Mark Titus’s College Basketball Mailbag, Part 1

David Purdy/Getty Images Iowa State

Christmas was last week, but everyone knows the holiday essentially runs from Festivus to New Year’s, so Merry Christmas everybody! My gift to you comes in the form of a mailbag. This was supposed to be a “mini-mailbag,” but thanks to the nearly 300 emails I received, I could probably write nothing but mailbags from now till April. Thanks to all who wrote in, especially the five or six of you who didn’t mention Rick Barnes or Tom Crean.

Since I’m writing this at my in-laws’ house and since I can only lock myself in the guest bedroom for so long before my wife’s uncle bursts through the door and shares his thoughts on the Duck Dynasty controversy, here’s the plan: I’ve decided to cut out questions about teams that have regularly been power-ranked this season. I might address some of those emails in later columns, but I want to get to things I haven’t covered yet. Also, I’m going to try to limit my responses to a single paragraph so I can answer as many emails as possible.

All right, now let’s take a look at all of your fantastic emails.

What do you say to a friend if their belly button smells like buttholes?
— Max R.

OK, so not every email was fantastic.

At this moment 8 teams are undefeated (Arizona, Syracuse, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Wichita State, Oregon, Iowa State, and Toledo). What are the chances of each team making it to the Big Dance without a blemish on its record? Will we ever see an undefeated team again in college hoops?
— D. Mo.

Arizona, Syracuse, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Oregon, and Iowa State have a zero percent chance. They play in great conferences and they’ve all flirted with losses already. Toledo plays at Kansas tonight. I’m not sure much else needs to be said there. That leaves Wichita State, which I’d say has a 50 percent chance since it will be favored in the rest of its games but you just know that somebody is going to play out of its minds and beat the Shockers. Meanwhile, I don’t think we’ll see another undefeated team unless players start getting paid. For example, say the guys from 2012 Kentucky loved college and only went to the NBA for financial reasons. If UK could’ve offered them $200,000 in cash to come back (cue the “you mean $200K on top of the $200K that Calipari already paid them?” jokes), there’s a decent chance they go undefeated in 2013.

Which undefeated major-conference team is in the most danger of completely falling off the map?
— Patrick M.

Iowa State is the clear pick, if only because the Big 12 is loaded at the top. The Cyclones have to play Oklahoma State, Kansas, and Baylor twice, and Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas State are more than capable of upsetting them too. Even Lloyd Christmas doesn’t like the odds of Iowa State running through that gauntlet to threaten Kansas’s Big 12 championship reign.

How in the world has the only mention of Iowa State in the most powerful power rankings in college basketball been a brief word on Melvin Ejim? The Cyclones have been one of the most exciting teams in college basketball this season. They’re sixth in points per game at 87.2, third in assists at 18.5, and 12th in rebounding despite not playing a guy over 6-7 more than 10 minutes a game. They have no less than four guys who could be their best player on a given night, including Ejim, who is one of the best players in the country, and Dustin Hogue, who’s probably the most underrated player in the country. Plus, they’ve got three wins over definite tournament teams in Michigan, BYU, and Iowa. They shoot the 3 well enough that they’re never out of a game (as they showed last year against Ohio State before Aaron Craft tore our hearts out). They’re no. 4 in RPI and are only going to get better, considering they still fit your nickname of the Iowa State Transfers. WHY WON’T YOU LOVE ME?
— Josh C.

I love you, damn it! I take back everything I said in response to the previous question. I was just trying to convince myself that the truth wasn’t so obvious. But I can’t any more. Ohio State is clearly the undefeated most likely to fall off the map. I mean, did you see the Notre Dame game? The Buckeye offense was so bad in the second half that it looked like they were playing backboard dodgeball. And the only reason they pulled off the second-best college basketball comeback I’ve ever seen (Duke at Maryland in 2001 being the first) was because Jerian Grant choked so badly that he got kicked off the team less than 24 hours later. The truth is that I do love Iowa State and I can’t deny it any longer. I’M IN LOVE, I’M IN LOVE AND I DON’T CARE WHO KNOWS IT.

(While I’m at it, I should mention that contrary to many readers’ beliefs, I have nothing against Colorado, Baylor, Oregon, or UMass. I can only include 12 teams in my power rankings each week. Somebody will always miss the cut. If all goes according to plan, those four and Iowa State will find their way into college basketball’s most powerful power rankings this season. Be patient.)

My question is in the spirit of the Simmons/Lowe NBA Watchability Index. Are there any schools that probably won’t sniff your power rankings, or the Top 25 for that matter, but are (a) tons of fun to watch (either through style or you can tell that the team loves playing with each other), and (b) will give teams fits come conference tournament time or even during the NCAA tournament?
— Joe L.

Joking aside, Iowa State really is my favorite team to watch this season. Duke is always fun because everybody has strong feelings about Duke, but this season’s team takes Duke’s watchability to a new level. The combination of Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood being unstoppable paired with the Blue Devils’ atrocious defense means you can tune into the start of a Duke game and have no idea what’s about to unfold. Iowa is 11-deep and, like their in-state rival, is near the top of every offensive statistic. But Duke, Iowa State, and Iowa are all good enough to be in my power rankings someday, so I’m going to answer BYU. The Cougars are just 8-6 and have lost three in a row, but they’ve played one of the toughest schedules in college basketball (eight of their opponents were undefeated when BYU played them) and only their most recent defeat to Loyola Marymount could be considered a bad loss. They’re fourth in America in points per game and have two guys in Tyler Haws and Matt Carlino who are a threat to score 30-plus on any given night. I’m not going to say anything crazy, like “this BYU is as watchable as Jimmer’s BYU,” but if you come across a BYU game, you’ll be doing yourself a favor to keep it on.

What is the best Disney/Pixar movie of the modern era (late ’80s through now)?
— Andrew T.

Disney: The Lion King. Pixar: Wall-E. Next question.

Is North Carolina the most bang or bust team in the country?
— Jimmy R.

There isn’t even a close second. Next question.

(P.S. Are you Jimmy Ray?)

Can we give the Tar Heels a 16-seed in the NCAA tournament? That’s the only way I see them advancing past the first weekend.
— Jordan D.

I know you’re kidding, but North Carolina really might be the first 14-seed to win a national championship. It also might run the table from here on out, completely dominate the ACC, get a 1-seed, and become the first team to ever lose to a 16-seed. Nothing makes sense with this team. That’s why if you feel the urge to bet on one of their games, you should instead just take the money you were going to wager, go buy as many watermelons as you can, climb to the top of a tall building, and throw yourself off it because there’s no telling how miserable the rest of your life will be if you’re stupid enough to bet on a UNC game this season.

I am currently watching UNC-Texas and Roy Williams is about to lose at home to the walker/corpse of Rick Barnes. He has to be one of the coaches that other coaches haaaaaaaate losing to. So let’s go ahead and name Barnes the head counselor at the Billy Heywood Basketball Camp, and I will let you name the rest of his staff full of coaches who coaches hate losing to.
— Brandon M.

Since college coaches seem to have their own fraternity, I’m guessing they hate losing to each other equally. So I’m going to tweak your question a little bit and list coaches who the general public thinks are good but who really aren’t. With that, if Barnes is the head counselor, Tom Crean is the assistant to the head counselor. Bruce Weber, Frank Haith, Steve Alford, and Mike Brey are all on staff, and Ben Howland is currently suspended because he lost his cool and punched a 12-year-old in the face. Meanwhile, Mark Fox, Mark Gottfried, Matt Painter, and Mark Turgeon are interns with promising futures.

If the Monstars came back today and they decided to steal the talent from today’s NCAA basketball field, who would they select? In the original Space Jam they avoided the five best players in the NBA, and instead they seemed to focus on extreme measurables and quirkiness added to game.
— Zack W.

Considering the Monstars fielded a team with two centers (Patrick Ewing and Shawn Bradley), a power forward (Charles Barkley), a small forward/power forward (Larry Johnson), and a point guard (Muggsy Bogues), it’s safe to say they didn’t really care about traditional roles on a basketball team. Even though the Looney Tunes cheated like crazy (I’m pretty sure strapping dynamite to the goal and blowing it up as an opponent attempts to dunk is illegal), the Monstars’ lineup imbalance was the biggest reason they lost. Grandmama probably couldn’t even guard Bill Murray or Newman from Seinfeld, yet the Monstars expected him to stop MJ? No wonder they live on Moron Mountain.

I’m going to fix their mistake. Here’s how my team would look:

PG: Jahii Carson — Small enough to play the Bogues role and embodies every aspect of athleticism you’d want out of a Monstar point guard.

SG: Marshall Henderson — Here’s a fun game: Close your eyes and imagine what the Monstar version of Henderson would be like and then try to fall asleep tonight.

SF: Andrew Wiggins — Freak athlete who, once converted into a Monstar, would be unstoppable. No way MJ is scoring on Monstar Wiggins, and even dynamite might not be able to stop him.

PF: Patric Young — Even though there’s a 20 percent chance the Monstar who takes his basketball soul will end up looking like this and won’t be able to do anything other than stand to the side and flex, I’m including Young for intimidation purposes.

C: Willie Cauley-Stein — Not only does he check your “measurables” box by being an athletic and agile 7-footer, I think it’s fair to say he also checks the “quirkiness” box.

Coach/Owner/Whatever the Danny DeVito alien did: Frank Martin — With this guy leading the way, the Looney Tunes don’t stand a chance.

Every year, there are players who shoot far better from behind the 30-point line than they do in front of it. I thought there should be an award for the player who exemplifies this best. I named it the Scott Wood Award because (1) he is about as one-dimensional as they come, and (2) last year’s NC State team needs to be remembered for all time as a huge disappointment. I don’t have time to do the research, so I was wondering if you knew a more appropriate player to name this after?
— Brian F.

(via Hawkeye Nation)

Scott Wood has some name recognition, so we’ll stick with him. But if we’re naming this award based on merit alone, it would have to be named after Devan Bawinkel from Iowa. The guy who played Napoleon Dynamite isn’t even as one-dimensional as he was. Bawinkel played in every Iowa game from 2008 to 2010, and he averaged 18.4 minutes per game over that span. But get this: The dude attempted five shots inside the 3-point line in his Iowa career. Yes, you read that right. Bawinkel was 1-of-5 from inside the 3-point line, 3-of-6 from the free throw line, and 83-of-228 from the 3-point line IN HIS CAREER. He shot zero free throws in 2009 and zero 2-pointers in 2010. We’ll probably never see a more one-dimensional player play so many minutes for a major conference team that doesn’t run a gimmick offense. Devan Bawinkel is a national treasure.

Oh, and since Luke Hancock has been struggling from deep this season, Brady Heslip has to be the current front-runner for this year’s award, right?

Why is everyone sleeping on Delon Wright? It’s not every day that 6-5 power conference point guards score 15+ ppg and shoot 70 percent from the field over 12 games. Not to mention 7 boards, 5.9 assists, 2.6 steals, one block, etc. Oh, and he’s the kid brother of Dorell Wright, who’s in the NBA primarily because he’s insanely athletic. Who are some other guys everyone is sleeping on because their teams rarely play on TV?
— Ben R.

Ben is right. Don’t sleep on Delon Wright — literally or figuratively. While we’re at it, don’t sleep on Utah. The Utes haven’t played a great schedule, but all their wins have been blowouts, including their Hardwood Holy War dismantling of BYU, and their only blemish was a two-point road loss against a good Boise State team. To answer the question, Niagara’s Antoine Mason is currently leading the country in scoring by a wide margin and he will almost certainly never play on national television. What makes Mason so intriguing, other than the fact that he’s Anthony Mason’s son, is that he has a decent chance to be just the eighth player in Division I history to score 3,000 career points. (Although, he would actually be the ninth since there’s a 90 percent chance that Doug McDermott will reach the mark this season.) Thirteen games into his junior season, Mason is averaging 29 points per game and he has 1,466 career points. Niagara played 33 games in each of the last two seasons, so assuming that trend continues, Mason will have to average 28.95 points over 53 remaining games to join legends like Pete Maravich, Lionel Simmons, Hersey Hawkins, and Bernie Mac in the 3,000 club. It won’t be easy, and Mason will definitely need some luck to pull it off (the Purple Eagles playing in a few postseason games wouldn’t hurt), but Mason’s quest for 3,000 is something to keep your eye on. You know, if Niagara actually played on TV.

Can you please tell me who the hell Illinois’s rival is? Some Illini fans say Michigan, but most people in Ann Arbor think we are a D-II school. Wisconsin? They care more about other arctic schools like Minnesota and Iowa. Indiana? They have multiple championships; we have Dee Brown’s headband. Northwestern? I refuse to have a school with a 50-person student section filled with art majors as my rival. Are we left with Missouri, the only major school with a decent basketball history that has choked more than us? We have a rundown arena and no mascot. We need your help.
— Todd M.

I’ve never understood why Missouri and Illinois play each other every year in St. Louis, and the place is almost always packed and split down the middle with fans of each school, and the games always seem competitive, yet neither fan base wants to fully embrace the rivalry. Anyway, if you’re looking for a Big Ten rival, why not Purdue? I know Purdue and Indiana already have a rivalry, but so does Michigan and Ohio State in football but that doesn’t stop Michigan State fans from wanting to kick Michigan’s teeth in. Purdue and Illinois are similar in that they both have great engineering programs, both think they have decent football programs even though they are actually Dumpster fires, both have rabid basketball fan bases, and both haven’t had as much success in the NCAA tournament as they probably should have. Hell, even both of the arenas are perfect circles, which is something I’m not sure can be said of any other gym in college basketball. Plus, other than Michigan and Michigan State, Purdue and Illinois are geographically closer to one another than any other pair of Big Ten schools. This seems like a no-brainer.

Sifting through Bill Self’s BS on why KU playing Wichita State is not “best” for Kansas’s program got me thinking — what are the top 10 rivalry games (be it in-state, border, old conference foes, etc.) that should be happening on an annual basis, but are not? There are obvious ones like the recently suspended games between Indiana vs. Kentucky, Syracuse vs. Georgetown, and Kansas vs. Missouri, but what are some others (and what would the nicknames of those game be)? Ohio State vs. Cincinnati/Dayton/Xavier comes to mind, as well as Georgetown vs. Maryland, UCLA vs. San Diego State, and UConn vs. UMass (the Marcus Camby Classic?).
— David N.

You covered the big ones. Excluding Kentucky-Indiana, Georgetown-Syracuse, and Kansas-Missouri, Georgetown-Maryland is at the top of my list. And I’d love to see Ohio do something with OSU, Dayton, Cincinnati, and Xavier like what Indiana does with IU, Purdue, Butler, and Notre Dame every year. While we’re at it, Chicago, Boston, Washington D.C., and the Bay Area should have round robin tournaments like Philadelphia does with the Big 5. Here are my 10 best other rivalries that should also be forced to happen annually:

St. Louis vs. Missouri/Illinois — The “Maybe We Could Get Nelly to Sit Courtside” Game

Purdue vs. Louisville — The “Little Brother” Game

UTEP vs. Kentucky — The “Let’s Debate Just How Racist Adolph Rupp Was” Game

Indiana vs. Louisville — The “We Have Two of the Best Programs in College Basketball History and Are 100 Miles Apart Yet We Have Only Played Each Other 16 Times” Game

Memphis vs. Ole Miss — The “Blind Side” Game

Memphis vs. Tennessee — “Vanderbilt LOL”

VMI vs. VCU — The “Attempt to Break the Record for Most Points in Regulation” Game

Kansas vs. North Carolina — The “I Wonder Who Roy Williams Will Cheer For” Game

Purdue vs. UCLA — The “Listen to Bill Walton Talk for Two Hours About John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success and How Wooden Used to Teach His Teams How to Put on Their Socks” Game

Duke vs. Kentucky — The “If You Thought You Hated Christian Laettner Before, Wait Until You See His Shot Another 4,000 Times Leading Up to This” Game

Filed Under: College Basketball, Mark Titus

Mark Titus is the founder and author of the blog Club Trillion. His book, Don’t Put Me In, Coach, chronicles his career as a walk-on benchwarmer for the Ohio State basketball team and is on sale now.

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