Who picks the harmonica as their go-to musical instrument? Cameron Krutwig does. One of the nation's most accomplished big men -- the senior centerpiece to 22nd-ranked Loyola Chicago's 17-3 season -- can't stop blowing his harp.
"It brings people together," the 6-foot-9 Krutwig says. "I think the harmonica is the single greatest instrument of all time. It's so little, so versatile. It's just funny."
Big man, tiny instrument. So yeah, the visual's something of a gag.
"I'm not a good singer," Krutwig says. "Not at all. But I'm a PERFORMER."
We're chatting on a Monday, one of his two days off during the week. No classes, and on this day, no practice. Just hang out, play some tunes, and a few video games with buds from high school.
"I'm kind of a go-with-the-flow guy," Krutwig says with that accent right out of Algonquin, Illinois.
The mustachioed maestro has another goal: to make it back to the biggest stage in college basketball … and maybe become the next John Popper. Actually that's a lie. Krutwig does not even know who John Popper -- a man who popularized the harmonica in pop music as much as anyone ever -- is.
"You ever listen to Blues Traveler?" I ask.
He proudly spouts back: "I know the blues a bit."
The man contains multitudes, and it's easy to see how he's such a lovable teammate.
The 22-year-old is unabashedly a throwback -- both in basketball game and musical taste. Krut, as he's called, has a three-man group text with the team's sports information director and strength coach wherein they have weekly themed chitchat with links and callbacks to artists of yore. The Bee Gees, Hall & Oates, Tears for Fears, Phil Collins, etc. Krutwig claims Hall & Oates' "Maneater" is, and I do very much quote: "One of the best songs of all time."
This leisurely musical pursuit started two years ago when he played a joke on his teammate, walk-on Will Alcock. Krutwig signed Alcock up for a talent show. He broke the news over breakfast; the show was that day. So Alcock sang Andre Bocelli's "Por Ti Volaré," a song otherwise known to many as the one Will Ferrell performs at the end of "Step Brothers." Alcock won the talent show.
Lately the two have been building out some musical tapestries, which is to say they've been taking from Krutwig's favorite songs from the '70s, '80s and '90s and are purely looking to jam, man. Alcock plays alto saxophone. Just a couple of fellas hoping to sway some hearts along the way, you know? Krutwig is glowing about his bandmate. You can't fake this kind of admiration: "He has a saxophone he plays and is actually not bad."
Technically they're not a band. It's a classic college phase, only this one features a 255-pound man holding a three-ounce mouth organ and stars on the side for what's statistically one of the best mid-major teams of the past decade.
"I can do it -- OK, I should say I can do it a little bit," Krutwig says. "Sometimes the notes come out a little wrong, but I can blow two notes at once. It sounds good. If I play the songs and play the harmonica over it, so the song drowns out my mistakes, you would think I was playing it. We've been doing a little practice. A little 'Piano Man,' a little 'Careless Whisper.' (Will) knows whats he's doing. It was a session."
CBS Sports was unable to obtain audio of Krutwig and Alcock's stylings. We are taking him at his word and the word of assistant coach Drew Valentine.
"I've heard the harmonica," Valentine said. "On the bus, after a team meal. He'll just pull it out and everyone will start dying laughing. It's funny as hell, to be honest. He's trying to do the most he can. Imagine someone trying to shred a guitar solo. The body contortion, moving around like that, imagine that. But with a harmonica."
Next up: The Beatles. "Love Me Do." That'll have to wait, because now we must get to the basketball. On Saturday and Sunday 19-1 Drake will host Krutwig and the Ramblers in what's the biggest regular-season event in the Missouri Valley in years. The teams are a combined 36-4, both have been ranked this season and both are on the bubble. Krutwig (a four-year starter) and Lucas Williamson are the only players remaining from that '18 fairytale Final Four squad. The harmonica enthusiast with a penchant for some of the most badass backdoor passes you've ever seen claims this year's team is definitely better than the 2018 group.
"I think we've got more talent this year, honestly," Krutwig said. "Those guys weren't menacing. Those guys were 6-1 point guards, 6-2. Now we've got a lot more physicality, we kind of look the part. My freshman year we were great but teams underestimated us."
That 2018 team didn't have someone like Marquise Kennedy, a high-level athlete who gives this Ramblers group an attack mode that's allowed it to win 17 out of 20 games and reach No. 14 in KenPom. For comparison, the team that made the Final Four finished 30th. This is a better team, and it starts with Krut in the middle. He's as comfortable in his style and personality as any player you'll find in college basketball. A diehard Chicago Bears fan, Krutwig's go-to move is to scream "LET'S GO BEARS!" at the top of his lungs every time the team bus has passes Soldier Field while heading down Lake Shore Drive.
"He's true to himself and he's confident in who he is, he doesn't try to be anything he's not with the decisions he makes on the court, off the court," Valentine said.
For all the fun, he's also a natural and comfortable leader. Valentine said his calming presence, his confidence, his convictions in all kinds of game situations have enabled this team to be successful and crest back to the national relevance it shockingly waltzed into almost three years ago. Loyola Chicago is holding team's to 56.3 points on average, the lowest number in college hoops. The Ramblers have won 10 straight; it's their best start through 20 games since 1965-66 (three seasons after winning the national title).
Krutwig (15.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 2.9 apg, 60.4% shooting) has already made Valley history. The two-time First Team All-MVC selection is easily on his way to earning that honor again, and he's one of four players in Valley history to tally at least 1,500 points, 800 rebounds and 300 assists. Two of the other three are among the 15 best players in the history of the sport (Larry Bird, Oscar Robertson) and the other is one of the best mid-major players in history (Hersey Hawkins). And if you think that's great, wait until you hear him blast a solo in B-flat from the back of the team bus.
Michigan's first game in three-plus weeks this weekend
When No. 3 Michigan tips off Sunday at No. 21 Wisconsin it will be the Wolverines' first game since Jan. 22. And yet this entire time Michigan's team hasn't had one positive test. The Wolverines' pause came as part of an overarching freeze of all athletic department activity in light of the UK variant of the coronavirus surfacing at the school and within the athletic department.
Michigan ended its shelter-in-place protocol Monday; the team has been practicing this week in advance of the Wisconsin game, but because the players weren't in the gym for more than two weeks the scheduled midweek matchup vs. Illinois was postponed. This left Illinois fans annoyed (Illini are rolling) but the reality is team doctors are not going to clear players to compete in games without sufficient ramp-up time.
Amid the team's return from pause, I caught up with Michigan associate head coach Phil Martelli, who detailed what's it's been like for the coaches and players to halt in the midst of such a good season.
"Personally, I do get stir-crazy," Martelli said. "You're stir-crazy yourself but unnerved about how these guys are going to handle isolation and I think the mental health thing, I think we're seeing it play out. I think some teams can't get there mentally after sitting out."
Martelli lives in a condo by himself 10 minutes from Michigan's campus. For two weeks the only time he left his residence was to get tested, or for the one-hour daily allowance he had to use the fitness area in his living complex. Martelli said head coach Juwan Howard has been diligent and successful in keeping the players connected and engaged. Still, this is one of the best teams in the sport and it's been caught in this interlude. Who knows what Michigan will look like once it returns? Before shelter-in-place was lifted, players were allowed outside one hour each day to exercise. When the lockdown was announced the team was allowed to snag workout bands, free weights and balancing pads from the facility to bring back to their residences.
"They are at least doing some conditioning, some fitness," Martelli said. "I wouldn't say it's high anxiety, but you're certainly anxious to get back, and then you figure where we were at. We were playing really well. There's no sense of despair or hopelessness."
To help combat any lag, Martelli reached out to coaches at Richmond, Villanova, Clemson and others about their process and how they handled things once they returned to practice. But as he talked through this, we weaved into a conversation about the nature of this season and where other teams are right now, on pause in February, and how it could understandably wind up being too much for some to continue on with much longer.
"The biggest thing for me is it's unnerving because of the mental health aspect," Martelli said. "A kid sitting in a room by himself and what's going through his head and what would tempt him to pack his car and say, 'I'm going home.' ... In the deep recesses of my mind I'll say, 'What are we doing here?' I know we're trying to get to March and I believe we'll get there in some form or fashion."
Martelli also wondered if we'll see teams opt not to commit to playing in their league tournaments -- both really good and really bad ones.
"I read something about the basketball committee or commissioners putting out to teams: here's our constitution, you can't just ignore the constitution by not playing," he said. "I don't know what that means, I don't know if there's penalties ... but if there's a last-place team, what are they getting out of this?"
The only three teams with schedules untouched by COVID-19
We've got less than a month remaining to find out if any of the 346 teams that have played this season can wind up finishing their schedule without a single postponement or cancellation. Just three schools remain that have been lucky enough to not have a COVID-19 case within their program so far this season and have also not had to adjust one game.
"Scared to say it," Louisiana Tech coach Eric Konkol texted this week. "Don't want to jinx it!"
Is it possible to accurately calculate the odds of a team going an entire season -- with postponements or cancellations happening daily in a universe of almost 350 teams -- and not be afflicted? Ironically it's not one of the three teams above that leads the nation in total games at this point. It's Oakland at 23. The Grizzlies technically don't qualify because their schedule was modified once, though they have played every scheduled opponent to this point.
"One league weekend was changed, as the team we were supposed to play got COVID, but so did another team in the league, so we played the team that was free also," Oakland coach Greg Kampe told me. "I played five games in the first seven days of the season because I knew there would be issues."
Kampe, who had COVID-19 last summer, managed to bring in nearly $400,000 in buy-game money thanks to playing Xavier, Michigan, Michigan State, Oklahoma State and Purdue on the road. The Grizzlies have four more games to go before hitting the maximum of 27 regular season games allowed this season.
The opposite end of this is dire, as you'd expect. Howard canceled the rest of its season on Tuesday, packing up with a 1-4 record after not having played a game since Dec. 18. It would not surprise me to see a few more teams decide to do the same before the end of February. And as for the team with the fewest games so far, it's American University (four). There are still 24 teams yet to play more than nine games. The average team has played 15.1 games at this point.
Put Tom Konchalski in the Hall of Fame
We must pay tribute here to the great Tom Konchalski. The basketball world lost one of its most gracious and kindhearted men. Nicknamed "the Glider," Konchalski changed the lives of thousands of people in his 40-plus years scouting high school basketball players.
Unless you are a diehard of the sport or are someone who has played, coached or covered college basketball, chances are you didn't know the name Tom Konchalski until the past few days. When news was shared last week that Konchalski, 74, was being moved to hospice, people throughout the basketball world took to social media to share their well wishes and tributes. When news of his death came on Monday, the tributes and a waterfall of words in his honor poured out tenfold.
Konchalski was known for his impeccable work ethic, aversion to technology, unfailingly honest demeanor, long-lasting handshake and -- at least for me -- his eye contact. I'm not sure I ever met someone who looked you directly in the eye every second he spoke to you or when you were speaking to him. You had undivided attention if he engaged you in conversation. And you wanted to be in conversation with Konchalski. It meant you were in the presence of someone who, try as he might, attempted to give more respect than he ever asked for. But that was impossible. Konchalski was long ago dubbed "the only honest man in the gym" and there are thousands upon thousands upon thousands of coaches, players and media this week who are mourning his passing. The history of men's basketball scouting in the grassroots world has a few bona fide dons: Sonny Vaccaro, Howard Garfinkel and Tom Konchalski lead that list.
As coincidence would have it, Garfinkel and Konchalski's names are up for first-time consideration to the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame this year. Both deserve haste inclusion. They were the ones who saw the talent, fairly, and objectively helped cultivate and identify it for decades. Hall of Fame basketball figures are forever in their debt -- and those same people should get to call Garfinkel and Konchalski their brethren forevermore as soon as possible.
Each week I highlight reader questions, so find me on Twitter and @ me with whatever!
Whats the worst record a B1G team could have this year (IND, MD, PSU, etc) and still make the tournament?— WestCoast Boat Rower (@West_Coast_Jack) February 11, 2021
No one team's results exist in a vacuum so this is an impossible question to answer as of today. That said, I do think there's a chance an Indiana or Maryland could finish just two games above .500 and poke through and make the First Four. The reason being the Quad 1 wins could clinch it. IU dodging a loss at Northwestern on Wednesday night was pivotal.
What mid-pack/bubble teams have young players turning the corner that could make them more dangerous next month?— boourns (@bburch22) February 11, 2021
Stanford. Finally playing at home, due to get back three of its six best players in the coming days after not having them for the past three weeks. Ziaire Williams is one of those players. He could be a top-20 pick.
Oregon. Will Richardson recently made his debut for the Ducks, and they hope to be fully healthy as a team by the end of the month. Talented enough to be a double-digit seed that makes the second weekend.
Arkansas. A quiet 15-5 crew that's comfortably moving in the right direction. Eric Musselman's got a hodgepodge roster of new guys that could be a fun sleeper pick in a month. The defense has picked up.
If any current top 25 team could pick one alum to join their team for a tournament run, whose odds would go up the most/who would you have winning the tourney? That alum must be at their college basketball peak equivalent.— Jake (@iamcohencrazy) February 11, 2021
I'll take this to mean players currently in the NBA and not all-time, just to put some restraints on it. Obviously you put peak UConn Kemba Walker on this year's Huskies team and its title odds spike. As for a team that could go from good to true title contender by adding an alum as the best college version of himself, Oklahoma with Buddy Hield (yes, even more than Trae Young) would be a marvelous upgrade.
What conference tournament do you believe has the best chance to produce a bid stealer via winning the auto bid?— Ben Schultz (@BenLikeabeast) February 11, 2021
Probably the American Athletic Conference. Houston is streets ahead, but it's the only team comfortably in the field at this point, and given the wild cards in play with league tournaments overall, that one seems the most vulnerable to a bid thief. (The Valley is a close second if Drake gets swept by Loyola Chicago this weekend.)
If you had to choose between seeing Phish live at their first show in Marsh Hall at UVM or Guster at Midnight Cafe at Tufts for their first show, which are you going to, and why?— Satellite Jack (@SatelliteJackJr) February 11, 2021
Guster is in my top three bands, while Phish wouldn't crack my top 30. But as fun as it would have been to see Guster -- then going by "Gus" -- in its early '90s infancy in Boston, consider the cred you'd carry around forever if you could honestly claim to have been at the first Phish show in history? That's heady, brah. Gimme Trey and the guys. Shouts to Church Street.
• The NCAA Tournament selection committee is meeting this week, in person, to knock the rust off and seed the top 16 teams through Thursday night's results for Saturday's top 16 reveal at 12:30 on CBS. It's the first time the committee has met in the flesh since March 12, 2020, when the NCAA Tournament was canceled.
• Iona is set to return Friday vs. Manhattan after not having played a game since Dec. 23. That's 51 days! But it's not the longest in-season drought. That would belong to UC Davis, which went 55 days between games earlier this season.
• The Big Ten finally announced its decision to have both its men's and women's tournaments this year in Indianapolis. The men will play at Lucas Oil Stadium, with the schedule going from March 10-14. This means that if a Big Ten team competes in the Big Ten tournament and if it were to make the national title game, it would be living out of a hotel for almost a month.
• Elsewhere in league tournament news, conferences are finalizing their times between end of games and tip-offs, likely to be at least 60 minutes. Days with four games in one venue will prove tricky. A few sources have suggested tip times beginning at noon and then continuing on with tip times happening around 3 p.m., 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. if no fans are in attendance. A source connected to the Big 12 shared that its quarterfinals will tip at 10:30, 1:30, 5:30 and 8:30 Central.
• Colgate's situation has received some attention for its aberrational standing in the NET. It's 13th despite playing just eight games and holding a 7-1 record vs. nothing but Patriot League teams. But don't expect the Raiders to crack the code. Their ranks in all other metrics make much more logistical sense. This team has zero chance at an at-large.
• The Atlantic 10 race is a bog. Six teams are tied in the loss column with two defeats apiece. Please give us a four-way tie atop the ledger season's end.
• UConn is 5-1 with James Bouknight and 3-4 without him. The Huskies lost at Providence on Wednesday and need him back as soon as possible to have a hope of making the NCAAs.
• Colorado has made 83% of its foul shots on 347 attempts so far this season. The single-season mark is 82.2% by 1983-84 Harvard on 651 attempts. Gonna be tough!
• The highest-ranked team in the NET with at least one loss in every quadrant: No. 53 Richmond.
• Lowest-ranked team in the NET with zero Quad 2, Quad 3 and Quad 4 losses: No. 43 Maryland.