Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college basketball (Rick Pitino (1) Colonel Sanders suit sold separately):
Welcome to the special Valentine's edition of The Minutes, where all you need is (Kevin) Love.
• Power Couples (think Bill and Hillary Clinton):
John Wooden and Lew Alcindor (2). Won three NCAA titles in three tries, and it would have been four had freshmen been eligible back then. They lost a total of two games together, winning 88.
Wooden and Bill Walton (3). Seemed like a bit of an odd couple at times, Walton the free spirit from San Diego and Wooden the buttoned-down square from rural Indiana. But nobody complained about the results: two NCAA titles and a record 88-game winning streak.
Magic Johnson and Greg Kelser (4). Magic threw the pretty passes, and Kelser dunked them home for the 1979 Michigan State championship team. The Spartans won all five games in that NCAA Tournament run by double digits because nobody could stop that tandem.
Bobby Hurley and Christian Laettner (5). Played together in three straight NCAA title games, winning the last two. Hurley was the supremely tough Jersey point guard, Laettner the supremely smug big man from western New York. Each was a Final Four Most Outstanding Player during that great Duke run.
Mike Bibby and Miles Simon (6). The dynamic backcourt that led Arizona to the '97 title, beating three No. 1 seeds along the way. Simon scored 30 in the NCAA title game upset of Kentucky and was the Final Four MOP, while freshman Bibby had 19. No other Wildcat reached double figures. (This spot could have belonged to high-flying Kentucky wings Ron Mercer and Derek Anderson, who were known as Air Pair, Thunder and Lightning AND Butch and Sundance. If Anderson hadn't blown a knee in late January of that season, Kentucky would have rolled Zona in that title game.)
• Dysfunctional Couples (think Britney Spears and K-Fed):
John Chaney and John Calipari (7). Cal has aggravated a lot of people in his career, but The Minutes knows of only one opposing coach who publicly threatened to kill him.
Bob Knight and Myles Brand (8). Brand goes down in history as the only college administrator willing to stand up to Knight. Firing the legend probably helped Brand land the job as NCAA president. It definitely helped Brand earn Knight's lifetime enmity.
Bruce Weber and Kelvin Sampson (9). Might be the nation's frostiest current relationship between two coaches in the same league.
Bob Huggins and Nancy Zimpher (10). Another coach-president power struggle that ended badly for the coach. Don't expect them to exchange pleasantries when West Virginia visits Cincinnati next season.
Larry Eustachy and random Missouri coeds (11). The pics of the Iowa State coach crashing a college party after a road game are why Eustachy now is off-radar at Southern Mississippi.
• Uber Couple:
The Minutes and Ashley Judd (12). Do not disturb.
It's not all roses and romance right now in college hoops. Survey the landscape, and you will find two in-season firings -- Oregon State (13) and LSU (14) -- plus whatever they are calling that bizarre Jessie Evans leave-of-absence/firing at San Francisco. (Eddie Sutton calls the USF thing his chance to win 800 games -- and lower his winning percentage in the process.)
The Minutes doesn't like in-season firings, unless there are scandal-related circumstances. Oregon State canned Jay John in mid-January, and LSU did the deed with John Brady -- who did take the Tigers to the 2006 Final Four -- last Friday. Even though the bristly Brady cost himself a lot of political capital following that season by making a naked bid for more money from LSU, he should have finished out this season.
In the same vein, The Minutes isn't a fan of the in-season quit job in Lubbock. One day, Bob Knight was "just tired" and couldn't finish the season. The next day, he was leaving open the possibility of returning to coaching as soon as next season. Could be that Bob was just tired of this Texas Tech team, not tired of coaching.
(And remember, Knight is the loyalty fanatic whose former players and supporters came out of the woodwork to criticize guys like Jason Collier, Luke Recker and Neil Reed when they transferred out of Indiana.)
Relationships On The Rocks
Other coaches who might be headed to divorce court at season's end:
Sean Sutton (15), Oklahoma State. He's a good guy, but the Cowboys have yet to win a true road game under Eddie's son. They have lost 19 straight, the last a 21-point pasting at Kansas State over the weekend. Oklahoma State is 9-22 in Big 12 play under Sean. A school that made the 2004 Final Four has lost its way amid this failed succession agreement.
Leonard Hamilton (16), Florida State. He now is in his sixth season in Tallahassee, and he is well on his way to missing the NCAA Tournament for the sixth straight time. Hamilton has had plenty of good players but not many good results. He is 33-56 in ACC games.
Bill Carmody (17), Northwestern. The success Carmody had at Princeton has not translated at all to the Big Ten, where the Wildcats remain miles removed from their first NCAA Tournament berth. They are 0-10 in an underwhelming Big Ten this season and have just one victory over a team with an RPI better than 223.
Mark Gottfriend (18), Alabama. The Minutes has heard chatter about Gottfried being in trouble but questions whether the Crimson Tide care enough to fire a coach who has kept them consistently competitive. Basketball is important to Alabama fans only as a brief diversion between football signing day and football spring practice, and the Tide have been consistently better than rival Auburn in recent years. What more do they really want?
Tim Welsh (19), Providence. The Friars haven't had a winning record in the Big East since 2004 and haven't managed an RPI of better than 76 since then, either. This Providence team upset Connecticut on Jan. 17 on the road but has lost five of six since then to fade from NCAA Tournament contention.
Norm Roberts (20), St. John's. There are compelling reasons to give Roberts more time: He took over a scandal-ruined program and is in only his fourth year of a major rebuilding job. And now his young team is on a three-game Big East winning streak, something that hasn't happened since January 2006. But this is a program that expects to win like the big boys, and it has been a long time since the Red Storm did that.
Bobby Lutz (21), Charlotte. The move out of Conference USA hasn't been kind to the 49ers. They are better this year than last, but after losses to Monmouth, Hofstra, Tulsa and Richmond, they look like they will miss the Big Dance for the third straight year as a member of the Atlantic 10. Lutz has been around for a lot of very good times in Charlotte, but they seem like a long time ago now.
Minutes Man Crushes
Sending out a stack of valentines to those having big years in Hoopsworld:
• Conference Division
The Atlantic 10 (22). Since Saint Joseph's was ranked No. 1 and made a run to the Elite Eight in 2004, it has been lean times for this league. But the A-10 is cycling up right now, having a year similar to Missouri Valley's breakthrough 2006.
The A-10 has a .647 nonconference winning percentage, its best in 14 years and the fourth-best since the league was founded 31 seasons ago. The conference RPI ranks seventh nationally, after being 10th last year, 11th in 2006 and 15th in 2005. Correspondingly, the top teams' RPI rankings have been building steadily as well:
Xavier (23) has improved from 77 in 2006 to 33 in 2007 to 14 at present. Had the officials correctly called Ohio State's Greg Oden for an intentional foul in the NCAA second round last year, the Buckeyes would have been eliminated and the Musketeers would have made the Sweet 16. And this year's team is better -- smaller inside but more athletic and dangerous outside. The Muskies (20-4, 8-1 A-10) have blown hot and cold (killing Indiana and Kansas State, losing by 19 to Temple), but they have established themselves as the team to beat in the league.
Dayton (24) has improved from 183 to 78 to 15. Some Flyers fans were getting antsy with coach Brian Gregory, but this year's team has terminated any of that talk. UD got huge nonconference wins at Louisville and by 25 at home over Pittsburgh to establish its credentials, and it has weathered some major injury setbacks during conference play. If 6-foot-8 freshman Chris Wright makes it back from a broken leg suffered in early January, Dayton (16-6, 4-5 A-10) will be formidable in postseason play.
Massachusetts (25) has improved from 131 to 61 to 21. Hot coach Travis Ford lost 2007 A-10 Player of the Year Stephane Lasme and fellow inside power Rashaun Freeman, and the Minutemen were picked by at least one preseason magazine to finish 11th in the league. Instead, UMass (15-8, 4-5 A-10) has fully implemented the PitinoBall pace Ford played in college at Kentucky and runs opponents ragged. Gary Forbes and Ricky Harris both rank among the top five in the league in scoring.
Rhode Island (26) has improved from 152 to 109 to 25. Underrated coach Jim Baron has an effective all-court player in 6-8 Will Daniels, a silly shooter in son Jimmy and a sublimely named point guard in Parfait Bitee. The Rams are 20-4, 6-3 A-10 and haven't lost a game by double digits.
Saint Joseph's (27) has fluctuated from 43 to 95 and back to 43. The Hawks (15-7, 6-3 A-10) have excellent frontcourt players in Ahmad Nivins and Pat Calathes, although Nivins recently has missed time with an injury. They had close losses to Syracuse and Xavier and blew out Villanova in a Big 5 rivalry game. They could use a strong finish to feel confident about securing an NCAA Tournament bid.
Duquesne (28) has improved from 308 to 222 to 90. This program was a train wreck in '06. And after five players were wounded before last season in a campus shooting, new coach Ron Everhart also went with a PitinoBall, full-court-scramble style to camouflage weaknesses. It worked so well that Everhart has stuck with it this year and gotten continued results. The Dukes (15-7, 5-4 A-10) have broken 100 three times, broken 90 nine times and broken 80 14 times.
• Coach Division
Matt Painter (29), Purdue. He is building it the right way at his alma mater. Last year, his second as coach of the Boilermakers, resulted in 22 wins and an NCAA Tournament victory. This year, with a nucleus of freshmen and sophomores, Purdue (19-5, 10-1 Big Ten) has jumped to 23rd in the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll and is on top of the Big Ten standings. He would win The Minutes' vote for national coach of the year if not for
Keno Davis (30), Drake. Davis' first-year roll is getting ridiculous. Drake -- a non-factor for decades in the Missouri Valley -- has won 20 straight games and risen to sixth in the RPI. Along the way, the Bulldogs (22-1, 13-0 MVC) have mastered the art of winning the close ones in a league in which almost every game is close. They have won 13 games decided by 10 points or fewer, including their past eight straight.
Brad Stevens (31), Butler. When you are 31 and look 21, it can be tough to command respect. But that hasn't been the case for the Bulldogs' rookie coach, who has kept the Butler (21-2, 10-2 Horizon) machine rolling behind senior guards Mike Green and A.J. Graves. They have been supplemented by freshman post player Matt Howard, making the Bulldogs a legit threat for back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances. Meanwhile, former coach Todd Lickliter is counting his money and losing a ton of games at Iowa.
Herb Sendek (32), Arizona State. Life in the desert is agreeing with the Tobacco Road evacuee. Sendek's jump-before-you're-pushed exit from North Carolina State resulted in a brutal first season (8-22, 2-16 Pac-10). But Year 2 has reminded people how well he can coach. Sendek landed McDonald's All-American James Harden and has plugged him in alongside junior forward Jeff Pendergraph for a powerful 1-2 punch. The Sun Devils are a startling 15-7, 5-5 in the league, and they are in the NCAA Tournament hunt.
• Unsung Rivalry Division
Stephen F. Austin-Sam Houston State (33). And you thought the Southland Conference didn't have anything captivating to offer? Think again. The Bearkats (that's Sam) and Lumberjacks (that's Stephen F.) are a combined 37-7 and packing double-digit RPIs (64 for Stephen, 74 for Sam). Sam won the first meeting by a deuce in January at home, with Round 2 scheduled for Feb. 21 at Stephen. This matchup isn't just for Kyle Whelliston anymore; it's worth keeping tabs on for anyone who is looking for a potential Big Dance sleeper team to pull a first-round upset.
• Player Division
Patrick Beverley (34), Arkansas. He's a 6-1 guard. So how in the name of Charles Barkley is he averaging 11 rebounds per game in SEC play? Tenacity and big ups.
Jason Thompson (35), Rider. He is a walking double-double, racking up 16 of them this season -- three of them 20-20 games. If he were shooting his free throws better (58.6 percent this year, down from 72.4 last year), he would be averaging more than his current 20.1 ppg.
Demetric Bennett (36), South Alabama. He has dropped five or more 3s in a game five times this season, and he has made 22 of his past 36 shots behind the arc. He also is averaging six rebounds to go along with 20.6 points for a 20-4 team.
Kyle Hines (37), UNC Greensboro. At 6-6, he does everything a 6-10 guy can do: score inside (18.9 per game), rebound (9.5 per game) and block shots (3.1 per game).
Kyle Singler (38), Duke. A more natural small forward, he is playing out of position inside but making it work as Duke's second-leading scorer and top rebounder. The 6-8 Singler is dragging bigger defenders away from the hoop on offense, shooting 3-pointers over them and opening the middle for drives. Singler has made 9 of 19 3-point shots the past three games and has posted consecutive double-doubles.
And a dozen black Minutes roses to
Veteran official Bob Donato (39) for hand-delivering a game to Georgetown on Monday night against Villanova with a preposterous hip-check call with a tenth of a second left, 80 feet from the hoop. Advantage gained? Really?
It continued a trend of dispiritingly bad calls this season. The Minutes is reticent to criticize officiating because it's a brutally difficult job. But quite frankly, they are not doing it very well anywhere in college basketball this season. Over the past five days, The Minutes watched four games that included blatantly missed calls at key junctures. Let's hope they tighten up in the remaining month of the regular season.
When hungry and thirsty in Champaign, Ill., The Minutes recommends the thin-crust pizza special and quality beer selection at Jupiter's (40), right downtown. Just don't wear a crimson "Got Gordon?" T-shirt when you visit, and everything should be fine.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.