From Lexington to Louisville, players and fans are in a state of
Choppy waters are normally a part of life for the skipper of the
good ship Kentucky, but Tubby Smith saw this latest crisis as one
that could truly rock the boat. It began on Dec. 19, when Smith
met for about four hours in his office with 6'10" sophomore
forward-center Marvin Stone to talk about Stone's unhappiness
with his role in the Wildcats' offense. During practice the next
day, Smith's son G.G., a team manager, came bounding down the
bleachers of Memorial Coliseum holding a printout of a story that
had run in that day's Huntsville (Ala.) Times. The headline in
Stone's hometown newspaper read STONE MAY LEAVE KENTUCKY. On Dec.
22, a few hours before his team took the floor against Indiana,
Smith was on the phone with a friend of Stone's former AAU coach,
still trying to quell the storm. "I can't be having this," Smith
told the friend. "I'm having enough trouble up here as it is."
Given the way Kentucky has been plagued by transfers (Michael
Bradley, Ryan Hogan, Nate Knight) and suspensions (Desmond
Allison, Jules Camara) for the last few years--and given its 3-5
start this season--losing Stone, a former high school
All-America, would have been a devastating blow. Fortunately for
Smith, Stone announced that he was staying put, and on Tuesday
he chipped in 11 points and six rebounds in the Wildcats' 64-62
win at Louisville. That pushed Kentucky's record above .500 for
the first time this season, but the Wildcats remained unranked
for the sixth straight week, failing even to make it into the
"Others Receiving Votes" section in either of the two major
national polls. Despite all this, Smith insists his program is
shipshape. "What happened with Marvin happens at a lot of
places," he said after the Louisville win. "But because it's
Kentucky, it's something good to write about, something good to
talk about. That's just the way things are out here."
As dysfunctional as the Wildcats family has been of late, it
looks like the Brady Bunch next to its intrastate rival.
Tuesday's loss dropped Louisville to 4-9, its worst start in
Denny Crum's 30 years as coach of the Cardinals. After
Louisville ended December with consecutive 23-point home defeats
to Dayton and Oregon, senior guard Marques Maybin criticized
what he called Crum's "zero tolerance" policy of yanking a
player out of a game the minute he makes a mistake. "If we all
don't get on the same page, it's going to be pandemonium around
here," Maybin said. Crum's riposte to his leading scorer?
"Marques's main problem is that his shot selection sucks," he
The team met for seven hours last Sunday, but it appears that the
only one who was clearing any air was Crum. "Some of the guys got
a couple of words in edgewise, but not much," Maybin says. "He
really laid down the law. You could have cut the tension with a
Crum, 63, doesn't sound like a man who is about to ride quietly
into the sunset--"I'm not going to retire until I'm ready to
retire," he says--but the walls of support around him are
beginning to crack. Longtime Lexington Herald-Leader columnist
Billy Reed called for his resignation this week, and when
fourth-year athletic director Tom Jurich was asked before the
Kentucky game whether he was committed to Crum, he replied, "I'm
committed to him, but I also want to do the right thing for the
university. We have much higher expectations than this." He added
that Crum's status would be evaluated at the end of the season.
When Kentucky and Louisville resumed their annual series in 1983,
SI featured the game on its cover. On Tuesday, for the first time
since then, neither participant brought a winning record into the
so-called Dream Game, and Jurich's lament about unmet
expectations was undoubtedly echoed all across the commonwealth.
It has been a long time since basketball season in the Bluegrass
State was so blue.
Court of the Cupcake Kings
In coaching parlance, there's no such thing as a good loss. So
while a smattering of elite teams (most notably Arizona,
Illinois and Michigan State) spent the first two months of the
season priming themselves against tough competition, an equal
number fattened themselves on schedules larded with cream puffs.
"It's simple math," says UConn coach Jim Calhoun, whose Huskies
beat a pacifist's row of Fairfield, Rhode Island and Stony Brook
before losing their league opener to Boston College on
Wednesday. "The days of going to the [NCAA] tournament with 12
or 13 losses are over."
That indeed is the mind-set of coaches like Georgetown's Craig
Esherick, whose Hoyas were 12-0 through Wednesday thanks to a
lineup of opponents that ranks 249th out of 319 in the latest RPI
strength-of-schedule ratings. Esherick believes that early in the
season it's better to ace easy tests than try to get better
through hard ones. "I think it's an exaggeration that you get
credit for losing to good teams," Esherick says. "If I had
scheduled three more wins last year, we would have had 21. That
looks a whole lot different from 18."
The idea of scheduling a win sounds appalling, but it can be
done by paying guarantees to lure feeble opponents onto your
home court, and it may make sense for teams like Georgetown and
Alabama, which have earned spots in the Top 25 this season
despite low strength-of-schedule ratings. If the Hoyas and the
Crimson Tide are on the bubble with 18 or 19 wins come Selection
Sunday, the fact that they were ranked at one time may create
the perception that they belong in the NCAAs. Remember New
Mexico two seasons ago? The Lobos' nonconference schedule was so
weak that a member of the state legislature publicly blasted
coach Dave Bliss, yet 24-8 New Mexico was still given an
at-large bid despite being ranked 74th in the RPI.
Now Bliss is up to his old tricks at Baylor, where he took over
last year and went 14-15. His Bears were 11-0 through Wednesday,
thanks mostly to a hyphen-heavy slate (Arkansas-Pine Bluff,
Hardin-Simmons, Arkansas-Little Rock) that ranked 316th in
strength of schedule. According to Bliss, he lined up a lot of
weaklings because he knew his team needed time to improve. "The
only way we're going to the NCAAs is if we win the Big 12
tournament," he says. "This way we don't have to pay outlandish
guarantees [to better teams] to learn how to win."
Such an excuse can't be used by Stanford coach Mike Montgomery.
The No. 2-ranked Cardinal's 84-83 win over Duke on Dec. 21 was
the only time Stanford faced a ranked team before Pac-10 play.
One rival Pac-10 coach suggests that Montgomery and his team may
see the folly of their ways "when they get bumped off by Gonzaga
[again] and are out of the NCAAs the first weekend."
The official NCAA position is still that playing good teams will
be rewarded in the end. "I tell my coaches it's in their best
interest to play some quality non-conference teams," says Big
East commissioner Mike Tranghese, who is also chairman of the
NCAA men's basketball committee. "If you don't do that, you put
yourself at great risk."
We've heard that kind of tough talk before, but the committee's
actions haven't always spoken so loudly. It remains to be seen
whether all those cupcakes devoured in November and December will
still taste sweet come March.
Christmas at UTEP
Not Much of a Holiday
The next time you hear that the NCAA has suspended a
student-athlete for accepting a free T-shirt or a ride to the
airport or some other minor benefit not available to "regular"
students, consider how UTEP freshman forward Antone Jarrell spent
Christmas Day. Or as Jarrell refers to it, Double Denny's Day.
While millions of other students were home for the holidays--many
of them working part-time jobs to earn cash for the second
semester--Jarrell, who hails from Portland, had to stay in El Paso
because the Miners were hosting a four-team tournament on Dec. 27
and 28. In other words, he spent his vacation helping make money
for his school, the same school that is prohibited by NCAA rules
from providing its student-athletes with some basic necessities.
"I had never been away from home at Christmastime before,"
Jarrell says. "I wish I could have been there with my family."
Jarrell and two of his teammates began Christmas morning by
bumming a ride to a Denny's. After breakfast the three of them
walked about two miles back to campus, where they lifted weights
and then went through a full practice. That night Jarrell and the
rest of the Miners got together for a team dinner--at another
Denny's. It took so long for Jarrell to get his food that, while
the rest of the team headed for the hotel where the Miners were
staying during the tournament, he had to wait with an assistant
coach for the waitress to bring him his Christmas dinner in a
"Back home my mom was probably cooking a whole lot of good
stuff," Jarrell says. "My sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles were
all there. But these are the kind of sacrifices you have to make
to get into the NCAA tournament."
Are They This Good?
Thanks to easy preconference schedules, a number of teams entered
league play this week not only with gaudy records but also with
skeptics aplenty. Here are a half-dozen teams to keep an eye on
to see whether they are the real deal or paper tigers.
TEAM RECORD OPPONENTS' RECORD
Alabama 11-1 49-84
One loss came vs. one tough foe
Baylor 11-0 40-70
Own win over Division II St. Edwards
Georgetown 12-0 54-76
Coasted vs. likes of Coastal Carolina
LSU 9-1 47-64
Feasted on Southland Conference foes
Oregon 9-1 48-66
Squeaked by Northern Arizona in OT
UConn 11-2 63-81
One good win: 71-69 over Arizona
The Joe College Report
Hot Tub II? UNLV senior center Kaspars Kambala earns Bonehead of
the Week honors for getting caught dining at an Asian restaurant
with David Chapman, the former Runnin' Rebels booster who is
banned from having any contact with the program due to his
central role in UNLV's most recent probation case. "I didn't
take anything from him, and we didn't talk business," Kambala
said, adding that he paid for the meal (cost: just under $35)
with his own money. (He used a $100 bill, according to the
waiter.) "Kas strikes me as someone who isn't overly concerned
about perception," intoned UNLV interim coach Max Good....
The Dajuan Wagner era started in Memphis last week. The
blue-chipper played two games with his Camden (N.J.) High team
at the Pyramid, where he's slated to suit up next year for coach
John Calipari's Tigers. Organizers hyped the event with an ad in
the Memphis Commercial Appeal featuring Wagner ("It's my first
game in Memphis--but not my last"), and he responded by going
for 50 and 24 points in a pair of wins. "I've been telling you
he can play," crowed Wagner's dad, Milt, the former Louisville
star who now serves as (insert arched eyebrow here) an
administrative assistant to Calipari....
In what sounds like a hip-hop recasting of the Snow White story,
the TCU roster is dotted with players named Greedy (Daniels),
Rebel (Paulk), Bingo (Merriex) and Nucleus (Smith). Only
Daniels's handle is a nickname. (His given name is Edwin.)...
Props to Illinois guard Cory Bradford for his NCAA-record streak
of 78 straight games (through Wednesday) with a three-pointer.
But given Bradford's percussive 32.9% shooting from beyond the
arc, it's as if Joe DiMaggio had gone 1 for 5 in 56 straight
Has there been a victory this season more surprising than
Northwestern's 63-61 upset of No. 16 USC last week? Having
inherited a team that went 5-25 last year and with no
opportunity to recruit his kind of players, new coach Bill
Carmody has the Wildcats off to a 7-6 start.
For the latest scores and recruiting news, plus more from Seth
Davis and Grant Wahl, go to cnnsi.com/basketball/college.