Monthly Archives: February 2013

Sport Man Toe Episode 7: We are Golf Geniuses, and We Deserve Statues

Today, Shane and Spike are chatting about their intricate knowledge of the game of golf, what form of art they would choose to honor their life’s work (Balotelli chose a statue), racist Dothraki-wannabes in Seattle, A-Rod’s strange definition of “charity,” that incorrigible imp Joba Chamberlain, and college basketball’s race to find the ugliest uniform. Warning: This episode contains a spirited game of cricket or tricket, and J.J. Redick poetry. He inspired Martin Luther King (senior, we think).

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Mid Majors with Large Potential

Sure, we know about Michigan’s terrific season, Kentucky’s struggles, and Kansas’ home winning streak but this is the time of year where we begin to wonder who the sleeper teams could be for this upcoming March. These teams traditionally reside in “mid majors”, definition of which has changed over the years, but for the purpose of this article I am highlighting some squads from non- power conferences that have an opportunity to be just that; the sleeper team. The A-10 specifically  Butler, VCU and La Salle seem to have surpassed this criterion and  are primed to make noise as we continue to tread through conference play and into March.

Some of these teams are more notable than others, but a common thread sounds throughout; all of them are under the radar.  Some notes for you to consider today and as March quickly arrives:

No #16 has ever reached the Round of 32

6 #15 seeds have reached the Round of 32 (twice occurring in 2012)

The #8 seed has only reached the championship game 3 times (Butler, 2011)

Two indexes are used here to consider the potential of the teams listed below.

RPI(Ratings Percentage Index)- This index is composed of wins and strength of schedule (25% winning %, 50% opponents winning %, and 25% winning % of the opponents’ opponents.

Flaws- Is there considerable favoritism to teams from power conferences, who PLAY tougher teams(results are not part of equation)?

BPI(Basketball Power Index)- Additional criteria utilized  in order to better calculate and determine the quality of the team such as missing players not held against the team (Syracuse, Fab Melo 2012) and actual margins factored in. In the RPI, a 30 point victory has much more weight than a 15 point victory, but in the BPI this is less drastic of an indicator.

Flaws-Is this too granular from the viewer perspective? Is this something that the tournament committee would consider come March Madness time?

With all that said, let’s get into it. Here’s my list of 8 teams, nice and lucky, who you may not know much about, but should watch out for.

#1

Colorado State Rams

Mountain West Conference

Conference Rival- UNLV, New Mexico, SDSU

21-4 (8-2)

13th RPI/22nd  BPI

With two teams in the MWC within the top 20 in RPI (UNM and UNLV), a 3rd getting off to a 13-0 start (Wyoming), and a fourth led by Steve Fisher over at  SDSU it is easy to lose the Rams in the mix.  They cracked the AP top 25 last week for the first time since 1954 and have now rattled off  8 wins in their last 9 contests. The Rams are led by local boy, Pierce Hornung, boasting an efficient 9.7 ppg/9.3 rpg on only 6.6 shots per game. With a strong supporting cast, (5 guys averaging more than 9 ppg) and with a 72% team FT average there is reason this is the 5th Mountain West team in the mix for the NCAA tournament. Minnesota transfer, Colton Iverson ( no relation to the former Turkish League guard), stands 6’10” 260 lbs and with 14.3 ppg/9.5 rpg in only 29 minutes/game of play, is a true impact player.

The team defense that they play is stifling.  This past week they took on SDSU. SDSU’s star player Jamaal Franklin was held scoreless for the first 15 minutes of the second half. Hornung led this responsibility but it was surely a team effort. That win coupled with the win Saturday at Air Force positions CSU nicely, only .5 game back in the  MWC  with some manageable games remaining.

Larry Eustachy( first year coach from Southern Miss, replacing Tim Miles) seems to have the Rams on the right track and poised to return for their 2nd tournament berth in as many years and at this rate I expect them to win a game or two.

#2

Wichita State Shockers

Missouri Valley Conference

Conference Rival-Creighton

19-2 (8-1)

38th RPI/26th BPI

Sure, they were ranked #15 in the AP  a few weeks back, but do people believe they are this good? Even with their recent difficulties in league play, I would be hard pressed to think they are the most talked about team in their own conference with rival Creighton (also struggling) and POY candidate Doug McDermott.

With that said, do not sleep on the Shockers.. The former Winthrop coach Greg Marshall has went a sizzling 102-29 in his last 3 ½ years as coach of  Wichita State.  Led by two JUCO transfers in Cleanthony Early (14.5ppg/5 rpg/82 FT %), coming off of a 39 point effort in a   comeback victory vs Southern Illinois, and Carl Hall (12.9 ppg/7.9 rpg) this team has great potential. Oh, and their point guard Malcolm Armstead, the University of Oregon transfer, and former JUCO player, is the field general leading the team with 4 apg. He is more than just a feeder for Wichita State though, with splits of   9.5 ppg/3.7 rpg/2.1 spg . In addition to Creighton, who they face in the regular season finale March 2 ,the Shockers will play the dangerous Indiana State Sycamores again on February 19th. The Sycamores beat Wichita State in their own building cracking an impressive home winning streak and the Shockers will be sure to have revenge on the mind.  Indiana State has a couple impressive wins on their resume against the Miami Hurricanes and Ole Miss Rebels.

Boasting a 3-0 record versus RPI top 50 and a +11.0 scoring margin, the Wichita State Shockers, if able to navigate the MVC, could have a legit shot to find themselves in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2006. A recent 3 game losing streak was a bit of a surprise skid after the team was rolling in December and January. With two consecutive wins I look for this team to continue to gain momentum and elevate itself to maintain the top spot in the MVC and be ranked in coming weeks.

#3

Akron Zips ( late addition/ unclear omission)

Mid American Conference

In Conference Rival- Ohio

20-4(11-0)

48th RPI/49th BPI

. Ohio made a run last year in March and returns their entire starting lineup, but how about them Zips for the Mid American crown? Akron has won 17 straight games (quietly? If that’s possible),  the longest active streak in D-1 Men’s Basketball. Zeke Marshall, the 7 foot senior, is 4th in the nation in FG % at  just over 66% and paces the squad with 12.5 points  coupled with over 6 rebounds and 3.5 blocks per contest. He is a  formidable  interior presence. Alex Abreu is a 5’10″ Puerto Rican point guard that does a real nice job of distributing, over 6 assists per game. Against rival Ohio February 2, he finished with 21 points, 9 assists and only 2 turnovers ( they play again February 27). This team is very deep with 11 guys playing at least 9 minutes per game and because of that, as well as some of their star veteran players providing necessary leadership and ability, they are certainly a team with great potential for March 2013.

#4

Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles

Conference USA

Conference Rival- Memphis

20-6(9-2)

42nd RPI/61st BPI

A similar theme seems to resonate here for the Golden Eagles as their top three players all have experience at the junior college level. Jonathan Mills is an undersized bruiser from Chicago with solid 8.9 ppg/6.7 rpg splits and he is backed by Jerold Brooks, the former Rochester East, NY star as well as travelled swingman Dwayne Davis. Twice, Davis had been ruled academically ineligible in years past at Morehead State and then again at junior college.  He has grown considerably and boasted a 3.0 GPA in the fall of 2012. Donnie Tyndall, first  year Southern Miss coach and former Morehead State coach, seems poised to continue to develop the program. The Eagles are boasting a 48.8  FG %, 15th best in the nation and are a dangerous squad (winning 12 of their last 14) that needs to be closely monitored. Their game February 23rd against the Memphis Tigers will be sure to be highly competitive and a crucial game for both opponents as USM looks for redemption following the rout earlier this month.  Look for them to be a 9 or 10 seed if they do not win the C-USA, but with great opportunity to surprise a team or two come March.

#5

Belmont Bruins

Ohio Valley Conference

Conference rival- Murray State

29thth RPI/52nd in BPI

Boasting a 10-0 record versus sub 150 RPI competition the Bruins have beat up on some bad teams. However, 29th in RPI, regardless of your thoughts on the index, is nothing to scoff at. This RPI ranking puts them above the likes of  Pittsburgh and Wisconsin. They lack that marquee win, but boasting a 49.1 FG %, and with a strong core of leadership ,all top 5 scorers and top 5 minutes played, come from upperclassmen. Rick Byrd is in his 24th year with Belmont and the stability that this unit possesses gives them reason to believe.

In the past known for being extremely deep, often having 10 guys in the rotation in a given game, they seem to be shallower in 2013. They have found two seniors to lead the Bruins. Point guard Kerron Johnson ignites the squad and averages splits of 13.5 ppg/3.3 rpg/4.6 apg, not too shabby. Speaking of not too shabby, Ian Clark seems to have a vendetta against the entire Ohio Valley Conference. With significant improvement in many offensive categories, including a 11% jump in FG %(45 to 56), this is  one of the most underappreciated players in the country. At 6-3 175 lbs, the Memphis, TN native  averaging 19.2 ppg and  68% from the field including 28/43 from beyond the arc over a stretch of 7 conference games last month. Read that again.

They have lost 2 of their last three against  two other talented teams in the OVC in Murray State and Tennessee State. Murray State obviously a dynamic and veteran led club and Tennesee State boasting future NBA player Robert Covington. Bracketbusters on February 23rd against Ohio should help to set the barometer for this team’s potential. They need to rattle off some wins prior to conference tournament to give them confidence in that tournament and beyond.

As noted, the Bruins do not have one win to hang their hat on , but that should not dismiss them from  “sleeper” category. With strong leadership and shooting prowess this team could certainly do damage come March if the matchup(s) prove favorable.

#6

Bucknell Bison

Patriot League

Conference rival- Lehigh

22-5 (9-2)

57th RPI/59th  BPI

Ok, these next few teams won’t be quite as glamorous as the first few listed, but still could prove damaging on the 14th,15th and 16th lines of the bracket. The Bison do not have a marquee victory , but the La Salle victory in December is beginning to look more and more like it. The Bison are led by Minnesota big man Mike Muscala.  Muscala, albeit in a notoriously weak conference, is putting up gaudy numbers. He is putting up splits of 19.0 ppg/11.4 rpg/ 2.8 apg. The 6’11” 240 lb center is surrounded by Canadian sharpshooter Bryson Johnson and former head Philadelphia 76ers coach’s son, Cameron Ayers. Ayers is known for being a defensive stopper but has had to pick up the scoring load in 2013, averaging 12 ppg. The Bison’s four leading scorers are all upperclassmen and Dave Paulsen (5th year coach) will look to get the team back on track after a surprise home loss to a McCollum- less Lehigh squad on January 23rd. CJ McCollum, a more highly touted NBA prospect than Muscala, broke his foot in early January for the Lehigh Mountain Hawks. The Patriot League will hurt from this loss and an at large bid for the Bison will be difficult to ascertain. More recently on February 16 the Bison had a disappointing road loss to Lafayette to bring them to 8-2 in conference play. Monday, they were able to respond and beat Lehigh on the road, to bring them to 9-2 in conference. Muscala has had a double double in 11 of his previous 12 games and with the right matchup, and if they can survive the Patriot League tournament, it could give them more than a fighting chance in March.

#6

Stony Brook Seawolves

America East

Conference rival- Vermont

19-6 (10-2)

88th RPI/94rd BPI

Similarly, Stony Brook a favorite to win their respective conference, are coming off a loss to in division opponent, Vermont Catamounts. In ancient history, 2005, the Catamounts put the America East on the map when T.J. Sorrentine and Taylor Coppenrath upset the Syracuse Orange. I know that was painful for all you Upstate New Yorkers. With that said, Stony Brook has two players that are helping to propel them in the America East. Tommy Brenton, a 6’5”senior, with an impressive and balanced 8.7 ppg/8.3 rpg/4.8 apg is their unquestioned leader and is coming off the Seawolves’ first ever triple double individual performance on January 26th versus University of Maine(15 points, 14 rebounds, 11 assists). Jameel Warney is the second player. At 6’8” and 255 lbs he is a force in the America East, and a sort of Dejuan Blair in training. The freshman is averaging 12.0 ppg/7.6 rpg and shooting 62% from the field. Stony Brook will play Vermont again next month and also has two crucial matchups against the always competitive Albany Great Danes (what a great name). As a strong FT% shooting and rebounding team the Seawolves are a team to watch.

Aside- Hey, who knows… maybe this is the year for the 16 vs 1 seed upset…(Jameel Warney holds Jeff Withey to 1-9 shooting and 4 rebounds as the Seawolves knock off the Kansas Jayhawks 69-67…. Ok back to it, sorry)

 #7

Montana Grizzlies

Big Sky Conference

In conference rival- Weber State

19-5 (11-1)

110th RPI/140nd BPI

Yes, I understand that this  is the Big Sky(notorious 1 bid and usually a 15 or 16 seed), but this is the same conference that produced Weber State’s Damian Lillard, a guy who has to be in the conversation for NBA ROY here in 2013. The Grizzlies have been a part of the Dance two of the previous 3 years, and boast an opening round victory before getting blasted by Wisconsin last year. Wayne Tinkle is in his 6th season as coach with the Grizzlies and is paced by forward Mathias Ward (15 ppg) and  point guard Will Cherry. Cherry surfaced last year as a player to watch on national spotlight, but had faded a bit at the end of 2012 after breaking his foot. Since he returned December 15th (minus his 13 minute performance on that particular day) the Grizzlies have lost only once, against rival Weber State. Cherry in their first matchup versus Weber finished with a line of 28 points/6 rebounds/ 4 steals, including 15-16 from the charity stripe. Sure, they do not have a guy in the rotation bigger than 6’9”, but this attack mentality coupled with a strong team FG % makes them a team to keep an eye on.

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Sport Man Toe Episode 6: Pistorius, MLB’s Lefty Bias, Battle for the Mug

Today Spike and I talk about Oscar Pistorius and the pitfalls of rage, racist frat twitter accounts, and pick-off rules that reveal MLB’s relentless Southpaw Bias. We also engage in the third ‘Cricket or Tricket’ war, and initiate the latest battle for the Mug, centering around Golf’s Accenture Match Play championshiop. Spike defends A-Rod, initiating a future game where I will make him defend Richard Nixon. We are angry young whites, and we will be heard.

For extra audio/video/picture mentioned on the show, and the episode itself, check our Tumblr: Sport Man Toe

 

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The deal

the deal

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Sport Man Toe, Episode 5: Russian Acid Attacks, Rugby Bias, Cricket

There’s a definite foreign flair to the show this week, and though I’m having trouble remembering specifics a few days later, I know played Cricket or Tricket, I know we talked soccer and rugby (we picked our favorite rugby nations), and I know we expressed some ideas about the Bolshoi acid attacks.

For extra audio/video/picture mentioned on the show, and the episode itself, check our Tumblr: Sport Man Toe

 

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Download the mp3 of this episode directly

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A Supposedly Fun Thing That Was Pretty Cool, I Guess: Austin Rivers’ Miracle Revisited By A DFW Impersonator

I’m reading David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest right now, and I love Duke basketball.  Not a natural overlap, but I have to work with what I got. And given the showdown that’s coming up this week, here’s what I think DFW might have written about Duke’s last-second win over UNC last year, fueled by Austin Rivers’ heroics.

(And if you’re wondering, well, yes, this is all just an excuse for me to tell people that I’m reading Infinite Jest.)

The shot caroms off the back rim, the front rim, up in the air for the briefest of moments, and then down into the welcoming hands of one not unsurprised Mason Plumlee.  Plumlee, who’s been dogged and overmatched today in all facets by the UNC Tar Heels frontcourt duo of John Henson and Tyler Zeller, has an easier time corralling this particular rebound, although no Duke fan can honestly tell you he was completely confident in Plumlee’s ability to grab the ball without knocking it out of bounds.  The fact that this play is probably Plumlee’s second-most important and productive of the night–second only to his steal of a Kendall Marshall pass just seconds ago which set up Seth Curry’s deep three-pointer, a shot that in a perfectly just world would have been whistled for traveling, but as even UNC alumnus Rasheed Wallace famously says, “[the] Ball Don’t Lie”[i]–this fact should give you, the fan, a sense of the struggles Plumlee has had going up against two players who will in just four months be drafted in the first round by NBA franchises, this game just another disappearing act in the cavalcade of disappearing acts that has defined Plumlee’s Duke career.  After pausing for a second to allow his teammate the necessary time to gain separation from his retreating but vigilant and ever-lurking defender, he quickly and gladly relinquishes the ball to SG/GB[ii] Austin Rivers, who, with ten seconds left and Duke trailing by just two, has a chance to become a hero by tying the game or to become a legend by winning it, a narrative which is certainly not lost on ESPN’s broadcasting duo of Sean McDonough and Dick Vitale.

Rivers’ first–and unbeknownst to fans then, only–Duke season has been an uncomfortable mix of breathtaking and stupid play, an amalgam of precocity and arrogance.  He is undeniably the most talented player on Duke’s roster, the most-hyped freshman to don the Blue Devil logo since god-knows-when, the top recruit of the 2011 HS class and the son of NBA All-Star PG Glenn Anton “Doc” Rivers, with a bevy of scoring options at his disposal every time he touches the ball: step-back three, hard drive to the rim, drive and floater, drive and pull up, each move complemented with a healthy array of jab steps and ball fakes to disguise his true intentions[iii] so that at the collegiate level, Rivers is as close to “unguardable” as one can be.  The fact that Duke is off to such a, by their standards, poor start this year, incongruous with the addition of Austin’s quote-unquote Skill Set, leads to the typically lazy but in this case possibly appropriate narrative of Rivers “Not Being A Team Player” and “Only Looking For His Own Stats.” Games like the OSU Debacle, in which Austin scored 22 points but Duke lost by an equivalent margin, and the most recent meltdown against Miami only 3 days prior, when he had a box score explosion of 20 and 9 but had crucial FT and 3PT misses down the stretch, only fuel the Bayless-ian[iv] idea of Austin as a “Great Player But Not A Winner.”

Tonight, Austin is having another fantastic statistical game, with 26 points, including 5 3PTs, and 5 rebounds, but his output has come primarily before Crunch Time and rather in the first 37 and a half minutes of the game, at the end of which Duke trailed by 10.  The Blue Devils have battled back, miraculously, on a string of UNC miscues, misfires, and outright ridiculous errors, and they’ve received contributions from a variety of supporting players–Tyler Thornton, Curry, and Ryan Kelly–to draw them within two.  Whether Rivers’ recent absence is a symptom of the Tar Heels’ defensive pressure or a willing passivity on his part is unclear.  Regardless, here he is now, pounding the proverbial rock onto the Dean Smith Center[v] wood floor under the watchful gaze of the ever-attentive Reggie Bullock who, despite being the primary defender torched by Rivers tonight, is damn sure it’s not going to happen again and picks him up defensively well before Rivers is into shooting range, even his range, which is more like his Range tonight with some of the absurdly long “buckets” he’s managed to nestle in the twine.[vi]

But now, as the clock ticks down to around six seconds, with Rivers surveying the defense and trying to manufacture the smallest sliver of space from where he can fire off a shot, which is really all he needs to be effective, Plumlee lumbers over to set a screen on Bullock’s left side–Rivers’ right, his preferred side–to free up his teammate. The pick-and-roll is perhaps the most basic and effective offensive play in basketball, because it forces the defense to make a strategic decision and then execute this strategy to perfection: do they have the screened man fight over the screen to prevent a long jumper or go under it to surrender one but prevent a drive; do they switch off defensive assignments and have the man guarding the screener assume his teammate’s defensive responsibilities on the ball handler; do both defenders try to work in concert to trap the ball handler and force him to pass to someone else; does the second defender “hedge” and force the ball handler away from the basket temporarily just to allow his teammate time to recover and re-engage the ball handler defensively, hopefully sparking a reset of the possession, etc. All of these permutations are of course affected by the personnel involved offensively and defensively, the game/clock situation, general coaching philosophies, and so on until it becomes so confusing and a case of “picking your poison” that you wonder only half-facetiously why any team would call an offensive set beyond basic pick and rolls.[vii]

After considering all of this, the Tar Heels elect to switch, or more likely have just ended up with, seven-foot-tall Tyler Zeller on the considerably shorter but infinitely quicker Austin Rivers 25 feet from the basket.  Zeller, who by all accounts has played marvelously for the greater portion of the contest, to the tune of 23 points and 11 rebounds, has the potential to erase his disastrous past couple minutes with a defensive stop here.  During Duke’s–not to be too over the top with my fawning but it is deserving of this term–sensational comeback, Zeller has, in order, failed to secure a defensive rebound which allowed Ryan Kelly an open jumper, missed a free throw, failed to secure another defensive rebound in an even more humiliating manner–in which he literally tipped the ball up off of the backboard and into his own basket, a play that occurs maybe once a year and very likely never at such a crucial moment on such a grand stage, and then missed another free throw, the one at the start of this piece that set this whole scene in motion.  It’s not ridiculous to say that Zeller has directly cost his team up to six points in roughly two minutes of game time, a horrid pace that is so at odds with his stellar performance to this point that it isn’t unfair to claim that he is, in sports terminology, “choking.” He is now faced up with Rivers in a dire situation that’s not strictly of his own making but pretty much is, because even if he had made just one more free throw he could have had Reggie Bullock out here with him to double team Rivers, but now since Duke’s only down two Bullock had to trail Plumlee to the basket to deter a potential alley-oop, and Zeller has to respect everything Rivers does because a three here is a game-winner but a two forces overtime, and really, UNC won’t be able to re-group in overtime, since the momentum is entirely with Duke and you can practically hear the sphincters of the fans in the Dean Dome slowly but surely clenching along with the last vestiges of cheers that aren’t so much an exhortative “come on” but an angry “come on,” as in “come on, we should have won already,” so if you think about it, any shot Rivers hits here is a game winner, de jure or de facto, which means Zeller has some tough decisions to make, defensively.

And now as Zeller is deciding just how he’ll navigate this situation, the clock is ticking down to five seconds down to four seconds and now Rivers is backing out to re-set with only about three seconds left, and Curry’s yelling at him in the corner to get going because time is literally running out, like what is he waiting for, and it’s apparent to everyone in the stadium and on the court and watching on TV back home and even listening on the radio that Rivers is planning to rise up and shoot a three-pointer right now, that he’s going for the jugular as they say or maybe putting all his chips on black and letting it ride,[viii] and now Rivers is in the air and the ball is floating out of his hand just over the outstretched palm of UNC’s potential scapegoat Tyler Zeller, the only person who wasn’t told or made aware that this was Rivers’ plan, apparently, and was still on his heels as Rivers shot and was too slow to get a hand up in his face, making this final shot one that was, for a player of Rivers’ caliber, essentially unguarded.

And we hear the already nervous UNC fans become steadily more and more nervous as the shot arcs through the air, the few fans who were already yelling simply crescendoing to an auditory zenith and everyone–following from the Dean Dome, on TV, on the radio–can hear ESPN’s Vitale[ix] gathering his breath for one final explosion, whether the shot falls or not, because either way is authentically dramatic, a real moment, one of the few times that ESPN or the AP or anyone especially Vitale doesn’t have to try to create or manufacture a storyline for a game. We hear the buzzer going off just as the ball is reaching its destination, signaling the official end of the forty minutes of regulation time, but that’s irrelevant now because the ball clearly left Rivers’ hand with time to spare, meaning no controversy will be erupting on Tobacco Road this evening, at least no justified controversy, and the outcome of the game is solely dependent on the vector and the speed and the spin and the flight of this ball.

One thing we don’t hear is the characteristic squeaking of sneakers on the hardwood, nor the scraping and elbowing and aggressive sweating and battling for rebounds, though; this game is over, rebound or putback or not, and for once all the players on the court are just like us fans–hoping, praying, and watching powerlessly at this defining moment.

And we see the ball drop through the hoop, Duke has won–incredibly, they’ve won–and we see Rivers turn and run down the court, trying to pose coolly but betraying his ecstasy immediately when he turns and is mobbed by his teammates. We see the Duke bench up to and including Coach K go crazy, a rare sign of expression for a team that is normally so reserved emotionally and businesslike in its on-court approach.  We see Zeller’s expression go from hope to despair in an instant, the only tough decision remaining for him is whether he’ll lock himself in a sauna or a meat freezer after this game, not out of suicidal tendencies but just because those aren’t places the media, whom he’ll obviously want to avoid for the next week or two or possibly forever, typically reconnoiter.

And we’d see Harrison Barnes and Zeller stagger off the floor, dazed and confused, as well as Kendall Marshall slumped over like he might be physically ill, and if he is who can really blame him, and we’d see Papa D. Rivers hugging and cheering and undoubtedly saying “That’s My Son,” which has got to feel great for him on so many levels as a father and basketball player that his dopamine receptors are working overtime, and of course we’d see and relish the schadenfreude that comes from the stunned reactions of the UNC faithful.

We would see all of this, but by this point no Duke fan really has control of themselves; we’re all doing the same thing Doc is, and we’re hugging and pig-piling with our friends and our family and people we don’t even know but we don’t care, “this is as good as it gets, as good as it gets, unbelievable” we keep saying, and we can barely form words but we don’t have to because everyone’s just saying some variation of the same phrase, and we understand each other like never before. It’s all a blur, but somehow this one shot has allowed us all a kind of clarity that must have been previously locked and guarded, and now we’re free and flying and soaring over the constraints of society, running and gasping and shouting and just downright living in that cold North Carolina air, our fandom having opened up these doors we didn’t even know existed, and for one night, the ups and downs and pains and heartache of watching and cheering and rooting, everything, it’s all worth it.


[i] “Ball Don’t Lie” [sic] is Wallace’s trademark scream when he is done in by a–in his words–felonious foul call and the fouled player misses one of these free throws, proving to the aggrieved Wallace that he was and still is innocent, even if not in the eyes of the referee, the scorekeeper, the opposition, or his coaches and teammates.

[ii] Genuine Baller, but could also stand for Giant Ballhog under certain circumstances.

[iii] The jab steps coming under scrutiny from opposing fans for their tendency to shuffle Rivers’ feet in a way that constitutes a rarely-if-ever-called travel.

[iv] Name derived from that of ESPN First Take analyst Skip Bayless, whose arguments on sports range from the intentionally controversial to the downright retarded.

[v] Known and referred to by most NCAAB fans as the Dean Dome.

[vi] A colloquial expression meant to demonstrate that Rivers is having significantly more difficulty missing than making shots, or at least he has in the past 39 minutes and 50 seconds of game time.

[vii] We didn’t even begin to discuss how the action away from the ball handler on the pick and roll can actually be even more dastardly.  Often, and especially if the ball handler uses the pick to drive, the defense will need a third defender to help with the ball handler and the man rolling to the basket, which often opens up looks for spot up shooters on the weakside, an especially enticing proposition for a team with 3-pt shooters like Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly, and Andre Dawkins, who are all on the court right now accompanying Rivers and Plumlee.

[viii] For both your sake and mine, I think that’s enough clichés to convey the relatively simple point of the gravity of Rivers’ decision here.

[ix] a.k.a “Dickie V,” who has an almost symbiotic relationship with the Duke Blue Devils and especially their fans, and is thus despised by pretty much all of the remaining NCAAB fans but is still allowed to call nationally-televised games as a quote-unquote unbiased analyst.

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Sport Man Toe, Episode 4: New Games, Racist Ads, Ugly Jerseys

It’s episode 4, and today Shane and Spike start it out with quizzes and games. Spike tests Shane’s knowledge on famous Yankee-Mariner trades, and Shane introduces a tense game called “Cricket or Tricket” that threatens to end the friendship. After that, it’s Super Bowl talk, Werner Herzog, racist VW ads, and the disgusting new Liverpool jerseys. Join us, friends.

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Did the Cameron Crazies Taunt Tyler Lewis About his Grandmother’s Death, and What Does it Say About Duke?

Minutes after Duke’s 98-85 win over N.C. State in Cameron Indoor Stadium, an intensifying rumor blew up- at least in the research triangle- when former N.C. State star and NBA veteran Julius Hodge spread the unverified gospel to his 14,000 followers:

The story goes that while N.C. State freshman Tyler Lewis was on the free throw line with 13:47 remaining in the second half, a group of Cameron Crazies began chanting, “How’s your grand-ma?” The fans were on their way home, and ESPN’s online replay was still an hour away, so for the moment nobody could confirm or disprove the rumor. But, if true, it would’ve been a horrifying bit of insensitivity on the part of the Duke students- Lewis’ grandmother passed away last Friday at age 83.

The incident began shortly after Lewis’ foul shots, when an N.C. State sophomore tweeted about the chant. He based his opinion on a video sent to him by an unidentified friend inside Cameron Indoor Stadium, and quickly disappeared from twitter. The rumor gathered steam until Hodge’s tweet, and became national in scope when Alex Kennedy, a USA Today NBA writer with nearly 50,000 followers, gave it the most dramatic treatment yet. The wildfire was spreading, and containment was no longer an option. Several N.C. State players- Richard Howell, Jordan Vandenburg, and Rodney Purvis, at least- joined the twitter escalation after the game, condemning the Duke student body for its insensitivity. Black Sports Online was the first outlet to run a story, but others weren’t far behind.

And I promise we’ll chase that truth down as best we can. I do. But here’s where I have to cut the journalistic tone for a second, because at almost any other school in America, an incident like this- if true- would give us all a temporary shudder, and then be dismissed as the work of a few tactless undergrad shits. But the chant didn’t happen at any other institution. It happened at Duke, everyone’s favorite bastion of supposed elitism; a school where embarrassments both trivial and significant become public fodder, and where the student body does is its own worst enemy. I can feel it happening again, the cycle of outrage and shame, and it’s too much for me to stomach.

The first question is, when was that reputation first sullied? Maybe, originally, with the rise of the basketball program, which transformed Duke from a small southern private school into a legitimate brand, and ushered in the era of national recognition. That’s when Duke began to matter, and when you matter, someone out there will hate you. But the real negativity- the kind that goes beyond your basic athletic rivalries and resentments- began with the infamous lacrosse scandal in 2006. The initial public furor painted the lacrosse players as rich, white, entitled kids who considered themselves superior to a local stripper, and thought they could rape and abuse her without repercussions. On a broader scale, it painted the entire student body as the perpetrators of a cultural crime, and the largely black population of Durham as the victim. That’s when it became okay to hate Duke.

The whole thing was fabricated by an ambitious district attorney who was disbarred for misconduct while the players were exonerated, but the perception remained. Perceptions tend to do that.

As a Duke alum, I can impart two nuggets of wisdom. First, that perception is complete bullshit. Second, there are plenty of students at Duke who are rich, white, entitled slugs who consider themselves superior to everyone. They’ve always been there. They’ll never go away. And if you can’t reconcile those two ideas in your head, our innocence and our guilt, then all I can tell you is that while I don’t want to engage in a lengthy debate, I would suggest that you haven’t been paying attention to the nuanced characteristics of your fellow man, and you may be prone to demonizing large segments of the population without a ton of firsthand evidence. Watch out for that- if you’re not careful, you might become a racist.

About that perception- it remained, despite the lacrosse charges being dropped, and it hasn’t improved. Sad to say, Duke has repeatedly fashioned its own noose. The latest PR disaster struck last week, when students threw a racist frat party. Before that, there was a sexist frat party. A player on the girl’s lacrosse team dressed as Buckwheat from the “Little Rascals” for Halloween, and thought it would be a good idea to complete the costume with blackface. A minor was found drunk in a porta-potty during a football tailgate. A 2010 grad named Karen Owen made a powerpoint detailing the strengths and weaknesses of her various sexual partners, and- surprise!- that baby went viral. The Atlantic Monthly killed the school in a piece called “The Hazards of Duke” shortly thereafter, which echoed a prescient Rolling Stone that ran four years earlier called “Sex and Scandal at Duke,” which itself exposed a seedy sexual underbelly rife with imbalanced power dynamics and unhealthy self-images.

My perspective? Unfortunately, I graduated a year before the lacrosse incident, so I missed out on the moment when the University fully transformed into a misogynist, elitist, racist cesspool teeming with alcohol and drugs and unchecked acts of sexual depravity despoiling the entire campus. But I’ve heard it was a real shitshow.

Sorry, I have to check my tone. I know I do- I know I do, I know I do, I know I do- or I’ll start making light of some really serious issues. And I want to convey that I know they’re serious issues. I don’t want you to think I’m some kind swaggering asshole who tries to prove his manhood by excusing obscene masculine behavior. I don’t think I am that guy. The people of Duke are not that guy. An overwhelming majority of students hate this shit too, and they react against it in proactive ways. You hear less about that because it’s not quite as juicy, but it’s true. And here are two other key points:

1. All of the embarrassments at Duke University came after the lacrosse scandal.

2. The lacrosse scandal was a lie.

I think it’s important to remember those facts. Especially after last night’s alleged chants, in light of the predictable things that everybody will infer about Duke students. It’s important to remember the lacrosse origin not because it absolves Duke, but because it fucking implicates the rest of the country.

The truth is, there is a magnifying glass focused on Duke, and I’ve lived long enough to know that if you put a magnifying glass on anyone or anything, they will not always come out looking good. Why? Because young people- no, sorry, forget ‘young’ as a qualifier- people are flawed creations, and often they are racist and sexist and elitist and lacking empathy and downright insensitive to the plight of others. Young people just happen to have more energy, so they burn a little brighter. Maybe these shortcomings are due to some intrinsic flaw in humanity, or maybe they say something about the moral decline of America, or maybe it’s all a sick prank hatched by a higher power bearing no resemblance to any of the ones we worship. But forget the cause. Let’s get basic- this stuff happens everywhere. EVERYWHERE.

“So why does it keep happening at Duke?” the world asks. “Why is it so public, so dramatic?” Because Duke is your whipping boy. Because Duke has the magnifying glass, installed under false pretenses, under which all blemishes are revealed. And I hate that I have to repeat this, but I will: I am categorically not defending horrible people. I am merely explaining why it may appear that horrible people exist in larger proportions at Duke, when in fact that’s a conclusion that lazy smug facile vengeful people draw. I am sketching the silhouette of the magnifying glass so you can see it in your brain, and feel its searing heat. Other schools are just as bad, but those schools didn’t have their own lacrosse scandal, and so the giant eye is not staring at them.

*

Let’s pause a moment to go meta and examine some of the inevitable reactions to what I’ve written so far. Then I can pre-emptively defend myself and stay away from twitter for a while.

Reaction of the community outside Duke: You’re just another rich, white man who thinks he’s entitled to minimize other people’s feelings, and is defending an indefensible school racked by institutional rot simply because he happened to attend said school, and wants to uphold the power structure that allows a place like Duke to exist.

My Defense: I’m not rich, never have been, and perhaps, despite my best intentions, never will be. And it’s really something to be accused of elitism by people who never attended Duke, but often did attend other prestigious private universities, and are often themselves from privileged backgrounds. It’s the One Percent calling me the One Percent. Neat trick, but I’m starting to dislike the taste. Truth: I’ve never once in my life felt like I had any power beyond a sense that I might have a certain percentage of control over my own destiny, and even that feeling is fleeting. I have no arrogance to display for you. I wasn’t raised to believe that my feathers were brighter than my neighbor’s.

And I am not unique among Duke students. There are a lot of us, past present and future, who don’t fit a stereotype. And as for wealth beyond my wildest dreams, I was an English major, so even the Duke degree didn’t confer the financial rewards you might imagine. Here’s what did happen in my four years at Duke, as I remember it- I had friends, lost friends, gained friends, suffered through an unexceptional first semester before getting my academics together, spent some time in the lovely Duke Gardens, ate too much Chik-Fil-A, wrote some short stories (bad), directed a play (bad), wrote a screenplay (derivative), and used funds from a campus organization to make a short 16mm film (iffy on the technical side, but raw and still a little exciting), and yes, had some experience in the periphery of the teeming alcoholic and sexual cesspool. My team also won a softball intramural championship against the law school. That was the highlight, if you want just one.

All of which is to say: Stop thinking you know everything about someone because of where they went to school. Stop thinking that Duke is unique because it attracts a higher percentage of elitists than any other private school that costs $60,000 per year. You’re being an asshole. While you’re at it- and believe me, this is something I have to remind myself too- work on the assumption that rich white men are inherently bad people. Work on falling into the stupid political trap that different schools attract simpler, less corruptible kids.

Reaction of the community inside Duke: Just like every Duke graduate who has gone on to work for a national or semi-national platform, you think it’s trendy to hate Duke and you want to pick on us and you’re just mentioning the Tyler Lewis chant for the hits and you’re still bitter about being denied credentials for last year’s UNC game and Duke is wonderful and nobody here has done anything wrong.

My defense: Why you goddam self-sabotaging bastards, can’t you see I’m trying to defend you? DID YOU EVEN READ THIS? (Like I said, Duke can be its own worst enemy.)

I’m already well off the rails here, so let’s get back to the chant. Did the students taunt Tyler Lewis about his dead grandmother? Here are a few things I do know:

*A lot of Duke students at the game adamantly insist that this is not true. They say they were chanting “past your bedtime,” because Tyler Lewis looks extremely young. They point out the pre-game cheer sheet, and how there’s nothing there about Lewis’ grandmother, and that nobody would ever encourage that kind of thing.

*Nolan Evans, a junior who works at the N.C. State student newspaper and was on press row for the game, is one of many who insists that he heard Duke students chanting, “how’s your grandma?” I gave Evans a call afterward, and found out that he grew up in North Carolina as a Duke fan, and still roots for them passionately when they’re playing anyone but State. He wanted me to tell you all that he thinks it was a minor, stupid issue initiated by a handful of dumb fans, and that he doesn’t think it reflects Duke students as a whole. And he told me that he wishes he’d never given his friend Reeves Thompson permission to cite him on twitter as someone who could confirm the negativity, considering how the whole thing blew up.

At the very least, Nolan utterly convinced me that he has no axe to grind. And he was certain- dead certain- that he heard correctly. I even asked if there might have been some kind of retroactive influence thing going on, since he didn’t even know Lewis’ grandmother had died until after the chant. Was he sure. “No doubt,” he said.

*The Chronicle, Duke’s student paper, insisted that it never happened. In the comments of that same story, someone claiming to be a Duke grad student named “Joseph Henry” insisted that at least four people had spread the word and told him to chant “How’s your grandma?” because of the recent death.

*A few reporters, some of whom are talented and who I won’t name out of a very legitimate respect for the excellent work they do on a daily basis, argued on twitter that since they hadn’t heard it while on press row, it didn’t happen. I hope it goes without saying that this struck me as worrisome- for a journalist to discount an accusation because he/she and a few pals can’t remember hearing it…it doesn’t hold water. I fully admit that I’m not sure what I heard, even after listening to the video, and it’s strange to me that there’s no reasonable doubt on their end.

*Since actual truth always comes last in these situation, behind everybody’s personal hang-ups and the immediate rush to judgment, I’ve saved the video of the free throw until the bitter end. After listening several times, I think I hear “how’s your grandma?” at around the 35-second mark. I think it’s indisputably different from “past your bedtime.” But a lot of people disagree. See for yourself:

 

I care about the truth of these accusations because it was a pretty horrible chant, and I wish it hadn’t happened anywhere, much less my school.

I don’t care about the truth of these accusations because in the end, it’s the neanderthal behavior of a few vigilantes and I can’t be bothered. It says nothing about Duke. What I’m going to say may next may become the part of the argument that undermines everything that came before, but fuck it, we’re being honest: It may not even say as much as we want about the kids. The students that did chant, if they exist, might have been caught up in a really stupid and indefensible moment. They may not be terrible people, at heart. They may go on to redeem themselves before they die. The pain they may have inflicted tonight, and the reaction, may help them see the ugliness that ensues when you harm another person. And maybe we should all take a moment to remember the worst thing we’ve ever done, and what became of us.

Yes, Duke has embarrassed itself to an absurd degree over the past seven years. I don’t mind admitting that. But I want to emphasize, one last time, that the school’s worst elements exist everywhere. Duke became the embodiment of a generation’s sins when a rogue prosecutor hatched a harmful lie and stirred up some shit that never got unstirred. So, okay. Here we are. The Gothic bubble is pierced. All of its flaws are now on display, bare and ready for your whip. Maybe you need that whip. I get that, too. But before you swing, I advise that you’ll experience the greatest pleasure if you remember not to look around.

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Protected: The Mystery of the Dead-Ball Rebound

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