Wednesday January 23rd, 2008

We haven't had a straight/no chaser 'Bag for a while, so let's dig in:

Okay, you're a point guard on a D-I team. You've just committed two turnovers and fouled a guy who made a three-pointer just before halftime. My question is: Which coach are you most terrified to face in the locker room? The easy answer is Bob Knight, but for my money no one is as scary as Virginia's Dave Leitao. The guy is huge, ridiculously intense and yells very, very loudly. Who could be worse? Todd Bozeman with the wrong sandwich order? -- Ben Allaire Raleigh, N.C.

Excellent question, Ben. If last week's 'Bag featured our Magic Eight, you can call these guys the Frightening Fifteen. (Note that they have something else in common, too: they've all been successful.) Here goes:

Texas Tech's Bob Knight. No explanation necessary.

Maryland's Gary Williams. I'd actually rather be the offending player than the poor assistant coach sitting next to Williams on the bench when the miscues happen.

Saint Louis' Rick Majerus. Read S.L. Price's recent Sports Illustrated story and you'll understand.

UConn's Jim Calhoun. An amazing coach and a fun interview, but even Calhoun would probably call himself a born-and-bred Masshole.

Virginia's Dave Leitao. Presumably picked up quite a bit as Calhoun's former assistant at UConn.

West Virginia's Bob Huggins. Don't know which is scarier: the screaming Huggs or the almost-whispering Huggs who embodies the phrase speak softly and carry a big stick.

Michigan State's Tom Izzo. Personifies tough-love, with the emphasis on the former.

North Carolina's Roy Williams. Once broke his watch in a halftime diatribe.

Denver's Joe Scott. Fit in just fine with the military leaders when he was at Air Force.

Duke's Mike Krzyzewski. Those new decorum rules forbidding profanity don't apply in the locker room, folks.

USC's Tim Floyd. I wouldn't be afraid of getting screamed at so much as being benched for the duration of the next two games.

Kentucky's Billy Gillispie. A.k.a, the coach most likely to make you run three hours of stairs on the day of a game as punishment.

Vanderbilt's Kevin Stallings. If he's willing to get into it with opposing players (see Joakim Noah), you can bet he'll do it with his own.

Nevada's Mark Fox. If he's willing to go after referees in the tunnel following games ...

San Francisco's Eddie Sutton. Not sure if he's comfortable enough yet to berate his USF players, but Sutton had no qualms at Oklahoma State.

Seeing that you are a big soccer and college hoops fan, I wanted to get your opinion on the concept of "advantage" when it comes to hoops officiating. I'm a season ticket holder at Cal, and it seems like there is an increasing amount of calls being made in the Pac-10 on actions that I would not even characterize as "impediments." I love the fact in soccer that officials will put away their whistles unless a play creates a distinct advantage for the team committing the foul. Is there any similar concept preached to NCAA officials, and if not, do you think there should or should not be some kind of application of the advantage rule? -- Paul Turner, Pleasant Hill, Calif.

There isn't a similar "advantage" rule in hoops, unfortunately, and in my mind that's a shame. Consider a sequence in Kentucky's win over Tennessee on Tuesday night. With Kentucky leading 54-52 with just over six minutes to play, the Vols' Tyler Smith throws an ill-advised lob to J.P. Prince on the break. Prince manages to tip the ball back to Smith for a lay-up, but the referee calls a foul on Kentucky's Joe Crawford (the only defender back) for pushing Prince as he was in the air. Smith's basket is disallowed, and Prince goes to the free-throw line, where he misses the one-and-one. I'm not saying that call turned the game, but I am saying that Tennessee would have preferred the guaranteed two points that would have resulted if basketball allowed a soccer-style call of "advantage" to be played.

I also get annoyed when a team plays great half-court offense, forces its opponent to take a tough shot to beat the shot-clock and (if it's an air-ball) has to take the ball out of bounds after the shot-clock violation instead of being able to start a fast-break in the other direction.

Just to follow up on your comment about UCLA's Russell Westbrook (When was the last time a non-starter was an All-America candidate in college hoops?), I would posit Michigan State's Morris Peterson in 1999-2000. -- Scott Davenport, New York City

Good point, Scott. There seem to be a lot of really good sixth men in college basketball this year, including Westbrook, Kansas's Sherron Collins, North Carolina's Danny Green and Duke's Nolan Smith. Not sure if there's any reason for that, but it's certainly interesting.

Who do you think wins the Missouri Valley? -- Andy, Omaha, Neb.

You have to like Drake, which went into Omaha and beat Creighton in overtime on Tuesday to go to 18-1. (The highlights looked like they were being transmitted from the dark side of the moon. Can't we get a little better TV coverage of the Valley?) I've been up-and-down on the wisdom of hiring the sons of longtime coaches to replace their dads -- sometimes it works (Tony Bennett at Washington State), sometimes it doesn't (Joey Meyer at DePaul) -- but Keno Davis, the son of Dr. Tom Davis, has been a revelation in Des Moines. So too has Tim Jankovich at Illinois State, who has gotten off to a terrific start in the Valley in his first season on the job.

Please settle a bet. I thought that when you come to a jump stop, your feet are planted or it's a travel. But it appears that refs are allowing players to establish a pivot foot AFTER the jump stop. What gives? -- Patrick Hood, Athens, Ga.

The whole point of a correctly-taken jump stop (i.e., both feet landing at the same time) is that you can use either foot as a pivot once you land. But it doesn't mean you can take another step and use THAT foot as a pivot. That would be traveling.

After watching Greg Paulus in the Florida State game and basically throughout his career, I'm wondering: Does Coach K actively teach flopping? Paulus is not the first, nor will he be the last, to do this for Duke. To be honest, they make the Italian national soccer team look like the Dick Butkus-era Chicago Bears when it comes to toughness. They are usually talented, so why resort to this bush-league tactic over and over? -- Kevin, Lexington, Ky.

I went to my brother's high school game the other night and was amazed. It's official! Flopping has finally trickled down to the high-school level. Who do I blame for this? Well, Duke of course. Will the NCAA take steps to prevent so many flops? I feel it really slows down the pace of the game and in turn makes it less exciting. -- John, Richmond, Va.

For a long time we've advocated establishing a circle under the basket (a la the NBA) to prevent defenders from taking charges right under the hoop. But yes, the general scourge of flopping appears to be worse than ever this season everywhere on the court. I doubt Coach K actually runs drills in practice to teach flops, though the idea of it makes me recall a hilarious TV ad featuring the Italian soccer team working on flops in training. It's clearly time that the NCAA made reducing flops a (you guessed it) point of emphasis for next season. But has anyone noticed that Duke's slashers (Gerald Henderson, Nolan Smith, Demarcus Nelson) do a particularly good job of avoiding contact when they drive hard to the basket? Is there any chance that it's because they face floppers every day in practice? Just wondering.

(And yes, that makes two soccer references in one 'Bag.)

Hey Hon! First, it is NOT "Baltimore lingo." Nay, it is "Balamerese." Been downy-shore or plan to go there next summer? After you've lived in Murlin long enough, you'll figger out what that means. (Hint: you need to go through Ann Runnel county and Napolis to get there from Balamer.) -- Mike, Baltimore

A'ight, thanks.

As you might expect, I got a lot of feedback from last week's Magic Eight, not least because I left then undefeated and top-ranked North Carolina off my list of the eight teams from which I guaranteed the national champion would emerge. Here's a sampling of viewpoints (and a quick response to each):

You left UNC off your "Magic Eight" because of defense (fair enough), but you kept three teams that are worse defensively? That makes no sense. -- Mark Boyle Toronto

Got a lot of questions like this one. If the NCAA tournament were full of seven-game series, the best teams would win most of the time. But the NCAA tournament is often maddeningly arbitrary, and so is my Magic Eight. As I take pains to say every year, the Magic Eight doesn't represent the eight best teams in the country. So there's no grand theory that every team has to fit, and some lower-ranked defensive teams got in while higher-ranked ones didn't. To make things interesting I decided to eliminate one of the Big Four (Kansas, Memphis, UCLA and North Carolina), and I think my reasoning for choosing Carolina was pretty sound. Reasonable minds can disagree, though.

I did think that North Carolina was overvalued when I wrote the column, and its subsequent home loss to unranked Maryland provided some support for that notion. But I'm not so loony to think that Magic Eight members Xavier and Louisville are better than the Tar Heels (even if they are capable of beating them on a given day in a single-elimination tournament). For what it's worth (and it may not be much), I think Carolina is the fourth-best team in the country right now behind Kansas, Memphis and UCLA (despite the Bruins' own home loss to USC over the weekend).

As for reader demands of logic and thoughtfulness in college hoops analysis, I'm down with that, as most of you who are regular readers will know (Magic Eight guarantees notwithstanding). But I'll also ask this: For those of you who love that college basketball determines its champion on the court (and renders polls meaningless), how comfortable are you with the fact that the best team so often doesn't win the title?

I did not even see your eight teams before I agreed that UNC would not win. Your choices are spot-on and I think the best team is Kansas. -- Chari Bayanker Syracuse, N.Y.

Thanks. We'll see what happens. With UNC and UCLA falling over the weekend, we're now starting to see the debate shift to whether Kansas or Memphis is the best team in the land. It's a hard call right now. Both teams are undefeated and running over their opponents, and both are tremendously deep with prolific offenses and scary defenses (the top two in the country per kenpom.com). Against teams ranked in the kenpom Top 75, Kansas has beaten five on the road (USC, Georgia Tech, Boston College, Nebraska, Missouri) and one at home (Arizona), while Memphis has beaten zero on the road, three at neutral sites (Oklahoma, UConn, USC) and two at home (Georgetown and Arizona).

The best single victory for either team is probably Memphis' win over Georgetown. But the farther we get into conference season, the more the Tigers' resume could suffer in comparison to the Jayhawks' due to their conference affiliations (assuming both teams keep winning). Give John Calipari credit for scheduling Gonzaga and Tennessee during conference season, however, though for curiosity's sake I wish Memphis had scheduled more true away games against tough non-conference opponents this season.

All that said, I can't wait to see Kansas visit surging Kansas State on Jan. 30 (the Wildcats have never beaten their rivals in Bramlage Coliseum), and I'm already fired up for Memphis-Tennessee on Feb. 23.

Where is the respect for Duke? They have only lost one game all year. They have basically handled everyone else they have played, minus Marquette and Pittsburgh, are much better offensively than a year ago, are a young team and are very athletic. How come no one is really talking about them? -- Mike, Omaha, Neb.

I'm not sure who's failing to talk about Duke. The Blue Devils are playing some very good basketball right now, and the home win against a big Clemson team showed that despite its lack of size Duke can succeed against taller teams as long it creates turnovers and maximizes its speed and spacing on offense. For me, the player to watch in Durham right now is freshman point guard Nolan Smith. He is more explosive than Greg Paulus and creates more of his own offense. Not that Paulus is destined for the scrap heap. After lacking quality depth for several years, Duke is finally starting to build some, and Smith-vs.-Paulus at the point is a good problem to have.

I like your picks, but I predict if you re-do this list in a month, Texas will have found a way onto it. -- Dave Jordan, St. Simons Island, Ga.

Perhaps, perhaps not. Obviously, you can't disregard the Longhorns' wins against UCLA and Tennessee, but more recent losses to Wisconsin, Michigan State and Missouri have dampened my enthusiasm a bit. Texas looked OK in gutting out a win at Oklahoma State this week (D.J. Augustin was magnificent in the final minutes), but anyone who thought the recent addition of Gary Johnson was going to completely turn things around down low was overestimating his impact.

Last year, you had Washington State in your Magic Eight. This year they are all a year older and you left them out. Was the loss at UCLA the deciding factor? Or did you regret putting them in last year? -- Andy Karsh, Seattle

I took a flier on Wazzu last year and don't regret it. The Cougs are indeed better this time around, and I love to watch Tony Bennett's team do its thing on defense. The offense is pretty good too (the rise of Aron Baynes down low is the biggest difference compared to last season), but while I think WSU is probably the second-best team in the Pac-10, I do have fears about the Cougars' difficulty when it comes to generating offense against the nation's elite-level defenses.

First off, I hope you are proved wrong about UNC and I see some Hansbrough-style ping-pong on YouTube come April. Second, I think you bring up some good points about Carolina. One thing you didn't mention is its lack of consistency, especially shooting threes. Their game-by-game offensive stats are great, but they seem to be prone to going cold from beyond the arc for long stretches, which can kill in the NCAAs. Any thoughts on UNC's trouble with threes? -- Tim, Philadelphia

I guess I have less of a problem with Carolina's mediocre three-point shooting (37.1 percent, No. 94 in the country) than I do with the overarching defensive concerns. You have to remember, Roy Williams is all about pushing the ball inside as the first option every single time down the floor. Out of the 341 teams in Division I, only three teams shoot three-pointers less often than Carolina does (Michigan State, Southern Utah and Southern Miss).

I went to see the Temple-Xavier game that Temple won by 19 and Xavier didn't show me anything to make me think it's going to win the Atlantic 10 much less the national championship. While Drew Lavender and Stanley Burrell are impressive enough, I don't see them having the horses to beat the big boys in the tournament. Your thoughts? -- Brian Robbins Philadelphia

I'll admit it was a pretty big reach to put Xavier in anything discussing national-title contenders, but you're nuts if you think the Musketeers aren't a contender to win the A-10. We'll get a much better read this week with Xavier facing Dayton at home and UMass on the road. Getting a split would be crucial and a sweep could be a springboard to the league title, while two losses would set things back a long ways. Asking the X to win six games in the NCAA tournament is a tall order, but remember, this is a better team than the one that should have eliminated Ohio State and reached the Sweet 16 last year.

So you think Tom Izzo won't have Michigan State tournament-ready for a Final Four run at least? -- Nick Coquillard, New York City

The Spartans were in various iterations of the Magic Eight but failed to make the final cut. I think MSU is a serious Final Four contender and is still undervalued due to the ugly loss at Iowa, though I'm curious to see how Kalin Lucas handles the pressure of his first postseason.

• I'm really starting to wonder: Is Texas A&M that good? The Aggies' best win came against a middling Ohio State team, and A&M is now 0-3 in true road games after feeble performances at Texas Tech and Kansas State last week. To see Mark Turgeon's team disintegrate down the stretch against K-State was troubling, to say the least.

• Speaking of Kansas State, I think we can put to rest the idea that Bill Walker's athleticism was a thing of the past after his knee injury. Walker is on fire of late, and I'm even more impressed by how Wildcats teammates like Blake Young and Jacob Pullen are getting their acts together. I was starting to worry that Michael Beasley and USC's O.J. Mayo might never play in an NCAA tournament game, but their teams appear to be coming around at just the right time.

• Good for ESPN for including Doris Burke and Stacey Dales in significant roles as analysts on men's college basketball games.

• Arizona State's Herb Sendek deserves some serious national Coach of the Year consideration for what he's pulling off in Tempe, where the Sun Devils are atop the Pac-10. In fact, ASU might still be unblemished in the league were it not for a terrible phantom call that gave Jeff Pendergraph his fourth foul early in the second half at Stanford last Saturday. The Sun Devils' 10-point halftime lead vanished when Pendo's replacement (Duke transfer Eric Boateng) got abused by Brook Lopez. In case you're wondering, Boateng is another example of a McDonald's All-American that might have gotten that award simply because he signed with the Blue Devils out of high school.

• Oklahoma State's Marcus Dove has always been one of the nation's top defenders, but when did he get an offensive game? Consider me impressed.

• A note from reader Chris Waskiewicz of Ridgeway, Va.: "I am a basketball official in high school and junior college, and wanted to comment on your point about intentional fouls. In the past three years, the NCAA and the NFHS have made intentional fouls a point of emphasis. They both want intentional fouls called, not necessarily more often, but correctly. Too often do intentional fouls get let go at the ends of games, and safety concerns have caused a crackdown on these fouls. So referees are being instructed to not be as lenient with these plays. This goes for any time during the game, not just at the ends. Because it is a point of emphasis, that is why you are seeing it more often this year."

• A nomination for Luke's Winn's style guide: the face tattoos of teardrops on Tennessee's Tyler Smith that are a tribute to his late father. We're not sure which we like better: Smith's face tatts or the three Memphis Tigers that have Dalonte West-style neck tattoos (Chris Douglas-Roberts, Shawn Taggart and Doneal Mack).

There Will Be Blood. My goodness, Daniel Day-Lewis is terrific in this film, which comes from one of our favorite directors, Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights). You don't encounter too many epics in movies anymore, but Day-Lewis's portrayal of the soulless early-1900s oil man Daniel Plainview is breathtaking in its scope. Anderson's film has shades of everything from Citizen Kane to Dead Man to The Untouchables (and a bunch of others), and Paul Dano (who played the Nietzschean mute in Little Miss Sunshine) somehow manages to go toe-to-toe with Day-Lewis as a rising young minister. Great, great stuff.

We'll be back next week to answer more of your questions -- and include a fun interview with two college students who drove more than 20,000 miles to meet the best coaches in the college basketball.

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