Experience and the NCAA Tournament

March 31, 2010

Sherron Collins' experience allowed him to go 4-15 with 5 turnovers in the biggest game of Kansas' season

Even for a square, pop culture-ignorant guy like me, a neat part of living in Manhattan is the occasional celebrity sighting. I ran into Bill Cosby on the corner years ago. I saw Matt Damon wheeling a stroller – with, presumably, a child in it – down my block this past winter. I’m also beginning to think the entire cast of “The Wire” lives on the Upper West Side, because I’ve seen Seth Gilliam (Carver) taking his kid to school, Wendell Pierce (Bunk) outside Lincoln Center, and John Doman (Rawls) on the 3 train. Does it make me feel cool to write all this? Yes. Yes it does.

The famous person I see more than anyone else, however, is current broadcaster and former NBA player Len Elmore. He must live in the neighborhood, because I see him everywhere. I owe my first interaction with Mr. Elmore to my father. We were walking up Amsterdam Avenue several years ago when a gigantic figure emerged from Caesar’s Palace Pizza on 84th Street. My dad, a University of Maryland fan and graduate, quickly recognized his fellow Terrapin and gushed to me “that’s Len Elmore!” Naturally, my dad introduced himself to Elmore, and the three of us continued uptown together in varying degrees of shock – dad at meeting Len Elmore, Len Elmore at being met by my dad, and me at my dad’s hidden reserves of childlike enthusiasm. It was three blocks of bliss for my dad, who reluctantly parted ways with Elmore at 87th Street.

Obviously, with the NCAA Tournament in full swing, I haven’t seen Elmore around so much in March. But since he’s returned to the broadcasting booth, I’ve noticed a tendency of Elmore’s that I had never noticed before. More than most broadcasters I can think of, and certainly more than any other college basketball analysts, Elmore talks about the importance and significance of experience in the game of basketball. With Elmore, persistent shooting slumps and steady ball handling are attributed less to a simple cold streak or superior dexterity, and more to the absence or presence of a player’s experience. He’s not a radical. He’s not one of these analysts or fans that makes judgments about a player based on their look, their swagger, or any number of other arbitrary criteria on which intellectually complacent folks rely. But he really does seem to like himself some experience in a player.

As you can well imagine, I don’t think experience matters all that much when it comes to in-game activities. I suppose it matters when it comes to mental and physical preparation, but the number of variables affecting an athlete’s play in a game is so high that it strikes me as problematic to pin a player’s success or failure on the slippery and amorphous quality of “experience.” With all other factors being equal, yes, I would prefer an experienced player over an inexperienced one. The chances of “experience” being the deciding factor in any given game, however, seem quite low to me. Read the rest of this entry »


Jimmy Dykes Completes Journey To His Inevitable Fate, Is Totally Wrong

March 25, 2009

First, Jimmy Dykes whined about the lack of national respect given to Southeastern Conference basketball. He called us crazy if we truly believed that the basketball teams in the 2008-2009 SEC were generally inferior to those in the other major conferences. Based on nothing but regionalism and selective memory, he assured us that teams like Tennessee, Florida, Kentucky, LSU and even Arkansas could compete with any team in the more highly-touted conferences. “Just you wait and see,” he said.

Time passed, and college basketball somehow managed to survive without any nationally ranked SEC teams. Unquestionably driven to his wits’ end by this inconceivable development, he promised us that five SEC teams would make the NCAA tournament – three from the SEC East, one from the SEC West, and a fifth from some magical faraway division. It was not the prediction itself that was ridiculous (at the time, it wasn’t), but the total lack of justification for making such an assertion. His guarantee wasn’t born of the careful merging of subjective (scouting) and objective (data) analysis, but of unprovoked defensiveness and regional bias. Dykes’ statement read less like useful insight and more like propaganda issued by a desperate leader as his regime is about to fall. Sure enough, three SEC teams made the NCAA tournament, including one that never would have been considered if not for winning the conference tournament.

Then, the coup de grace. In the same broadcast, Dykes claimed that not only would these five unnamed SEC teams make the NCAA tournament, but they would also thrive. Perpetually walking the line between self-assured and vague, he told us to wait and see how many SEC teams made it past that first weekend into the Sweet 16. Because – and this is a direct quote – “that’s how you really tell what the good teams are.” Read the rest of this entry »

Serious Questions About The #1 Seeds

March 19, 2009

In a little over an hour, the greatest four days in sports will commence. Right now, there are 64 teams in college basketball that – rightly or wrongly – believe that they can win the six games necessary to be crowned national champions. Monday morning, there will only be 16 teams left after the frenzied weeding-out process has finished. Most people have one of the #1 seeds eventually emerging as the last team standing. This is by no means ridiculous, since Louisville, Pittsburgh, UConn, and North Carolina are each certainly capable of winning it all. Each team, however, also has an issue or two that I believe will eventually become its undoing. 

louisville_50x50The Cardinals have an enticing mix of factors working in their favor. They’re deep, balanced, and versatile. They have the apparently necessary “senior leadership” quota filled via Terrence Williams’ presence. They play exceptional defense and are hardened by the rigorous Big East schedule. Rick Pitino is an enormously successful and experienced postseason coach. Ostensibly, there is very little wrong with this mix. Then I am reminded of a text message I received from my Louisvillian friend very early in the season. It was bitingly accurate in its simplicity: “I hope we haven’t contracted Memphis Syndrome.”

“Memphis Syndrome,” in this case (are there other cases?), is synonymous with total futility at the free-throw line. As you may remember, last year’s Memphis Tigers shot 61.4% from the line, “good” for 329th in the country. In spite of this, the Tigers made it all the way to the national championship game, where this shortcoming finally did them in. All season, pundits had intelligently attached the “if they can hit their free-throws” caveat to any analysis of the Tigers’ chances. And all season, coach John Calipari had essentially said “we’ll hit them when we need them.” Well, they needed them against Kansas, and they didn’t hit them. The rest is history.

I bring this up, obviously, because I’m concerned about Louisville’s ability to convert at the free-throw line. They are not as inept as the 2008 Tigers were; the Cardinals shoot 64.3%, which ranks 302nd in the country. Samardo Samuels, Earl Clark, and Terrence Williams lead the team in free-throw attempts. They shoot 67.1%, 65.6%, and 57.3%, respectively. The rest of the gang is no great shakes either. I’m not sure why college basketball analysts aren’t hammering away at this deficiency the way they did with Memphis last year. I think some of it has to do with the seemingly perpetual quest to bring Memphis down from their lofty perch on top of Conference USA, but that’s an argument for another time. Ultimately, I believe the Cardinals will fall because of this shortcoming, although I am not rooting for it.

pittsburgh-panthers-logoI can and will sum up Pitt’s issue in much fewer words than I did Louisville’s. Quite simply, the Panthers’ success is causally linked to DeJuan Blair’s ability to stay on the court and out of foul trouble. When he’s in the game, the Panthers are incredibly difficult to beat. When he’s not, they become an above-average team instead of an exceptional one. Small sample size be damned, I remain somewhat skeptical of coach Jamie Dixon’s decision-making with respect to his most important player. Like so many coaches, Dixon opts to sit his star player when foul trouble arises instead of letting him play through it because of his importance. To be fair, Dixon has done this in regular season games, when a loss doesn’t result in the end of the season. Perhaps Dixon will be more flexible in his management of Blair’s foul trouble, given the single-elimination format. In any case, I don’t think Blair can go six straight games against high-quality opponents and not run into serious foul trouble. Levance Fields’ iffy groin isn’t helping things either.

uconnThe Huskies don’t have one glaring issue, but two more moderate issues that could be disastrous if they occur simultaneously. The first and most obvious problem is the indefinite absence of guard Jerome Dyson. Perhaps Kemba Walker and Craig Austrie can continue to compensate for Dyson’s missing production, but it’s a tall order. The other and potentially exacerbating problem is center Hasheem Thabeet’s variance in performance. Thabeet is capable of both monster games and Grade-A stinkers. In looking at his game log, you also might notice that his performance tends to dip significantly when facing good teams. Of course, this can be said of virtually anyone. But UConn can ill-afford for this trend to continue, particularly with Dyson’s absence. Unfortunately for the Huskies, they face nothing but quality teams the rest of the way.

unc_50Ty Lawson’s toe. That’s it. It’s the most-watched digit in America right now, upon which the exchange of millions of dollars rests. If Lawson’s toe is truly fine, then this tournament is the Tar Heels’ to lose. North Carolina’s point guard is the most efficient offense in the country’s engine. He, not Tyler Hansbrough, is the team’s best player. He’s about as important to the Tar Heels’ success and DeJuan Blair is to Pittsburgh’s. I usually don’t put much stock in things like this, but some of the quotes seen here are pretty disconcerting. Teammate Bobby Frasor is saying “he’s not the same Ty we’ve all seen,” and Lawson himself is saying “it’s just pain when I’m cutting back and forth.” That’s cool, it’s not like there’s tons of cutting back and forth in basketball. I think you get my point. Much like the Blair situation, I don’t see Lawson physically holding up for six straight games. 

* * * * * * *

After long and serious thought (seriously), I’m picking Memphis to win the national championship. I’m not sure they’re as good as last year’s team, but that’s the whole point: I’m not sure. For each of the #1 seeds, I know of a serious danger or deficiency that could very well end their tournament experience. As for the Tigers, well, I don’t know. They spent another year absolutely annihilating everyone in their middling conference. Maybe this means they’re just picking on the little guys, or maybe it means they’re really good. Ultimately, that’s the reason I’m picking Memphis. I don’t know exactly what they are, but they might be exceptional. 

Happy March Madness, everyone. 

High Five Fail: St. Patrick’s Day Edition

March 17, 2009

Here at Fan Interference, we strive for balance. With myriad sportswriters, radio hosts, television analysts, and those darn bloggers all proclaiming various opinions as fact, it’s important to give proper consideration to the opposite side of an argument. That’s a big part of what we do here. We also like to balance our heavy-duty, nerds-only material with less intellectually taxing moments of lighthearted fun. Balance is important to us.

Fan Interference is also a big fan of awkward moments induced by mental or physical inadequacy. Such a moment is colloquially known as a “fail.” Entire websites have been devoted to the rigorous archiving of these uneasy episodes. Because the honorable St. Patrick was a big fan of “fails” too (especially the messy Excommuniation Fail of 455 AD), it seems only right that we grace you with two generally similar failure-revealing videos. In the spirit of balance, the physical nature of these clips complement nicely an earlier intellectual gaffe. I ask you: who failed harder?




Happy St. Patrick’s Day, everyone.

Jimmy Dykes Is Half-Way To Totally Wrong

March 16, 2009


Staggeringly wrong about the SEC, but you'll never hear him admit it.

Staggeringly wrong about the SEC, but you'll never hear him admit it.

As you may know, ESPN college basketball analyst Jimmy Dykes’ continual vouching for the quality of the SEC has been a small but interesting story this season. Both his crusade and my coverage of it began in late January. Dykes disputed the absence of ranked SEC teams, and went on to confuse this very understandable omission with a lack of respect. I concluded that his outcry was unwarranted since only Kentucky was even remotely deserving of a ranking. A few weeks later, inspired by another Dykes-authored defense of the SEC, I checked in with the teams that he had previously described as competitive by any standard. Even with a bigger sample size, the conference appeared to have just three teams worthy of any consideration for a national ranking, and even that was a stretch. Dykes’ impassioned touting of the SEC remained without much credibility.

Shortly after this check-in, Dykes made his most declarative statement regarding the maligned conference. He predicted – in no uncertain terms – that the SEC would get five teams into the NCAA tournament. Specifically, he predicted that the SEC East would get three teams in, the West one, and a fifth would sneak in there from some undisclosed location. I was both deeply skeptical of this prediction and irritated by Dykes’ utter lack of explanation as to his thinking. I promised to return in March and see how his forecast fared. Well, it’s March. Read the rest of this entry »

Georgetown Shouldn’t Make The NCAA Tournament

March 5, 2009

Yesterday, ESPN’s Andy Katz posted a blurb about the Georgetown Hoyas and their chances of making the NCAA Tournament. Here’s the important part:

“Georgetown should be dead after losing to St. John’s. But what would happen if the Hoyas were to knock off one or two of the top four seeds en route to a [Big East] championship game appearance? OK, enough with Georgetown.”

I couldn’t agree more with the last sentence. Far too many writers, analysts and broadcasters are still toying with the idea that the Hoyas remain on the tournament bubble or, at worst, need a win or two in the Big East tournament to garner serious consideration. As you can see, Katz falls victim to this desperate exercise too, although he does a better job than most at limiting his argument. 

Quite simple, Georgetown shouldn’t be in the NCAA Tournament unless they win the Big East tournament. The Hoyas are 15-13 overall, 6-11 in the conference. While they’ve beaten Memphis, UConn, and Villanova, they’ve lost to Tennessee, Notre Dame, West Virginia, Seton Hall, Cincinnati twice, and St. John’s (and there are seven more where those came from). Some of those losses are worse than others, but for Georgetown to gain viable consideration, they had to win more of those games. Yes, their non-conference strength of schedule was ridiculously hard and yes, they play in the murderous Big East. But we cannot allow such a difficult schedule to be a win-win situation for teams that goes this route. It indeed gives a team a certain amount of leeway, but the team must also accept the risk that accompanies the potential rewards. A team should not be rewarded for forming an arduous schedule, and then generally getting its rear end handed to it in playing that schedule. 

Georgetown has 13 losses, including a few stinkers. I admire them greatly for playing one of the most, if not the most, difficult schedules in the country. At some point, however, they had to win some games to preserve their viability. They didn’t, and that’s why the continued discussion of the Hoyas as a potential tournament team is ridiculous.

Final Thoughts On Jimmy Dykes & The SEC… Until March

February 6, 2009

If you’re sick of me talking about Jimmy Dykes and his feelings about the Southeastern Conference, I understand. Feel free to go do something else – explore my blogroll, make yourself a sandwich, or whatever makes you happy. I have a hard time apologizing for revisiting this subject, however, because I think it exemplifies some important shortcomings in the sports media’s treatment of its subjects. Specifically, Dykes’ comments about the SEC highlight a lack of accountability and analysis from which sports journalism far too often considers itself exempt.

As fate would have it (and by “fate,” I mean “ESPN’s regional broadcasting assignments”), Dykes and his partner Brad Nessler did the Alabama-Vanderbilt game last night. I greeted Dykes’ amiable visage not with loathing, but with bemusement, as I wondered to myself if the night held yet another impassioned endorsement of the SEC. I expected that Dykes would not oblige, because surely he would not risk becoming a caricature of himself; surely, he would not want to become known as “the paranoid guy who can be counted upon to defend the SEC during every one of his broadcasts.” I was wrong. Read the rest of this entry »