With 7 minutes, 41 seconds remaining in the first half of last Friday night's Carrier Classic, Michigan State freshman forward Branden Dawson was running downcourt to chase an outlet pass when he suddenly slipped on the large decal at halfcourt bearing the name of the event's title sponsor, Quicken Loans.
For nearly five minutes, the 8,000 spectators aboard the USS Carl Vinson, including the President of the United States, held their collective breath as Dawson writhed in pain, clutching his right knee. Thousands more Spartans fans watching on television did the same. Fortunately, Dawson walked off the court under his own power and he returned shortly before halftime.
A disaster may have been averted, but it's only a matter of time before it strikes for real. It's always upsetting to see a player get hurt, but we all understand it's part of the game. What's not part of the game are the large, garish and dangerous decals that have become all-too-commonplace during these early-season college basketball tournaments.
Corporate signage is an intrusive, but a necessary evil in order to attract requisite dollars. But in nearly every game I've watched that was played on a court that had a decal, at least one player has slipped. Coaches have been complaining for years, but those objections are obviously falling on deaf ears.
"I hate those things," North Carolina coach Roy Williams said after the game. "I think it's stupid to put them out there."
Not surprisingly, Spartans coach Tom Izzo was even more emphatic, considering it was his player who almost got hurt badly.
"They gotta get those things off [the court], man," he said. "They're just not safe. Let us wear the sponsor logos. I know we need the sponsors. I want 'em. But it's just too dangerous out there."
There are many possible fixes. Izzo raised one idea to have coaches and/or players wear logos. Williams offered a better one by suggesting the television networks superimpose the logos graphically onto the playing surface.
"I watch a lot of football," Williams said. "They have a line [to mark the first down]. They don't put that on the field, they put it on the screen. If we want to give someone some publicity, put it on there, but don't put the kids in danger of slipping and sliding on something."
The time has come for a university or conference to propose NCAA legislation banning the use of signs that are not a permanent part of the playing surface. Absent that, schools like North Carolina and Michigan State -- the big brands whom corporate sponsors so badly need -- can simply refuse to participate in any tournament or game that uses decals. The National Association of Basketball Coaches could take that boycott nationwide pretty easily.
Whatever the answer, someone needs to come up with it fast.
• John Calipari doesn't have many problems, but it will be interesting to watch him manage his lineup this season with respect to Darius Miller. From a basketball standpoint, it's an easy call: Miller is not as good as the other frontcourt players, freshmen Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and sophomore Terrence Jones. But Miller is a senior and a good leader, so Calipari is leaving him in the starting lineup -- for now. Of course, starting is not nearly as important as finishing, and I wouldn't be surprised to see Miller on the bench down the stretch of close games.
• The best-case scenario for Michigan State would be to have freshman Travis Trice emerge as a starter. That's because Trice is the only pure point guard on the roster. Sophomore Keith Appling starts at that position, but he's really a converted shooting guard forced into action because of the absence of Korie Lucious, who was dismissed last year. Trice just looks like a point guard out there, and he's cocky in a good way, but he has a lot to learn regarding shot selection.
• Here's another major gift the NBA lockout has delivered: Mike Breen calling college hoops games. I don't think we should ever give him back, do you?
• Kemba Walker was a national player of the year runner-up, he led UConn to a national championship, and he was selected with the ninth pick in the NBA draft. But Jeremy Lamb is a much better player. Just wrap your head around that for a second.
• Louisville forward Chane Behanan is going to mount a serious challenge to be the Big East's Freshman of the Year. At 6-foot-7, 250 pounds, Behanan is strong and sturdy, but he also has great footwork and is highly skilled. He had a nice debut last week. He made all six of his field goal attempts to finish with 14 points and 12 rebounds in just 23 minutes against Tennessee-Martin. He followed that up with 10 points and 13 rebounds in 32 minutes against Lamar.
• If Tray Woodall shoots like he did against Albany, Pittsburgh is going to be better than I thought. A 5-11 senior, Woodall has been a serviceable, but unspectacular reserve point guard during his first three seasons, and he came into this season as a career 27 percent three-point shooter. In the opener he erupted for a career-high 25 points and made five of his seven attempts from behind the arc. I know it's only one game, but my goodness.
• Here's another line that grabbed me over the weekend: Notre Dame sophomore point guard Eric Atkins went 12 for 12 from the foul line and scored 27 points to go along with six assists in the Irish's win over Mississippi Valley State. That's a good sign.
• This excellent idea for a rule change comes courtesy of my friend Mike DeCourcy of The Sporting News: Timeouts should only be permitted to be called during a dead-ball situation, as is the case in international play. Allowing a player to stop the action when he's in a tough spot is like having a quarterback call time as he's about to get sacked.
• In our SI.com crystal ball predictions, I tabbed Xavier guard Mark Lyons as my under-the-radar player to watch. Well, Lyons won't stay under the radar for long. With All-America candidate Tu Holloway sitting out because of an NCAA suspension, Lyons poured in 22 points in the Musketeers' opening win over Morgan State.
• Speaking of Holloway's suspension, I would love to see the NCAA relax its rules prohibiting outside competition in the summer. Every other college student is allowed to take an unpaid internship to learn about his or her future profession. Why not athletes? Moreover, the formula has already been established with respect to foreign players. Those guys are allowed to play with pros as long as they are not paid above necessary expenses. I believe college athletes should be allowed to play as unpaid interns with pro teams under the same guidelines.
• Attention, broadcasters. I present to you my first grammatical pet peeve of the new season: The often-botched uses of the words "who" and "that." It's incorrect to say someone is "a player that shoots well." The correct way to say it is: "He's a player who shoots well."
• Also, you can't revert back to something. You just revert.
• Yes, there's no excuse for losing at "home" to Loyola Marymount, but UCLA's desultory performance in the season opener underscores the challenge the vagabond Bruins will face this season. With Pauley Pavilion closed for renovations, this game was played at the L.A. Sports Arena, which is essentially on USC's campus. Barely 5,000 fans turned out. People in L.A. expect UCLA to compete with the likes of Kentucky and Kansas, but can you imagine those teams ever playing a home game in front of 5,000 people? You could put them in the middle of Montana, and their fans would fill up the place and turn it into a party.
• Speaking of UCLA, remember my burning question about who would win the Tyshawn Taylor Social Media Award? The early leader is Bruins sophomore Josh Smith, who tweeted after the game "Just lost to some straight bums lol..." The tweet was deleted, but give credit to Ballin' Is A Habit for getting a screengrab of it. Smith has all the talent in the world, but he is overweight and lacking discipline. Maybe he should refrain from calling someone else a bum for a while.
• Give me a choice between a great athlete and a great shooter, and I'm almost always going to go with the shooter.
• It sounds like it's not a big deal -- and I hope it never becomes one -- but Roy Williams is having consistent problems with lightheadedness and vertigo. Over the years he has had several instances where he became so dizzy during games that he had to take a knee for a few moments. Williams experienced another brief spell during the second half of the Carrier Classic. He said after the game that he takes vertigo pills and consults North Carolina's team doctor about how to handle it. It would be a good idea for Roy to dial back his intensity during games, but that's not in his nature.
• Just so you know, when you hear a player has been suspended for a "violation of team rules," about 75 percent of the time that means he has failed a drug test. If anything, that estimate might be low.
• Channeling my inner Peter King: I think I think Dominic Cheek is going to have a big year at Villanova, and I think I think Villanova is going to be better than many people think they think.
• Channeling my inner Peter King Part II: If I were a football coach, I would tell my special teams unit that if they're lining up for a critical field goal, and the other team calls timeout before the snap, then the center, holder and kicker should still go through the motions of attempting the field goal. It's a good way to relax the kicker and give him an extra repetition.
• How great was it to see Robbie Hummel back -- and looking like the old Robbie Hummel? He only had one rebound in Purdue's win over Northern Illinois, but Hummel scored 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting in his first game back after recovering from two ACL injuries.
• Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis, the driving force behind the creation of the Carrier Classic, has been nominated by the Big Ten for a position on the NCAA's men's basketball committee. This is a first-team all-no-brainer. College sports need more innovative thinkers like Hollis.
• I feel like Vanderbilt is the Tim Tebow of college hoops. You're either with 'em or against 'em. Put me down as someone who is with 'em despite Vandy's loss at home to Cleveland State on Sunday. (I'm with Tebow, too, if you care.)
• Evansville took 19 more free throws than Butler did and outscored the Bulldogs 32-15 from the foul line in their overtime upset win on Saturday. That's not the Butler Way.
• I believe I am the only quote-unquote expert predicting that Washington will win the Pac-12.
• When I hear people say that Mississippi State forward Renardo Sidney has a lot of "talent," I'm not sure I agree. Yes, he has size, speed and some agility, but discipline is also a talent. The ability to work hard and concentrate for long stretches is a talent. Mental toughness in the face of adversity is a talent. Sidney may yet get there -- and I hope he does -- but so far he has not shown that he has that kind of talent.
• I see Gonzaga senior center Robert Sacre is rocking the Telly Savales baldpate. I dig it!
• I think it's time to move back the start of practice to Oct. 1. The games are starting much earlier than they used to, and three weeks of practice isn't enough time. Plus, it doesn't make sense that the women are allowed to start two weeks earlier. Frankly, I think coaches should be able to begin practicing whenever they want. The rule is designed to prevent coaches from running their players ragged, but no coach worth his salt is going to wear his guys out before the first game.
(Rank on my preseason ballot in parentheses)
1. North Carolina (1)2. Kentucky (2)3. Ohio State (3)4. UConn (4)5. Duke (5)6. Syracuse (6)7. Pittsburgh (8)8. Baylor (9)9. Florida (10)10. Louisville (11)11. Memphis (12)12. Kansas (13)13. Xavier (14)14. Gonzaga (15)15. Vanderbilt (7)16. Wisconsin (16)17. Alabama (17)18. Arizona (18)19. California (19)20. Belmont (20)21. Michigan State (21)22. Washington (23)23. Creighton (24)24. Florida State (25)25. Cleveland State (NR)
Dropped out: UCLA (22)
The season is only a week old, and already we've had our first two casualties. I wasn't quite as high on UCLA as my fellow voters were -- the Bruins were 17th in the AP's preseason poll -- but the Bruins clearly do not deserve to be in the top 25 after their loss to Loyola Marymount. Vanderbilt, which got thrashed at home by Cleveland State on Sunday afternoon, is a tougher call. The Commodores are playing without starting center Festus Ezeli, who was suspended by the NCAA and then suffered a knee injury that will keep him out the first month of the season. Then again, Cleveland State is a Horizon League team that had to replace a first-round draft pick in Norris Cole. If the 'Dores can't win that game, they should at least make it competitive, and they didn't. So I pushed them to 15.
UCLA's drop opened up a spot at number 25. I was originally going to pick Detroit, but Cleveland State's upset made it easy. Missouri, Marquette, Michigan and Temple all warrant consideration, but you know me -- I'm a sucker for the mid-majors. After Butler lost its opener in overtime to Evansville, it looks like Cleveland State and Detroit are the teams to beat in the Horizon.
I had three teams on my preseason ballot that did not make the AP's top 25: Michigan State, Florida State, Washington and Belmont. I'm pretty sure I ranked the Bruins higher than anyone else did. I also didn't see anything in the Carrier Classic to convince me to bump the Spartans. They're no better and no worse than dozens of teams who could be ranked between 20 and 25. These things have a way of sorting themselves out.
I don't expect much movement this week. Besides the Champions Classic games Tuesday night (Duke vs. Michigan State, Kentucky vs. Kansas), there are no other games scheduled between ranked teams. There will be a lot more action the following week when Thanksgiving madness tips off. I, for one, am thankful college hoops is back.