Originally Published: February 10, 2014

One bad weekend for college basketball

By Dana O'Neil | ESPN.com

This was not the weekend that college basketball needed or deserved, especially now.

The Super Bowl hangover finally abated, this is typically the time that college basketball steps out of its shadows and into the spotlight.

Instead we got this:

• A grown man at Texas Tech admitting to calling a college kid, Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart, a "piece of crap," because the college kid dove into the stands to chase down a basketball.
• A great college player, Smart, a one-time national player of the year candidate, his reputation in tatters, suspended for three games while his team's season implodes around him.
• One assistant coach and a trainer at Oregon claiming that an opposing fan at Arizona State spit on them as they headed to the locker room at halftime.

This isn't merely the TMZ-ization of the news cycle, where nothing is more interesting than the salacious and the titillating. These are real incidents, troubling ones, that merit the attention they received. The athlete-fan relationship is precious and critical, and quickly deteriorating.

Maybe it's social media and a 24/7 news cycle that have demystified our heroes, maybe it's just boredom, but certainly people are less easily pleased and amused, more quick to anger, action and entitlement.

It's not just in college basketball, of course. Every sport in every country has suffered its inglorious moment of fan-player interaction gone bad, but the timing here especially stinks.

There is so much good in college basketball right now, so much to celebrate and enjoy and this should be the time we start to celebrate it.

Instead we are stuck talking about shovers, spitters, boors and bullies.

In the same weekend that Smart shoved a Texas Tech fan and an Arizona State fan allegedly spat at an Oregon coach and trainer, a few other things happened worth mentioning.

Such as ...

With barely a month before Selection Sunday, two teams continue to chase perfection.

Wichita State beat Northern Iowa on Saturday night. Sandwiched with a Wednesday win at Indiana State, the Shockers now have survived a road trip week that many thought might be the likeliest to trip them up. Now Gregg Marshall's team is 25-0 with six games to go before the Missouri Valley Tournament. Syracuse, meanwhile, overcame an injury to Baye Moussa Keita, foul trouble for Rakeem Christmas and Clemson to run its record to 23-0. The Orange has a slightly tougher road ahead -- beginning with a trip to Pittsburgh this week -- but hasn't shown many weaknesses.

Here's another good nugget worth noting: Two coaches who ought to be collecting Social Security are instead basking in the winning spotlight.

No one thought much about or talked much about Steve Fisher's team at San Diego State back in October. There were no obvious superstars, no real reason for high expectations.

Now the Aztecs are No. 5 in the country and haven't lost since Nov. 14. Fisher might have more in common with his players' grandfathers, but the man's coaching credentials have proved timeless and ageless.

Marcus Smart
John Weast/Getty ImagesTexas Tech fan Jeff Orr directed anger at Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart. A quick shove later and a weekend was lost.

When Fisher's Golden Years colleague, Larry Brown, took a gig at Southern Methodist two years ago, the general reaction fell between bewilderment and bemusement. The peripatetic Brown, most figured, was headed to Dallas out of boredom while the Mustangs' administration was going for the easy PR hit.

On Saturday, SMU flat-out smothered No. 7 Cincinnati, its third win against a ranked opponent in its past 11 games. The Mustangs played in front of a jammed crowd at a newly remodeled Moody Coliseum, delivering a mood not seen on campus since the mid-1980s, back when Brown was working his magic at a little school called Kansas.

Back East, the Big East got a big boost from an original member. St. John's upset Creighton for its third consecutive win and its sixth in the past seven games. Wildly talented, the Red Storm has frustratingly failed to deliver on that talent but suddenly looks as though it may have figured something out.

Down the turnpike a bit, the saints marched all over Philadelphia, with Saint Louis beating La Salle and Saint Joseph's topping VCU. The Atlantic 10, once left for dead amid conference realignment, instead looks just fine, with a bundle of teams chasing the Billikens and angling for NCAA bids.

The Big Ten is a big mess, but an entertaining one.

A kid named Andrew Wiggins -- maybe you've heard of him? -- dropped 19 on West Virginia; and another kid named Jabari Parker -- maybe you've heard of him, too? -- had 29 against Boston College.

No one from Tobacco Road is in the top three in the ACC. Arizona is reconfiguring and reconfiguring well without the injured Brandon Ashley. And the SEC, well, Florida and Kentucky play this week. In other words, there is a lot to talk about beyond the ugly.

Fortunately, there's also plenty of time still to talk about it all.

If the salacious and the titillating have proved anything, they have a short shelf life. Someone else will do something foolish or say something clueless. You can, sadly, count on that.

The game, though, has staying power.

It will be here today and tomorrow and through the shining moments of early April.

Hopefully we can all exhale and enjoy it.

Dana O'Neil | email

ESPN Senior Writer


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