March 05, 2008

This college basketball season has been a game of musical chairs with the same handful of teams fighting for their share of the limelight, despite recognizable flaws. In other words, it's been the same old entourage all year long.

Coincidentally, there happens to be a popular show these days named Entourage. Go figure. After some careful thought, I was surprised to see just how much the current AP Top 5 resembles the hit HBO series. See for youself:

By most accounts, the Tar Heels are absolutely, positively the stars of the show. That being said, they seem conflicted. Often times it feels as if Carolina is content merely being a celebrity (i.e., games against Clemson) than a well-polished artist on the court of play. The question headed into March Madness remains: Can the Tar Heels find a higher source of motivation and deliver a box office hit like Aquaman or are they merely bluffing with a trailer of Medellin?

The Tigers have all the pieces in place to be a real player in the national championship market, and you just know that the talent is there to succeed in a big way. The problem: They have minimal credibility. Indeed, some feel their experience in Conference USA translates poorly to a title run in the same way that managing a Sbarro's didn't make Eric a legitimate representative. And when they failed to stand tall in the face of their most formidable opponent (Tennessee), it got a whole lot harder for people to take them seriously.

Just when the Volunteers completed their quest to the top of the mountain, well, they fell on their own sword against Vanderbilt. And while Tennessee might be the first to tell you about its balanced resume of skills, the bottom line is that it'll be characterized, at least in the short-term, as a team that couldn't stay out of its own way.

The Bruins live among the stars and try to fit in, but they just can't do it. Why? They're a different kind of team that uses its aggressiveness to its advantage, winning with heart and cleverly-conceived tactics. Sharks in the purest quintessence of the word, UCLA knows all the right angles and is a master of execution.

Despite showing signs of brilliance, Kansas leaves you with the feeling that it plays some of its biggest games on cruise control, content simply going along for the ride. And with a bumpy array of tournament results over the last few years, this season has the makings of Turtle's failed business venture with an upstart rapper named Saigon.

It made for a fun little news item when Texas Tech coach Pat Knight reacted to his team's 44-point loss to Texas A&M by punishing it with old school drills laden with weights and tractor tires. And it sort of worked for a while. So, it should be exciting to see what Knight brews up this time, on the heels of a 109-51 loss at Kansas on Monday night. Uh, not good. My guess: a set of full-on, Magnús Ver Magnússon-style physical challenges better suited for a World's Strongest Man competition than any right-minded basketball squad -- you know, with Sequoia logs and 18-wheelers somehow involved.

And more to the point, you have to figure it's only a matter of time before Pat starts throwing chairs like his father.

I've been grappling with this question all season: Is it just me, or do Stanford's Brook and Robin Lopez have serious Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty potential? Aren't these guys college basketball's version of the WWF "Rockers" tag team circa 1991?

Think about it -- just like the WWF tandem, the Lopez Brothers are devastating as a team, characterized by their intense on-court emotion and championship-worthy with a brute combination of scoring and defense. Does the shoe not fit? Meanwhile, one seems destined for stardom (Brook) while the other seems destined for a more non-descript career (Robin); and you can see the writing on the wall that this duo will eventually get broken up. Let's just hope that's due to the NBA Draft and not a controversial "super kick" through a plate glass window at Brutus the Barber Beefcake's barbershop. That'd be ugly.

Reason No. 1 why Vanderbilt's Memorial Gym marches to its own drummer: It was built 56 years ago and people still stroll into their respective offices after watching a Vandy game saying "Have you SEEN that court?" Like, whoa.

The history on Memorial Gym's quirks is pretty straightforward. Back in the day, it was constructed as a hybrid concert hall and arena, thus explaining the quirky platform on which the hardwood resides and the crazy acoustics of the building. In addition, the arena has extra-wide out-of-bounds areas at courtside -- perhaps giving it more versatility for other events -- and the benches remain situated underneath each basket. So, in a sport that shows relatively little variability in terms of playing arrangements, Memorial Gym is the proverbial man with two heads.

And that's a big advantage. Though the marvels of modern science could surely change the configuration, Vandy has no real reason to alter its tradition now. Why should it? The last four No.1 teams to come into Memorial Gym have fallen, and the Commodores have a decided advantage in nearly every game they play at home.

John Riek has many interesting qualities. He's from Sudan. He's 7-foot-2. He's got the option to head to college OR the NBA next season because of his birth date.

Oh, and somehow he's only 18.

By comparison, Greg Oden looks like a teenager and I didn't start growing facial hair until college.

The editor of this space -- yes, there is someone that actually approves this stuff -- has suggested that we let you, the general readership, answer these questions. Send me your thoughts ...

1. Better infomercial product? Quick 'n Brite / Tony Little's Gazelle

2. Bigger Tar Heel weakness? Team defense / Masculine school colors

3. More ferocious MMA name? Kimbo Slice / Tomasz Drwal

4. More overrated basketball conference? Big Ten / SEC

5. Better Patrick? Dan / Danica

6. More painful to watch? Ohio State's slide / The "play-in" game

7. Weaker Mike Tyson's Punch Out opponent? Don Flamenco / King Hippo

8. More joke-worthy part of O.J. Mayo? "O.J." / "Mayo"

9. Luckier Monopoly game piece? Wheelbarrow / Thimble

10. More devastating Pitt injury? Mike Cook / LeVance Fields

So, I know Flo Rida's been pushing the whole "boots with the fur" phenomenon; but as more and more ladies jump aboard the bandwagon, I can't help but notice that a pseudo-competition has begun. Naturally, with women constantly trying to out-do each other, the implication seems that more fur is sexier. And to be honest with you, I saw a particular subject walking the streets in the last week with Mufasa's mane strapped to both ankles. Whoa there, missy. (Not sure how she pulled it off without tripping.) Style is one thing, but prancing around with full-fledged minxes on your feet makes you look more like a Clydesdale than a hip little number. I'm just sayin'...

Ty Hildenbrandt writes Campus Quick Slants every week. E-mail Ty at with your comments, questions and random observations.

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