March is just around the corner

Only the bravest will attempt to swing a golf club. Unless you're desperate enough to watch the Pro Bowl, football is finally, blessedly, over.

That means it's an ideal weekend to get a primer on players and teams that could put the Madness in March.


Saturday's viewing options are plenty, starting with No. 11 Marquette at No. 22 Georgetown, noon on ESPN. At halftime, turn the remote to CBS, where No. 2 UCLA and West Virginia tip off at 1 p.m. in Morgantown. At 3:30, ABC has No. 9 Kansas at Missouri. The Big 12 gets more play at 4 on ESPN2, with Texas Tech at No. 17 Oklahoma State.

Of course, the Big 12 isn't even the biggest boy on its block.


According to Ken Pomeroy's simulation of the Rating Percentage Index, the Big 12 is the seventh-best league in the land, one spot behind the Big East and two behind the Missouri Valley Conference, which will provide what could be Saturday's most compelling cable match, Creighton at No. 21 Southern Illinois (ESPN2, 6 p.m.).

The MVC sent four teams to the NCAA tournament last season and two to the Sweet 16, but its membership still doesn't pack the prestige of other leagues that have done less lately.

Creighton and Southern Illinois share first place with 10-3 records, ahead of Missouri State, which beat No. 4 Wisconsin on a neutral floor. How deep is the MVC? Wichita State won at George Mason, LSU and Syracuse but has a losing conference record.

In order for an MVC team to be ranked, it has to be really good, and Southern Illinois fits the bill, as it is headed to its sixth straight appearance in the NCAA tournament. It figures to have a six-game win streak when it gets Creighton in Carbondale, one of the nation's toughest venues on a visitor.

The atmosphere at SIU Arena is compounded by the suffocating defense played by Chris Lowery's Salukis, who allow fewer than 56 points per game.

"We go down to the police station, get German shepherd attack dogs, and let them go," said Missouri State coach Barry Hinson, of how he tries to simulate the Salukis' defense.

Creighton guard Nate Funk, the leading scorer in the MVC, will be the focus of that treatment.

At 9 p.m. Saturday, ESPN picks up top-ranked Florida at No. 20 Kentucky, the defending national champion at the ghost of the Southeastern Conference past.


By then, you should have your fill, which is a good thing, since the CBS game Sunday (1 p.m.) is Connecticut at Georgia Tech. Three years after they met in the NCAA final, The Eye was not expecting to get two 10th-place teams.

Rookie helps Magee

He's passed Big House.

Next up, Bowtie.

The record for wins by a Division II coach was 828, by the late Clarence "Big House" Gaines, a Morgan State graduate who became an institution at Winston-Salem (N.C.) State. Philadelphia University's Herb Magee is up to 830 wins, moving into a fifth-place tie on the men's all-divisions coaching list with Jim Phelan, aka "Bowtie," who's retired but still making the rounds at Mount St. Mary's.

This is Magee's 40th season at what used to be called Philadelphia Textile. A three-year letterman on his earliest teams was Leonard Hamm, the Baltimore police chief. Magee's point guard is Russell Frederick, a freshman out of Calvert Hall who took over the position when Carroll Mitchell, a sophomore from Towson Catholic, tore a knee ligament in a preseason scrimmage.


Good timing

How well are things going for Morgan State on the floor in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference?

Boubacar Coly's career at Xavier never got out of the blocks, as the 6-foot-9 junior from Ziguinchor, Senegal, by way of Oak Hill Academy and Laurinburg (N.C.) Institute missed two years while recovering from multiple knee surgeries, then appeared in only six games off the bench for the Musketeers last year.

Coly did get a degree in Cincinnati, and transferred to Morgan State, where he was eligible to play immediately. At the NCAA convention last month, that loophole was closed, and from now on graduate students who transfer within Division I will have to sit out, like everyone else.

Coly's comfort zone appears to expand by the day, as the Bears' leading rebounder can defend the paint and run the floor.



Joey Dorsey, the Memphis big man out of Douglass, is the Conference USA Player of the Week. ... According to the RPI, Vermont and UMBC are the two most improved teams in the America East Conference. The Retrievers visit the Catamounts tomorrow night. ... Towson is in a league of its own, 0-6 against the five teams above it in the Colonial Athletic Association, 6-1 against the six below. The sixth-place Tigers rank 50 spots in the RPI above Northeastern, the seventh-place team that Towson visits tonight. ... Despite losing its past two, Loyola still has a share of first place in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. It's a jumbled bunch, as one victory separates the top six teams. The Greyhounds play Canisius at Reitz Arena on Friday (9 p.m., ESPNU).