Forde Minutes: New school rivalries

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college basketball (Sidney Lowe bloodred sportcoat [1] -- part of the Bruce Pearl/Bruce Weber Collection of Garish Coats in School Colors -- sold separately):


Rivalry Week is here, deftly timed to alleviate post-Super Bowl depression among the sports addicted. This gives you an excellent excuse to flop back into the recliner and gnaw through the leftover chicken wings while making the transition from Irvin to Lavin, Golic to Gottlieb, Mort to Majerus.

The Minutes will be right there with you this week, with one eye on rivalries both old-school and new.

As good as the matchups are right now, times change. The Minutes has looked at the top nine conferences (according to the RPI) and identified the next generation of grudge matches that could highlight Rivalry Weeks to come.

Big Ten. Illinois-Indiana (2). Seems that Bruce Weber (3) and Kelvin Sampson (4) are on the verge of becoming the league's Trump and Rosie. Their curt, blow-by postgame handshake a couple weeks ago hinted at the hard feelings over the Hoosiers' signing superstar guard Eric Gordon (5) after he had committed to the Illini. Just think how frosty it could be next season, when Gordon is actually wearing an Indiana uniform.

Southeastern Conference: Tennessee-Florida (6). When Pearl saw Joakim Noah (7) over the summer, Noah told him that the reason he was coming back was "to beat you guys twice." That would be payback for the two upset wins the Vols scored over the eventual national champions last season. As long as Pearl is recruiting like a wild man and acting similarly on the sideline -- and as long as Kentucky continues to underachieve to the point that Ashley Judd (8) doesn't hang out at Rupp Arena much anymore -- this could become the SEC's premier rivalry.

Pacific-10: USC-UCLA (9). The crosstown rivalry isn't just for football anymore. Tim Floyd (10) has the rebuilding job ahead of schedule at Troy -- and that's before O.J. Mayo (11) arrives next season. With Arizona showing signs of sliding in the Pac-10 (17-12 the last season-and-a-half in league play), the Trojans could become the Bruins' primary threat.

Big 12: Kansas-Texas A&M (12). Billy Gillispie has worked miracles in College Station, and done it in a hurry. If you saw the Aggies upset the Jayhawks in Phog Allen Saturday, you saw a longtime assistant finally get over on his former boss for the first time in three tries -- and it didn't look like Bill Self took it particularly well, judging from the joyless postgame handshake. (Strong honorable mention goes to Kansas-Kansas State, thanks to the presence of Bob Huggins. And The Minutes feels badly leaving Texas and Oklahoma State out of the mix as well.)

Big East: Marquette-Pittsburgh (13). Two of the game's best young coaches -- Tom Crean (14) and Jamie Dixon (15) -- have two of the league's toughest teams physically, and the intensity boiled over last season in Pittsburgh. Pitt's Antonio Graves put Marquette's Dominic James out for eight minutes after a hard foul, the coaches exchanged postgame words, and this year Pitt's Mike Cook suggested that Crean said the Panthers were a "dirty team." (Crean denied saying any such thing.) Know this: Pitt won that first Big East meeting between the two, but Marquette has won the last two, including an upset win at Pitt last month (all three have been decided by six points or less). Mark your calendar for March 3, when the two meet in the last game of the regular season.

Atlantic Coast: Duke-North Carolina (16). Same as it ever was. Even with new blood populating the top of the league standings (which we'll address in just a few paragraphs), the Tobacco Road titans never go out of style. Put it this way: Carolina is powerful and young, and the Blue Devils' current "off year" has dragged them all the way down to a No. 8 ranking in the RPI and an 18-5 overall record. You think most schools would take that for a slump season? Hard to see the marquee changing while Roy Williams (17) and Mike Krzyzewski (18) are both coaching.

Missouri Valley: Southern Illinois-Creighton (19). The Valley title could be largely decided Saturday when the Blue Jays visit the Salukis. SIU is 4-0 in the Blue Jays' sparkling, four-year-old home gym, the Qwest Center, but Creighton has somehow maintained its rep as the MVC's glam team over the past several years. Don't think SIU isn't aware of that.

Western Athletic: Nevada-New Mexico State (20). Second-year coach Reggie Theus (21) has it rolling in Las Cruces. The Aggies have won 16 of their last 17 this season, their only loss since November coming by a deuce in overtime at Louisiana Tech. That includes an upset of the Wolf Pack last month. Rematch: March 3 in Reno.

Mountain West: Air Force-UNLV (22). Two former pro coaches -- Jeff Bzdelik at Air Force, Lon Kruger at Vegas -- have risen to the top of this league (though BYU has something to say about that this season). If they can sustain their recruiting -- theoretically much easier at UNLV than AFA -- neither should be going anywhere.


Have you seen what's happened in Billy PackerLand recently? Just when you turn your back on the ACC to check out the SEC or the Pac-10, the nation's historic capital of college hoops flares up with all manner of drama, intrigue and unpredictability.

Consider: By league standings, the biggest Rivalry Week game in this conference is not Carolina-Duke on Wednesday. It's Virginia-Virginia Tech (23) on Saturday. The Cavaliers are 7-2 and tied for first, the Hokies are 6-3 and alone in fourth. Meanwhile, the Heels and Devils both wobble into their more celebrated meeting off losses.

The Team of the Moment on Tobacco Road is North Carolina State (24), which a week ago was 1-5 in league play but now is revived after beating the Hokies on the road and the Tar Heels at home. Suddenly Carolina has taken a backseat to Florida and possibly UCLA in the race for the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and suddenly the NCAA selection committee must take a look at an NC State team it had previously been able to ignore.

If ever a bubble team is prepared to lobby that injury has affected its season, it's the Wolfpack. Without heady point guard Engin Atsur, State was 6-6. With Atsur, State is 7-2.

"If you watch us play and look at us without him, you know the difference," Lowe said. "[With Atsur] we're calmer on the offensive end, we get into our sets better and it allows our other players to play the positions they're best at -- and they're good players."

And Boston College (25), the team tied at the top of the league with the Cavaliers, is there despite booting its No. 4 scorer, No. 2 rebounder and No. 1 shot-blocker off the team five games ago. The Eagles have made the transition better than most might have imagined.

"I think everyone understands: This is who we're going to be, this is who we are," coach Al Skinner said. "Let's go make the best of it."

And don't forget about Florida State (26), which on Sunday beat Duke for the first time in 16 meetings at Cameron Indoor Stadium, and did so despite one of the dumbest late-game technical fouls in basketball history by Seminoles coach Leonard Hamilton (27). That comeback victory vaulted FSU into the top half of the league, but at 5-4 there is much work to be done.

"We realize we are not going to go to anyone's postseason tournament only winning five ACC games," Hamilton said. "So we've got to keep grinding it out."

The question is how many ACC teams will go to the NCAA Tournament. Last year the number was only four, and the howls were audible in space. This year, with eight teams currently in the RPI top 40, the number figures to be higher -- but it will be difficult to differentiate among teams if they all continue to knock each other off.

It sets up for a frothy final four weeks of league play, and it creates an increased ACC buzz over this time last year.

"I think teams are playing well, but really, we won't know what the impact of that buzz is until Selection Sunday," said Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt (28), whose team's road problems have jeopardized its NCAA hopes. "Maybe that buzz turns out to be something positive when the bids come out, or maybe it's much ado about nothing."


Big hair is back on campus, and on campus basketball courts. The Minutes salutes its five favorite 'dos of 2007:
Sean Ogirri (29), Wichita State. Blot-out-the-sun Afro would make Darnell Hillman (warning: '70s ABA reference) proud.
Derrick Low (30), Washington State. Guard from Hawaii pulls his dark mop back in a headband. Nice Hawaiian tattoos down the leg, too.
Joakim Noah (31), Florida.The ponytail that ruled March is back and bushier than ever.
Steven Hill (32), Arkansas. Rocking the Bill Walton ponytail-headband starter set. Might take another lifetime or two for his game to catch up to the Big Redhead's.
Paul Harris (33), Syracuse. Freshman's braids dangle all the way down to his strong safety-sized shoulders.


The Minutes pinned down Washington State forward Daven Harmeling (34), who has come from almost nowhere -- Grand Junction, Colo. -- to twice be named Pac-10 Player of the Week this season.

Harmeling might be the biggest surprise player on one of the nation's biggest surprise teams: He averaged 2.8 points per game as a freshman and then redshirted last season, and the excellent Blue Ribbon College Yearbook predicted Harmeling would scrape for minutes as a backup. Instead he's the Cougars' third-leading scorer and has been huge in their four biggest wins: Gonzaga, USC and the season sweep of Arizona. Harmeling averaged 17 points and 3.8 rebounds in those four games, and scored Wazzu's last six points in the final 21 seconds in the upset win in Tucson last week.

The Minutes subjected Harmeling to the weekly Ruthless Interrogation.

The Minutes: Best basketball player ever from Grand Junction is …?

Daven Harmeling: Ooh, um, I'd have to say John Rakiecki.

Minutes: Who?

Harmeling: You've probably never heard of him. Injuries curtailed him at Colorado State, but he was a senior at my high school [Fruita Monument] when I was in 8th grade. He's a great guy -- a legend in my mind, that's for sure.

Minutes: What's the one thing a visitor to Grand Junction has to see?

Harmeling: You've got to see Colorado National Monument (35) (a 20,000-acre area of canyons and mountains).

Minutes: How does a guy get from Grand Junction to Pullman, Washington?

Harmeling: That's a roundabout story. I thought I was going to play Division II ball -- not many people come to Grand Junction recruiting. The summer before my senior year I went to Colorado State's individual camp and they offered me a chance to walk on, then get a scholarship the next year. I was really considering it. Then, when I was leaving camp a guy with the Colorado Select AAU team offered me the chance to join the team. I started playing with them, and one of [Washington State's] coaches saw me in a Dallas tournament. I sent them a videotape and they ended up offering me a scholarship.

Minutes: How was the commute from Grand Junction to Denver for AAU practices?

Harmeling: It was about four hours to Denver.

Minutes: How would you describe Pullman?

Harmeling: People who don't live here say, "Why would you live in Pullman?" But people who do live here love it and don't ever want to leave. It's exactly what the doctor ordered for me. I'm not a big-city guy -- I like to hunt pheasant and go fishing.

Minutes: You also like to hit big shots at key times. Where does that come from?

Harmeling: Something big for me is my faith as a Christian. I like to read the story of David versus Goliath, because David had so much confidence and courage. Even if I miss the shot, I'm still comfortable in my identity as a Christian.

Minutes: How often do you read that passage?

Harmeling: I usually read it right before every game.

Minutes: Don't lose your Bible. You're going to need it well into March.

Harmeling: I better take two if we make the tournament.


Only four teams are still undefeated in conference play. Which will remain unscathed all the way into the postseason? The Minutes breaks down the fantastic four.

Winthrop (36) -- To Date: The Eagles are 9-0 in a 14-game Big South schedule.

Closest Shave: A 64-63 win at High Point Jan. 25, in which Winthrop had to survive a 10-foot missed jumper at the buzzer.

Chances of Finishing It Off: Good. Four of the last five games are at home.

Toughest Game Left: Season finale at Coastal Carolina, Feb. 24. Eagles won by only two at home against Coastal in January.

Memphis (37) -- To Date: Tigers are 9-0 in 16-game Conference USA walkover.

Closest Shave: Three-point win over Southern Mississippi, at home, Jan. 27.

Chances of Finishing It Off: A lock. Memphis' average margin of victory so far in C-USA games is 16.3 points. Average RPI of remaining league opponents: 111th.

Toughest Game Left: At UTEP March 1. Former Memphis assistant Tony Barbee is in charge in El Paso now and will have intimate knowledge of the Tigers' personnel and strategies. Whether he has enough talent to do anything about it is another matter entirely.

Holy Cross (38) -- To Date: The Crusaders are 9-0 in a 14-game Patriot League season and have won three straight by double digits.

Closest Shave: A three-point win at Colgate Jan. 23. Holy Cross trailed inside the final minute.

Chances of Finishing It Off: Iffy. Holy Cross is more than halfway there but closes with five of its last six on the road (one of them, against Hofstra, is a nonleague BracketBuster game). There could easily be a loss in there somewhere.

Toughest Game Left: At Bucknell, Feb. 9. The Crusaders eked out a five-point win at home over the Bison after leading by only a point inside the final minute. The league regular-season title could well be on the line, and Bucknell has the experience of going to the 2006 NCAA Tournament and winning a first-round game under its belt.

Florida (39) -- To Date: Halfway there at 8-0, in an SEC that hasn't panned out to be as difficult as predicted.

Closest Shave: A three-point win at Mississippi State, Jan. 24.

Chances of Finishing It Off: Less than 50 percent. Five games left on the road, including two this week: at bubblicious Georgia and revenge-minded Kentucky, which was swept last year by the Gators. Trips to Vanderbilt, LSU and Tennessee will be difficult as well.

Toughest Game Left: At Tennessee Feb. 27. Comes just three days after trip to Baton Rouge, while the Volunteers will have an extra day to get ready. They'll put 25,000 in the house, and Pearl might show up in a bright orange leotard.


Sixty-one. It's a great number if you're Roger Maris -- not so great if you're North Florida (40). The reclassifying-to-Division I upstart has yet to break the 61-point barrier offensively against Div. I competition this season, and is averaging just 53.3 points per game. Not coincidentally, UNF is 0-21 against Div. I comp and is packing an RPI of 336. Yep, that's dead last. Maybe next year, fellas.

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