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CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE BASKETBALL

A bit early, March Madness is off and running

The major conference tournaments have yet to begin, but there already has been plenty of craziness to keep college basketball fans occupied.

March 06, 2011|Chris Dufresne
  • St. John's Coach Steve Lavin shouts instructions to his team during the second half of a 72-56 victory over South Florida on Saturday.
St. John's Coach Steve Lavin shouts instructions to his team during… (Paul J. Bereswill / Associated…)

Pick your madness: March, reefer, Charlie Sheen.

Last week didn't get the memo about this week historically having the crazy-stretch contractual rights leading to Selection Sunday.

It has already started:

• ESPN analyst Bob Knight broke an honor code by yelling"chicken[bleep]" into a live microphone at Baylor, a devout institution of religious learning and sinking NCAA tournament prospects.

It really should have shocked no one at ESPN, or in the poultry industry, that Knight could be fowl-mouthed.

• A Louisville cheerleader ran onto the court and heaved the ball skyward to celebrate a victory over Pittsburgh that wasn't quite over yet.

Two, four, six, eight — um, you cannot participate.

• Brandon Davies, a Brigham Young starter, probably cost his team a top seeding in the NCAA tournament by admitting to having premarital sex in violation of the school's honor code. He was dismissed from the team.

Former BYU quarterback Jim McMahon was rushed in to provide, for remaining players, a refresher course on the policies.

• St. John's Coach Steve Lavin was ejected for unloading Knight-like obscenities at officials in his team's loss against Seton Hall.

Lavin was so upset that 15 years of hair gel suddenly drained from his follicles.

• Klay Thompson, Washington State's star and the Pacific 10 Conference's leading scorer, undermined his team's slim at-large NCAA hopes when he was cited for marijuana possession hours after the Cougars' win over USC on Thursday. Thompson sat out Saturday's home loss to UCLA after apologizing to the crowd over the public-address system.

He seems like a good kid who made a mistake.

One hopes opposing crowds will go easy with the "pot" shots.

• Are the Bruins officially back?

Yes.

Missing last year's NCAA tournament was painful. People in the proud program expect more, but order was restored over the weekend when the Belmont Bruins clinched the Atlantic Sun Conference's automatic bid. Belmont (30-4) has not lost since Jan. 25. The Bruins, who nearly ousted Duke in the first round three years ago, run 11 players deep and will be a tough NCAA out.

• How about the UCLA Bruins?

They're back in the tournament too, along with 2010 sideline-watchers Arizona and North Carolina. Arizona clinched the Pac-10 regular-season title over the weekend while UCLA secured second place. North Carolina won the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title Saturday with a home win over Duke.

North Carolina (24-6) had four losses before 2010 ended but has now won 12 out of 13 heading into the ACC tournament as it shifts rapidly into serious-contender mode.

"One of my buddies said I got a lot smarter over the past couple weeks," Coach Roy Williams said after the win over Duke.

This week needs to get cranking to match last week, but, fortunately, history is on its side.

Some working story lines:

• The NCAA selection committee convenes in Indianapolis to begin the difficult seeding and selection process in advance of the bracket unveiling Sunday.

What to do with BYU?

The Cougars seemingly had a top seeding secured until the confessional by Davies, which changes everything. BYU is clearly a weaker team without Davies, and that must be factored into decision-making.

Bracketing the field is not a charity business.

In 2000, Cincinnati was dropped from an expected No. 1 seeding to a No. 2 after star center Kenyon Martin broke a leg in the Conference USA tournament. Bearcats fans were outraged, but the committee made the right call. Without Martin, Cincinnati was knocked out in the second round by Tulsa.

Last year, Purdue fell to a No. 4 seeding after star Robbie Hummel was lost to injury late in the season. Purdue made an inspired run to the Sweet 16 before losing to Duke.

The committee will be monitoring BYU closely in this week's Mountain West tournament. The Cougars (28-3) appeared shell-shocked in their first game without Davies, a home drubbing to New Mexico, but bounced back nicely against Wyoming.

Elsewhere … Ohio State clinched the Big Ten regular-season title Saturday before beating Wisconsin on Sunday, and appears the most obvious candidate for a No. 1 seeding.

Then you have Kansas and maybe two Big East teams and fast-charging Carolina.

• Some could argue a "Final Four" is already is being played this week in the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden, with Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Louisville and Syracuse locking down the top seedings.

The Big East probably will receive a record 11 bids into the NCAA tournament, meaning it will make up about one-sixth of the eventual field.

The winner of this week's gantlet might ask: "Now we have to win the NCAA title again?"

• The Pac-10 tournament starts Wednesday at Staples Center, with the conference standing fairly firm at three NCAA bids: UCLA, Arizona and Washington. Watch out, though, for another possible surprise attack from USC. Two year ago, the Trojans also needed to win the tournament to earn an NCAA bid … and did just that.

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