Yearly Archives: 2011

The Dukes of Spazzard

Coming into Tuesday night’s game against Ohio State, Duke fans had a few reasons to be concerned. The team had just finished a particularly exhausting series of five games in nine days, and it was the team’s first game on the road against a very good and very experienced team that had to date swallowed every team in its path. Personally, I found the spectre of facing the ghost of Greg Paulus to be the most frightening thing about facing OSU. After he was shown wearing what looked like his father’s Thursday suit, I had to work quite hard to fight off the nausea.

It looked so wrong to see him on a basketball court again, especially since I thought I had seen the last of him inspiring terrible Duke performances. Would his mere presence mean the team was bound to underwhelm? Would Seth Curry start backing into his defenders after crossing half court? Would we see Austin Rivers throwing himself into Lebron James’ lap in futile pursuit of an errant football style pass from Andre Dawkins? Would we see Jared Sullinger soar from the free-throw line and throw down a sick jam, obstructed only by a pathetically flopping Tyler Thornton? I was mentally preparing myself for a particularly Paulusian performance on all accounts – what I thought to be the worst case scenario.

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Carolina Crazy

We all like to think that we carefully gather and evaluate facts and data before coming to our conclusions.  But we don’t.

Instead, we tend to suffer from confirmation bias and thus reach a conclusion first.  Only thereafter do we gather facts, but even so it’s only to support our pre-conceived conclusions.  We then take our selected “facts” and cram them into our desired narratives, because narratives are crucial to how we make sense of reality.  They help us to explain, understand and interpret the world around us.  They also give us a frame of reference we can use to remember the concepts we take them to represent.  Perhaps most significantly, we inherently prefer narrative to data — often to the detriment of our understanding.  Keeping one’s analysis and interpretation of the facts reasonably objective – since analysis and interpretation are required for data to be actionable – is really, really hard even in the best of circumstances.

That introduction is a helpful predicate to a perfectly obvious conclusion: fans are inherently irrational.  If we are exceedingly prone to various mental biases in life generally, when we’re in fan mode we can readily go off the rails entirely.  And when we’re in fan/rivalry mode, almost anything is possible.

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The Case for Reggie Bullock

Carolina, the overwhelming preseason favorite to cut down the nets, has sputtered out of the gate to a 6-2 start. And, although one of the losses was on the road to fellow heavyweight Kentucky, that means the natives are getting restless in Chapel Hill. While it certainly wouldn’t solve all of the team’s problems (mediocre rebounding on both ends, inability to consistently finish in the paint, and poor free throw shooting, to name three), I’d like to propose one remedy for UNC’s tepid start: replacing Dexter Strickland in the starting line-up with Reggie Bullock.

Don’t get me wrong: I love Strickland. He’s made huge strides as a junior–namely as a ball-handler/back-up PG/facilitator of the offense and a mid-range shooter (hitting 45% (9-20) of his 10-20 footers through 8 games after connecting on just 27% last season). Strickland’s defense– his calling card– has also been better and more consistent as a junior. The logic for starting Dexter is compelling and straightforward: his strengths (attacking off the dribble in transition, defending ultra-quick point guards) help to offset the weaknesses of backcourt partner Kendall Marshall. He’s also Carolina’s best complementary ball-handler and play-maker– a trait Roy Williams covets from his 2-guard to maximize secondary break efficiency. Add all that to Strickland’s incumbency, and it’s easy to see why he remains in the starting line-up. From a purely basketball perspective, Strickland’s presence in the starting line-up makes far more sense than, say, Drew over Marshall last season. But, while Strickland’s strengths compensate for some of Marshall’s weaknesses, the two share a common flaw: the inability/reluctance to knock down 3-point jumpers. And in a system predicated on feeding the post as a primary option, this shared weakness has had deleterious effects on floor spacing/halfcourt offensive efficiency.

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Duke Women’s Soccer is in the Final Four today

Subject says it all, homeys. I’m headed down to Atlanta to see the Dukies play Wake Forest tonight. In the other semi, undefeated Stanford plays Florida State. If Duke wins tonight, they’ll play live on ESPNU at 1pm Sunday. I believe the semi will be replayed at 11 Sunday as well.

Enjoy the weekend, and be sure to read the interview with John Feinstein just below this one.

OH! Also- big congratulations to John Watson of the Devil’s Den, who is the official winner of The Triangle Prophets. Final standings:

1. John Watson, The Devil’s Den – 34.5 points

2. The Devil Wolf, TRB – 32.5 points
2. Nate Friedman, UNC football correspondent32.5 points

4. James Henderson, Publisher, Pack Pride – 30.5 points

5. Me – 28.5 points

6. Jim Young, Editor, – 27.5 points

Tar Heel Fan Blog – 26.5 points

8. William Earnhardt, Site Designer – 21.5 points

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Interview with John Feinstein

When I was sent a galley of John Feinstein’s new book, One on One, my apartment complex failed to let me know it had arrived. A regular-sized book is too big for our tiny mailboxes, and we’re supposed to get a red notification slip when something larger comes. Didn’t happen. It sat in the main office for about two weeks before I went in to get another package and discovered it sitting on their shelf. “Crap,” I thought, “I’m going to have to read this book fast so he doesn’t think I’m an idiot.”

Lucky for me, that was the easy part. The harder might be explaining just how much it was to read One on One. I’ll start with this: it cost me about 14 hours of sleep over two nights. The book is not a memoir, per se, but it is an account of Feinstein’s first ten nonfiction books, starting with the incredible Season on the Brink and covering classics like The Last Amateurs (Patriot League basketball), A Civil War (the Army-Navy game), A Good Walk Spoiled (golf), and Hard Courts (tennis), among others. His idea is not only to tell the behind-the-scenes stories from the writing of these books, which would have been more than enough for me, but also to revisit the main characters to discover where their journey had taken them in the intervening years.

Feinstein’s vast experience and prodigious memory guarantee that One on One never suffers from a lack of stories. Triangle basketball fans will find plenty to read about Coach K, Dean Smith, Roy Williams, and even Jimmy Valvano. One of my favorite parts in that department was Coach K’s reaction when he found out Feinstein would be spending a season with Bobby Knight in Indiana: “Are you out of your fucking mind?” In fact, some of the more revealing sections of the book shed light on details of Coach K’s complicated relationship with Knight that weren’t widely known and often get lost in the narrative of their recent reconciliation.

But as great as the basketball stuff can be, it’s just a part of the experience. Feinstein has stories to tell about his contentious relationship with Tiger Woods, locker room disagreements with the likes of Deion Sanders and Jim Palmer, access fights with organizers and PR people from the NCAA and professional tennis, the real reason Mary Carillo left ESPN, and even a dust-up with the Czechoslovakian secret police. Yeah, really. And of course, the whole thing begins and ends with that singular personality whose story threaded in and out of Feinstein’s entire career: Knight.

One on One works if you’re interested in sports, it works if you’re interested in sports journalism, and it works if you’re just interested in learning about real people who have been turned into inscrutable icons by television and fame. When I say that you won’t put this book down, I mean it literally.

But Feinstein’s strength, as always, is his treatment of people. The best journalists turn their eye outward, and despite the surplus of excellent stories, One on One never feels gossipy or vengeful. I can’t recommend it enough, either for yourself or as a Christmas gift. And now I’ll shut up and let Feinstein do the talking. He was kind enough to speak with me on the phone for an hour the day after Coach K broke Bobby Knight’s record, and it only cost me a $1,000 for something called a “listener’s fee.” (Just kidding- it was totally free, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the experience and Feinstein’s generosity.)

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+/- and Defensive Charting Bonanza: Tennessee State, South Carolina, and UNLV

Caveat: Single-game +/- figures are so “noisy” (i.e., influenced by randomness) that they’re rendered practically useless. Even with a complete season’s worth of data, the +/- metric (especially in this– its unadjusted– form) suffers from this noisiness. Still, when taken in conjunction with the defensive box score, traditional box score, and old-fashioned “eye test,” the single-game +/- can be a part of the total evaluation process. It also serves as a good summary of Roy Williams’s substitution patterns/rotation.

Some definitions:

Pts-Pts All.: the points scored and points allowed by the team during a given player’s minutes
Off Eff: the points scored per 100 possessions with a given player on the court
Def Eff: the points allowed per 100 possessions with a given player on the court
Net Eff: the scoring margin per 100 possessions with a given player on the court

Since I’m dumping three games worth of data, I won’t provide many thoughts/explanations/trends/nuggets in this post. I’ve been posting a bunch of +/- and defensive charting tidbits on Twitter @FreeportKid, so definitely check that out if you’re interested in this kind of stuff. Once the schedule slows down a little (four games in one week is pretty intense), I’ll post a summary article discussing some +/- and defensive charting trends, analyses, and insights (especially some defensive stuff that relates to the UNLV loss, and some thoughts regarding Strickland/Bullock/Hairston and the allocation of minutes in the Carolina backcourt). Sorry this is essentially a pure data dump; I promise some analysis later (to provide some context and meaning to this sea of numbers).

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Last Week

If you were able to watch the marquee games in college basketball last week then you found yourself treated to a variety of fantastic performances.  We saw the Blue Devils take the Maui Invitational with gritty wins against Tennessee, Michigan, and Kansas.  The Kansas game resembled an NCAA tournament game as both teams displayed toughness and heart in a nail biter.  Duke found an unlikely hero in Tyler Thornton as he drained two three pointers to stick a dagger in Kansas.  Here are a few points I observed throughout the tournament for Duke:

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Mike Krzyzewski, Jeff Van Gundy, and Your Parents Having Sex

Of the countless images we were bombarded with in the past few weeks, perhaps none were as disturbing as the one of a young Mike Krzyzewski in his West Point basketball uniform, standing next to his coach, Robert Montgomery Knight. In juxtaposition to the sight of these two men embracing after the Michigan State game, it is quite a powerful image. Forty some years and thousands of basketball games later, these two men have become giants of their profession, and their legacies will be forever intertwined. On its own, however, the image leaves me with a completely different kind of feeling: “yucch.”

Mentor and Pupil

The height of my childhood basketball fandom was watching the many epic and emotionally transcendent playoff series between the New York Knicks and the Miami Heat. I was particularly fascinated by the coaching match-up. On the one hand, there was Pat Riley – dapper, well-dressed, and to this day the only sports figure my mother can recognize. He was stylish, seemed very intelligent, and exuded a blend of confidence and athleticism unlike any person I had ever met. On the other hand, there was Jeff Van Gundy – short, un-graceful and sporting a particularly unconvincing and uninspired comb over.

Growing up on Long Island, it was an all too familiar appearance (and one that I myself have begun to approach). It seemed strange to me that these men had the same profession, and I wondered what their backgrounds were. Where were they from? What were their majors in college? How does one become a basketball coach anyway? I was able to guess that they must have played basketball at some point in their youth, and had no trouble picturing Riley as a player. He probably could have torn off his Armani suit, picked up a ball and played a few minutes with his team. Van Gundy was a different story.  I couldn’t picture him playing in a middle school church league, let alone as a pro or college basketball player. For some reason, I just couldn’t bring myself to conceive of such an image. I took these concerns to school the next day. It was then that I learned one of the most meaningful lessons of my childhood. I don’t quite remember who broke it to me, but it came down to this:

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The Season Finale: Duke – UNC

What a crazy weekend in sports we just had. Three NFL games on Thanksgiving Day, including a victory by my beloved Ravens in the first-ever meeting of sibling head coaches. A slew of rivalry games, including an awesome game between Denard Robinson and Ohio State that ended with Michigan breaking its absurdly long string of losses to its rival. The NBA lockout ended as both the players and owners realized that until after the Super Bowl, 95% of America really couldn’t give less of a shit about the NBA. They ended the lockout specifically at 3 am after watching enough compelling NCAA basketball to realize that until after March Madness, 75% of America still won’t care about the NBA even when football ends.

The best part? UNC beat Duke in its annual slamfest. The last time Duke beat UNC was seven years ago. Since I matriculated at UNC from 2006-2010,  I literally don’t know what the Victory Bell looks like painted any color other than Carolina blue. The silver lining for Duke fans is that there are only about nine of you that care about football at all.

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The Ongoing Thrill of Duke Guard Play

Hey gang, check out my piece on Austin Rivers, Seth Curry, Andre Dawkins, and the legacy of Duke guards here. Also contains thoughts on the Michigan and Tennessee wins, and picture documentation of the best zone break-down in history (maybe).

Happy Thanksgiving!

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