This is the debut of Fieldhouse Confidential, a regular college basketball feature from Will Leitch, Mike Tanier and Matt Brown.

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The S-Curve

I have always wanted to play Bracketologist. I’m obsessed with guessing the NCAA tournament, and have been as long as I can remember. In recent years, this practice has exploded, and I’ve enjoyed the work of Joe Lunardi, Andy Glockner, Jerry Palm and many others. I’ve always doodled with my own bracket, on my own, just for myself, but now, thanks to Sports on Earth, I have a potential audience for this yearly exercise in pocket pool.

So, starting this week, I’ll be doing a little faux bracket every Friday. Actually, I don’t know how to do graphics, so there won’t be a bracket, but we will have:

S-Curves: These show all the seeds, 1-16, in the order they land, seeding-wise. It’s called an S-curve because it snakes from one seed to another, like a fantasy football draft. You get it.

Last Four In, Last Four Out, Next Four Out, that sort of deal. Not uncommon.

Conference Breakdown: Who’s in, who’s out, that kind of guesswork, from each major conference.

I am sure I will do worse than the professional Bracketologists because: a) They’ve been doing it longer than I have; b) in a lot of ways I’m working off all their numbers anyway. (I’ve also relied a lot on the invaluable TeamRankings website, which projects seeds all season long.) But I’m going to do it anyway, because putting together fake brackets is a terrific way to be reminded that, eventually, we get a real one.

Presenting the S-Curve:

(automatic qualifiers in CAPS)


No. 2: Michigan, ARIZONA, Syracuse, FLORIDA

No. 3: GONZAGA, Minnesota, CREIGHTON, Ohio State

No. 4: BUTLER, NEW MEXICO, San Diego State, Michigan State,

No. 5: N.C. State, Missouri, Virginia Commonwealth, Miami (Fla.)

No. 6: Oregon, Notre Dame, Kansas State, Cincinnati

No. 7: Wichita State, UNLV, UCLA, Mississippi

No. 8: Wisconsin, Marquette, Boise State, Oklahoma

No. 9: Pittsburgh, Oklahoma State, Temple, Illinois

No. 10: North Carolina, BELMONT, MEMPHIS, Georgetown

No. 11: Kentucky, Colorado State, Wyoming, BUCKNELL

No. 12: MIDDLE TENNESSEE, St. Louis, LOUISIANA TECH, Iowa State (play-in game), Brigham Young (play-in game)

No. 13: Maryland, Arizona State (play-in game), Southern Mississippi (play-in game), NORTH DAKOTA STATE, AKRON



No. 16: UC IRVINE, SOUTHERN, STONY BROOK (play-in game), CHARLESTON SOUTHERN (play-in game), BRYANT (play-in game), NORTH CAROLINA CENTRAL (play-in game)

Last Four In: Iowa State, Brigham Young, Arizona State, Southern Mississippi
Last Four Out: Indiana State, Colorado, Washington, Texas A&M
Next Four Out: Baylor, St. Mary’s, Florida State, Iowa


Big Ten
Locks: Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio State
Probables: Michigan State
Bubbling: Illinois, Wisconsin
Not Entirely Dead: Iowa

Big East
Locks: Louisville, Syracuse
Probables: Notre Dame, Cincinnati, Marquette
Bubbling: Georgetown, Pittsburgh
Not Entirely Dead: St. John’s, Villanova, Rutgers, Seton Hall

Locks: Duke, North Carolina State, Miami (Fla.)
Probables: None.
Bubbling: North Carolina, Maryland, Florida State
Not Entirely Dead: Virginia

Mountain West
Locks: New Mexico, San Diego State
Probables: UNLV, Boise State
Bubbling: Wyoming, Colorado State
Not Dead Yet: None

Locks: Arizona, Oregon
Probables: UCLA
Bubbling: Arizona State, Colorado
Not Dead Yet: Washington, California, Stanford

Big 12
Locks: Kansas, Kansas State
Probables: Oklahoma
Bubbling: Baylor, Iowa State, Oklahoma State
Note Dead yet: None

Locks: Florida, Missouri
Probables: Mississippi
Bubbling: Kentucky, Texas A&M
Not Dead Yet: Alabama, Arkansas, South Carolina

Locks: Butler
Probables: Virginia Commonwealth
Bubbling: St. Louis
Not Dead Yet: Charlotte, St. Joseph’s, La Salle, Massachusetts

I’m sure there are some egregious mistakes up there. I’m a first-timer. It’s a work-in-progress. Fun, though, right?

-Will Leitch

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Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson of Michigan State got into a “tussle” in a hotel hallway hours before the Spartans faced Penn State on Wednesday night, causing property damage, a 20-minute benching for both players and a minor national brouhaha.

College kids roughing it up in a hotel? Good heavens, what is this world coming to?

According to the kind of shockingly detailed investigation that thankfully did not exist during my salad days of using hallway fire extinguishers as Wiffle ball bats, Dawson and Payne started arguing over some practice equipment that was left in their hotel room. "There were a couple words that escalated into an incident, a tussle. We were tussling and bumped into a wall," Payne said.

Ah, tussling. Payne is 6-foot-10 and weighs 240 pounds. Dawson is 6-foot-6, 230 pounds. Tussles between young men of that size are likely to put some holes in walls.

As anyone who has ever traveled with teenagers or 20-somethings knows, young guys are never far away from a tussle. Put two 230-pounders in a hotel room, and an argument over who gets the window-side bed – or even a vigorous game of “Floor is Lava” – can result in some serious, Keith Moon-caliber destruction.

We are fortunate to live in an age of overreaction where an incident like the Payne-Dawson tussle can be treated with the seriousness that armed robbery deserves. Both players faced a long afternoon of grilling by the university. Both players made public acts of contrition. No charges were filed, though the official police investigation dragged into the next day. You better believe that both Payne and Dawson left the hotel towels and mini-soaps right where they found them.

Coach Tom Izzo took the incident in stride. He benched both players in the first half, then reinserted them in time for Payne to score 20 points with seven rebounds, while Dawson added five points and five boards. Michigan State struggled without its starters in the first half, then pulled away for an 81-72 final, improving their record to 15-3, 4-1 in the Big Ten.

National attention aside, this may be a rare case of the punishment fitting the crime. A brief benching is a reasonable penalty for what amounts to “raising a ruckus and being a pain in coach’s butt.” The Penn State crowd heckled Payne and Dawson, but that will happen. “Don't take this wrong, but if it wasn't for the Twitter era, it would be just another day," Izzo said after the game.

The NCAA can be counted on to discipline the Michigan State program for the tussle by eliminating scholarships and vacating their 2000 National Championship by the end of next week.

-Mike Tanier

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Resume Blunders

USC fired head coach Kevin O’Neill last week, then promptly posted an opening and requested applications on the university’s website.

As you can see by the posting, items like “minimum qualifications” are left blank, suggesting that there are none. This fact persuaded many of my fellow Internet goofballs to apply for the USC coaching job (or claim to apply for it), and then blog about the experience, listing qualifications like “able to recruit players from within 500 miles of campus;” “able to defeat Irvine;” and “not an angry, ranting lunatic.” USC crowd-sourcing applications from among the unqualified fits the image of a program that was an afterthought to football in the first place and appeared to be collapsing around O’Neill in the last two seasons. We are USC, and we’ll hire anybody!

This is probably a good time to quote the official University of Southern California Employment and Workplace Recruitment and Hiring Policy, Page One, First Sentence:

All staff positions, with the exception of those positions officially identified by Human Resources Administration as exempt from posting requirements and those positions appointed by the Board of Trustees of the university, must be posted for a minimum of five calendar days in the online “Jobs@USC” listing on the USC website, which serves as the official job posting document for the university.

USC, like just about any other large educational institution, has a very precise hiring and application policy, established to foster transparency comply with equal opportunity employment practices. Every job must be officially posted so potential applicants know that the position is available. Men’s basketball coach may be a higher-profile gig than “part-time lecturer of anthropology” (another posting on the USC jobs site), and the official “posting” of news that is available on ESPN seems superfluous, but in terms of administrative policy there is no real difference.

In the old days, these obligatory job postings might be on a campus bulletin board and in the back page of some unread journal; now, they are all lumped together on the Internet. The lack of “minimum qualifications on the website indicates that the school does not expect any serious coaching candidates to send cold applications; they are just meeting the requirements of the policy by publishing bare-bones information.

You probably know all of this; the bloggers who pointed out the job posting and sent dummy applications probably know it, too. But when Chip Kelly left the Oregon football program to coach the Philadelphia Eagles, the same thing happened: The university posted his job, and the blogosphere took undue note. The Oregon football requirements are spelled out in more detail, but they clearly represent an example of policy compliance. There is something inherently funny about seeing a high-profile coaching job advertised as if it were a data-entry position, but the, “Hey, look, they posted the job, and you can apply!” blog meme is wearing out its humorous half-life. This is what institutions of higher learning do, and whether they provide too much detail (Oregon) or too little (USC), it’s just bureaucracy at work. Flood them with nonsense applications, and you are wasting some intern or office assistant’s time, though not as much as you are wasting your own.

As for O’Neill, his Trojans teams were terrible last year and got off to a bad start this year, and his prickly, quick-tempered style has worn out its welcome at multiple stops. Recruiting for Southern California had become a big problem. Interim coach Bob Cantu inherits a team that’s now 7-11 after losing to Oregon Thursday night, and it’s but 0-9 against teams in the RPI top 75. The team is reportedly interested in Pitt coach Jamie Dixon, though Dixon is a longshot because Pitt is about to enter the ACC. The Trojans are looking at other Division I coaching candidates. They are not looking at guys who filled out an on-line application bragging that they totally dominated the Arch Rivals video game.

Now if you will excuse me, I am going to apply for a job as a part-time anthropology lecturer.


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The Throwbacks

Watching Big Ten basketball brings about conflicting emotions, proving that, with the Big Ten, there always seems to be a catch. It’s arguably the best basketball conference in the country right now, but it’s also trying to win only its second national championship since the ’80s – the last one came way back in 2000 when Michigan State beat Florida. For all the talk about Big Ten’s football demise, the conference has actually won a national championship more recently in football than basketball, and, despite the SEC’s terrible 2012-13 basketball season, it has, of course, won three national titles since the Big Ten has won one.

On the court, for all the entertainment that teams like Michigan and Indiana can provide in a conference typically known for slugfest games with scores in the 50s, there’s still the comfort of knowing that Bo Ryan’s Wisconsin teams are always there, wishing the shot clock was never invented.

This was supposed to be a down year for the Badgers in a brutal Big Ten, a conference that features six teams in the USA TODAY Coaches Poll, including two in the top five. But we’ve reached mid-January, and there is one team left unbeaten atop the league. It’s Bo Ryan’s Badgers, fresh off another suffocating 64-59 win over No. 2 Indiana on Tuesday night in front of a raucous crowd at the Hoosiers’ Assembly Hall.  Since coming to Indiana, Tom Crean has never beaten Ryan – the record is now 9-0 – and the latest Ryan victory resulted in the fastest post-game handshake in American history. Or maybe the handshake just looked fast after watching two hours of Wisconsin, the team that tries its hardest to lull you to sleep, grinding down the shot clock at every chance while turning the ball over fewer times per game than any team in the country.

Bo Ryan brings to mind another prominent Big Ten Bo, with plenty of Schembechler in him as a coach, making him the perfect link to the past as the conference rises to a dominant era in hoops. Once again, he has the Badgers in position to contend for the Big Ten title in their own style. They provide a different type of basketball entertainment, but it's hard to argue with the results.

-Matt Brown

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What to Watch

1. No. 6 Syracuse at No. 1 Louisville (4 p.m. Saturday, ESPN)

We’ve reached the “Syracuse is playing shorthanded” part of the season again, but the Orange at least fared well without suspended third-leading scorer James Southerland last Saturday in a 72-61 win over Villanova, moving its record to 4-0 in the Big East before the biggest test of the season this Saturday afternoon. The absence of Southerland means the absence of Syracuse’ leading three-point shooter and a versatile 6-foot-8 forward, and it means one less weapon against an incredibly talented Louisville team. Pick: Louisville 78, Syracuse 70

2. No. 8 Gonzaga at No. 13 Butler (9 p.m. Saturday, ESPN)

Everyone’s favorite Cinderellas meet in the kind of game we’d like to see every year in a battle of the Bulldogs, although last year’s 71-55 Gonzaga win in Spokane wasn’t exactly thrilling. Butler, win over Indiana and all, is much better this year, of course, but it must deal with the absence of leading-scorer Rotnei Clarke, who suffered a scary neck injury (it turned out to be a sprain) last Saturday at Dayton and isn’t expected to play. Pick: Gonzaga 75, Butler 69

3. No. 11 Ohio State at No. 18 Michigan State (6 p.m. Saturday, ESPN)

There are two coaches in the Big Ten who have earned enormous respect for fielding consistently good teams. There’s Ryan, and then there’s Michigan State’s Tom Izzo. The Spartans are in the top 20, but they haven’t been impressive lately, beating Iowa by three, sleepwalking through a half before beating Nebraska by 10, and then scraping by at Penn State after the Dawson-Payne hotel fight.  They are also perhaps the three most uninspiring opponents in the league to face, but suddenly Michigan State opens its biggest stretch of the season with consecutive games against the Buckeyes, Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois and Minnesota, while Ohio State faces the opposite, getting its Iowa-Penn State-Nebraska stretch in three of the next four. Pick: Michigan State 63, Ohio State 61

4. No. 17 Missouri at No. 10 Florida (2 p.m. Saturday, ESPN)

Two of the very few reasons for the SEC’s current hardwood existence take their shots at each other in Gainesville. Missouri, which is helping to save the league’s season as a newcomer, searches for its first conference road win after an embarrassing 49-point effort at Ole Miss, as it plays without leading scorer Laurence Bowers, who sprained his knee. The Tigers easily dispatched hapless Georgia without him, but winning at Florida without the 6-foot-8 forward is another story. Pick: Florida 70, Missouri 64

5. No. 21 Oregon at No. 24 UCLA (4 p.m. Saturday, CBS)

The Ducks and Bruins have combined to go 9-0 to open the Pac-12 season, and the Ducks can take an early lead as frontrunners in the conference by notching a road win after beating heavyweight Arizona Jan. 10. UCLA has been on a roll lately, though, winning 10 in a row after a 5-3 start, including a 97-94 shootout win over Missouri just before the New Year. Saturday afternoon’s showdown features a clash between UCLA’s freshman superstars (Shabazz Muhammad’s 18.4 points per game, Jordan Adams’s 15.6 points per game, Kyle Anderson’s 8.9 rebounds per game) and Oregon’s balance (five players averaging between 10 and 12 points). Pick: UCLA 78, Oregon 74