UPDATE AT THE END
As I’ve mentioned with some frequency, I’ve been trying very hard over the last year or so to change the tone of my blogging. Initially, the content was snarky and malicious. It wasn’t above name-calling and other sorts of juvenile attempts to demean and persuade. I stand by what I wrote, and I believe that there were legitimate points to be made in every case, but I’m now fully aware that the tone was an impediment to being taken seriously. By writing more open-mindedly and with greater care, I really do feel like the quality of the blog has dramatically increased. I’m very proud of many of the things I’ve written (whether they’ve gotten four hits or 400) because I believe that these discussions are truly intelligent, perspicacious, and interesting. I’m enjoying this new and mellow approach to writing, and I think the quality reflects that.
Sometimes, however, I have to remind myself of why this blog emerged from the depths of my cranky imagination. Fan Interference began because a friend and I were really tired of the stupid things that sportswriters and analysts would write or say. They would write or say things that were disingenuous, narrow-minded, or factually incorrect, and it was annoying. And while I’ve tried to get away from posts that are no more than incredulous mockeries of ridiculous statements, it’s still the rock upon which the blog was built. So, right now I’m going to return very briefly to the basic purpose of this blog: pointing out and correcting the stupid things someone who is paid to analyze sports has said.
There is no more deserving recipient of the old treatment than ESPN’s college basketball analyst Jimmy Dykes. Dykes is an incredible and unique case because every time I watch a basketball game to which he’s been assigned, I know with absolute certainty that he is going to say something so outrageously and insultingly stupid that it’s going to make me legitimately angry at his continued employment. Not even Joe Morgan has this effect on me. Dykes is so blatantly incompetent, so aggressively dumb, so obviously misguided that I’m confident that he is the worst analyst I’ve ever had the misfortune of encountering. The fact that he is paid to educate us about basketball is a prolonged joke at best, and a devious insult at worst. I thought all of these things as far back as last March, but in compliance with the self-imposed moratorium on crude behavior, I simply kept them to myself. His commentary during last night’s Tennessee-Vanderbilt game (go ‘Dores!), however, combined with some of his recent and more stupid than usual analysis to push me over the edge.
At various points during the game, Dykes and partner Brad Nessler discussed the current state of Southeastern Conference basketball. Dykes being the relentless homer that he is, he marveled at the strength of the conference as a whole (a false assessment, but hey, if he says he every single year, he’ll eventually be right). Then he shifted his awe towards the clearly superior SEC East, which includes Kentucky, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, and a down-but-still-pretty-good Florida team. Not content to leave well enough alone, Dykes focused on the bottom-feeding Georgia Bulldogs and their supposed prowess despite their terrible record.
This is when things get a little murky, but the only uncertainty surrounds the extent to which what Dykes said was mind-numbingly stupid. Through the din of a Vanderbilt rout, my friend and I were fairly certain that Dykes was making a case for Georgia being good enough to play in the NCAA Tournament. Watching separately, my boxplotting friend thought that Dykes was only touting Georgia as a really good last place team, thereby reinforcing the idea that the SEC is strong this year. Either way, all parties agree on the following: Dykes cited Georgia’s “five quality wins” and several close conference losses as evidence that the Bulldogs are a tough and perhaps even good team.
Georgia’s “five quality wins,” as mentioned specifically by Dykes, came against Illinois (mostly fair), Georgia Tech (fair), Tennessee (fair), Vanderbilt (fair), and St. Louis (insane). Think about that. Dykes thinks that a home win over a 15-8, offensively-challenged St. Louis team whose best win is against Richmond is a “quality win.” I implore you to click on that link and investigate St. Louis’ performance this season, because I think you’ll agree that defeating the Billikens at home (or, like, anywhere on the Earth) is not a badge of honor. Dykes’ statement would have been factually true if he had just said they have four quality wins. But no, he said five and included St. Louis, which was an insane thing to do and totally destroys any credibility his argument might have had.
And what about Georgia’s several close conference losses? Well, the Bulldogs lost by four to Ole Miss at home, by three to Mississippi State on the road, by one to South Carolina on the road, and by four to Arkansas at home. This is not strong evidence of a sleeping giant. Ole Miss and Mississippi State are pretty good but not good. South Carolina and Arkansas are bad. Losing multiple close games to second and third-tier conference teams is not the mark of a good basketball team. It is the mark of a bad basketball team. Other signs of a bad basketball team include losing at home to Wofford, losing by 16 to UAB, only beating Jacksonville State by three at home, and only beating New Orleans by eight at home. As you can see, Dykes bringing up Georgia’s good wins while ignoring their terrible losses and embarrassing near-losses is some combination of deceitful and incompetent.
Of course, that’s nowhere near 100% of the stupidity that Dykes has displayed in the last few weeks.
On February 6th, two weeks after upsetting then-#1-ranked Kentucky, South Carolina squared off against Tennessee in Knoxville. Dykes joined Brad Nessler in broadcasting the game, which ended in a fairly predictable blowout. Because Devan Downey was on the court, Dykes fulfilled his contractual obligation by fawning endlessly over the talented but inefficient guard. Early on, Dykes mentioned something that a Kentucky fan yelled at him after that game:
“I was in Lexington, and one fan told me ‘Jimmy, you know we forced Downey into 20 missed shots, right?’ And that’s true. But you have to remember that South Carolina had 16 offensive rebounds in that game, and Downey’s shots gave his teammates an opportunity to hit the glass and go get it. That’s a huge reason they won that game.”
If you heard that live (as I did), Jimmy Dykes basically told you “I think that you’re stupid and that you don’t know anything about basketball.” At least that’s how I took it. This was a great example of Dykes choosing to cling to a narrative rather than facts, which is exactly what a bad analyst does. In South Carolina’s upset over Kentucky, Dykes and Nessler combined to create this totally undeserved aura and reputation for Downey, talking about him as if he were an obviously elite player in today’s college game. For reasons I’ve gone into, Downey is clearly not that. But because that narrative was created, and because people are generally pretty stubborn, Dykes chose to use that story has his primary method of analysis rather than the skillful combination of fact and intuition.
I want you to think again about what Dykes said. He said that Downey’s 31% shooting on 29 attempts helped his team win. Not only did he say that, but he also said that Downey was wise and skilled enough to know that his errant shots would end up in the hands of his teammates in close proximity to the basket. Basically, Dykes told us that not only is Downey an incredible basketball player (not true), but that he also possesses magical and psychic abilities. That is what he said, and that is insulting.
Not satisfied with the already considerable amount of mind-numbingly bad analysis he offered, Dykes later stated – in no uncertain terms – that if the season ended today, Devan Downey would be the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year. Again, this is insultingly stupid. Dykes himself might vote for Downey, but he can’t speak for everyone like that. Anyway, Downey – who shot 25% from the field (on 20 shots!) in the very game Dykes was observing – should not even be in the conversation for SEC Player of the Year. His 23 points per game are a shiny object that reflect little but the sheer volume of shot attempts. There are at least four players in the SEC that are more deserving than Downey. Kentucky’s John Wall (heard of him, Jimmy?) and DeMarcus Cousins come to mind immediately. There are also arguments for Patrick Patterson, Jarvis Varnado, and Courtney Fortson (since Dykes likes small, inefficient guards so much). Ultimately, I have no idea if Dykes actually believes that Downey is the best player in the SEC this year. But I bet that a large part of Dykes’ assessment is the narrative he’s worked so hard to construct around Downey – that he’s a tough, small guy who has to do all the heavy lifting on a bad team. Facts be damned, of course.
For posterity and clarity, I just want to summarize the three things that Jimmy Dykes offered as indisputable fact:
- The Georgia Bulldogs are a good basketball team. They’re 10-11 overall and 2-6 in the SEC, and they have a slew of embarrassing performances that counterbalance their good ones, but trust him, because he’s been in basketball his whole life and knows skill when he sees it: the Bulldogs are good.
- Devan Downey’s 20 missed shots against Kentucky were a good thing in South Carolina’s victory because they allowed the Gamecocks to get offensive rebounds. Sure, this assumes that Downey is some sort of wizard who can control where the ball goes once it clangs off the rim and who knows that his teammates will retrieve his misses even though they’re only 73rd in the country at doing so, thereby giving Downey another attempt to take a shot he has only a 40% chance of hitting. But hey, Dykes knows basketball, okay?
- Devan Downey would be (those are his words, too: “would be”) the SEC Player of the Year if the season ended today. Not John Wall, who is a legitimate candidate for National Player of the Year and is averaging 16/4/6 on 47.5%/80%/37% shooting and who is second in the conference in assist rate. Not DeMarcus Cousins, who is averaging 16 and 10 on 55% shooting and who is by far the best offensive rebounder and the second-best foul drawer (better term?) in the country. Not Patrick Patterson, who is averaging 15 and 7 on 58.6%/62.5%/40% shooting and who is fourth in the SEC is True Shooting %. Not Jarvis Varnado, who is averaging 13 and 11 and 5 blocks, and who is second in the SEC in defensive rebounding, first in blocks, and first in free throw rate. No, Devan Downey is better than all of them, and it’s so clear that he would be the SEC Player of the Year, not “might be.” Again, look, Dykes knows what he’s talking about, because he’s been around the game for so long. TRUST HIM.
Jimmy Dykes is the worst analyst I’ve ever encountered. His initial opinions are based on whims and how he feels viscerally, and when he finally looks at the facts, he uses the ones that suit his argument and ignores those that refute it. Because of his life-long relationship with the region, he has a thinly-veiled bias towards the SEC that continually clouds any ability he might have once had to be objective in his thinking. He regularly confuses “narrative” with “analysis,” always presenting former as the latter. And when the errors in his thinking are revealed to him, he twists facts and revises history (e.g. Downey’s psychic wizardry) in an effort to cling to the narrative he did so much to create. Also, he came up with a category for difficult two-pointers attempted, and calls it “Tough ‘Twos’.” Yes, the second word is in quotation marks, so on your television screen it says Tough “Twos”. Why “twos” is in quotation marks is beyond me, because a “two” is accepted basketball terminology for a two-point shot. That’s like putting the word “pass” in quotation marks in a football game. If anything should be in quotation marks, it should be “tough,” making it “Tough” Twos on your television screen. But because Jimmy Dykes is a buffoon, it’s Tough “Twos”. I appear to have digressed.
Ultimately, Dykes embodies everything that’s wrong with the current state of mainstream sports analysis: stubbornness, intellectual dishonesty, and laziness. With all the information that’s so readily available today, there’s really no excuse for such bad analysis. I just don’t know what’s wrong with doing some work to form an opinion on a subject, and then allowing that opinion to evolve as the facts change. Because the opposite – doing no work to form an opinion and then clinging to it even as the facts rapidly change – is simply not analysis and a disservice to those who expect it.
UPDATE: So, I’ve just discovered Jimmy Dykes’ Twitter page. To my absolute horror, it confirms three things:
(1) Dykes is legitimately wondering if Georgia can make the NCAA Tournament. So much for that mystery. His Tweet:
“Name a better 11 loss team than Georgia. Wins over St. Louis, Illini, Ga Tech, Tenn, and Vandy. Can they make NCAA tourney?”
My answer, like I told him, is “no.”
(2) Dykes thinks Vanderbilt point guard Jermaine Beal’s last name is spelled “Beale.” It’s not like Dykes has seen him play a few dozen times in the last four years or anything. Honestly, how do you mess that up?
(3) Dykes does indeed like Arkansas’s diminutive and inefficient point guard, Courtney Fortson. Just as I totally facetiously suspected.
Needless to say, I’m now following him on Twitter.