Introducing “Bad Senior Performances of the Week”

November 27, 2010

In order to illustrate both the randomness of sports and the meaninglessness of ascribing good or bad performances to experience and/or leadership, I have decided to start a running feature called “Bad Senior Performances of the Week.” Throughout the week, I will waste valuable hours of my life by culling box scores for poor performances by seniors in NCAA basketball. I will then document those performances and share them with you at the end of each week. Hopefully, by the end of the season, I will have managed to convince one solitary reader that leadership and/or veterannessitude are crutches for those too lazy or dull to dig deeper for actual causes. I hope you enjoy.

This week’s list:

November 21, 2010

  • Alex Tyus, Florida: 2/7 FG, 5 pts

November 22, 2010

  • Steven Gray, Gonzaga: 6/15 FG, 15 pts, 4 ast, 6 TOs
  • Demontez Stitt, Clemson: 4/13 FG, 15 pts, 2 ast, 6 TOs
  • Joe Trapani, Boston College: 3/11 FG, 11 pts
  • Kodi Augustus, Mississippi St.: 3/11 FG, 10 pts, 1 ast, 5 TOs
  • Ben Finney, Old Dominion: 3/10 FG, 8 pts, 3 ast, 3 TOs
  • Dante Jackson, Xaver: 3/11 FG, 8 pts, 3 ast, 1 TO

November 23, 2010

  • Jacob Pullen, Kansas State: 1/12 FG, 4 pts, 1 ast, 4 TOs
  • Kalin Lucas, Michigan State: 4/12 FG, 10 pts, 1 ast, 5 TOs
  • Matthew Bryan-Amaning, Washington: 3/11 FG, 7 pts, 0 ast, 5 TOs

November 24, 2010

  • Durrell Summers, Michigan State: 3/11 FG, 12 pts, 0 ast, 2 TOs

November 25, 2010

  • Lavoy Allen, Temple: 5/12 FG, 13 pts, 2 ast, 4 TOs
  • Joe Trapani, Boston College: 4/13 FG, 14 pts
  • Ben Hansbrough, Notre Dame: 3/9 FG, 13 pts, 2 ast, 5 TOs
  • Corey Fisher, Villanova: 1/10 FG, 3 pts, 1 ast, 6 TOs

November 26, 2010

  • JaJuan Johnosn, Purdue: 7/18 FG, 18 pts, 4 reb
  • Joe Trapani, Boston College: 4/12 FG, 11 pts, 2/8 3P
  • Malcolm Delaney, Virginia Tech: 3/8 FG, 16 pts, 1 ast, 5 TOs
  • Carleton Scott, Notre Dame: 5/17 FG, 16 pts, 10 reb,
  • Tyrone Nash, Notre Dame: 4/11 FG, 11 pts, 3 ast, 4 TOs
  • Randy Culpepper, UTEP: 6/16, 13 pts, 2 ast, 3 TOs
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The Arbitrariness of Leadership

November 24, 2010

The euphoria of Vanderbilt beating #8-ranked North Carolina on Sunday night was short-lived. After several hours of reflecting on how far Vanderbilt basketball has come – this victory would have been unthinkable my freshman year – I stumbled upon a column that quickly snapped me back to my default state of crankiness.

ESPN.com’s Andy Katz posted this, a column titled “Disappointing Tar Heels Lack A Leader.” As you might expect, his thesis is that UNC lost because a leader hasn’t emerged yet, because no players have stepped up and assumed control of the young but talented team. Then, following #2-ranked Michigan State’s loss to unranked Connecticut, Katz penned a column that was essentially the mirror image of the UNC version. In this piece, titled “Walker Now UConn’s Unquestioned Leader,” Katz argues that a big factor in the Huskies’ upset is Walker’s maturation and his willingness to accept a leadership role that he rejected last season. Yes, it would appear that Katz has got it bad for leadership in the early going.

There are, of course, huge problems with forming a causal relationship between leadership and winning. Take Vanderbilt and UNC, for example. Did last year’s Tar Heels not have enough leadership to win? Both Deon Thompson and Marcus Ginyard were seniors, and I can distinctly remember hearing broadcasters tout their leadership. Since the Tar Heels finished with a 20-17 record, why was their leadership so clearly inadequate? As for Vanderbilt, the Commodores lost senior point guard and universally-recognized team leader Jermaine Beal to graduation. And yet Beal was leading the team when they were ousted in the first round of the NCAA Tournament by Murray State, the second year in a row the Commodores lost to a 13-seed. So what happened there? Why wasn’t Beal’s leadership enough to get them over the hump?

Connecticut and Michigan State are open to this kind of questioning too. If leadership is so important, then why did last year’s Huskies finish with an 18-16 record, even though they started seniors Jerome Dyson, Stanley Robinson, and Gavin Edwards? Dyson, in particular, received consistent and effusive praise for keeping the team competitive and assuming the scoring load during such a disappointing season for the powerhouse program. Was his leadership a myth? Furthermore, why did Michigan State lose that game to UConn? After all, the Spartans are led by senior point guard Kalin Lucas, who has consistently been heralded as one of the elite leaders in the country. Aren’t we told that having a senior point guard on the court, an extension of the coach’s will and wishes, is a tremendous advantage? Why didn’t it work this time?

While Katz’s arguments are already absurd, he detracts from them even further by pooh-poohing the narratives he and his peers worked so hard to construct last season. In the UNC column, he writes:

The Tar Heels lost an unthinkable 17 games last season. Williams called the season the most frustrating he has had as a coach. Carolina had leadership — at least some outspoken types like Deon Thompson — but could never mesh.

And in the UConn article:

“It wasn’t my role,” said Walker by phone from Maui late Tuesday. “I was a sophomore. I tried to let Jerome [Dyson], Stanley [Robinson] and Gavin [Edwards] be the ones to make the big plays and lead us to victory. It wasn’t my role.”

Those three seniors clearly weren’t capable. And maybe Walker wasn’t then, either.

This is awfully frustrating to read because it’s so revisionist and arbitrary. Because those teams failed, Katz decides that their leaders “clearly weren’t capable.” So does that mean leadership only exists if the team wins? Is it not possible to have leadership on losing or struggling teams? And if the assignment of leadership is so flimsy and transient – “Thompson and Dyson were leaders last year, now they are not because their teams weren’t so good” – then why are we wasting our breath talking about leadership in the first place?

As usual, my point is that there are so many questions, inconsistencies, and logical pitfalls involved in the idea of leadership that any discussion of the quality is rarely worth the time and energy. It’s an analytical crutch, a way of looking at success or failure when you don’t have much else to say or are too lazy to do some work. North Carolina didn’t lose to Vanderbilt because they lacked a leader. They lost because they had 22 turnovers, shot 27.3% from three, and played bad defense. UConn didn’t beat Michigan State because Kemba Walker is the team’s new leader. They won because Walker scored 30 points on over 50% shooting and because they crashed the offensive glass against a typically dominant rebounding team.

That’s the truth. But if you want arbitrary, revisionist, and lazy mysticism, you can feel free to keep reading Andy Katz.

 


“Game Recognize Game”

November 21, 2010

Like a handful of other crazy New Yorkers, I stayed up late last night to watch the Knicks-Clippers game. That was a fantastic decision, primarily because of Blake Griffin. Griffin annihilated the Knicks with an explosive array of dunks mixed with an occasional 18-foot jumper. Late in the second half, it got to the point where the Clippers’ offense consisted of Griffin driving to the basket and trying to dunk every shot he took, even if the laws of both physics and probability tried to impede him. I’ve never seen anything like it.

If you want to see Griffin’s fearsome handiwork, you can check out the highlights here; I have no interest in posting video of my beloved Knicks being humiliated. But for my money, the best clip isn’t the highlights, but this wordless exchange between Griffin and Amare Stoudemire during a lull in the action. It’s just a neat catch, a funny but profound moment that represents the passing of the torch from the NBA of today to the NBA of tomorrow.


ESPN.com’s Front Page Lays Waste To English Language

November 19, 2010

This Brady vs. Manning checklist is an abomination. It starts out with two nouns – “deep ball” and “accuracy.” Fine. Then it goes to two comparative criteria – “tougher” and “stronger arm.” Since we started with nouns, how about “toughness” and “arm strength”? No? Okay. Then we’re on to “smartest,” even though we’re comparing only two people, so it should be “smarter,” but only if we’ve decided that that’s a better choice than “intelligence,” which it isn’t. And finally, we end our hectic digression into the horrifying bowels of modern linguistics with a return to three nouns – “leadership,” “mobility,” and “mechanics.” Which is pretty much where we just needed to stay all along.

Keep it up, ESPN!


What Do I Do With The Heat?

November 18, 2010

I still don’t know what to do with the Heat. On one hand, I have significant animosity left over from the Knicks-Heat rivalry of the late 1990s, I hate the local indifference towards such a fascinating team, and I do think LeBron James was kind of a jerk to lay waste to Cleveland so publicly and heartlessly. Plus, that video is horrible.

On the other hand, I am tired of all the stupid things we are saying about the Heat. I hate that Bill Simmons wrote a column on October 29th that basically declares that this Heat experiment is doomed – based on what he saw in one live game three games into the season. I hate that he desperately looks for ways to take shots at LeBron and the Heat whenever he can. I hate that we’ve decided that Chris Bosh is a soft, no-good bum who is just tagging along for the ride, instead of an excellent player in his own right. I hate that Dwyane Wade, James, and Bosh decided to test the pre-eminent dogmas in professional athletics – the ideas that championships are what count, and that teamwork goes farther than selfishness – only to find that the rules suddenly changed on them. Apparently, working together to win as many championships as possible is no longer good enough. Now superstars have to do it on their own or else it is not legitimate. Apparently.

But most of all, I hate that there is so much reactionary stupidity surrounding the Heat that I feel compelled to defend them.


Embarrassing

October 30, 2010

I’m not a big LeBron James hater. I think “The Decision” was ill-conceived and egomaniacal, but I’m grateful for it because it provided an awesome test of our supposed sports mores. We say we value teamwork, cooperation, and personal sacrifice in the name of winning championships. So James made a move that embodied all of those values and he’s getting killed for it. Yes, the process was sloppy, but the result is exactly what most of us say we want from our most gifted athletes. Frankly, I share James’ befuddlement about what is expected of him.

But I do hate Miami Heat “fans.” I want to say “Miami fans,” but apparently Dolphins fans are quite loyal and the Marlins’ ownership situation complicates the picture enough for me to overlook their terrible attendance. Heat “fans,” however, are conclusively frontrunners. If the team is good, the place is packed. If the team is average or worse, it’s a tomb. And even if it’s the new-look Heat’s home opener against an in-state rival that also happens to be an elite team, well, that won’t quite do it either, since it’s a Friday night and Heat “fans” have better things to do.

Some of this criticism is rooted in sour grapes, of course. I know this would never have happened in New York, that Madison Square Garden would have been rocking in a way that I haven’t heard since the lockout-shortened ’98-’99 season. Oh well. At least New York now has a young, interesting, and likable Knicks team that is constructed to win games instead of to sell off bad assets.


Joe Girardi Strikes Again

October 19, 2010

Hi, my name is Kevin, and I think Joe Girardi is an idiot.

No, this is not a blog for recovering baseball manager haters, although I understand how you might have gotten that impression. I’m simply introducing myself because my dashboard is telling me that I am getting many, many new readers tonight. I know why that is, of course. During tonight’s Rangers-Yankees game, Robinson Cano hit a high fly ball to right field. Nelson Cruz went back for the catch, but got his glove entangled with the outstretched arms of three fans. The TBS broadcasters floated the idea of fan interference, and just like that, my hits went through the roof. I love when that happens.

But back to the main point, which is that Joe Girardi is a horrible manager. My regular readers will tell you newcomers that this is a hot button for me, and they are absolutely right. The man is a disaster. Before getting into the specifics, you need to know that I know the following:

  • the Yankees lost tonight because AJ Burnett is a crappy pitcher
  • the Yankees are behind in the series because their offense has vanished
  • the Texas Rangers are a good team

So, to be clear: it is not all Joe Girardi’s fault. But he does have control over several aspects of his team, and it is in those areas that he routinely and disastrously errs.  Read the rest of this entry »