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Kudos to Alabama coach Anthony Grant

I know Jeremy Lin.

Well, at least I interviewed him two years ago, and I'm slightly hurt that my critical role in his emergence hasn't been unearthed, dissected, and written about yet.

I knew Lin was good after watching him drop 30 on Connecticut (yep, I'm that smart). He was technically sound, his dad's video instructions from childhood creating a fundamentally solid basketball player in a physically gifted athlete.

I didn't know he'd be this good, nor did I know he'd become an NBA/Internet/international phenom.
If I did, you wouldn't be reading these words right now because I'd be sipping a fruity umbrella drink from the comforts of my private villa on a remote beach somewhere.

As for college basketball (besides Lin), here's what I know, think I know and don't know.

Five things I know

1. Anthony Grant should be commended.

Fighting for NCAA relevancy, fighting to right a season that is threatening to go off course, the Alabama coach meted out suspensions to four starters for violating team rules.

He didn't have to.

Whatever Tony Mitchell, JaMychal Green, Andrew Steele and Trevor Releford did to earn their coach's ire and suspensions were private, in-house mistakes. There were no public arrests or street fights, nothing that would force Grant's hand.

Yet the Alabama coach benched them anyway, knowing full well it would likely cost the Crimson Tide a game against LSU (which it did) and realizing it could unmoor a season holding on for dear life for an NCAA bid.

Coaches like to talk about being teachers, that they are about more than X's and O's. But when life lessons get in the way of wins and wins threaten job security, somehow those X's and O's get awfully important.

In standing his ground, Grant sent a strong and critical message to his team, that how you accord yourself off the court is every bit as important as how you play on it.

Kudos to him.

2. And this is why …

More than a year ago, Tom Izzo dismissed Korie Lucious from the team, a stunning decision since at the time, Michigan State was spiraling toward mediocrity, coming off back-to-back losses and holding a 12-7 record.

Coupled with Chris Allen's departure at the end of the previous season, Izzo clearly was taking offense out of his team's pocket.

And last season didn't end well, with the Spartans spiraling to a 19-15 finish and a first-round bounce from the NCAA tournament. But Izzo's decision to stick to his guns and value more than the bottom line is paying off this season. Michigan State, hot off its upset of Ohio State, is now getting talked about as a Final Four contender. The Spartans are 20-5 and getting better as the season progresses.

3. I will miss West Virginia in the Big East.

I could be alone in this. Certainly the Mountaineers, with their protracted divorce and costly alimony, don't leave singing the good praises of their former league.

And I will admit in my previous life as a Villanova beat writer, trips to Morgantown were not always high on my wish list.

It could be because I was still scarred from a trip I took as an undergrad. Before the game, fans burned Penn State flags at tailgates and when WVU beat Penn State for the first time in ages they set off smoke bombs in the stands. I vividly remember standing in the tunnel and watching the Nittany Lion running full steam ahead with the team trailing behind him.

But I digress.

West Virginia basketball was a good addition to the league. It gave us Kevin Pittsnogle, and it gave us Bob Huggins' sweatsuits.
The league will continue as it did before WVU joined, but this is just the first of three crummy goodbyes.

4. UConn doesn't need Jim Calhoun; it needs Dr. Phil.

The Huskies are dysfunction in motion, a team that is unraveling its way to the bubble, with six losses in their past eight games.

Calhoun is still out, tending to the spinal stenosis in his lower back, but not even the Hall of Fame coach can cure what ails this club because the problem isn't on the court. It's in their heads.

The latest evidence came after UConn lost badly to Syracuse. Tyler Olander took to Twitter to vent his frustrations at fair-weather fans: "Through this losing stretch weve had all Ive come to learn is #huskynation is smaller then i thought #fakeassfans."

Now does Olander have a point? Well sure. The same fans who were quick to laud UConn at the beginning of the season are only too quick to hop off the bandwagon and throw the Huskies under it.

But Olander also should have more pressing things to worry about than what fans are saying on message boards: namely, what in the world is wrong with his team?

5. Good eats in CoMo

Thanks to everyone who offered tips on where to go during my visit to Columbia, Mo., over the weekend.

I did as directed, stopping at Shakespeare's for pizza and Harpo's for a beverage and can report that, as one who prefers bars where your sneakers stick to the floor over clubs, both were a big hit.

I will admit, however, to being something of a Northeast Italian pizza snob and while the pie at Shakespeare's was good, I still prefer what I can get at Trenton's DeLorenzo.

Also a big thanks to my colleague, Michael Kim, who pointed me to Bleu for something a little more upscale. The postgame meal there was a perfect finish to a good weekend.

Five things I think I know

1. The best BracketBusters game might not be the one everyone is talking about.

While all eyes are on Murray, Ky., this weekend when the Racers host Saint Mary's, perhaps the most critical buster game will be played in Omaha.

That's where Creighton hosts Long Beach State. The Bluejays got a much-needed win on Tuesday night, beating Southern Illinois to halt a three-game skid. But with wins against San Diego State, Tulsa and Wichita State to hang its hat on, Creighton could use another good victory.

The 49ers offer the chance. Long Beach State hasn't lost since Christmas Day and is 12-0 in the Big West.

2. Harvard fans should be nervous.

A lot has to happen for the Crimson to lose their edge in the Ivy League race, but those who remember last season remember those things can happen.

Now most folks presume that even if Harvard somehow tumbles out of the automatic bid spot, it will still be awarded an at-large bid. I think the Crimson deserve one, especially in this unruly season.

But a few things to consider: The selection committee has never rewarded the Ancient Eight with a second bid. Not when Penn and Princeton were tussling at the top, not ever.

And for Armageddon to happen, for Harvard to play its way out of the easy street path to the NCAA tournament, the Crimson will have to suffer a bad loss or worse, a bad loss at home. That won't play well in the Indianapolis conference room.

Only one other Ivy team has an RPI above 100 -- Princeton sneaks in at 97 -- and the Crimson would play the Tigers in a rematch in Cambridge on Feb. 24.
Using ESPN Stats & Information's new BPI system, it gets worse: Penn (135) and Princeton (148) are miles away from Harvard (43).

My simple, thoroughly analytical advice to Harvard and Tommy Amaker: win.

3. We haven't seen the last of Butler.

Quoted in a terrific New York Times behind-the-scenes piece this week, Butler coach Brad Stevens told his team, "Don't let anyone write your obituary until you're dead."

Yeah, those obit writers might as well take a good break, because once again it is mid-February, and here comes Butler.

With Cleveland State fading, losing three in a row including a home loss to Butler, the Bulldogs are rising. Butler has won three in a row and four of its past five to climb to 10-6 in the Horizon League.

The Bulldogs have three games left, two in the comfortable confines of Hinkle Fieldhouse and then a regular-season showdown at league-leading Valparaiso.

Butler might not win the regular season, but if someone asked me to bet against the Bulldogs in the Horizon League tournament, I'd laugh. Loudly.


4. It's about to be more of the same for Northwestern.

Barring a miracle run through the Big Ten tournament, the Wildcats will continue to think of the NCAA tourney as just a distant rumor.
Northwestern lost to Indiana on Wednesday night to drop to 15-10 overall and just 5-8 in the conference. That is not a bubble record; this is not a bubble team.

In fact, things could easily slide from worse to awful here before the season is out. Northwestern has to play Minnesota, Michigan and Ohio State at home. None of those are gimmes, even at home. And the Wildcats have to travel to Penn State and Iowa, neither necessarily a walkover on the road.

5. Who will be the last undefeated in conference play.

Murray State's loss took the fun out of the hunt for true perfection, but six teams are still vying to remain perfect in their leagues: Kentucky, Long Beach State, Utah Valley, Bucknell, Mississippi Valley State and Texas-Arlington.

Long Beach State, Bucknell and Texas-Arlington all have to play at the team sitting right behind them in their standings. Mississippi Valley State will play three of its final five on the road and as for Utah Valley, does going undefeated in a six-team league really count?

Which leaves Kentucky. Logic says the Wildcats should have the toughest time to win out, but if you've seen the SEC lately, you'd leave logic by the side of the road.

Ergo, the pick is Kentucky.

Five things I don't know

1. If any other coach is as candid as Illinois' Bruce Weber.

Plenty of folks in and around the state are heaping mad at Weber, and I get it. His team is underachieving again, losing seven of eight to play its way off the bubble.

But in a business rife with coaches constantly trying to spin-doctor the truth, Weber is as honest as they come. Sometimes to his own detriment.

His days now numbered at Illinois, Weber met with the media after losing to Purdue on Wednesday. Usually when coaches are facing the executioner, they are about as easy to deal with as a cactus: prickly, angry and looking to deflect any conversation about their status.

Not Weber.

Other coaches this season have been busy heaping blame squarely on their players' shoulders. Weber took it on himself.

"Instead of creating toughness and developing a team, I coached not to lose all season, and that's really sad, to be honest,'' he said.

He admitted he "molly-coddled" players too much and failed to create a culture, instead of concentrating too much on simply winning. His self-assessment is dead-on, which is why he'll be fired, but give the man his due for taking the blame instead of passing the buck.

2. Which teams are in which conferences.

With the new connection between the Mountain West and Conference USA, I am now officially lost.

San Diego State, currently in the Mountain West, is ditching and won't be part of the merger. It will play football in the Big East and basketball in the Big West.

Boise State is also heading out of the Mountain West, playing football in the Big East and basketball in the WAC.

Hawaii, in the WAC, is in the merger, but only for football. It will play basketball in the Big West.

I know a lot of folks who get paid a lot of money dreamed up these terrific solutions.

I can't help but wonder if they are the same people who dreamed up the Abbott & Costello routine.

Where are the Aztecs? First base!

3. Where rock bottom is

I thought we saw the most offensive offense on Tuesday night, when Texas Tech put up 38 points in a loss to Texas A&M -- or two fewer points in 40 minutes than Missouri scored in 18 against Oklahoma State.

And then came Wednesday, when SMU played UAB.

The Mustangs scored 28 points … in the entire game.

4. If Frank Martin can keep it clean.

But I give the Kansas State coach credit for trying. Every Lent I tell myself I'm going to give up cursing and usually before the ashes on my forehead disappear, I've blown it.

So I give Martin props for promising to clean up his language and asking his students to do the same. Cursing is lazy and I admittedly cringe when I hear student sections going for the profane instead of the profound.

In fact, buoyed by Martin's vow to swear off swearing, I'm going to channel my inner Thelma from Scooby Doo and get an early jump on my annual Lenten vow.

Jinkies!

5. Who has the most clever pep band?

I have logged enough hours in enough gyms this season to earn a guest star role in LMFAO's "Party Rock Anthem" video. It is to this season what the Black-Eyed Peas' "I Gotta Feeling" was to last year, what Gary Glitter is to eternity.

I hum it to the point that my young kids, who have Taio Cruz's "Dynamite" on a loop, get annoyed.

I'm looking for original, for pep bands that play more obscure but equally clever songs (and if anyone nominates "Don't Stop Believin'" or "Livin' on a Prayer" as either obscure or clever, I reserve the right to smash your band's drums and stuff socks in its trumpets).

I have seen and heard a few in my day, but I will welcome any and all nominations. Send them to me on Twitter: @dgoneil1, or via email: espnoneil@live.com.

Dana O'Neil covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at espnoneil@live.com. Follow Dana on Twitter: @dgoneil1.