You have questions? The Minutes has answers
Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college basketball (Loren Stokes (1) protective cups sold separately):
By popular request (OK, two e-mailers) The Minutes hereby reruns its March Permission Slip, designed to allow fellow degenerate hoop heads to devote their full attention to what truly matters: postseason basketball.
You expect those of us who spent all winter watching games to suddenly get a life now and ignore the afternoon ball being played from coast to coast? Not likely. Thus, you're encouraged to print, clip and submit the following to problematic authority figures who don't live to hear Bill Raftery (2) announce that someone is opening the game playing "manaman!"
Dear boss/professor/spouse (circle one):
Please excuse (blank) from work/school/playing with the children (circle one) for the next seven days. (Blank) is severely ill/has a death in the family/has car trouble (circle one) that will keep him occupied during the rest of Championship We -- uh, March 8-12.
There is also an excellent chance that (blank) will still be ailing/mourning/working on the transmission (circle one) for the Big Dan -- uh, the week of March 13-19.
In fact, lingering symptoms/prolonged grief/a faulty timing belt (circle one) could hinder (blank)'s attendance and performance into early April.
We appreciate your compassion, understanding and flexibility during March Mad -- uh, during this difficult time in (blank)'s life.
It's been fun watching the little dancers earn their bids, but now it's time for the big-boy conference tournaments. They start Wednesday, and The Minutes is here to tell you what you need to know about each:
Atlantic Coast Conference (3) Is there a Hansbrough/Carmelo thing going on in Chapel Hill?
There certainly are similarities between 2003, when freshman Carmelo Anthony put Syracuse on his back, and 2006, as freshman Tyler Hansbrough is leading this remarkable North Carolina surge up the rankings and the power ratings. The Tar Heels are amazingly hot and could end up with a similar NCAA Tournament seed to Syracuse '03 (the Orange were a No. 3-seed), but replicating that run is asking too much.
(4) Should Duke tank this tournament?
Depends whether you believe the talk about J.J. Redick's breaking down. The Minutes knows this: Redick hadn't had more than two straight sub-50 percent shooting games all year until the last two weeks, and now he's had four straight below 36 percent. If he has only so many minutes left in his lean body, better to use them in the NCAAs than the ACC. Redick hasn't played fewer than 34 minutes since December; maybe this is the week to risk defeat and dial him back.
(5) Is Florida State the fifth ACC team in the Dance?
Not yet, at least in terms of being a lock. The Seminoles are trying to ride a win over Duke and a 9-7 league record into the field of 65, but they'd better beat Wake Forest in the first round Thursday to feel more secure. Upon closer examination, FSU's ACC record and nonconference body of work are not stellar.
(6) Is there a second bid here anywhere?
Only if someone other than George Washington wins the tournament, and that doesn't seem likely -- even without Pops Mensah-Bonsu. It's being played in Xavier's hometown, but the Musketeers have faded badly and lost post man Brian Thornton to injury. Runner-up Charlotte needs a chemistry revision. La Salle has the league's best player, Steven Smith, but probably not enough surrounding him. If there is going to be an upset, The Minutes' sleeper pick is St. Joseph's, which is on a five-game winning streak and has the league's best coach.
(7) Have the academic admissions controversies at George Washington cost the team its focus?
It shouldn't be a factor. But coach Karl Hobbs and the school administration have been first unresponsive, then defensive, in reacting to recent exposés in the New York Times and Washington Post. The stories revealed apparent bogus prep-school academic work by some key Colonials, including starter Omar Williams and key sub Maureece Rice. GW had better get used to the questions, because the issue figures to linger as long as the team progresses this month.
(8) Which Temple team will show up?
No idea. The Owls have victory margins of 32, 29, 24 and 39. They also have defeat margins of 31, 22 and 26. And, oh yeah, the 29-point win and the 26-point loss both came against the same opponent, UMass. First opponent here: Rhode Island.
(9) What if every Wednesday game is won by the lower-seeded team? Could happen. Ninth seed Syracuse split with No. 8 Cincinnati, but definitely needs the win more than the Bearcats. Notre Dame remains the scariest No. 12 seed in the history of league tournaments, and it catches a Georgetown team that has lost four of its last six. Rutgers split with Seton Hall and will be playing to send coach Gary Waters out on a high note. And even though No. 11 Louisville doesn't appear to match up well with No. 6 Pittsburgh, the Cardinals are playing better -- and Rick Pitino hasn't lost a first-round conference tournament game in 20 years.
(10) Would early upsets jeopardize No. 1 seeds for UConn and Villanova?
No way, not in a tournament this tough and deep. They've earned their place. The Huskies' two losses came against NCAA Tournament teams (Marquette and Villanova) and both were on the road. The Wildcats' losses also were to tournament teams (UConn, West Virginia and Texas). The question is this: If they play a rubber match Saturday at Madison Square Garden, does the winner earn the overall No. 1 seed for the tourney? The answer should be yes.
(11) Wasn't this the launching point for the Pittsnogling of America last year? What does he do for an encore?
West Virginia center Kevin Pittsnogle began his ascendancy to verb and folk-hero status at the Big East Tournament last year. This year, the tattooed center already is hot, averaging 22 points in his last seven games. Pittsnogle and Manhattan make strange bedfellows, but there's some history and synergy there.
(12) What does Mike Davis have left up his sleeve?
You just knew with this guy that it wouldn't end with a whimper after his announced resignation last month. Sure enough, the Hoosiers have won four straight to close the regular season, seemingly solidifying an NCAA bid, and now they get the conference tournament in Indianapolis. The Minutes hoped for a Davis-Steve Alford matchup in the quarterfinals, but now they can't meet until the final (and wouldn't that be something?). Don't count out Mike Davis becoming the biggest story of this tourney.
(13) Can Ohio State earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs?
You can make that argument if the Buckeyes win this tourney, but it probably still would require a Memphis loss. Ohio State's early schedule was soft, which hurts the RPI, but consider: The Bucks' four losses have come by a total of 15 points against likely NCAA Tournament teams, in the nation's second-best league.
(14) What happened to the Michigan schools?
Good question. The collapses have been colossal in Ann Arbor (six losses in the Wolverines' last eight games) and in East Lansing (five losses in the last seven). This isn't the first time Tommy Amaker's teams have done that at Michigan, but it's shocking to see a Tom Izzo team fall apart. The Spartans have lost their last four games against teams with winning Big Ten league records, which doesn't inspire much confidence in a rebound in Indy.
(15) What is there to watch in a bleak Thursday first round? There is a maximum of one NCAA Tournament team playing Thursday (Colorado, definitely on the bubble), so you'll have to find your intrigue elsewhere. For that, check the coaching box. Might you be seeing Barry Collier for the final time at Nebraska? Jim Wooldridge in his swan song at Kansas State? Is this the last time Sean Sutton will be announced as the interim coach at Oklahoma State before taking over for his dad? We already know Quin Snyder is out at Missouri; who will replace him?
(16) Is a possible Colorado-Texas A&M quarterfinal Friday an NCAA elimination game?
Could be and should be. The Aggies have closed with seven straight wins and earned a first-round Big 12 bye, but their nonconference schedule was a sham, and they've feasted on the bottom half of a down league (prominent exception: beating Texas.) The Buffaloes at least won at Penn in an otherwise undistinguished preconference schedule and have struggled on the road. Winner can come on in. Loser can start working on that stiff upper NIT lip.
(17) How comfy can Texas feel in Dallas?
The Longhorns could play their next five games there, in front of adoring crowds -- three in this tourney and two next week in the NCAAs. This is known as the Illinois Treatment, similar to the cozy Chicago-Indianapolis-Chicago-St. Louis route the Illini took last year to the national title game. But the Horns will at least have to leave the state by the Sweet 16.
(18) Is there a single reason to go to the FedEx Forum for the first round Wednesday?
Only if your idea of fun is watching eight teams with losing records and RPIs of 189 or worse flail about in an effort to reach the quarterfinals, whereupon they'll be beheaded by the league's four good teams. All things considered, The Minutes would skip it in favor of watching the Big East games at a bar on Beale Street.
(19) What happens in a UAB-UTEP semi?
For the Blazers, just getting there is probably enough to solidify an NCAA bid. For the Miners, they need to win the whole shootin' match to get in. It would give UAB a chance to avenge its only loss in its last nine games -- a 28-point disaster of a defeat in El Paso -- and it would come against a UTEP team struggling since the loss of No. 2 scorer and leading rebounder John Tofi to a season-ending knee injury.
(20) What would be the dream matchup?
A rubber match in the finals between UAB and Memphis, of course -- but more specifically, another competition between Blazers guard Squeaky Johnson and Tigers guard Darius Washington. Squeaky dramatically outperformed Washington at crunch time in Birmingham last week, and coach John Calipari responded by benching his star sophomore in the final minutes. Calipari undoubtedly was sending a message he hopes will resonate in the coming weeks, when it's time to play for keeps. Washington not only has to reprove himself after that game, but also prove that he's permanently past that gut-burning moment last year when his missed free throws with no time left kept Memphis out of the NCAAs.
Mountain West Conference
(21) Is San Diego State for real?
Maybe this week, in a bad MWC, but probably not next week. Congratulate the Aztecs on winning their first regular-season title in 28 years, dating back to when they were in the Pacific Coast Athletic Association. Question the Aztecs on whom they've beaten, especially away from home. Best team they beat in a road-neutral setting, in terms of RPI: Nevada-Las Vegas, which checks in at No. 97. An early loss here could make Selection Sunday uncomfortable.
(22) How weird will this week be for Jeff Bzdelik?
Very. The Air Force coach returns to the gym where he walked the sidelines as coach of the NBA Denver Nuggets -- and where, eventually, he was fired as coach of the Nuggets. Bzdelik will at least know the way to the locker rooms without having to ask.
(23) What coaches besides Bzdelik can reminisce about past glory days?
SDSU's Steve Fisher, who owns a championship ring and two other national title-game appearances from his days at Michigan, when the Fab Five were winning games and allegedly pulling down loot from Ed Martin. UNLV's Lon Kruger took Florida to the 1994 Final Four and Kansas State to the 1988 Elite Eight.
(24) Does the drama ever cease for Arizona?
Not this year. The Wildcats should make the NCAAs, but they don't have a lot of room for error -- and the Hassan Adams arrest on suspicion of DUI is a major error. Playing the league tournament without their best player could lead to a brisk elimination against Stanford.
(25) Are you feeling any Tim Floyd magic here for USC?
Sure. That rabid USC basketball fan base will carry the day in Staples Center and ... oh, wait. Never mind. Floyd has done a good job this season, but his team has little margin for error. The Trojans' last double-digit victory was in December. They've had six double-digit defeats since then.
(26) What kind of seeds do UCLA and Washington deserve?
It's a bad year for the Pac-10, but give the Bruins credit for withstanding an absurd injury plague and the Huskies for overcoming the loss of several stars from last year's No. 1 seed. The Minutes has upgraded its Pac-10 prognosis from recent weeks and pictures UCLA as a No. 3-seed and Washington as a No. 4 or No. 5, pending further developments.
(27) Which team earns the dreaded East No. 2 seed this year?
That would be Florida. It beats playing four games in four days -- but just barely. The Gators earn a first-round bye after finishing second in the Eastern Division to Tennessee, but it's no picnic after that. If the games are played on time (right), Florida will have a 9:45 p.m. ET tip-off Friday night, and with a victory would play again Saturday in the semifinals at 3:15 p.m. That's the toughest turnaround of all the major tourneys by about an hour.
(28) Can they hold this tournament without Kentucky as a weekend presence?
That might not be necessary. The Wildcats got a benevolent draw: They open against a horrific Ole Miss team they already beat by 40; followed by a revenge game with an Alabama team that had something of a career offensive day in Rupp Arena in January; and a potential semifinal game against fading Tennessee (or whatever team upsets the Volunteers). That would put the Cats in the final, which would at least keep scalping brisk in downtown Nashville.
(29) Are you really going to discuss Kentucky without some gratuitous inclusion of Ashley Judd? Of course not. Here she is. You're welcome.
(30) Does anyone besides Nevada have a chance?
The tournament is being played in the No. 1-seed Wolf Pack's home building. They've won 11 straight. They recently beat the No. 2 seed by 18 points on the road. They swept the No. 3 seed. They're 35 RPI spots ahead of the second-best team in the league. To quote Drew Rosenhaus, next question.
(31) Does Nick Fazekas stay at Nevada for his senior season or come out?
There certainly is a market for 7-footers with the skills Fazekas has, but The Minutes chatted with some NBA scouts recently who said they thought the junior still needed significant work on his strength. And, hey, if Adam Morrison can become a rock star at Gonzaga, why can't Fazekas be that guy next year?
(32) Does a possible Utah State-Louisiana Tech semifinal do anything for you?
Sure. The question is whether it does anything for the committee. Bracketologist Joe Lunardi lists Utah State among his top eight teams on the outside looking in, and he doesn't list Tech in any capacity. The winner probably still will need to win the tournament to get in the NCAAs.
Talk about a bad trend: Every year at this time, a college player feels the need to throw a premeditated punch at an opponent's groin. Some coaches say these painful invasions of privacy were more prevalent in the days before the rampant televising of games, but The Minutes has seen enough to be left queasy the last three Marches. A recent groin puncher's history:
• 2004: LeVar Seals (33) of DePaul jacks Cincinnati's Tony Bobbitt (34) in the jewels during the Conference USA tournament final, prompting a torrent of Bobbitt jokes from the always sympathetic media. Bobbitt returns to the game to hit several big shots and further run his mouth, which might have been what got him into trouble to begin with.
• 2005: Chris Paul (35) goes low on North Carolina State's Julius Hodge (36), then scores the winning basket in dramatic fashion. It was a pyrrhic victory, though, costing Paul a game in the ACC Tournament and helping Wake Forest lose a No. 1 NCAA Tournament seed.
• 2006: George Mason's Tony Skinn (37) lands a quick right jab to the private parts of Hofstra guard Stokes in the final minute of their Colonial Athletic Association semifinal. Skinn owned up to it, and the Patriots have suspended him for their next game -- which could knock them out of the NCAA Tournament. George Mason is a bubble team, and its credentials are lessened without the team's No. 2 scorer and No. 2 assist man.
Guys, keep your hands to yourself. Or prepare for an afterlife in Hades of falling split-legged on a balance beam.
Oral Roberts' Scott Sutton (38), whose team earned a year-delayed NCAA Tournament berth Tuesday night by winning the Mid-Continent Conference. Last March, after going undefeated in conference play, ORU was stunned in the tourney final by Oakland, which had a losing record. After stewing on that for a year, and enduring the painful sequence of recent events involving his father, Eddie, in Stillwater, this was a sweet moment.
Anyone who signed a player from Lutheran Christian of Philadelphia (39), one of several sham prep schools profiled in The Times or The Post. If the coach insists he had no idea that the kid's grades might not be legitimate, there are only two possible deductions: He's grossly negligent or he's lying. And his admissions office has some questions to answer, too.
To Missouri State cheerleader Kristi Yamaoka (40): The Minutes is sincerely happy that you're going to be OK after that horrendous fall at the Missouri Valley Conference tournament. But please, a simple thumb's up as you're being carted out of the arena would suffice. No need to break into cheering motions while on a backboard and in a neck brace. Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be