Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college basketball -- supersized to 65 for the NCAA tournament:
So, its been a pretty dull year in college basketball.
I mean, aside from Georgia (1) pulling off the miracle of all Championship Week miracles, winning the Tornado Tournament in the SEC. The Bulldogs pulled two upsets in 11 hours and three in 30 hours -- which isn't bad, when you consider they won one game in a span of 37 days during the regular season.
And Big Shot Blake Hoffarber (2) going all double-ESPY on Indiana.
And Bob Knight (3) joining the media.
Oh, sure, there were a few other notable happenings. Kelvin Sampson (4) set the record for most abrupt career implosion (since broken by Eliot Spitzer). One day he's coaching a top-15 team, then -- quicker than you can make a phone call -- he's Unemployed Floyd.
The winningest program in the history of the sport lost at home to Gardner-Webb, which would later lose to provisional Division I school South Carolina Upstate, which lost to NAIA school Bluefield College. Combine the scores and the Bluefield Rams would be favored by 46 points over Kentucky (5).
A rookie head coach with the same name as a gambling game is the Coach of the Year. Keno Davis (6) will win that award thanks largely to a senior point guard who arrived as a walk-on, scored a total 55 points in his first three years and then became the Missouri Valley Conference POY in his fourth.
Harvard (7) has been outed by the New York Times for possible NCAA rules violations. Yes, that Harvard.
There have been bodily functions and wardrobe malfunctions. Kansas State's Bill Walker (8) whizzed into a towel at courtside during a timeout. Virginia Tech's Dorenzo Hudson (9) hurled on the court during a dead ball. And Rick Pitino (10) had to change out of his white disco suit at halftime of a nationally televised game when his blue boxers were showing through the sweat-soaked linen.
And we're just now getting to the really interesting stuff. To help you navigate the madness from now until April 7, let The Minutes be your guide:
Memphis (11). Can the 33-1 Tigers break through their regional-final ceiling of the past two years and become the first team from a non-BCS conference to win it all since UNLV in 1990?
Going Coastal (12). Some people say the Big East is the best conference in America this season. Others say it's the Pac-10. The arguments will finally give way to games that (should) settle the matter. Which league earns final bragging rights?
The Indiana (13) soap opera. How many more installments? The Hoosiers were 22-4 with Sampson, a disjointed 3-3 without him. Interim coach Dan Dakich looks like he's trying to cajole some of his players into still caring as much as they did when they played for Sampson. If they don't get around to it, hey, it'll be a mere 40 minutes before the season ends in one of the great wasted opportunities in recent memory. "There are no ifs, ands or buts because [Sampson] isn't coming back," Dakich said at the Big Ten tournament Friday. "If you want to play in the NCAA tournament, you'd better be ready to play because as it looks right now, we're going to play somebody really good in the first round." Dakich proved prophetic, as the slumping Hoosiers were dumped to a No. 8 seed, getting Arkansas in the first round and possibly North Carolina in the second.
How far can the freshmen (14) go? You've heard all season about this spectacular class of rookies. Now we'll see whether any of them -- Kevin Love, Derrick Rose, O.J. Mayo, DeJuan Blair, Eric Gordon and Michael Beasley being the leading contenders -- can do what guys named Ellison, Rose, Webber, Anthony, Oden and Conley did before them. Namely, help their team to a Final Four.
Rich getting richer (15)? Among the prime national championship contenders are four of the all-time bluebloods in college hoops history: UCLA (11 national titles, 17 Final Fours); North Carolina (four national titles, 16 Final Fours); Kansas (two National titles, 12 Final Fours); and Duke (three national titles, 14 Final Fours). The Minutes believes there's a good chance someone in that group adds to an already-crowded trophy case.
Say hello to the newbies (16). The Portland State Vikings, American Eagles, Maryland-Baltimore County Retrievers and Texas-Arlington Mavericks have busted into Bracketville for the first time. Among the four, American has been on hold the longest. The Eagles have been playing Division I basketball for 41 years.
Welcome back to the absentees (17). Drake is dancing for the first time in 37 years -- back then, it was a 25-team field, and the Bulldogs won one game to reach the final eight. Meanwhile, Cornell and Baylor are here for the first time since the Reagan administration.
And say howdy to all the J's (18). Good luck keeping them all straight. There are the D.J.s (White of Indiana, Augustin of Texas, Rivera of Saint Joseph's). There are the A.J.s (Graves of Butler, Ogilvy of Vanderbilt, Abrams of Texas, Slaughter of Western Kentucky, Stewart of Kentucky). There are the B.J.s (Holmes of Texas A&M, Ford of South Alabama, Frazier of Western Kentucky). There is a C.J. (Anderson of Xavier), an E.J. (Gordon of Indiana), an O.J. (Mayo of USC), a J.P. (Prince of Tennessee) and a J.R. (Moore of Portland State). We'll see how many J's they can combine to make over the next three weeks.
The RPI Yardstick
The Minutes knows what you're really looking for today. You're looking for any edge you can get in the office pool. You're looking for that sliver of insight that will allow you to taunt the person in the next cubicle, to blast boastful e-mails about your prognosticating prowess -- and, ultimately, to win the big bucks.
You'll get no guarantees here. But, The Minutes did correctly pick seven of last season's final eight and all of the Final Four, including the champion Florida Gators. So let's drop a few dimes of bracket science on the readership, as they relate to the RPI (all RPI numbers courtesy of kenpom.com):
• Your national champion probably will come from the RPI top 10, and almost certainly from the RPI top 15.
Seven of the last nine champs had a top 10 RPI heading into the tournament. All nine were in the top 15. But only one of them was ranked No. 1. The list:
2007 -- Florida No. 6
2006 -- Florida No. 15
2005 -- North Carolina No. 6
2004 -- Connecticut No. 5
2003 -- Syracuse No. 9
2002 -- Maryland No. 2
2001 -- Duke No. 1
2000 -- Michigan State No. 13
1999 -- Connecticut No. 3
Most prominent team outside the top 15 in the current RPI: Connecticut. Most prominent teams outside the top 10: Wisconsin, Stanford, Louisville. Current No. 1: Tennessee.
• Your national champion will have tested itself against strong competition and will have passed the test.
The last nine champs all played at least nine games against RPI top 50 competition and all of them had a winning percentage of at least .625 against that top 50. The list:
2007 -- Florida 8-4
2006 -- Florida 6-3
2005 -- North Carolina 6-3
2004 -- Connecticut 10-6
2003 -- Syracuse 8-4
2002 -- Maryland 9-3
2001 -- Duke 11-2
2000 -- Michigan State 10-6
1999 -- Connecticut 10-2
Only eight teams fit that criteria (through Saturday games). They are:
North Carolina (19): 8-1
UCLA (20): 11-2
Texas (21): 11-3
Tennessee (22): 11-4
Kansas (23): 7-2
Xavier (24): 9-4
Stanford (25): 7-4
Duke (26): 7-4
Prominent exclusions to that list: Memphis (only seven games against top 50 competition); Georgetown (6-4 against top 50); Wisconsin (6-4 against top 50).
• Your upset winners will not come from outside the top 70 in the RPI.
It's been seven years since a team ranked lower than 70th won a first-round game. Last year that was Winthrop at No. 70 and even that was the first time someone outside the top 65 won a game. (By RPI standards, 2001 was an epic year for shockers, with four teams ranked 75th or lower winning first-rounders, lead by No. 132 Hampton.)
So if you were planning on picking Belmont (78th RPI), Austin Peay (85th), Portland State (90th), American (91st) or San Diego (94th), you might want to reconsider.
The dark horses that come with the Minutes stamp of approval: Davidson (27), Western Kentucky (28), Oral Roberts (29) and the old reliable George Mason (30). All of them rank between 35 and 61 in the RPI, and all but the Hilltoppers have coaches who have been dancing before. (Western Kentucky's coach, Darrin Horn, played on a WKU team that made the Sweet Sixteen in 1993 and was within a shot of the regional final.)
Five with something to prove this NCAA tournament:
Bill Self (31). He's taken three different schools (Tulsa, Illinois and Kansas) to the Elite Eight -- and none of them to the Final Four. He's had some ugly flameouts with the Jayhawks, including shocking first-round exits against Bucknell and Bradley. Now he has what looks like his best team and best shot at playing on the final weekend. No pressure, Bill. Just make it.
Joey Dorsey (32). The Memphis center ran his mouth before the Tigers' regional final game against Ohio State last year, stating that he was Goliath and Greg Oden was David. Bad move. Stats from that game: Oden, 17 points and nine rebounds; Dorsey, zero points and three boards. If Memphis is going to achieve its goals this time around, it will need more production and less talk from Dorsey.
Duke. The Blue Devils have not lived up to their seeding the past three years and in eight of the past 12. They were eliminated by a No. 11 seed last season (VCU), a No. 4 in 2006 (LSU) and a No. 5 in '05 (Michigan State). Last time Duke beat a team with a better seed than itself: March 26th, 1994, when the second-seeded Blue Devils beat No. 1 seed Purdue to make the Final Four. How long ago was that? Grant Hill was still in school.
The Big 12 (33). The league hasn't put a team in the Final Four since 2004. All the other big six conferences have had at least one since then. Kansas and Texas, you're on the clock.
Pittsburgh (34). Every year, the Panthers make the Big East tournament finals. And every year, they tap out in the NCAAs before the regional finals. Boosted by the momentum from dominating Georgetown on Saturday night, it's time for Pitt to break through its Sweet Sixteen ceiling.
No Country For Old Men? Think Again
People say the college game no longer has any respect for its elders -- at least in the college basketball sense. Seniors, namely. And juniors, too. The general theory has been that guys like Kevin Durant, Greg Oden and this year's battalion of freshmen were taking over the game.
But seniors still have their place in this tournament. Among the teams in the AP Top 25, 10 are led in scoring by a senior: Tennessee, Duke, Georgetown, Xavier, Louisville, Butler, Vanderbilt, Michigan State and Washington State.
Five more are led by juniors: North Carolina, Memphis, Connecticut, BYU and Marquette.
There are six led by sophomores: Texas, Kansas, Stanford, Notre Dame, Drake, Davidson and Gonzaga.
And as stellar as this freshman class has been, only three Top 25 teams are led by a rookie: UCLA, Purdue and Indiana.
So you'll see plenty of seniors in key positions over the next three weeks. Ten that will help call the tune to this Dance:
DeMarcus Nelson (36), Duke. He merely leads the Blue Devils in scoring, rebounding, steals and field-goal percentage, and is second on the team in assists.
Brian Butch (37), Wisconsin. Polar Bear's outside shooting touch has come out of hibernation down the stretch. The 6-foot-11 center has made 17 3s in the Badgers' last 14 games, forcing opposing big men to follow him all over the court.
Derrick Low (38), Washington State. He's launched 214 3s this season, and just 129 2s. Which is absolutely fine when you're making 40 percent of your shots from outside the arc. Low is the guy opponents must chase off every screen.
Drew Lavender (39), Xavier. Little man (5-foot-7) who pushes the tempo in the Musketeers' fast-paced offense. He's been slowed by an ankle sprain for the past week; Xavier will need him at full-go to make a deep run.
Shan Foster (40), Vanderbilt. Another deluxe shooter who is ending his career with a blazing flourish. Averaging 26.6 points over the Commodores' last seven games.
Green/Graves backcourt (41), Butler. Mike Green and A.J. Graves get The Minutes' vote for savviest backcourt in the tournament. They combine to average 28.2 points, 9.6 rebounds and 7.2 assists. Green gets to the line (230 free throw attempts) while Graves bombs from deep (258 3-point attempts). Stop them and you stop the Bulldogs -- but stopping them isn't easy.
Adam Emmenecker (42), Drake. Could be the individual success story in this tournament. He's the above-mentioned former walk-on and three-year backup who became the Player of the Year in the Valley. Leads the Bulldogs in minutes, assists, steals and homework -- he's carrying a quadruple major.
Drew Neitzel (43), Michigan State. It hasn't been a great season for Neitzel, but he showed signs of rediscovering his assertiveness in the Big Ten tournament. Neitzel averaged 27 points in two games and made 10 of 22 3s. He's also made 23 straight free throws and 34 of his last 36.
Will Thomas (44), George Mason. One of two key holdovers from the '06 Final Four team, he averages a double-double (15.8 points, 10.5 rebounds) and shoots a phenomenal 68 percent from the floor.
No Country For Big Men? Think Again
Next, The Minutes takes on the Guards Win Championships Theory. You've heard it for years, and it's often been true. From 1996-2000, every Final Four Most Outstanding Player was a guard. But since then, only one of the past seven MOPs has been a pure backcourt player. (That was Maryland's Juan Dixon in 2002. Last year's MOP, Corey Brewer, was a swingman.)
Florida's back-to-back titles were fueled more by its powerful big men (as was runner-up Ohio State's run last year). North Carolina was taken to the 2005 title by Sean May. Emeka Okafor was the hub for UConn in '04. Syracuse freshman Carmelo Anthony was a frontcourt player in '03.
There are plenty of big men in leading man roles this year, too -- and get this, a lot of them actually like playing in the paint, instead of posing as oversized shooting guards. The top 10 to watch:
Tyler Hansbrough (45), North Carolina. How big: 6-9, 250 pounds. How good: ESPN.com's Player of the Year, on ESPN.com's top team in the Power 16. Key stat: 332 free throw attempts in 33 games.
Michael Beasley (46), Kansas State. How big: 6-10, 235. How good: Hansbrough's only competition for POY. Key stat: 13 games with 30 or more points, seven games with 15 or more rebounds.
Luke Harangody (47), Notre Dame. How big: 6-8, 251. How good: The only realistic choice for Big East POY. Key stat: He wasn't as highly touted as either Hansbrough or Beasley coming out of high school, but his improvement has been breathtaking. Scoring average nearly doubled from freshman year (11.2) to this year (20.8).
Team Lopez (48), Stanford. How big: Brook is 7-0, 260; twin Robin is 7-0, 255. How good: They mean everything to a Cardinal team that has improved significantly since last season. Key stat: They combine to average 29.2 points, 14.1 rebounds and 4.5 blocks.
Kevin Love (49), UCLA. How big: 6-10, 271. How good: Pac-10 POY as a freshman, and perhaps the best outlet passer to grace the game since Wes Unseld. Key stat: Freshman are supposed to be inconsistent, right? Well, Love has scored in double figures every game all season. He answers the bell every night.
Roy Hibbert (50), Georgetown. How big: 7-2, 275. How good: the longer he's been a Hoya, the fewer times they lose -- 12 times his freshman year, 10 as a sophomore, seven last year and five this year. Key stat: Only twice all season has he missed more than six shots in a game. He's allergic to taking bad ones.
David Padgett (51), Louisville. How big: 6-11, 250. How good: No big man in the country funnels more of the offense through his hands than Padgett. Key stat: Averages 1.74 points per shot, best of anyone on this list.
Trent Plaisted (52), BYU. How big: 6-11, 245. How good: Easily the premier big man in the Mountain West. Key stat: Cougars are 4-4 when Plaisted is held to single digits, 23-3 when he scores 10 or more.
Hasheem Thabeet (53), UConn. How big: 7-3, 263. How good: Has blossomed into a potential lottery pick as a sophomore. Key stat: has blocked six or more shots in eight of his last 11 games.
D.J. White (54), Indiana. How big: 6-9, 251. How good: Easy choice for Big Ten POY. Key stat: Twenty double-doubles this season.
State Of Euphoria
That would be the mighty Volunteer State of Tennessee, which isn't just Pat Summitt's playground anymore when it comes to hoops. Tennessee has five of its 13 Division I schools in the dance: Memphis, Tennessee, Vanderbilt (55), Atlantic Sun champion Belmont (56) and Ohio Valley champ Austin Peay (57).
State Of Denial
On the opposite end of the spectrum is Illinois (58), which went zero for nine and really didn't come close to a bid.
Town Of Euphoria
Give it up for Huntington, W. Va., a town of roughly 51,000 on the banks of the Ohio River. It nearly had its own starting five of homeboys in the Dance in Mayo (59) of USC, KSU's Walker, Kentucky's Patrick Patterson (60) (although he's hurt and won't play), Tennessee's Tanner Wild (61) Oklahoma's Chris Early -- but the Sooners dismissed Early from the team before the season. Still, four guys isn't bad.
Can I See Your Ring
Sons or siblings of NCAA champions who are in this year's field:
Nolan Smith (62), Duke. Late father, Derek, helped lead Louisville to the 1980 national championship.
Patrick Ewing Jr. (63), Georgetown. Dad of the same name powered the Hoyas to 1984 title.
James Dunleavy (64), USC. Redshirt is the younger brother of Mike Dunleavy, who helped Duke to the 2001 title.
When hungry and thirsty in San Antonio (65), just head down to the RiverWalk, the epicenter of fun in America's best Final Four city. Nobody else can beat the combination of weather, central location and overall ambience. The Mexican food is superb, the bars are cool, the area is booming. If you cannot have a good time here, The Minutes cannot help you.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.