Earlier today I was thinking about one of the articles I want to write after the season is over. I was thinking about Duke’s team next year, with everyone returning and three McDonald’s All-Americans coming in. Josh McRoberts didn’t live up to preseason expectations, but if you ignore his high school accolades, he still has a pretty promising future as a college player. With another year of practice and maturity to go with his current skills and athletic ability, he could still develop into an All-American-caliber player.
Little did I suspect that just an hour later I’d hear that McRoberts has decided to go pro. Wow. This isn’t nearly as surprising as Shavlik Randolph leaving early, but it did catch me off guard. I thought he might leave last year, but after this season? Could any NBA team really be salivating over this guy? He couldn’t dominate in college and showed all kinds of red flags – an unwillingness to bang, a tendency to shy away from big shots, a fragile ego, a generally poor grasp of how to use his talents. All of those weaknesses are correctable, but the NBA is a damn difficult place to learn. This isn’t exactly a Will Avery situation – 6’3″ guards are a dime-a-dozen so if you can’t play right away, you’ll get cut – but it’s just really hard to imagine that he can succeed at the next level. Sure, he’ll make a team and stay in the league for at least a few years – if Randolph can do it, McRoberts can – but anything more than that is going to require a complete attitude readjustment.
On the flip side, I’m pretty sure this is a good thing for Duke. Clearly this year’s team had some problems with chemistry. They didn’t play often as a cohesive unit and were generally less than the sum of their parts. When that’s the case, losing your “best” player is often the best thing that can happen. Instead of everyone waiting around for McRoberts to grow a pair and become a leader, they can rally around each other and let Paulus step up as the unquestioned captain (although I’m sure DeMarcus Nelson will be co-captain). Duke still has a lot of young, developing talent and has more on the way. If their jersey said something like “Clemson” or “Virginia” on the front instead of “Duke,” they’d have everyone optimistically looking toward next year and wondering how a school like that acquired so many players.
Don’t be surprised when the rumors start leaking out that Krzyzewski pushed McRoberts out the door. Maybe K has heard of the Ewing Theory.

Butch Davis Has Cancer

I was just talking to a Tar Heel fan yesterday about Butch Davis and the impact that they hope he has on the UNC football program. Little did either of us know that Davis had been recently diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma after a tumor was removed from his mouth.
Davis seems to be playing down the story, and I understand that, but come on. There’s no such thing as an insignificant cancerous tumor in your head. And from what I understand, there’s no such thing as easy chemotherapy treatment.
Football coaches are famous for their insane work ethics and 20-hour days. With spring football just starting up, how can Davis possibly keep that up while going through chemo? That knocks regular people out, much less folks who want to be go-go-go 24-7. I hope he hired competent assistants, because he is going to be relying heavily on them until he finishes his treatment.
Good luck to coach Davis. Take care of yourself first, then worry about your team and your job.

Postseason Performance

After filling out pool sheets, the second most popular NCAA Tournament pastime might be comparing conference performance. Everybody keeps track of who has how many teams left. Conferences are ranked by various arbitrary measures – number of bids, number of Sweet Sixteen teams, number of Final Four squads, total wins, winning percentage, etc. Each of those has some merit, but all are critically flawed.
The absolute team counts are handy, but clearly miss a lot of detail. If a conference puts two teams in the Sweet Sixteen, is that always better than the league who gets only one? What if that first league lost 5 teams on the first day, but the other conference put 6 teams into the first weekend?
Total wins is a better look at whole-tournament performance, but it too misses a critical element. If a team loses a game, should it’s impact on the tourney be completely ignored? If so, then a conference with 6 bids and 2 wins is no better than a conference with only 1 bid and 2 wins.

Continue reading “Postseason Performance”

Another Look At Race And Basketball

In my column reviewing the weekend NCAA Tournament games, I wrote a short piece about Tyler Hansbrough’s athleticism and included a final line wondering if he would be viewed differently if he were black. Obviously, that’s the sort of topic that’s not best handled by a single throwaway line, but I didn’t have time to go into it more.
Fortunately, Chad Orzel of the Uncertain Principles blog read what I wrote and expanded on it nicely.
As most anyone who watches much sports knows, there tends to be a bias in how white and black athletes are described. Let’s ignore the “truth” about how athletic various players really are or aren’t – white athletes tend to get credit for hustle, hard work, attitude and smart play while black athletes are noted for their sheer athleticism and skill. In many cases, these descriptions are appropriate and in many cases they are not. This kind of analysis is laziness in the form of easy stereotyping. You see the same thing when an athlete reminds the announcer of some similar athlete who is invariably of the same race.
As for Hansbrough, I’ll admit that I haven’t always thought of him as athletic. Sure, he’s no Will Bowers, but I wouldn’t compare him to Sean Williams or even Josh McRoberts either. That’s partly why I was surprised to realize that his brother and father both have accomplished things that do require supreme athleticism. Maybe Hansbrough isn’t just a hard worker or “the toughest basketball player in America” but is also a superior athlete. I mean, Jason Cain plays pretty hard and he’s fairly athletic as well, but he’s nowhere near the player Hansbrough is.
I think Tyler actually is a superior athlete, but he’s just one of those guys who’s not very fluid. He’s jerky and angular, but surprisingly athletic. We’ve probably all had friends like that or at least played against that guy at the gym. He looks goofy and runs funny, but damn if he doesn’t keep scoring on you or hitting jumpers from 20 feet. I ran track with a guy like that in college. He looked and acted like a big dork. He kind of loped when he walked and looked like he was trying too hard when he ran. But the dude could long jump 23 feet (you try that some time) and was a hell of a dunker at just about 6 feet tall. And yes, he was white.
It just goes to show – you never really know until you watch what someone can and can’t do. The color of their skin or the smoothness of their gait doesn’t tell you the whole story.

ACC History To Salve Our Wounds

The ACC’s reputation wasn’t built in a year, five years or even a decade. The ACC has been the most dominant conference by far over a long period of time. One bad year (and this hasn’t been that bad yet) doesn’t change that.
So, I give you David Glenn’s piece from last week detailing just how dominant the ACC has been in the NCAA Tournament.
My favorite paragraph:

Since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985, the ACC has had 111 teams in the NCAA Tournament, about the same as the Big East (116). Yet the ACC has 221 wins in that span — 35 more than the Big East. The Big Ten has had 124 participants since 1985 yet has 42 fewer wins. The SEC, with 110 participants, has 61 fewer wins. The Pac-10 has less than half as many NCAA wins as the ACC in the modern era. Since the Big 12 formed in 1996, it trails the ACC 96-72.

Another Appearance On

If you missed me last week, you have another shot tonight. I’ll be on tonight at 6pm Eastern. We’ll be talking about the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament and probably about how the ACC flopped.
By the way, I talked to Michael Riccio, who hosted my show last week and will again tonight, and they don’t yet have the capability to replay past shows, but that’s in the works.

Weekend Thoughts

Not a good start to the NCAA Tournament for the ACC, huh? Unfortunately, I’m not terribly surprised. I mentioned briefly on this site and again on one or two of my radio interviews that the ACC was poised for a tough first two rounds of the tourney. Only Carolina would be a heavy favorite to win two and Maryland was probably the only other one even slightly favored. And well, the ratings and Vegas oddsmakers were right.
Does it mean the ACC had a terrible year? No, certainly not. Just getting seven teams in is a pretty impressive accomplishment that speaks volumes about how those teams played the entire season. But putting only one team in the Sweet Sixteen does mean that it’s certainly not a banner year for the ACC. Not a great one and not even a very good one.
There are many ways for a conference to have an excellent year. One way is to have a few exceptional teams on top – two or three squads who are good enough to vie for a Final Four berth or even a title. Another way is to have strength at the bottom of the league – the whole “there is no off night in this league” thing. And a third is to have a strong middle of the league – maybe an elite team on top and one crappy one on the bottom, but with a large, successful middle class. I’d say the ACC pretty much fit that last mold this year, with a touch of the second one as well. As the bottom-feeders showed at the end of the year, no game was a guaranteed win this season and 10 of the 12 ACC teams earned postseason bids. The ACC led in pretty much every conference power rating, but had only national-level elite team.
Now, my thoughts on the weekend games, which despite the ACC’s struggles, were pretty entertaining.

Continue reading “Weekend Thoughts”

Friday Thoughts

  • I guess J.R. Reynolds’ hip is feeling better! Talk about lighting it up. It’s amazing how much better Virginia is when he’s hitting shots. Sean Singletary will always be dangerous with the ball – quickness doesn’t come and go – but his effectiveness is limited if the team has no other threat.
  • I mentioned before that all I really wanted from Virginia this year was one tourney win. Just one. Win one game and I’d be satisfied even if they bowed out in the second round. And now after they have won that one game … I still feel the same way. A win over Tennessee on Sunday would be suhweet, but I won’t be devastated if they lose. It’s a nice place for a fan to be!
  • And how about Tennessee and Virginia’s performances? I was extremely pleased that the Cavs went out and won by 27 points, their third-largest margin of victory on the season. And then the Vols went out and won by 35, scoring 121 points in the process! That makes Virginia’s win seem modest. But at the same time, I’m still hopeful because UVA played well and their defense will be a whole lot better than what UT saw yesterday.
  • I picked Illinois to upset Virginia Tech, largely because of their defense (and just gut feeling), but I still pulled for the Hokies. I was almost right and Illinois did play some of the best D I’ve seen in the tourney, but I was impressed by how the Hokies responded. Once they switched to the full-court press with about 5 minutes left, they completely dominated the game. It’s always interesting to see how a change in defensive philosophy to be more aggressive can change the complexion of a game on both ends of the floor.
  • I’m pissed at myself for not picking Winthrop. Before the field was even announced, I had planned on having them win at least one game. I was impressed with how they played against UNC earlier this year and they’ve been to the tourney so much lately that I knew they were ready to take the next step. But then I talked myself out of it. I heard everyone else picking them to upset Notre Dame and then I saw that the Domers actually had a good Pomeroy rating, so I caved. My bad.
  • Another mistake I made – not accounting for Georgia Tech’s horrendous play away from home. They should have won that game yesterday, but they simply don’t play well outside of Atlanta. It’s hard to explain. Obviously they have some youth, but they are more experienced than a lot of teams. Unfortunately for Paul Hewitt, he may not get a chance to mold all of that talent. I bet Thad Young skips out to the NBA, even though his stock has surely dropped since last year.
  • How sweet would it have been if Wisconsin had dropped that game? I don’t know why it is, but I just love watching the Big Ten fail in the NCAA Tournament. It’s not like I hate the schools in that league, but for some reason, I find it funny to see them struggle at the end of the year. I think it stems from those two consecutive seasons in the early 90s when the Big Ten failed to get a single team in the Sweet Sixteen.
  • Arizona may just be the worst team with four NBA-caliber players in the history of college basketball. Their season was a disgrace. Remember that when you see any list of great college coaches that includes Lute Olsen. He’s a great recruiter and a very good program manager, but he’s an average-at-best basketball coach.
  • The ACC went 5-2 in the first round. Not too bad. That’s about what I expected, although I certainly hoped for more. The real test comes now. Carolina, Maryland and Virginia are all seeded to win, but none have an easy game. Hell, the Hokies might actually have the easiest opponent in Southern Illinois, but the Salukis are pretty darn good.

Thursday Thoughts

  • Stephon Curry is the best 12-year-old basketball player I’ve ever seen. I understand now why the big schools missed out on him. They didn’t think to scout the middle school courts at recess.
  • Maryland fell asleep defensively in the first half, maybe not respecting Curry’s babyface, but did what they needed to do in the second. Davidson pu up 43 points in the first half and only 27 in the second. That’s promising for the Terps.
  • I didn’t see the game, but BC won pretty much how I thought they would. They kept banging and chipping and eventually pulled ahead. They have a perfect win-your-first-round-game team.
  • Don’t get too caught up in Carolina’s mid-game struggles. That’s extremely common for talented 1 seeds and not always a bad sign. That team needs constant reminders to stay focused. Michigan State will be no slouch tomorrow though. They put a pounding on Marquette. I’m not sure the Spartans can score enough to upset the Heels though.
  • Remember early this season when I said that this Duke team reminded me of the 1995 team that collapsed? Some thought I was crazy. Well, I might have been off by one. This team was really a lot like 1996, the last Duke team to be upset in the first round by a mid-major with quick guards. In ’96, Duke went 8-8 in the ACC, lost in the first round of the ACC tournament and again in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Sound familiar? The one key difference is that expectations were fairly low in ’96. In that regard, this team was more like ’95 in that they were supposed to be good, but the pieces just didn’t fit together properly.
  • As for the game itself, Duke would have done better if anyone other than Paulus had stepped up. McRoberts tried (at times), but just has no idea AT ALL how to assert his will on a game. DeMarcus Nelson was damn near invisible and Jon Scheyer simply can’t score against a good defender.
  • Paulus has a little punk in him. That little “accidental” bump last night that nearly started a fracas was not the first time I’ve seen him do that this year. When guys play him tight, he tries to get physical with them like that. I actually respect him for being scrappy though. He was the one Blue Devil who seemed determined to not lose. Unfortunately for him and Duke, he was outmatched by Eric Maynor.
  • I went 15-1 in my picks yesterday, missing only that Duke game. That’s the best first day I’ve had in memory!