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Brothers’ Teams Are Tough Nutts to Crack

You don’t have to be a Nutt to coach in Arkansas, but it sure does seem to help.

Arkansas State is on its way to the NCAA tournament for the first time in the school’s history after winning the Sun Belt Conference tournament Tuesday night with Coach Dickey Nutt at the helm.

Over in Fayetteville, the Arkansas football team won eight games in a row this season before losing to Tennessee and finishing 9-3.

The Razorbacks’ coach?

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That would be Houston Nutt, Dickey’s brother.

They are coaching Nutts, this family, and there are more of them.

Dickey, 39, hired the youngest of the four brothers, Dennis, 35, who played basketball at Texas Christian and briefly with the Dallas Mavericks, as an assistant in Jonesboro.

Houston, 41, has his little brother, Danny, 37, on the Arkansas football staff.

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Their father, Houston Nutt Sr., was in the business, too, and had the extraordinary experience of playing under both Adolph Rupp at Kentucky and Henry Iba at Oklahoma State, transferring midway through a modest college playing career in the 1950s. That would be the coaching wisdom of 1,643 victories he heard.

Now 68 and retired since 1987, Houston Nutt Sr. went on to coach basketball for 34 years at the Arkansas School for the Deaf in Little Rock, where his sons grew up playing among hearing impaired children.

Their father is partially deaf himself, born into a family in which hearing impairment was hereditary. His parents were considered deaf although they could speak, and two brothers also had hearing difficulty. Among the boys, only Danny has some slight hearing loss.

“But they all could sign before they could ever speak a word. The ability to sign develops first,” said the boys’ mother, Emogene, who taught English at the School for the Deaf for many years.

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“That’s where we grew up, on the deaf playground,” said Houston, who played football and basketball in college, beginning his career at Arkansas before transferring to Oklahoma State. “One thing Eddie Sutton used to talk about was the way I could see the court. Most people learn to pass based on hearing somebody say, ‘Hey, Johnny, throw it!’ but on the deaf playground that doesn’t happen. You learn to see.”

His mother understands.

“I think it was wonderful for them to grow up with deaf children,” she said. “My husband’s players, of course, were my sons’ heroes. Those were great times.”

These are great times too.

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“Four years ago, we were the worst team in America,” said Dickey Nutt, who exaggerates only a little. In 1995, Arkansas State won only nine games and had an RPI rank of No. 269.

“This shows what hard work can do for you,” said Dickey, whose team is 18-11-- with a 64-48 loss to USC at the Sports Arena in December.

The brothers don’t get to see each other’s teams much because of overlapping schedules, but Houston hopes he’ll be able to follow Dickey’s team in the NCAA tournament.

“I’m going to try. I hope they don’t get sent too far away,” he said.

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IT BURSTS ON SUNDAY

You’ll hear the word so much the next few days, you might need a long, relaxing, um, bubble bath to recover.

It’s as much a part of the NCAA tournament lexicon as March Madness and the Ratings Percentage Index.

“You know, a bubble team, who ever came up with that?” said Kentucky Athletic Director C.M. Newton, chairman of the tournament selection committee. “We really have a whole litany of new terms that get a lot of attention this time of year.

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“You know, I don’t remember the term even being used in committee meetings, but we sure get asked about bubble teams a lot.”

Here are some whose fates will be decided when the NCAA tournament field of 64 is announced Sunday--unless they decide their own before then:

CALIFORNIA (16-10, No. 52 RPI)--The most intriguing of the bunch because the Golden Bears have beaten North Carolina, UCLA and Arizona--all in the top 10 at the time--but have stumbled plenty and have a surprisingly low RPI.

Should be a shoo-in if they win at Oregon State and Oregon this week, but that’s no gimme. Cal at Oregon on Saturday might be one of the games the selection committee watches.

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FRESNO STATE (21-10, No. 63)--Today’s Western Athletic Conference tournament game with Tulsa (21-8, No. 31) might as well be a play-in game for the NCAA tournament. The committee gets a look at two bubble teams going head to head--and on an officially neutral floor, despite the Las Vegas rooting interest in Jerry Tarkanian.

OREGON (15-10, No. 43)--Sweep of Stanford and Cal is probably what it would take, but even that might not be enough.

“I think it will depend on the conference tournaments and where teams are falling that are also on the bubble, and where it all sifts itself out Saturday night, with RPIs and all those things,” Coach Ernie Kent said. “If we can win out, we’d have a great win over Stanford and have won seven of our last nine and a strong RPI.”

MISSISSIPPI (15-11, No. 40)--Ole Miss has beaten Arkansas and Florida on the road. That’s good, because as Newton likes to say, “There are no home games in the NCAA tournament.” A 5-5 record down the stretch--including a four-game losing streak--is not so good. High RPI helps, but the SEC tournament holds the key.

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PURDUE (19-11, No. 19)--The Boilermakers were once in the top 10 and are probably safe, but a 4-6 regular-season finish that included a loss to last-place Penn State is trouble and won’t do them any seeding favors. A loss to Michigan in the Big Ten tournament would put Purdue in danger of being the biggest flameout of the season. This team started 12-1.

RHODE ISLAND (17-12, No. 91) It’s generous even to include the Rhodies, but since there are memories of last season’s run to the final eight and still a few Jim Harrick watchers around. . . .

Rhode Island just about shot its chances with losses to St. Bonaventure and Fordham in the final two regular-season games. But Lamar Odom missed the Fordham game with flu symptoms and Luther Clay has been bothered by pulled muscles in his stomach and calf--factors the committee might consider if Rhode Island makes a strong run in the Atlantic 10 tournament.

“We’re kind of on the low side of the bubble now,” Harrick said.

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RUTGERS (18-11, No. 42) The Scarlet Knights were 17-7 and in good shape, then lost four in a row--to Connecticut, Seton Hall, Georgetown and Miami--and probably need to beat St. John’s tonight for a second Big East tournament victory. Lost to the Johnnies twice--77-73 and 88-78.

WASHINGTON (16-11, No. 26)--Probably in as the Pac-10’s fourth team with a high RPI--in part for losing to Connecticut, 69-48. But losing four of their last five, including games against Oregon and USC and a 28-point loss to Stanford, are danger signs, and the Huskies finish with Washington State, which beat them by a point at Pullman. On the plus side if gauged against Cal, Washington was 2-0 against the Golden Bears. Last year’s Sweet 16 is apparently of no help to the Huskies now: Newton says they’re judging this field on what teams have done this season.

WAKE FOREST (16-12, No. 54) This is the Atlantic Coast Conference’s last best hope for a fourth team behind Duke, Maryland and North Carolina. But it isn’t a birthright, and barring a strong run in the ACC tournament, Wake doesn’t really deserve to go--but probably will anyway. Beat Maryland, and also beat bubble-competition North Carolina State by 29 in the regular-season finale. Losses to Duke by 10 and 31 actually help the cause, but other teams could lose to Duke by 30 too.

Teams that have burst their own bubble: Texas Christian, North Carolina State.

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WHITTLING THE WOODEN BALLOT

The list of 15 finalists for the Wooden Award actually expanded to 17 this season because of a three-way tie for 15th.

The nominees: Ron Artest (St. John’s), Elton Brand (Duke), Mateen Cleaves (Michigan State), Ed Cota (North Carolina), Baron Davis (UCLA), Khalid El-Amin (Connecticut), Evan Eschmeyer (Northwestern), Richard Hamilton (Connecticut), Tim James (Miami), Trajan Langdon (Duke), Arthur Lee (Stanford), Mark Madsen (Stanford), Andre Miller (Utah), Scott Padgett (Kentucky), Chris Porter (Auburn), Wally Szczerbiak (Miami of Ohio) and Jason Terry (Arizona). Candidates must have a cumulative 2.0 grade-point average at their current university to qualify.

Terry isn’t likely to win the Wooden, which honors the “outstanding collegiate basketball player in the United States.”

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But if the award were for most valuable player to his team, Terry would be the pick.


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