreciated coaches whose teams are rolling:

Al Skinner (15), Boston College: The Eagles were supposed to collapse last month after center Sean Williams was booted from the team. Instead they lead the ACC, and if they sweep Duke and North Carolina in Chestnut Hill this week they'd be well-positioned to win the league's regular-season title. A lot of people thought Skinner would miss right-hand man Bill Coen, who left to become the head coach at Northeastern, but he just keeps it rolling -- at a place where autopilot isn't a given. Skinner's record the last seven seasons: 161-58. A whole lot of coaches would take that.

Brad Brownell (16), Wright State: His squabble last spring with the North Carolina-Wilmington administration resulted in a terrible loss for that school and a surprising windfall for Wright State, which is 19-8 after four straight non-winning seasons. The Indiana native was 83-40 in Wilmington, so he's just kept doing what he was doing with different players.

Chris Lowery (17), Southern Illinois: There was widespread speculation the the Salukis' run of brilliance under Bruce Weber and Matt Painter might peter out under the young Lowery. Instead he's 70-24 in his third year and has SIU ticketed for a third straight NCAA Tournament berth on his watch. SIU's victory over Creighton Saturday all but locked up the Missouri Valley Conference title for the Salukis.

John Pelphrey (18), South Alabama: The Jaguars broke through last year with a dominating win in the Sun Belt Conference tournament and seem to have recaptured that mojo the past few weeks. They've won 12 straight, but still are operating outside the at-large parameters. It easily could come down to a South Alabama-Western Kentucky tournament showdown for the second straight season.

Howie Dickenman (19), Central Connecticut State: There is one Blue Devils team out there playing well right now. CCSU has won 11 straight games, the last five all by double digits, to take command of the Northeast Conference. Not quite the same as the ACC, but, hey, Howie Dickenman isn't being paid what Mike Krzyzewski is being paid, either.

HOT-T
That would be Minutes Girl Ashley Judd (20), a regrettable no-show in Rupp Arena Saturday night for Kentucky-Florida.

TIMES CHANGE, TEAMS CHANGE

Who has improved the most since last season? Who has fallen the farthest? The Minutes has checked 336 RPI numbers (through Sunday's games) from 2006 and compared them with 2007 to come up with the answers:

Five biggest risers:
Oakland (21). Plus 176, up from 285 at the end of last year to 109.

Appalachian State (22). Plus 175, up from 235 to to 60, and challenging Davidson's supremacy in the Southern Conference.

Jacksonville (23). Plus 149, up from 331 to 182. Dolphins won exactly one game last season under first-year coach Cliff Warren. Year 2 has been much better.

Washington State (24). Plus 139, up from 166 to 27. That's why rookie head coach Tony Bennett is one of the national favorites for Coach of the Year.

Duquesne (25). Plus 137, up from 308 to 171. Don't forget first-year Dukes coach Ron Everhart on your COY ballots, either, given what that program went through before the season.

Five biggest fallers:
Iona (26). Minus 256, down from 64 last year to 320 this year. At least the Gaels finally won a game.

UNC-Wilmington (27). Minus 230, down from 28 to 258. First Brownell left as coach, then the best returning player, T.J. Carter, was lost for the year to injury. Bad combination.

Wisconsin-Milwaukee (28). Minus 188, down from 52 to 240. Bruce Pearl is gone, and now so are the best players he recruited.

La Salle (29). Minus 179, down from 103 to 282. Just 3-14 since Dec. 20, with two of those wins over teams ranked 300 or lower.

Southern (30). Minus 177, down from 132 to 309. An NCAA Tournament team last year, the Jaguars opened 0-10 this year.

(It only seems like UConn -- down 88 spots, from 3 to 91 -- has fallen furthest.)

UPDATING THE BIG 12's BIG CHANGES

When this season began, a stunning number of head coaches in the Big 12 had never seen the students wave the wheat in Phog Allen Fieldhouse, had never experienced the claustrophobia of Gallagher-Iba Arena and had never been serenaded by the Antlers in Columbia, Mo.

Now that we're more than halfway through conference play it's time to check in on the six first-year head coaches in the league and see how they've done.

Top of the class: Jeff Capel (31), Oklahoma. Picked to finish ninth before the season, the Sooners are very much in the hunt for a first-round Big 12 tournament bye. "This year was supposed to be a down year for them, but he has them competing very hard," said Baylor coach Scott Drew. "Especially defensively."

They're 6-4 in league play and riding a four-game winning streak, despite a two-game January suspension of leading scorer and rebounder Longar Longar by the Big 12 office for a flagrant elbow. Capel has developed senior forward Nate Carter into the team's best player in league play.

Bob Huggins (32), Kansas State. Even after hyped early recruit Bill Walker blew out a knee, the Wildcats have been a force in the Big 12 race as Huggins has put his stamp on the team. They've won eight of their last nine games and right now should be on the inside of the tournament bubble, thanks in large part to a win in Austin earlier this month. Huggins has the chance to become a hero in Manhattan Feb. 19, when Kansas comes to town.

"They're a typical Bob Huggins team," said Colorado assistant Paul Graham. "Hard-nosed, tough-minded."

Holding their own: Doc Sadler (33), Nebraska. The Cornhuskers have looked brutal at times this year (like falling behind 39-6 at home to Kansas) but have never knuckled under. They won consecutive road games over Missouri and Texas Tech earlier this month, and still have a shot at finishing .500 in league play.

Mike Anderson (34), Missouri. A 9-0 start to the season and early wins over Arkansas and Mississippi State did not translate to Big 12 success. The Tigers are just 3-7 in league play and have lost four Big 12 games in Mizzou Arena, but Anderson inherited a program light on talent and even lighter on experience with his intense, pressing style. Missouri fans are happy just to see their players breaking a sweat on a regular basis and will start expecting more tangible results in coming years.

"We're still a work in progress," Anderson said. "The people have been great. They've showed up and supported us and been in tune with what we're doing. Now we've just got to get some more players who fit our style."

Steep learning curve: Sean Sutton (35), Oklahoma State. The Cowboys are the only team in the nation that's undefeated at home and winless in true road games. That's led to some great wins (the epic three-OT battle with Texas, two OTs with Pittsburgh, and a neutral-court win over Syracuse) and some bad losses (double digits to awful Colorado, by 30 to Kansas, by 29 to Texas). Oklahoma State should still make the NCAA Tournament, but a little more was expected of a team with a talented nucleus of veteran players.

Greg McDermott (36), Iowa State. Things were looking rosy when the talent-poor Cyclones opened Big 12 play 2-0, but it's been 1-7 since then. Losses to in-state rivals Iowa and Northern Iowa (McDermott's old school) by a combined 31 points have not helped.

RUTHLESS INTERROGATION

The Minutes cornered one of the leading candidates for ACC Player of the Year, Boston College forward Jared Dudley (37), for a conversation Monday. Of course, no Q&A with Dudley could start without asking him about the insane four-point play he made with the Eagles down four in the final minutes to Florida State Sunday, throwing in a 3-pointer after being fouled.

The Minutes: How did you make that shot?

Jared Dudley: I was just basically trying to get to the free throw line, and I've been shooting the 3-ball so well. Once I made contact with him (FSU's Isaiah Swann), he didn't follow through at all and I kind of had a clean look at it. But when it went in I was a little shocked, if you look at my reaction.

Minutes: No more shocked than the rest of us. Now, how does it feel to have Boston Globe columnist, ESPN contributor and all-around basketball wise man Bob Ryan (38) as a virtual J-Dud groupie?

Dudley: It means a lot, man. Not only him being the biggest sports writer in Boston, but especially his knowledge of the game. Having him here watching me and saying he likes my game, that means a lot to me.

Minutes: You're a demonstrative guy on the floor, so you catch it from opposing fans. What do you hear most on the road in the ACC?

Dudley: What do I hear? All kinds of stuff. "Ug-ly Dud-ley," they're always saying that everywhere I go. I'm used to that. A lot of fans get mad at me because I'm always talking to the refs, but that's because I'm the team captain and it's part of my job to talk to the refs. Some fans call me Sean Paul, the rapper. I love it, though. If the fans are picking on me, it's a sign of respect.

Minutes: But calling you ugly -- doesn't that bother you?

Dudley: I only hear guys say it. If I start hearing it from girls, then I might have a problem.

Minutes: Good point. Does being an extrovert come naturally to you on the court?

Dudley: It's definitely my personality, and I've been doing it my whole life. If I didn't do it, my teammates would ask me what's wrong.

Minutes: What do you tell people back home in San Diego about the winters in Boston?

Dudley: "You should be thankful." Actually, I wouldn't want it any other way. It's a totally different climate, totally different people. I've enjoyed seeing something different.

Minutes: But I bet you don't get many visitors from home.

Dudley: No, but I'm going to have a lot this week, though. (BC hosts Duke Wednesday and North Carolina Saturday.) About eight or nine people. They come in for the big games.

BUZZER BEATER

The Minutes salutes the iron men of Becker College (39) in Massachusetts, who won a 102-98 four-overtime game Saturday against Mitchell College while playing just seven men -- one of them for only seven minutes. Three guys went the full 60 for Becker, including Shawn Fuller (53 points) and Emmanuel Masumbuko (27 points, 23 rebounds). The Minutes' spies inform that Becker (3-19, despite that effort) is coached by Ron Abegglen (40), who was the man in charge at Weber State when Harold "The Show" Arceneaux shockingly shot North Carolina out of the 1999 NCAA Tournament.

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