Wednesday February 27th, 2008

The 'Bag feels like he's covering the cell-phone industry instead of college basketball at times these days. First came the Kelvin Sampson mess, with the Indiana coach finally falling on his cell-phone antenna and resigning last Friday. Then came our story in this week's issue of Sports Illustrated on the recent rash of fan abuse in college hoops.

UCLA's Kevin Love told me that he had received death threats from Oregon fans on his cell phone the day before the Bruins met the Ducks in Eugene last month. (Love's cell number had been distributed by the Pit Crew, the Oregon student fan group.) North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough didn't receive death threats, but he was the subject of several prank calls after he saw a sign at Clemson last year with his cell number on it.

"It said, 'This is Tyler's phone number,' and it actually was my cell number," recalls Hansbrough, who has since changed his number. "People were calling me at 2 o'clock in the morning and waking me up."

It's enough to make you become a Luddite and lose your cell phone altogether. Anyway, we're ready to cover some actual hoops for the first time in a while. Let's dig in:

I think we would all agree that there are six truly elite, upper-echelon jobs in college basketball (Duke, UNC, Kentucky, Kansas, Indiana, and UCLA) that combine tradition, excellence, resources and consistent championship expectations from their fan bases. Also, college basketball would undoubtedly be the No. 1 sport at each school. Which five to 10 teams would qualify for the next level? Syracuse, Georgetown, UConn, Arizona, Ohio State, Michigan, Texas, Florida? Most of these next-level schools have only recently become basketball powerhouses (i.e., Florida) and are identified with one coach who built up the program from nothing (Jim Calhoun with UConn, Lute Olson with Arizona, Jim Boeheim with Syracuse).

Can another coach sustain what these coaches have built in these cases? For the other schools, while they may have large state school resources and significant basketball traditions, they face the problem of always being the second sport behind football (Ohio State, Michigan, Texas, Florida). While this has clearly not held back a school like Florida from winning national championships, is there anything any of the next tier of schools can do to elevate itself to the top elite six? -- Vinay Kini, Norwalk, Conn.

I'll agree with you on the top six. As for the next 10 after that, I would include (in no particular order): Maryland, UConn, Syracuse, Georgetown, Louisville, Ohio State, Michigan State, Arizona, Florida and Texas. It remains to be seen whether the successors of Jim Calhoun, Jim Boeheim, Lute Olson and Billy Donovan will be able to keep it going in the programs that they built. (Georgetown's John Thompson III seems to be well on his way to building on his father's achievements with the Hoyas.) As far as football schools are concerned, Ohio State, Florida and Texas have ridiculous amounts of resources for their basketball programs, which you can see when you visit their remarkable facilities. But being "football schools" will indeed make it hard for them to ever join the top six. Doing that will require an extraordinary amount of effort over a period of decades.

I don't think Indiana will hire Tony Bennett, even though I think it would be an excellent fit. IU has already hired and parted ways with a Bennett: Tony's sister, Kathi, as its women's coach. I am guessing that there will be too much sour grapes on one side or the other. -- Sheldon, Hazelhurst, Wis.

I disagree. From everything I understand, what happened between Indiana and Kathi Bennett wouldn't prevent IU from considering Tony Bennett or vice-versa. Kathi Bennett resigned from the Indiana women's job in 2005 after five seasons citing personal reasons, but no sour grapes or bad blood has ever surfaced publicly. I'm just reading the tea leaves here, but it appears that Indiana AD Rick Greenspan is going to keep his job, and this time he might have even more power over the hiring of a basketball coach than he did with Kelvin Sampson (who was the favorite of former Indiana president Adam Herbert).

Keep in mind, Greenspan was also the AD at Illinois State when Kevin Stallings coached there, and Greenspan is also a huge fan of Mark Few at Gonzaga. Two years ago Greenspan wanted to send a plane to Spokane to bring Few to Bloomington for an interview, but Few declined the offer.

Enjoyed your story on the Dribble-Drive Motion offense. I'm sure I'm not alone in asking this, but does Vance Walberg have grounds for some kind of suit against Herb Welling? At the very least, Welling should be sending Walberg a cut. He's totally ripping Walberg off! -- D.P., Washington D.C.

Thanks D.P. While it seems unfair on the face of it, I don't think Walberg has a case for a lawsuit. Sysko's, the instructional video retailer, asked Walberg if he wanted to do the videos, and he turned down the offer. And when I asked Sysko's executive Jim Blaine about intellectual property issues, he said, "There's no patent on this stuff." Which is true. Maybe the lawyers out there can help me out with this one: Would it even be possible to patent a basketball offensive scheme? Part of me thinks that sounds ridiculous, but another part of me remembers that Pat Riley copyrighted the word threepeat and John Calipari copyrighted refuse to lose.

How does the does the Mountain West Conference's lack of exposure due to a terrible television deal hurt a team like BYU come tournament time? -- Jackson Dunbar, El Monte, Calif.

I really don't think BYU is hurt that much by the league's TV deal, not with the NCAA tournament committee, at least. The committee has done a pretty good job in recent years when it comes to being aware of good teams that don't get as much publicity nationally. If anything, I think many of the TV talking heads are too unaware of the Mountain West. UNLV's run to the Sweet 16 last year shouldn't have been treated with as much surprise as it was in many precincts. That said, BYU's win over Louisville and down-to-the-wire loss to North Carolina in Vegas last fall did draw the Cougars attention from some TV folks who tend to act like the only team west of the Central Time Zone is UCLA.

Why does it seem to be a foregone conclusion that Texas A&M should be in the NCAA tournament? Aside from a win over Texas, has it beaten another tournament team? -- Jay Thomas, Houston, Texas

Good point, Jay. The only obvious NCAA tournament team the Aggies have beaten is Texas; the only two bubble teams they've beaten are Ohio State and Oklahoma. And with three straight losses (including at home to Nebraska and Oklahoma State!) Mark Turgeon's team is clearly on the ropes, considering the tournament committee looks at how you're playing down the stretch. A&M's regular-season schedule ends this way: Texas Tech, at Oklahoma, at Baylor, Kansas. I think the Aggies need to win three of those games, with preferably one of them coming against Kansas, to be in the conversation for an at-large bid.

In last week's mailbag you limited the POY race to two players (Michael Beasley and Tyler Hansbrough), both of whom are great, but I don't think it's time to rule out Indiana's D.J. White just yet. He is averaging a double-double, he leads the Big Ten in rebounding and is second in scoring. If the Hoosiers win the Big Ten outright and win their conference tournament, I think he deserves some serious consideration. He's certainly a better player than Hansbrough, but I agree with you that Beasley may be a step above everybody else. -- David, Minneapolis, Minn.

Sorry to burst your bubble, David, but I don't think White is even the best D.J. in the country this season. I'd consider Texas' D.J. Augustin as Player of the Year before White, although both could be having first-team All-America seasons. I'm not sure how you came up with the idea that White is "certainly a better player than Hansbrough," but that won't fly if you've seen them both extensively this season -- and how could we not with all the national TV time that Indiana and UNC get? Remember, college Player of the Year has nothing to do with a player's NBA prospects. It's about performance during this college season. White has to be the favorite for Big Ten player of the year, but nationally I think it's a two-horse race between Beasley and Hansbrough, with the winner dependent on whether you place more value on raw statistics or team performance.

Remember last week's question wondering if Gonzaga's Austin Daye had a chance to set the single-season free-throw percentage record for a player 6-foot-10 or taller? We knew we could count on Charlie Hart of Noblesville, Ind., to help us out:

When I first saw the reader question about which 6-10 (or above) player had the highest single-season percentage, I immediately thought of Austin Croshere (88.8 percent in 1997). However, determining height was the difficult part of the assignment. Many releases list him as 6-9 and others say 6-10. In his particular case, it became moot as I found a few others who had a higher percentage. I tried to identify people who, for the most part, are usually listed as 6-10 or above. Also, to qualify for the season FT percentage list, the NCAA says one has to make 2.5 FTs per game played and the individual has to have played in 75 percent of the team's games.

With that I am pretty confident that 6-10 Michael Smith of BYU had the highest single-season big man FT percentage. He shot 92.5 percent (160-173) in 1988-89. UCLA great Don MacLean (6-10) shot 92.1 percent (197-214) in 1991-92. Honorable mention goes to Marquette's Steve Novak (6-10), who had freshman through senior averages of 93.9, 91.2, 90.5 and 97.4 percent from 2002-03 to 2005-06 respectively, for a career average of 93.1 (243-261). However, Novak never quite had enough makes in a given year to qualify for the NCAA crown.

Last week you wrote: "If my son were a walk-on who'd never see significant minutes, I'd tell him to choose a school for reasons other than basketball. But if we're limiting this to hoops, I'd want him to be at a college with a rich basketball tradition, like North Carolina or Kansas or Kentucky or Indiana. You could list several schools here and wouldn't go wrong." I think you're forgetting one school here. I'll give you a hint: they've won 11 national championships. -- Andrew, Los Angeles

I understand your point, but more importantly, college basketball dominates the cultures of UNC, Kansas, Kentucky and Indiana. That's just not the case in the Los Angeles area for a number of reasons. Pauley Pavilion is a perfectly good place and those 11 banners are impressive, but I've never gotten the kind of goosebumps watching a game there that I have at the other four places.

If Tennessee and UNC end the season ranked No. 1 and 2, who gets the No. 1 seed in the East? -- Al, Washington D.C.

If that were the case, I'd think Tennessee would get the nod for Charlotte ahead of the Tar Heels.

This opinion may be in the minority, but I see this situation with Kelvin Sampson as more an indictment of the NCAA's arrogance than it is of a dirty coach. I was a member of the professional staff at a major athletic university, known for its scrupulous compliance with NCAA rules, for seven years and I can tell you that we would get memos regarding NCAA rules that made my skin crawl. Rules that were so arcane that they defied any logic whatsoever. Rules that appeared to be made for no other sane purpose than just because they wanted to make a rule. It is stupefying what the NCAA does. So, to ruin a coach's career and the kind of season that Indiana is having because he made too many phone calls reminds me of that scene in Amadeus where the King is trying to find the words to explain what was wrong with Mozart's opera and he turned to his Official Musician for help, to which the Maestro decried: "Too many notes!" The NCAA is an arrogant bunch who ought to get their butt sued by someone who really knows what they are doing. -- Larry Pierce, Columbia, S.C.

Interesting point, Larry. I still think Sampson deserved his fate -- this wasn't, in the end, about phone calls as much as it was about his repeat offenses and the very believable allegation that he lied to Indiana and the NCAA. However, I think it's possible to think as well that something's wrong when the NCAA is the judge and the jury and that you're essentially guilty until proven innocent in the NCAA's version of star-chamber justice. That's why when the allegations of major violations first came out you just knew that Sampson was done at Indiana, whether or not he'd ever get the chance to give his side of the story.

Saw you on the E-True Hollywood Story feature on the Beckhams. You're pretty good on TV, why aren't you on more often? -- Marc Wilson, Augusta, Ga.

Thanks Marc. I'm no Seth Davis, but TV's fun. You might even get sick of seeing the 'Bag's ugly mug during the NCAA tournament.

O.K., now you've sampled Memphis BBQ. You grew up in Kansas City. You've spent a lot of time in North Carolina. Can we get an official Final Call on the best BBQ in the nation/world? -- Jay, Chicago

All in K.C.: 1. Gates. 2. Jack Stack. 3. Oklahoma Joe's.

So you had never been to Bloomington until last week? And you just realized it's a "special place?" Weak, Mr. Wahl, very weak. I realize Indiana has been down, but it should not take a scandal for you to visit one of the most bucolic and passionate sports campuses in the U.S. So please explain to such Hoosier-faithful as myself why you have never visited? -- Scott Turner, Valparaiso, Ind.

Embarrassing but true. There are probably a few reasons. One, I get to fewer games than you'd think while writing for SI. I mean, how often do you see a game story in the magazine anymore? It's better for me to do feature interviews, etc., when teams aren't playing a ton of games. Two, Indiana hasn't been quite as good in recent years. And during my first few years at SI the relationship between Bob Knight and the mag was ... not so good. I was assigned to cover a game there in 1997 but was refused a credential by Indiana. Long story short: I'm glad I finally got to Bloomington.

See you next week.

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