<
>

Some teams deserve their fate

I know this is the beginning of the best time of the year, when Champ Week leads to Selection Sunday, which begets the NCAA tournament.

I don't know if my kids agree. A year ago, my daughter introduced me to her class thusly: "This is my Mommy, Dana O'Neil. She writes for ESPN.com about college basketball. And I hate March."

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

What I Know

Coaching is a lot like parenting

Which is to say it's a really hard job.

Sports Illustrated's George Dohrmann has a terrific look on the crumbling mess that is UCLA men's basketball in recent years. Some folks read it and came away disappointed -- there was no implication of an NCAA violation, major or minor.

Instead it shone light on a critical factor in a team's success -- discipline and respect. Coaches who mete out discipline, who earn their players' respect, win. Those who don't, or who lose it along the way, stop winning.

As a mom, I feel for Ben Howland. I truly do. It is exhausting to constantly be the bad guy, to punish kids for even minor misdeeds.

It's easier to ignore the troublemaker. It's easier to forgive minor transgressions and try to worry about the larger ones.

Trouble is, one troublemaker can ruin everything and the minor mistakes almost always lead to major ones.

Connecticut should not make the NCAA tournament

Barring another five wins in five days run to the Big East tournament title, last season's NCAA champion ought to be out.

The Huskies have been given enough last chances and blown every one, most notably their loss to Providence on Tuesday night. Presented with a must-win situation, UConn instead lost to a team that had three conference wins on its résumé. .

Since Jan. 1, the Huskies are 5-11.

That's barely an NIT résumé. .

And the CAA ought to get at least two

Lots of people need to crunch numbers to discern what a good basketball team looks like. That's fine. RPI, offensive efficiency -- all of them are good barometers.

Me? I prefer to see how a team is playing.

Drexel and VCU are playing well.

Really well.

Well enough that if neither wins the CAA tournament, they both ought to get an at-large bid, and if one wins, the other ought to be invited.

Why?

Let's call it the anti-UConn Syndrome.

Since Jan. 1, the Rams are 15-3 and the Dragons 17-1.

Feel free to rant that the Big East is tougher than the CAA but also remember that the object of sports is to win games.

It's high time we reward the winners.

Teams to watch out for next week

Ah, Champ Week, when the best-laid plans of selection committees are blown up by the unexpected.

Upsets happen. They're part of the beauty of sport, but when they happen at this time of year, it causes a mad scramble in Indianapolis.

So which teams will cause hair pulling in the committee bunker? Here are five:

• Xavier. There is no logical reason to believe that the Musketeers can get their act together and salvage their season in Atlantic City. Except for the niggling little fact that X is ridiculously talented and if it can get its head right, can win the Atlantic 10 tournament.

• West Virginia. Count the triple-threat combination of Kevin Jones, Truck Bryant and Bob Huggins out at your own risk. Especially the last part.

• Old Dominion. The Monarchs have done this before. The two-time defending CAA tournament champs threw things for a loop last season by beating VCU in the tourney final.

• Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane could make things complicated in C-USA, where the foregone conclusion is Memphis and Southern Miss make the tourney.

• Northern Iowa. The Panthers were dream crushers two years ago, winning the Missouri Valley tournament and keeping Wichita State out of the dance.

The best mascot

A lot of good votes for this one -- a few for Xavier's "big blue blob," Sparty, Wu Shock from Wichita State, Bucknell's Bucky the Bison and the Jayhawk.

But the award goes to the Geoduck from The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash.

Honestly, I thought the email I received about the Geoducks was a joke until a quick Google search led me to the NAIA school's webpage.

Along with a photo of the mascot, which I found as amusing as it was disturbing, there was this helpful description:

The geoduck is a mollusk native to the Pacific Northwest. The geoduck (pronounced GOO-ee-duck) is the largest burrowing clam in the world, weighing in at anywhere from one to three pounds at maturity. The appearance of geoduck's large, protruding siphon has led to the belief that the geoduck has the properties of an aphrodisiac. The geoduck has a life expectancy of up to 150 years with the oldest recorded at 163 years.

And the fight song:

Go, Geoducks, go

Through the mud and the sand,

Let's go.

Siphon high, squirt it out,

Swivel all about,

Let it all hang out.

Go, Geoducks go,

Stretch your necks when the tide is low

Siphon high, squirt it out,

Swivel all about,

Let it all hang out.

Sadly the Geoducks have not been able to siphon high or squirt it out terribly well this season. Evergreen is 1-26 and winless in its conference.

What I Think I Know

Who will win the early Champ Week games

As a proud Jerome member for, I believe, five years and counting, I already have made my picks for the early Champ Week tournaments.

For the uninformed, the Jerome is a friendly little contest that began small and has evolved into a Twitter hashtag. The object: pick the winners in all 30 conference tournaments. It is the one that guarantees a crippling interest in what happens in the Southland Conference.

So here are my early picks. And yes, I wish I had more upsets (word to the wise: I've never won the Jerome):

Ohio Valley: Murray State

Big South: Charleston Southern

Atlantic Sun: Belmont

Missouri Valley: Wichita State

Southern: Davidson

Colonial: VCU

MAAC: Iona

West Coast: Gonzaga

Sun Belt: Denver

Summit: Oral Roberts

Horizon: Butler

Northeast: Robert Morris

Patriot: Lehigh

Big Sky: Weber State

America East: Vermont

We're not paying enough attention to North Carolina

Yes, that seems impossible, but think about it. The conversation right now is being dominated by Kentucky, Syracuse, Michigan State, Kansas and Ohio State.

No one is spending much time on the Tar Heels. Granted, that could change come Saturday if UNC gets revenge against Duke.

Still, this was the team everyone labeled as the favorite to win the title and here we are, a month out from the title game, and no one is saying much about North Carolina.

And I say that's dangerous. The Heels are loaded, as talented from top to bottom as Kentucky, and quite capable of finding that next gear in the next month.

Harvard is headed for a playoff

Again.

Why? Because Zack Rosen won't go down without a fight. The Penn senior has been absolutely sensational all season, averaging 18.5 points, 5.6 assists, 1.5 steals and 3.3 rebounds for the Quakers.

And in his four years at Penn, Rosen has never tasted the NCAA tournament, a rare drought for anyone wearing a Quakers uniform.

So I would be stunned if Penn didn't win its final three games -- at home against Brown and Yale and at rival Princeton, to force yet another one-game playoff for the Crimson.

Someone in the Pac-12 will make us all eat our words

It's inevitable. The league that has been college basketball's battering ram all season -- and deservedly so -- will put a team in the Sweet 16.

How? I have no idea.

But it will happen.

The Mountain West is a little more wide open than we suspected

There's still a good chance one of the favored three -- San Diego State, UNLV or New Mexico -- will win the tournament, but as the season winds up, it's looking more and more like someone else could make some noise.

The smartest sleeper pick: Colorado State. The Rams knocked off UNLV on Wednesday night to finish perfect at home in league play. Now 7-6 in the league with one game left, Colorado State has won three of its last four and looks as dangerous as the favorites once did.

What I don't know

When the basketball gods will align for Northwestern

Seriously, if the Wildcats were a cartoon, they'd be Wile E. Coyote, super geniuses foiled at the last minute every season.

Once again the script reads the same in Evanston, where Northwestern lost to Ohio State, blowing yet another chance in yet another season to finally earn an NCAA tournament bid.

The Wildcats are not altogether out yet. Like the Coyote, who always thinks his Acme products will save the day, Northwestern still has the Big Ten tournament to prove its worth.

Our guess? The Big Ten will speed along like the roadrunner, leaving Northwestern in its NCAA dust.

Beep-beep.

If I should be encouraged by Duke's late heroics or worried

There's no denying that what the Blue Devils have done in conference play is impressive -- they are the first team to go undefeated on the road in the ACC.

But the Devils haven't exactly taken Easy Street on the road. They coughed up the better part of a 23-point lead against woeful Wake Forest and won by eight; survived a late rally from Florida State and we all know by now about the epic comeback against North Carolina.

So do we laud Duke for its resolve or worry that the Devils' love of playing with fire might burn them next month?

What's up with Ohio State

A season ago, the Buckeyes were the loosest team in the country, pleasantly unaffected by their success and the expectations heaped upon them. Players made that goofy "Party in the USA" video and carried that sort of irreverent, happy-go-lucky attitude through March.

And now here we are. The Buckeyes have lost three of their last six (and needed to escape against desperate Northwestern) and are spiraling their way out of a top seed in the NCAA tournament. Jared Sullinger conceded that he's been playing with less fire, too consumed with how officials are calling the game, rather than just playing the game.

Whether it's the pressure to achieve what they didn't a season ago or the pull of the NBA, the Buckeyes have lost more than just games; they've lost their mojo.

They need to find it soon. May we suggest a Karaoke sing-along to Selena Gomez?

If we'll ever have a true POY this season

If ever there looked to be a season when there would be no consensus on the best player in college basketball, this would be it.

My colleague Michael Rothstein has done a straw poll of voters for four seasons. This week's turned in the closest results ever -- Anthony Davis with 146 votes, Thomas Robinson with 143.

Chuck in the fact that more than one organization hands out this particular hardware -- USBWA, Associated Press, Naismith and Wooden -- and we may be left with a split vote.

Which isn't a bad thing, at least not this season. Davis and Robinson are both phenomenal players, each a critical cog to his team's machine.

Usually being co-champs is like kissing your sibling.

Not this time.

A good place to eat in New York ... past midnight

Finding good food in New York isn't difficult. Finding a decent meal after the Big East tournament's 9 p.m. (but always 9:30 p.m.) tips end and us scribe types write our stories is a little trickier.

So if anyone knows of a place (non-diner category) to grab food late night in the city -- and preferably close to the Garden, my writer friends and I will be grateful.

Send suggestions to @dgoneil1.

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