Forde Minutes: Less nip/tuck, more bubble muck

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college basketball (sideline slapfight video (1) sold separately):

Sunday night The Minutes witnessed reason No. 1,356,492 why college hoops is manifestly superior to the pros. It can be summed up in two words: Wayne Newton (2). And two more words: My God.

The Singing Ghoul of Vegas was the warm-up act at the NBA All-Star Game, but clearly should not have been allowed on air before halftime. He was frightening to younger children. (Unintended message: Plastic surgery has its limits, and you're seeing them. Next time Wayne shows up for a nip-tuck, they might as well just embalm him.)

College basketball does not trivialize its product with lounge acts or no-try, in-season All-Star games. Yes, it might take some members of the Big Ten all season to score 153 points -- the West's total Sunday night -- but if the collegians need a little show biz in the house, they can always rely on Ashley Judd (3).

Seriously: North Carolina versus Alabama A&M is not as big a mismatch as Judd versus Newton.

Twice in the space of eight days, Florida power forward Joakim Noah (4) found out that life can get ugly when you go out of bounds.

First, on Feb. 10 at Kentucky, Noah was called for a charge, fell on his stomach under the basket and was greeted by a face-full of blue-and-white pompons from an obnoxious Wildcats cheerleader who was seated two feet away. Noah angrily swiped at her pom-poms as he was getting up, and suddenly we had an Internet brouhaha -- Florida fans ripping the Kentucky cheerleader, Kentucky fans ripping Noah. Shockingly, each side accused the other of lacking class.

Then on Saturday, Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings (5) played keep-away with the basketball as Noah was trying to inbound it from the Memorial Gymnasium baseline (which, as we all know, is where the benches are located in Vandy's oddball crib). When Noah reached for the ball, Stallings slapped him away and -- if The Minutes' lip reading is accurate -- addressed the Gators junior in explicit-lyric fashion.

By rule, the ball should have gone to the official before an inbounds play. Which means Stallings was in the wrong by holding it while lobbying the refs, and Noah was wrong for trying to grab it out of his hands. Shockingly, however, Vanderbilt and Florida fans have seen the episode differently and cast aspersions upon one another.

(Remember, it's never enough just to have the better team. In college sports, you have to trumpet your school's moral superiority and impugn the character of your opponent's. Your team is full of "good kids," while the opposition's roster is riddled with illiterate, women-beating, dope-selling recidivists with halitosis. And their cheerleaders are ugly.)

The only thing that can be agreed upon is that Noah has better hair than Stallings.

Then there was the postgame pandemonium, when the Vandy students stormed the floor and Florida reserve guard Brandon Powell (6) allegedly either hit someone or was hit. Video is hopelessly inconclusive, other than showing a Vandy fan giving Powell a shove in the back to help him on his way to the locker room. On this front, The Minutes edges toward vigilantism: If you run wildly onto the court when the losing team is still out there, you take your chances. Having invaded the space of large and angry players from the visiting team, don't get all indignant when you're not greeted with tenderness and mercy. (Vandy was clocked 25 large by the SEC office Monday afternoon.)

As these incidents illustrate, it's clearly open season on pony tails -- and Gators -- in the Southeastern Conference. And it has been since January. That's the burden of being the defending national champions -- and, if you're Noah, of being both very good and very demonstrative.

Florida has handled the burden remarkably well, emerging with five victories on six trips into hostile SEC gyms. But there are two road trips remaining to places that can be most inhospitable: LSU, where the students usually are among the most derisive and antagonistic in the league, and Tennessee, which will put 25,000 in Thompson-Boling Arena in hopes of seeing a repeat of last year's upset of Florida on that court.

In other words: The Gators' poise and maturity will be tested significantly twice more before March. Hopefully the competition stays between the white lines and off the baseline.


As is often the case at this time of year, that gray area known as The Bubble has spread from coast to coast and enveloped a remarkably large number of teams. This is the season for wild mood swings, when a great week can put a team in the tournament for the time being (hello, Louisville [7]) or out (hello, Oklahoma State [8]).

This is also the time of year when you'll hear coaches and sports information directors pumping up their teams' strong NCAA selection components while glossing over the warts, because there is much to discuss beyond overall record and overall RPI.

Looking strictly at teams ranked 26th to 75th in Monday's RPI -- the vast majority of them somewhere in BubbleLand -- The Minutes tells you who's bragging about what and who's covering up what:

Conference record (9): This is important because a great league record can wipe out a multitude of nonconference sins -- though, as committee members have pointed out, the era of unbalanced scheduling mitigates this component a bit. Nevertheless, a team that is, say, 10-6 in a quality league generally has a great chance of getting into the dance. Conversely, a losing record in league play is usually a ticket to the NIT.

Who's bragging (defined as more than two games above .500 in league play): Boston College (9-4) and Virginia (9-3) in the ACC; Texas (9-3) and Kansas State (8-4) in the Big 12; Louisville (9-4), Notre Dame (8-5), West Virginia (8-5), Syracuse (8-5) and Marquette (8-5) in the Big East; USC (9-5) and Stanford (9-5) in the Pac-10; Vanderbilt (8-4) in the SEC; Creighton (12-4) and Missouri State (10-6) in the Missouri Valley; Massachusetts (9-3) and Xavier (9-3) in the Atlantic 10; New Mexico State (9-3) and Utah State (8-4) in the WAC; Winthrop (12-0) in the Big South; Butler (11-2) in the Horizon; Santa Clara (10-2) and Gonzaga (8-3) in the WCC; Davidson (14-1) and Appalachian State (12-3) in the Southern; Holy Cross (11-1) in the Patriot; and VCU (14-2), Old Dominion (13-3), Hofstra (12-4) and Drexel (11-5) in the CAA.

Who's hiding (below .500 in league play): Clemson (5-7), Georgia Tech (5-7) and Florida State (5-8) in the ACC; Oklahoma State (5-6) and Missouri (4-7) in the Big 12; California (6-8) in the Pac-10; Arkansas (5-7) in the SEC.

Road/neutral record (10): Used to determine which teams are powerful at home and pathetic away -- because there is no such thing as a home game in NCAA play.

Who's bragging: Butler (12-3); Marquette (7-3); Drexel (12-4), Hofstra (10-7) and VCU (11-4) of the Colonial; Appalachian State (10-5) and Davidson (12-3) of the Southern; UMass (11-5); Winthrop (12-4); and Santa Clara (8-3).

Who's hiding: Purdue (3-8), Michigan (2-7) and Michigan State (3-7) of the Big Ten; Providence (1-7) and DePaul (4-9) of the Big East; Georgia Tech (3-8) and Virginia (3-6) of the ACC; Mississippi (4-8) and Arkansas (4-8) of the SEC.

Record versus RPI top 50 (11): Simple part of the equation: How have you done against the highest-caliber teams you'd be facing in the NCAAs?

Who's bragging: Butler (4-1), Creighton (5-3), Oregon (5-3), Vanderbilt (5-3), Notre Dame (4-3), Stanford (5-4), Boston College (6-5) and Virginia (6-5).

Who's hiding: UMass (0-4), Utah State (0-2), Davidson (0-1), Holy Cross (0-1), Bradley (1-7), Mississippi State (1-5), Kansas State (1-4), Santa Clara (1-4), Dayton (1-3), Cal (2-7), Providence (2-6), Louisville (2-6), Georgia (3-8), Illinois (3-8).

Record versus RPI top 100 (12): Widens the perspective a bit to see how teams have done against the top 30 percent of Division I.

Who's bragging: Butler (7-2), Clemson (9-6), Vanderbilt (9-5), Oklahoma State (8-6), Purdue (9-7), Xavier (8-5), Notre Dame (7-4), Appalachian State (5-2), New Mexico State (10-4).

Who's hiding: Holy Cross (1-6), Davidson (1-4), San Diego State (2-5), Michigan (4-8), Florida State (5-10), Bradley (5-9), Illinois (5-9), Mississippi (5-9), Mississippi State (5-9), Arkansas (6-10), Cal (6-11).

Signature wins (13): Defined for this exercise as a victory over an opponent in the current RPI top 25.

Who's bragging (to make this list you must have more than one, and at least one must be away from home): Vanderbilt (four, three at home and one on the road), Virginia (four, three at home and one on the road), Oregon (three, one at home and two on the road), Marquette (three, one at home, one on a neutral court and one on the road), Notre Dame (three, one semi-away and two at home), Florida State (three, two at home and one on the road), Texas Tech (three, two at home and one on the road), Arkansas (three, one at home, one on the road and one on a neutral court), Georgia Tech (two, one on a neutral court and one at home), DePaul (two, one at home and one on the road), Butler (two on a neutral court).

Who's hiding: Creighton, Clemson, Texas, Utah State, Kansas State, Appalachian State, VCU, Davidson, UMass, Holy Cross, Hofstra, Providence, Mississippi State, Cal, Winthrop, Santa Clara, Missouri and Dayton all have none.

Nonconference strength of schedule (14): Who did you schedule with the games you could control? Who scheduled cautiously, who scheduled ambitiously?

Who's bragging: Appalachian State (nonconference SOS No. 4), Gonzaga (No. 5), Drexel (No. 7), Bradley (No. 19), Butler (No. 27), Cal (No. 28), Arkansas (No. 30), Dayton (No. 34), Texas Tech (No. 37), Winthrop (No. 41).

Who's hiding: Notre Dame (No. 299), West Virginia (No. 266), Oregon (No. 236), New Mexico State (No. 234), Mississippi (No. 232), Kansas State (No. 208), USC (No. 203), Clemson (No. 188), San Diego State (No. 181), Virginia (No. 177).

Bad losses (15): Defined as a defeat against an opponent ranked outside the top 100 in the RPI.

Who's bragging: Georgia (8-0), Stanford (9-0), Arkansas (10-0), Louisville (10-0), Michigan State (12-0), Florida State (12-0), Texas (12-0), Mississippi (12-0), Oregon (13-0), Illinois (14-0), Winthrop (16-0), Davidson (20-0).

Who's hiding: Appalachian State, Hofstra, New Mexico State and Dayton (four losses each); Vanderbilt, San Diego State, UMass, DePaul and Utah State (three each).

Ghastly losses (16): Defined as a defeat against an opponent ranked lower than 200th in the RPI.

Who's bragging: Forty-one teams are undefeated against the dregs of D-I.

Who's hiding: Appalachian State (three losses), Hofstra (two), Vanderbilt, Oklahoma State, Old Dominion, Drexel, USC, Providence and New Mexico State (one apiece).

Last 10 games (17): Which teams are rolling and which are reeling down the stretch?

Who's bragging: Winthrop (10-0), Virginia (9-1), Old Dominion (9-1), Davidson (9-1), Santa Clara (9-1), Butler (8-2), Utah State (8-2), Appalachian State (8-2), Holy Cross (8-2), Louisville (7-3), Marquette (7-3), West Virginia (7-3), Creighton (7-3), Xavier (7-3), Drexel (7-3), VCU (7-3), San Diego State (7-3), UMass (7-3), Hofstra (7-3), New Mexico State (7-3).

Who's hiding: Clemson (3-7), Oregon (4-6), Oklahoma State (4-6), Texas Tech (4-6), Arkansas (4-6), Cal (4-6), Providence (4-6).

Roll all these factors into a ball, and who comes out looking best among the bubble teams?

Butler (18). Mortal lock. Even with some recent wobbles.

Marquette (19). See Butler.

Winthrop (20). If Winthrop doesn't win its conference tournament, The Minutes foresees this as one of the most-debated at-large teams.

Xavier (21). Could close the regular season on an eight-game winning streak against middling competition from the A-10.

Stanford (22). Beating UCLA, Washington State, Oregon, Virginia and Texas Tech without losing to anyone outside the RPI top 80 puts the Cardinal in good shape. But the next three games are very losable.

Boston College (23). Consecutive losses to Duke and North Carolina are no great shame. Even at home. But the Eagles also face a rugged closing stretch.

Virginia (24). Aside from an ugly trip to Puerto Rico in December, there's a lot to like about the Cavaliers. Including a 9-3 mark in the mega-balanced ACC.

Louisville (25). Sweep of Pittsburgh and Marquette might have been the single most impressive week of road work by any team all year.

Notre Dame (26). Played a lot of bad teams early, but the Fighting Irish have worked in quality wins over Alabama, Maryland and everyone who has set foot in South Bend this season.

Vanderbilt (27). Commodores have more big-time wins than anybody else on this list, which is enough to offset losses to Furman, Wake Forest and Auburn.

After that it all gets delectably murky. You might like Creighton (28), with its 27 RPI -- but the Bluejays just lost at home to Drexel (29), which was swept by Old Dominion (30), which lost at home to Clemson (31), which has won two games in the last 40 days. Ready to start flipping coins for the final at-large spots?


The Minutes jumped into the Memorial Gym mosh pit and came out with one Derrick Byars (32), the Vanderbilt senior wing man who lit up Florida for 24 points, eight assists and five steals and who is making a serious push for SEC Player of the Year. Byars submitted to the weekly ruthless interrogation.

Forde Minutes: What was it like out there on the floor when the horn went off?

Derrick Byars: It was crazy. The fans started rushing in, and Billy Donovan (33) was wise enough to get his players off the court before someone got hurt.

FM: What were you doing while that was going on?

DB: I was just pointing up to the sky, because it was a blessing to pull off something like that and play so well. I hugged my teammate Dan Cage (34), who is also a senior.

FM: Everyone has been talking about the little dust-up between Joakim Noah and Kevin Stallings. In a best-two-out-of-three-falls match between those two, who wins?

DB: (Laughing) Uh, I'd probably get in trouble if I don't say my coach. I know Joakim's 7-foot tall and a great athlete, but I've got to go with my coach.

FM: Good idea. How would you describe the average Vanderbilt student?

DB: The average Vanderbilt student is very social and very committed to academics. I don't know how they get it done, because they party more than anyone. I need more time to study myself. But they pull it off and get great grades.

FM: You transferred to Vandy from Virginia. Which one has prettier girls?

DB: (Laughing harder) Wow. Virginia has more, but Vanderbilt has better looking.

FM: Another politically shrewd answer.

DB: I don't want [the Vandy girls] to be giving me ugly looks.

FM: What would it mean, as a fifth-year senior, to play in the NCAA Tournament?

DB: It would mean a whole lot. It would close the cap on my career. I've made three NIT appearances, and the one NCAA appearance was when I was sitting out as a transfer. I'm going to be honest, [the NIT] is second behind the real thing. To make it to the NCAA Tournament is my goal, and to make a good run would mean the world to me.


Late February is usually Crabby Time in college basketball. Fatigue and pressure are both increasing. Coaches, refs and players are snapping. But even with those understandable precursors, we've seen some Vesuvian eruptions in the last week.

There was a postgame brawl in the Atlantic Sun Conference, of all places, Friday night, as players from Mercer (35) and Jacksonville (36) squared off. Suspensions were issued by the A-Sun in time for both teams' games Sunday.

And then there was the preposterous scene in the Mid-American Conference last week, when Bowling Green (37) and Buffalo (38) got weird at the wire. Bowling Green thought it had earned a two-point victory when one official signaled the game over, and the Falcons left the court. Meanwhile, officials huddled to determine whether time remained and put six-tenths of a second back on the clock.

BGSU coach Dan Dakich (39) responded by not responding. He refused to bring his team back out of the locker room, rather unconvincingly saying later that his team already was in the shower.

After giving the Falcons every chance and then some to come out, the officials did the right thing and hit them with a two-shot technical. Yassin Idbihi (40) coolly made both foul shots to tie the game, and Buffalo went on to win in overtime.

"They absolutely [bleeping] cheated us," Dakich graciously concluded. "I don't give a [bleep], we got cheated."

In the least-surprising league action in recent memory, the MAC reprimanded Dakich for trashing the refs. (Fittingly, Dakich and his former coach and boss, Bob Knight, were reprimanded on the same day for criticizing officials.) The not-by-the-hair-on-my-chinny-chin-chin act of refusing to leave the locker room couldn't have played very well in the league office, either.

But this should be it for Dakich anyway at the school he nearly left for West Virginia several years ago before U-turning and going back. BGSU is 35-53 in MAC play since 2002, including a 2-10 league mark this year, and that record isn't going to get any better by staying in the locker room the rest of this season.

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