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Titus’s Top 12 NCAA Rankings: Welcome Back, Duke!

Assessing the best teams in college basketball right now.

We have a ton to get to, and you only have so much time to screw around online before your boss catches you, so let’s dive right into this week’s power rankings.

12. Utah

As someone who frequently has Jay Bilas’s book Toughness show up in Amazon’s “Recommended For You” box, I know all there is to know about being tough. Examples of toughness include putting your hands up on a roller coaster, not being afraid to sit on a public toilet, owning more than five Kid Rock albums, and carrying a wallet with a chain attached to it. Meanwhile, examples of the exact opposite of toughness are shaving, using a remote car starter in the winter, using an umbrella under any circumstances, and Utah’s performance at Arizona on Saturday afternoon.

Arizona is great at home and the Wildcats were hungry to bounce back after the Oregon State upset, so the Utes normally wouldn’t need to panic over leaving Tucson with a loss. But the way Utah lost might be reason to hit the panic button. Heading into the game, I expected Utah to pack in its defense and dare Arizona to make 3s. I figured Utah would match Arizona’s physicality, both teams would sumo wrestle in the paint, and Utah’s chances of stealing a win would hinge on whether the Utes could sink enough 3s.

Instead, Utah was as soft as it has been all season. Arizona hit one 3, Utah hit nine, and the Utes lost by 18? How is that possible? Why didn’t anybody on Utah get pissed off over giving up so many offensive rebounds? Why didn’t anybody say, “I don’t care if we lose by a million  T.J. McConnell is NOT going to keep dribbling circles around us”? How many times was Stanley Johnson going to muscle his way to the rim before someone decided to make stopping him a personal challenge?

Utah jumped out to an early lead thanks to Arizona shooting (and missing) so many jump shots. But once the Cats got aggressive, Utah reacted like Arizona had broken an “I won’t play tough defense if you don’t play tough defense” promise, and the Utes shifted into “just give me my per diem and tell me what time the bus leaves for the airport” mode. This was happening on both ends of the floor, by the way. Even on offense, the Utes were soft: All they did was jack 3s or try to drive to the hole, where they’d inevitably get blocked or lose the ball and then look to the refs for a bailout call.

Fair or not, the bulk of the blame falls on Delon Wright. He’ll be an All-American and possibly the national player of the year, which makes it even more frustrating to watch him go through the motions (which he does way too often). He toes the line between “he just makes it look effortless out there!” and “wait, what if he makes it look effortless because he’s not playing that hard?” Yes, he picks his spots because Utah relies on him to do so much and he needs to conserve energy. But as one of the best players in the country and the senior point guard for a top-10 team, it’s on Wright to get his team going. He has to either yell at teammates in the huddle or, if that’s not his style, play his ass off to single-handedly drag his team back into the game. Maybe Utah would have lost no matter how Wright responded to Arizona’s surge, but I would’ve liked to have seen him play with more fire.

11. Louisville

pitino-rick-louisvilleJoe Robbins/Getty Images

Remember how I wrote that Rick Pitino was close to figuring out the perfect meth recipe for Louisville? Well, Mike Krzyzewski just pooped in Pitino’s batch, set the entire lab on fire, and called the police to narc on Pitino. If you missed Saturday’s Duke-Louisville game, you should’ve seen Pitino’s face when he realized Duke was going to play zone all game, which is something Duke neeeeeevvvvvveeeeerrr does. Pitino’s mug was lifeless, horrifyingly pale, and just … well, I guess normal. But I’m sure Pitino was torn up on the inside because he knew his team was about to be crushed.

The most frustrating thing about Louisville’s performance is that the Cards played right into Duke’s hands. You know why Duke went zone? Because the Blue Devils haven’t been able to keep anybody in front of them recently and Louisville can’t shoot. That Coach K never plays zone yet started the game in a 2-3 is an admission. It’s Coach K saying, “We are terrible at defense. Please don’t make us have to guard you. Please just chuck 3-pointers, let us rebound them, and let us go to the other end.” And instead of licking their chops at a struggling Duke defense playing an unfamiliar zone, Louisville simply responded with, “Whatever you say.”

Sucking at shooting is bad. Sucking at shooting and then convincing yourself that you’re really not that bad at shooting is how you get massacred on your home court. What did Arizona do against Utah when the Cats weren’t hitting 3s? They stopped shooting them and figured out an effective way to attack the defense. What did the Cardinals do when they weren’t hitting 3s? They kept shooting 3s! Louisville was 2-for-13 from behind the arc in the first half, yet the only non-jump-shot field goal it made in the first 18 minutes was Wayne Blackshear’s dunk. How does this happen? How does Louisville refuse to attack the paint when it has several penetrators and one of the best big men in college basketball? Where were the cutters? Why didn’t the ball move around, get dumped inside, get kicked out, go back inside, etc.? Where was any semblance of offensive creativity? I would say Louisville shot itself in the foot by playing into Duke’s hands, but even if the Cards tried to shoot themselves, they’d probably miss.

10. Notre Dame

Try to stay with me here, because this is going to get crazy: What if Notre Dame let its best player handle the ball more often? What if Jerian Grant played aggressively from the start instead of “letting the game come to him”? Every time I’ve watched Notre Dame this season, Grant has seemed to almost intentionally avoid shooting in the first half. It’s generous for him to involve his teammates, but why does it have to be one or the other? Why does First Half Jerian Grant have to be the facilitator and Second Half Jerian Grant be the guy who saves the day with scoring? Why can’t both Jerian Grants coexist for 40 minutes?

Case in point: In the first half of Notre Dame’s Saturday game against Miami, Grant tried to get his teammates going. But his teammates were cold. The Hurricanes built an eight-point lead after about 12 minutes, thanks in part to Notre Dame’s 5-of-15 shooting. Then a funny thing happened: Grant took his first shot of the game. The Irish then went on a 15-8 run to cut Miami’s lead to one with 1:18 left in the half. Of the 15 points Notre Dame scored during that run, Grant scored nine and assisted on four more.

When the second half started, Grant went back to playing passively. He attempted only one shot in the first 8:30, and Miami’s lead swelled to seven. Then Grant started shooting again and the Irish went on an 18-8 run to take a lead they would never relinquish. Of the 18 points scored during that run, Grant scored eight, assisted on five more, and hit the step-back 3 that put the Irish up for good.

Remember Captain Planet? Of course you do. Well, if you’re like me, you always wondered why Captain Planet had to keep being summoned. Why couldn’t the Planeteers just summon Captain Planet with their rings once and then have him stay with them? Why go through the tedious summoning process over and over again?1 That’s how I feel about Grant. It’s as if Pat Connaughton, Demetrius Jackson, Steve Vasturia, Zach Auguste, and Mike Brey all have to throw their rings in the air at the same time to get Grant to save the day. Wouldn’t it be much easier for Grant to just always be in hero mode?

9. Villanova


1.

I know  because “the power is yours!” Here’s the thing, Captain: The power is yours too. But no, you just want to disappear and only show up to save the day and be the hero. THE REAL HEROES ARE THE EVERYDAY PEOPLE WHO CONTINUE TO FIGHT HOGGISH GREEDLY, CAPTAIN. HOW ABOUT YOU TAKE SOME RESPONSIBILITY AND HELP WITH THE EVERYDAY FIGHT INSTEAD OF JUST BASKING IN THE GLORY? You’re nothing but a self-centered, blue-skinned, green-mullet-having deus ex machina, you son of a bitch.

Excluding the 12-0 Michigan run from a month ago, Villanova has been better at containing other teams’ runs this season. There were several times in the first half of their game against Syracuse when I thought the Orange might blow the game wide open. But Villanova kept fighting and stayed close enough to regroup at halftime and come out swinging in the second half. […] After watching the Wildcats get blown out several times last year, it was refreshing to see them find a way to win a game in which they were outplayed.

Mark Titus, December 29

[The Hoyas] pulled away early with a 17-0 run on the way to a 42-20 halftime lead. […] The score was 62-50 with eight minutes remaining, but the Hoyas responded with a 6-0 run.

AP write-up of Villanova’s loss to Georgetown on Monday

Oh no. Please tell me it’s not happening again. Please tell me this was just a fluke. I’ve already committed to the belief that this Villanova team is good enough to make the Final Four. Don’t tell me it’s going to be last year all over again.2


2.

Weird thing that’s hopefully a coincidence: The Georgetown blowout (January 19, 2015) happened almost exactly one year after the infamous Creighton blowout (January 20, 2014).

Let’s focus on the positives from Monday:

  • Ryan Arcidiacono is scoring again!
  • Darrun Hilliard and JayVaughn Pinkston were perfect from the free throw line!
  • Ummm … give me a second here … oh, here we go: Josh Hart had no turnovers!

That’s it. Villanova’s loss to Georgetown wasn’t surprising. The Big East is deep and competitive, and the Hoyas might be the second-best team in the conference. But the way Villanova lost was surprising. Hilliard has to play better, Pinkston has to play better, Dylan Ennis has to play better, Daniel Ochefu has to  you get the idea. I say we fast-forward to February 7, when Villanova begins the following stretch: Georgetown, at Providence, at Butler, Seton Hall, at Marquette, and Providence again. I can’t handle the suspense of wondering if this year’s Villanova team really is better than last year’s.

8. Iowa State

niang-georges-iowa-stateDavid Purdy/Getty Images

My current favorite rivalry in college basketball is the one in which Virginia fans and Iowa State fans battle to see who loves their team most. Both programs are experiencing resurgences under young coaches who are former NBA players and are, like, super dreamy. This is what makes these fans different from, say, Kentucky fans. Kentucky fans like the Wildcats because it’s their duty. They were born into it. Their fanhood is a lifelong job and rooting for their team is all they know.

Kentucky fans are like the 65-year-old guy at the bar by himself, jaded from a roller coaster life of passionate young love, unplanned pregnancy, marriage, divorce, a new fling, a shotgun wedding, a mistress, another divorce, a rekindling with the first wife, a remarriage, a third divorce, a child after a one-night stand, a spontaneous wedding, a fourth divorce, a week in Reno with a cocktail waitress named Tammi, and a slew of diseases along the way. He’s seen the highest of highs (1996-98) and the lowest of lows (Billy Clyde Gillispie) and has been around the block so many times that nothing really fazes him anymore. Meanwhile, Virginia and Iowa State fans are like 13-year-olds who just had their first kiss. They’re so giddy that they’ve devoted every waking second of their lives to telling the world how in love they are.

Seriously, go visit a forum like r/collegebasketball and ask a question. It could be any question, really. Who do you think will win the Super Bowl? How old were you when you learned to read? Was Home Alone or Home Alone 2 the better movie? Within minutes there will be Iowa State fans answering with, “I may be biased, but I really think Monte Morris is the most underrated player in America. Have you seen his assist-to-turnover ratio???” Take three steps outside your front door, whisper the words “Jay Wright is the most attractive coach in college basketball,” and then run back inside, lock the door, and think Oh god, what have I done? Because Iowa State and Virginia fans are coming to tear your house down.

Here’s the point: Iowa State fans had a hell of a showing Saturday, from College GameDay in the morning all the way through the Kansas game. It’s infectious to see how much they love their team. The entire sport is better because of their passion. I still doubt that the Cyclones’ style of play can lead them to the top of the Big 12 and through the NCAA tournament, but we can deal with that when the time comes. As of today, Iowa State is the Big 12 favorite (which is a title that will get passed around at least another 100 times), they’re fun to watch, and their fans are out of their minds.3

7. Maryland


3.

Cue Iowa State fans: “Thanks for the compliment, I guess, but it’s kinda B.S. that you spent our section talking about Kentucky and Virginia fans. You didn’t even mention that Georges Niang (our center!) is averaging 3.5 assists per game or that Bryce Dejean-Jones (one of our guards!) is averaging 5.9 rebounds per game. Why do you hate us so much?

Three of the best freshmen in college basketball play in the Big Ten: Melo Trimble, D’Angelo Russell, and James Blackmon Jr. Each leads his team in scoring and each will likely leave for the NBA before using up his NCAA eligibility. Because of this, you might hear discussions about who is the best freshman in the Big Ten. You might hear that Russell is rocketing up NBA mock drafts and that Blackmon and Trimble have turned Indiana and Maryland into surprising Big Ten contenders. These debates will be pleasant diversions over the next couple of months, but I say this as a fan of both Ohio State and Indiana: If Melo Trimble isn’t named the Big Ten freshman of the year, Maryland should pack its bags and march right back to the ACC.

As great as Russell and Blackmon have been, only Trimble makes it hard to believe he’s a freshman. For every five points Russell scores, there’s one instance of him making a boneheaded decision from playing way too relaxed. And Blackmon is a subpar defender who gets really streaky at times and has to be reined in by Yogi Ferrell.4 Both Russell and Blackmon have a couple of freshman moments every game. Those rarely happen with Trimble. Sure, he turns the ball over more than he should, but you don’t hear “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?!?!?” coming from College Park like you occasionally hear from Bloomington and Columbus.5


4.

It’s amazing to think that if you would’ve told me at any point over the last two years that Ferrell would become the calming influence in Indiana’s backcourt, I would’ve laughed you out of the room.

5.

And if you do, it’s likely being directed at Evan Smotrycz.

Trimble plays alongside Dez Wells  a senior who has scored almost 1,500 points in his career  yet if you asked Maryland fans which player should have the ball in his hands in a big spot, they’d all probably shout Trimble’s name before you finished the question. That’s all that really needs to be said about him. I’ll let the crossover he hit Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn with do the rest of the talking.

Halftime

vitale-dickJoe Robbins/Getty Images

It’s halftime, which can mean only one thing: It’s time for Dick’s Degrees of Separation, the most mildly amusing Internet game involving college basketball! You know the drill: I give you the endpoint of a Dick Vitale tangent and you pick the path he took to get there. Let’s get down to business.

During Saturday’s Duke-Louisville game, how did Dick Vitale and Dave O’Brien end up talking about Drew Henson?

A. With a Duke blowout nearly in the books, O’Brien asks Vitale if the win puts Duke back in consideration for the ACC title. Vitale says yes before listing other contenders like Virginia, Syracuse, North Carolina, Louisville, and Notre Dame. Vitale then says he really loves “his” Irish, before mentioning Jerian Grant and saying that Pat Connaughton is a “special kid” for being such a great baseball player, too. Speaking of two-sport athletes, Vitale says, many have come from Florida State, such as Chris Weinke, Charlie Ward, Deion Sanders, and now Jameis Winston. He then lists other dual-sport athletes, one of whom is Drew Henson.

B. Shaqquan Aaron checks into the game for Louisville. O’Brien mentions that Aaron is from Seattle, like former Cardinals Peyton Siva and Terrence Williams. After a beat, Vitale mentions that Seattle has “an important football game” on Sunday and that the Cowboys would be playing in it if they hadn’t been robbed the week before. Vitale then says he predicted a Cowboys-Patriots Super Bowl last month because Tony Romo and Tom Brady are the two best quarterbacks in the NFL. Vitale then asks O’Brien if he knows a common link between Romo and Brady. When O’Brien comes up empty, Vitale explains that they each backed up both Drew Bledsoe and Drew Henson at some point in their lives.

C. Two Duke players dive out of bounds to save a loose ball, prompting Vitale to say that doing so takes a “football mentality.” That leads to Vitale offering his thoughts on the NFL, including his prediction that Tom Brady and the Patriots will win the Super Bowl. Vitale then asks if, as a Boston native, O’Brien agrees. O’Brien says he does, then reminds viewers that if the Patriots beat the Colts, it would be Brady’s sixth Super Bowl appearance. Vitale then says that’s not bad for a guy who shared time as the Michigan quarterback with Drew Henson.

6. Duke

Duke looks to be back on track after suffering the steepest drop in the history of the most powerful power rankings in college basketball. Last week, after consecutive blowout losses to Miami and NC State, the Blue Devils fell from no. 2 to un-power-ranked. And by the way, that wasn’t a mistake, nor was it me trying to send a message. One week ago, I really didn’t think Duke was one of the 12 best teams in America. The way its defense was struggling, it might not have been one of the 12 best teams in North Carolina. Giving up 177 points in two games to unranked teams? That’s how you lose to Mercer and Lehigh.

To be fair, the NC State and Miami losses do feel like an anomaly with this Duke team. These Blue Devils are far from a great defensive team, but until last week, they at least played harder defensively than last year’s team. So what happened in those two games? Was it proof Duke really can’t defend? Was it lack of effort? Did NC State and Miami just run great offense? Or was it just a team full of freshmen struggling with conference play?

We got closer to answering those questions when the Blue Devils shut down Louisville on Saturday. It got so bad that I swear I overheard Pitino ask one of his assistants if the Cardinals should “punt on third down.” But that was only one game (Duke didn’t exactly play lockdown D two days later against Pitt), and Louisville’s offense was just as responsible for Duke holding the Cards to 52 points as anything the Blue Devils did. Let’s see what happens over the next three games at St. John’s, at Notre Dame, and at Virginia before we bump Duke back to the no. 2 spot.

5. Arizona

mcconnell-tj-arizonaJacob Funk/J and L Photography/Getty Images

Three thoughts from my trip to Tucson for the Arizona-Utah game:

1. This may be the most Arizona game that Arizona ever Arizona’d.

The Cats defense was unreal. They destroyed Utah on the glass. Every Arizona starter scored at least seven points. Arizona’s bench didn’t play much, but the reserves  especially Dusan Ristic  were effective in limited minutes. The Cats shot 1-of-7 from the 3-point line. Zeus “Zeus” Zeuszeuski fouled out with 5:30 to play. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson unleashed multiple displays of impressive ballhandling that led to nothing significant but got the crowd excited. Brandon Ashley made more 15-footers than some teams will attempt all season. Elliott Pitts had a brief moment of irrational confidence when he thought about dunking on Brekkott Chapman, but he reconsidered in time to convert a layup.

All that was missing was a close finish, an ill-advised Hollis-Jefferson 3-point attempt, and Gabe York celebrating a made 3 between two defensive possessions in which his man scored.

2. T.J. McConnell is alive.

McConnell has always been a pass-first point guard, which is great when “pass-first” means “I enjoy setting my teammates up.” But when “pass-first” means “I look to pass before I look to do anything else,” it’s a lot less great. The truth is that most of the time, point guards should be shoot-first, meaning they need to be a threat to score before anything else. At his worst, McConnell doesn’t even look at the rim when he has the ball. He just hunts for assists, which is equally selfish as shooting too much. Arizona needs McConnell to look for his shot. More specifically, it needs him to create his own offense, with the help of ball screens. When he does that, defenses have to key on him, which creates more — but more importantly, better — opportunities to rack up assists.

This is exactly how he played against Utah. McConnell was aggressive from the start and forced Utah to guard him. It helped that he was hot and finished the first half 6-of-7, but even if he had gone 3-of-7, the message would’ve been the same: You better throw some sort of defense at me. Then, after Utah spent the halftime break coming up with a strategy to slow McConnell down, he switched back to facilitator mode, got the rock to Stanley Johnson, and waved his arms to pump up the crowd when Johnson scored.

It was McConnell’s best game in an Arizona uniform, especially considering that he also played phenomenal defense. Hopefully, there’s more where that came from.

3. The McKale Center is also alive.

The best student sections are the ones that turn the cheerleaders into cheer-followers. Ones where the fans are engaged, loud, and chanting in unison so frequently that the real cheerleaders have no choice but to come along for the ride. That’s how the ZonaZoo is. Who needs cheerleaders when you have this fabulous man?

arizona-band-fan

I’m not kidding. It’s not a coincidence this guy was caught on camera going crazy one time. He really does seem to lead the entire student section with these antics, to the point that I’m not sure if he even plays an instrument in the band.

The McKale Center is a bucket-list place for any college basketball fan, and the ZonaZoo is a huge reason why.6 Another huge reason: Arizona’s old people can kick your old people’s asses. You could cancel The Price Is Right, take Werther’s Originals off the shelves, and close Bob Evans on Sundays, and you still wouldn’t find a more intense group of seniors than those at the McKale Center. I’ve never seen anything like it. They love their Wildcats, hate everyone else, and they aren’t afraid to let you know about it. I mean, check out this Arizona fan outside the McKale Center after the Cats’ win.


6.

Proposal for the ZonaZoo: Become the first college basketball student section to regularly light flares like European soccer fans do. You guys are the obvious choice because (a) you’re insane, (b) you’re in one big section unlike other schools that put students all over the arena, and (c) Arizona’s laws are so weird that this might be 100 percent legal.

old-man-dance-crutches

4. Gonzaga

Gonzaga has a massive game against St. Mary’s this Thursday. The Gaels aren’t great, but they are Gonzaga’s best conference rival and they’re certainly good enough to beat the Zags. More importantly, this is one of Gonzaga’s last opportunities to make a statement before the NCAA tournament. Fair or not, the only way for the Zags to convince fans they’re legitimate national title contenders is to destroy the rest of the WCC. The Zags will still get a 1-seed if they run the table, but blowing out St. Mary’s and BYU can turn “I guess we have to give them a 1-seed” into “They’re without question a 1-seed.” And that could make a difference when the selection committee decides which other teams to put in Gonzaga’s region.

Meanwhile, let’s get to this week’s edition of “Defending Gonzaga With Mark Titus” (which is known as “Making Excuses for Gonzaga With Mark Titus” everywhere outside of eastern Washington). The Zags narrowly escaped Pepperdine last Thursday, when it took late free throws to ice a two-point win. How can 12-6 Pepperdine  the same team that lost to IUPUI at home  give Gonzaga its biggest non-Arizona scare of the season? Why, L.A. traffic, of course!

Gonzaga got caught in unusually bad Los Angeles traffic, needing over two hours to reach Pepperdine. […] The Zags arrived 25 minutes before the scheduled tipoff because of a traffic accident that caused one of two northbound lanes on Pacific Coast Highway to be closed for a while, creating lengthy delays.

As you read this, Ken Pomeroy is working on a formula to incorporate traffic delays into his rankings.

3. Wisconsin

dekker-sam-wisconsinMike McGinnis/Getty Images

In the last seven games between Wisconsin and Iowa before Tuesday night, the Buzzcuts went 4-3 and outscored the Hawkeyes by four total points. One of those games went into overtime and another went into double overtime. The greatest margin of victory for Wisconsin in those seven games was five. Iowa entered Tuesday’s game ranked 25th and just a half game back of first place in the Big Ten. Wisconsin entered the game without its three-year starting point guard and with the stench of an embarrassing loss to Rutgers still wafting around Madison. This had all the makings of an upset. But then Wisconsin’s reaction to all the upset talk looked a little something like this:

austin-steve-stone-cold

This was not just the best game Wisconsin has played all season. I’d argue that it’s the best game this group of senior Buzzcuts have collectively played in their entire careers. Pick any aspect of basketball  3-point shooting, taking care of the ball, rebounding, sharing the ball, free throw shooting, balanced scoring, playing defense without fouling  and Wisconsin was phenomenal at it against Iowa. If the Buzzcuts play even 75 percent as well as they did Tuesday night, nobody in the Big Ten (including Maryland) will come within 15 points of them, they’ll cruise to the Final Four without breaking a sweat, and there’s a decent chance all of Madison will be Stone Colding some Spotted Cows when the game clock hits all zeroes on April 6.

austin-steve-stone-cold

2. Virginia

I’ll save my comments until after we watch this together. Enjoy.

I have so many thoughts. Let’s break this down.

0:15  “Nobody Does It Better” by Carly Simon? This is just a joke for the intro, right? It’s surely going to flip over to a terrible rap song in a couple of seconds.

0:22  D’AWWWWWW HE’S CRYING! “It’s all done, playing … for my father.” Housewives all over Virginia just paused the video so they could put every picture of their husband’s face down until the end of this clip.

0:35  Oh, so Carly Simon is here to stay? This music pairing is more embarrassing than when Kevin O’Neill recruited William Gates in Hoop Dreams with a highlight package set to “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life.”

0:40  “I wasn’t looking” synced with Tony Bennett losing the ball? “But somehow you found me” synced with Bennett tumbling into the front row? Did the “One Shining Moment” people make this?

0:46  Tony being stone-faced with his arms crossed during that moment between father and son was so badass. “Son, you did it!” “No shit, dad.”

0:53  ROCK ‘N & ROLL ‘N IN THE DICK DOME

1:01  Such a savvy move here. You just don’t see enough guys try to “accidentally” trip their defenders in today’s game. It’s a lost art, really.

1:32  Every highlight being in slo-mo makes this thing 30 percent funnier.

1:36  “The way that you hold me” synced with a hug between Tony and Dick. The guy who made this just got a seven-figure offer from CBS to do “One Shining Moment” for the rest of time.

1:45  I’m just now realizing that Tony Bennett had a lot of bullshit to his game.7 This is the greatest compliment I can pay a player.


7.

In other words, he was a big believer in shot fakes, flailing his legs as he shoots, one-handed 10-footers, leaners, up-and-unders, and everything else that make the 50-year-olds at the YMCA so much better than they should be.

1:51  “It keeps me from running” synced with Bennett chasing down a ball. CBS pulled its offer. This is too much, even for them.

2:54  I’ll say it: Tony Bennett is a flopper.

3:09  Damn.

3:13  The mascot running down the sideline is great.

3:25  If that isn’t turned into a sign for when College GameDay comes to Charlottesville next Saturday, I’m taking Virginia out of the most powerful power rankings in college basketball for the rest of the season.

bennett-tony-virginia

I hope you’re ready for me to keep writing about how “nobody does it better than Tony Bennett” and changing what “it” refers to each week so I can link to this video.

1. Kentucky

Bill Simmons: Welcome back to The Grantland Basketball Hour. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed the show so far. Before we go, we’re gonna —

Jalen Rose: We’re gonna — WE’RE GONNA GIVE THE PEEEEEEEEEPLLLLLLLLL …

Simmons: [Laughing, even though this is the fifth time in the show Jalen has done this.]

Jalen: GIVE THE PEOPLE WHAT THEY WANT!!!

Simmons: That’s right. We’re gonna give the college basketball people what they want. Let’s check in with Mark Titus to see what’s happening in the NCAA. Titus?

Titus: Hey, guys. Kentucky. Back to you.

Simmons: Kentucky? What do you mean, “Kentucky”?

Titus: I mean Kentucky is what’s happening in the NCAA. Kentucky, a little Virginia, and some Duke every now and then. But mostly just Kentucky.

Simmons: Can you be more specific?

Titus: Sure. Kentucky is giving —

Jalen: KENTUCKY IS GIVING THE PEEEEEEEEEPLLLLLLLLL …

Titus: Kentucky is giving the rest of the country little hope at a national title this year. When the Cats are engaged, they look like an NBA team playing against high schoolers.

Simmons: Interesting. How’s Holy Cross doing?

Titus: Who?

Simmons: What do you mean, “who?” Your 1947 national champions, that’s who!

Jalen: [Still holding it in the background] … LLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL …

Titus: Um, you pay me to follow the best teams, Bill, so I can’t really answer that. I’m sorry.

Simmons: All right, well, thanks for the update, Titus. As for you guys at home —

Jalen: THEY’RE GIVING THE PEOPLE WHAT THEY WANT!!!

Simmons: Thanks for watching. See you next time.

The Phone Call of the Week

Jim Palma played one season of freshman basketball for Miami in the 1940s. Since he never played for the varsity team, the university has no record of Palma’s athletic career. And yet, as Palma was dying from pancreatic cancer last weekend, Jim Larranaga called Palma to wish him well and dedicate Miami’s upcoming game against Duke to him. Miami won on the road by 16. Here’s the rest of the story.

Jim Larranaga is the best, sports are the best, and the bond created by college sports is unlike anything. Also, Jim Larranaga is the best.

larranaga-jim-miami-dance

The Dick’s Degrees of Separation answer is C. See you next week.