Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Unanimous #1 and Facing the Big 10 Scourge

Good news in America: there are no longer any haters. As of yesterday, everybody in the world (except Kim Jong-Il) believes Duke is the best team in history. Last week, 7 heretics doubted us in the AP Poll, and 2 disgruntled coaches drank their haterade in the USA Today poll.

Now? No dissent. Absolute tyranny. And you might be surprised to know that SCSD!, our unassuming little blog, had a hand in the sudden coup. That's right: we're the muscular forearm of the Blue Devil junta. I don't want to give away confidential information, but let's just say I made a few phone calls last week. We may never know whether it was my influence or Duke's play that propelled us to the unanimous #1 ranking. That much is true. But I'll reprint a couple of the conversations, just a couple, and you can judge for yourself.

#1 - Me and some douche from the AP poll who gave Michigan State a first place vote.

Some Douche: Hello?

Me: Dude.

Some Douche: I stand by my decision.

Me: Dude.

Some Douche: Look, I think with Kalin Lucas leading a senior backcourt, the Spartans are going to have the kind of leadership and grit that Duke is missing.

Me: Dude.

Some Douche: Not to mention their strength on the interior. Plus, they have one of the best coaches in college basketball.

Me: Dude.

Some Douche: Are you just going to say 'dude' over and over again?

Me: No.

Some Douche: Then explain to me why I'm wrong.

Me: Dude.

#2 - Me and some douche from the AP Poll who gave Kansas State a first-place vote.


Some Douche: Two words, bitch: Jacob Pullen.


Some Douche: Frank Martin could break Coach K like a Twix. I know you've seen a Twix get broken before. It has that satisfying crunch.


Some Douche: Go away, I'm reading Perez Hilton.

Me: Anything good on there?

Some Douche: Not really, it's a slow day.

Me: I heard there might be some Lohan stuff going up later.

Some Douche: I hope so.

Me: We still on for backgammon tonight?

Some Douche: As long as you don't pussy out, you smirking Irish doofus.

Me: What the fuck, man?

#3 - Me and one of the two douches from the Coaches' Poll who gave MSU a first-place vote:


Angry voice: Actually, punk, this is Bobby Fucking Knight!

Me: Oh...oh damn.

Angry voice: That's right, you lily-white mama's boy chewing bubblegum in a minivan, you just dialed the wrong fucking number!

Me: Sorry, sir, I just-

Angry voice: I'm going to come after you with a chainsaw and a pitchfork made of shark's teeth! Do you know how many men I've killed?

Me: I, uh...the talk on the streets is more than ten.

Angry voice: Try more than twenty, you fat little nerd collecting bubble gum wrappers by a roller coaster.

Me: Sir, I just want to say that-

Angry voice: Sometime while you're sleeping in the next month, I'm going to fly through your window wearing nothing but a cape and a set of Turkish teeth I bought in Istanbul. It's going to be holy hell, you tuba-blowing, bubble-gum loving, mincing little queen!

Me: Yo, this probably won't help my cause, but what's your deal with bubble gum?


Me: By the way, my name is Harrison Barnes and I live in Chapel Hill.

Angry voice: Hold on, let me get a pen.

Me: Okay.

#4 - Me and Tom Izzo

Me: Coach, I'm feeling super out of sorts in a disturbed way.

Tom Izzo: Let me guess: you either watched your father riding a tiny bicycle or you just got off the phone with Bobby Knight.

Me: Bingo on #2.

Tom Izzo: And he was waxing strange about bubble gum.

Me: Yeah, and something called Turkish teeth.

Tom Izzo: Don't worry about it. Count to one hour and he'll already have forgotten. Man's brain's as old as a buffalo nickel and twice as rusted.

Me: That is a relief. Listen, were you the other guy in the coaches' poll who voted Michigan State #1?

Tom Izzo: Yeah, that was me.

Me: Do you really think you're better than Duke?

Tom Izzo: Nah, I just like to see Coach K get pissed. His face turns all red.

Me: I hear that.

Tom Izzo: Gotta take pleasure where you can find it.

Me: Yo, you coming to backgammon later?

Tom Izzo: What do I look like, an Irish bitch? Fuck right I'm there.

Me: Damn.

I never did learn what happened between Bobby Knight and a piece of bubble gum.

Anyway, we're one day away from Sparty, but the ACC-Big 10 challenge starts today. This is going to sound ridiculous, since it's a manufactured contest between two conferences, but I really, really want the ACC to win. The whole thing started in 1999, and the deal is that over three days, every team from one conference plays a team from the other. This year, there are 11 games (the ACC has 12 teams, so one team doesn't get to play...this year, it's Miami). The Big 10 had never won until last season, when Wisconsin upset Duke in the second-to-last game to give the Big 10 a 6-5 edge.

Normally I'm not a huge conference loyalty guy. I could care less what happens to schools like Virginia Tech or Boston College in the big dance, and I actively root for Maryland and UNC to lose. But something about the Big 10 pisses me off. It's not like I even grew up in the south, but I take a strange pride in believing that the ACC is the best conference in basketball. The Big 10 is boring, sledgehammer play. They're all big thugs specializing in 53-49 type games. It irked me to no end when they won last year, particularly because Duke lost on the road.

This year's version of the ACC-Big 10 challenge began last night, when Virginia pulled off a bit of a stunner on the road against #17 Minnesota. The Gophers were undefeated, and that had to be a game the Big 10 thought they had in the bag. It makes it very tough for them to win.

That makes the score ACC 2, Big 10 0.*

*I count the 12th game as a forfeit loss for the Big 10. We had Miami all set to go, and they couldn't match it. It's like in college tennis. If you don't put 6 players out for singles, the extra points don't disappear; you lose them. Too bad for the Big 10. Score one for us- the Canes win by default.

Tonight it kicks into high gear with these match-ups:

1. Iowa at Wake Forest
2. Georgia Tech at Northwestern
3. #2 Ohio State at Florida State
4. Michigan at Clemson
5. North Carolina at #21 Illinois

I will be rooting for the ACC in 4 of these 5 games. Can you guess the exception? Actually, if that one ends up close and we need it, I'll probably still pull for the Heels.

The way it shakes out tonight, though, the Big 10 should have two pretty clear advantages (Illinois and Ohio State), and Clemson is a 9-point favorite against Michigan. There's no clear edge in the other two, though Vegas gives Northwestern and Wake Forest slight nods for playing at home. By the end of the night, I wouldn't be surprised if the challenge is deadlocked 3-3. And I'd really love it if it was knotted at 5-5 coming into the Duke-MSU game tomorrow night. But I'd take a blow-out too.

Last on the docket for today: Obama at a basketball game. It seems the President attended the Oregon State-Howard game to watch his brother-in-law coach, and reporters were on hand. Check out this particularly creepy passage from the ESPN story:

Obama paid close attention to the game, leaning forward in his seat at times. He occasionally munched popcorn or sipped bottled water, and at one point 9-year-old Sasha reached over and kissed her father on the cheek opposite his stitched lip.

I mean...necessary?

"President Obama then swiveled sideways, appearing to look at something behind him. It soon became clear, though, that he was merely stretching his back in a twisting motion. He then whispered something into Michelle Obama's ear, and a slight smile appeared on the first lady's face. Later, the president stood in his seat and shouted homophobic slurs at the Howard players. Oregon State Coach Craig Robinson appeared embarrassed. As the game wound to an end, Obama turned around in his seat and did a sort of defiant 'ass dance' for the cameras, to the delight of his daughters. Then he grabbed his crotch, spun around, and threw a full soda on the court, delaying the game for five minutes. On his way out of the building after being ejected, Obama punched an unsuspecting usher in the ear."

Okay, that's all the tomfoolery I can stomach for one day. I will leave you with one prediction: Florida State will make it a closer game than anyone expects.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Grind: Back to it, Smorgasboard Style

Man, that Oregon game was really something, right?

Not to murder this genius metaphor, but it was like watching a brilliant kid who isn't being challenged at school. He perks up momentarily when new material is introduced--multiplication, you say?--and shows the full scope of his abilities. Then he realizes the challenge isn't really a challenge--wait, multiplication is just addition by groups? The hell?--and drifts back into a state of sleepy semi-alertness.

Duke's interior monologue during the Oregon game:

"ALL RIGHT, here we go baby, battle of the Singlers, let's get it done, gonna be a holy war...oh shit Kyle is hot, watch out Oregon, watch out. Quack quack, mothercluckers...let's see what you got...no, serious, let's see what you got, son...bring it now or bring it never...c'mon, ain't you guys played basketball before?...Damn, 31-12? I thought this team was good...the other Singler just shot an airball. You got to be kidding with this...33-23, Jesus, okay, okay, I'm awake...maybe this is about to get fun...only up 15 at halftime, anything can happen, right?...I'm not much for fast food, but the Wendy's spicy chicken burger is okay by me...gives me heartburn, though...is it weird to think that my pelvis hurts?...anybody want to go see a movie a little later? Doesn't have to be tonight, just give me a ring...nah, I'm not seeing her anymore, things didn't work out...too busy with basketball, you know?...I mean, if she wanted to come back I'd have the discussion, but I ain't about to beg...okay second half, game time...61-31. They're not even pretending they have a chance to win...isn't that part of the fun? Pretending? It's like when you play bedroom games. I know you ain't really a stern female cop, but get into the role or why we even here, right?...to be honest, I'm not even 100 percent sure where my pelvis is located...hey Oregon, maybe you should hit up the career fair or something, maybe basketball isn't your bag...later tonight? Oh I'm probably just going to hit up my Roku and take it down Netflix style, you know, drink some red wine like it's 1999...like I always say, give me thirty minutes and an empty stomach and I'll pull the reverse Jesus, wine into water...she never laughed at that either...gave her a call the other night, sounded like there was a dude in the background...might have been the radio, though...holy the shit, what the hell score is it, I was napping!...never mind, things are cool...hot damn, we might get 100...a cool century, can't knock that noise...seriously, someone just score...just once in the last 2 and a half...DAMN, I HATE BEING STUCK ON 98...I know, I know I should be grateful, but for serious, y'all, 98 is an old school bummer...aright, well good playing, let me know if you ever want to hang and get weird with some Madden or whatever...yeah, I hear you, busy time of year for me too...keep it real, homes, but hey listen, I left my wallet back in Durham and I could use a 20 spot to hold me...only if you carrying...thanks brother, I do appreciate that...don't mind me if I'm crying, it's just the weather."

Geez, Duke University is really, really sad when you personify it. I kind of didn't want to be seeing that on a Monday morning. My bad, guys. (The girlfriend? Cal-Berkeley. Total hottie intellectual type, real heartbreaker. Never laughed at the reverse Jesus joke.)

Anyway, I won't bother you with player grades. Singler was fantastic and Irving was spectacular, as usual. It's gotten to the point that the team is markedly different without Kyrie on the floor. This might be another down year for the NCAA, but I'm still semi-convinced that without Kyrie, Duke might be #4 or #5 in the country instead of #1. As for Nolan, his shots fell, but I was surprised to see that he didn't handle the full court press very well. He had a string of turnovers when Oregon showed it late in the first half, and he didn't seem as capable as I expected of dribbling through. With Kyrie in the mix, though, the press seemed nonexistent.

We boarded and assisted well, but 19 turnovers is a bit much. Still, considering our style and considering this was the tail end of a tough road trip, the sloppy play isn't a huge concern to me. I don't think we'll see a repeat of that Wednesday against Sparty.

Other stuff from the weekend:

1) Holy hell, Kemba Walker, you are good at basketball. The UConn junior basically took names against two top-10 schools last week, leading the unranked (for like two more seconds) Huskies to early "upsets." Seriously, he looked amazing. We have an early frontrunner for POTY.

2) And now, a special message from North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il. Normally I don't like to invite this type of person to write in my blog, but I have to admit: the guy's a huge Carolina fan. The floor is yours, Kim:


(We don't call them dog prisons here, you big wacko.)

3) Roger Federer beat Rafael Nadal in the ATP final. After the four majors, this is the biggest event of the year, and Rafa has never broken through. It was Federer's fifth title at the event. Rafa was dead tired after a long year and a grueling semifinal match against Murray, but he wouldn't use it as an excuse:

"Everybody saw the match of yesterday, so everybody's free to think his own opinion," Nadal said. "I'm not going to say I lost the match because I was tired. What I'm going to say and what I feel is I lost the match because I played against a very good Roger Federer in one of his favorite surfaces. And when he's playing like this, it's very difficult to stop him, no?"

Reading Rafa Nadal quotes is basically my favorite activity. Not only are they simple in a sort of profoundly humble way, but I also enjoy the way he interacts with the English language. He has a formal, measured approach that allows for extra words in most clauses. And he ends a lot of sentences with "no?", which is a delight. You're the man, Rafa.

4) Speaking of nothing, I was reading an article about the tea party this weekend and came across this passage, which was close to the best thing I've read in a magazine this year. The article is called "American Grotesque," and it's by one of my favorite writers, John Jeremiah Sullivan. If you like any of this, you should absolutely read his profile on Axl Rose. It's glorious. Anyway, here's the passage I loved:

In a gas station I heard a conversation about religion. I almost hesitate to reproduce it, because it sounds made up. The woman behind the counter and a bearded, even cartoonishly hillbilly-looking man who'd just bought a pack of generic cigarettes were talking. The man remarked that there were all sorts of religions right there in that part of Kentucky.

"Did you ever see snakes?" the woman said. She meant snake handlers.

"No," said the man. "Did you?"

"Not right out in the open," the woman said. "But I knew people that had 'em in the back room."

While I paid, they exchanged some pieties on how everyone has his own beliefs. Then the woman said, "It's just like, ten people see a car accident, every single one is gonna tell the police something different" (a vivid way, I thought, of localizing the story about the blind men feeling an elephant).

"Tell me which one of 'em gets out to help," the man said, "that's the one whose religion I'll listen to."

The woman and I both stood there. I think we each understood in our own way that Snuffy Smith here had just dropped some Spinoza-level wisdom on us through a parting in his tobacco-browned beard-nest. I went to the car and scribbled it down.

There are people who will ask you why you love Kentucky.

5) I'll tell you what I'll be doing at 3pm eastern today: this. It's Real Madrid v. Barcelona in a match the Spanish call 'El Clasico.' Sounds pretty badass, right? I'm not a dude who goes out of his way to watch soccer matches that aren't in the World Cup, but this one's been getting a lot of hype as a classic Messi v. Ronald duel (that article is great, by the way...it highlights Ronaldo's thinly-veiled resentment that Messi is considered the better player), and it's in the afternoon, so what the hell. I'm pretty sure it's on ESPN or something. I have a few predictions:

*The uniforms will be wackier than I expected.

*The game will be more boring than I expected.

*I'll hate the hell out of Ronaldo while I watch him play. I liked the fat one better. What is that dude up to?

*I'll start to get really into it by like the 60th minute.

*After the game, I'll feel all worldly and cultured because I watched a whole European match. I'll start using words and phrases like 'pure class' and 'ambitious' and 'creative' to describe sports maneuvers. I'll be totally insufferable. I'll demand that my girlfriend speak in a French accident. I'll carry a mandolin with me everywhere.

Soccer: Okay, whatever.

6) Hey, the Giants won! Confession: I'm the worst NFL fan ever. Yesterday's game was on local tv, but I still didn't sit down and watch it. I watched an hour of Federer-Nadal and caught some of the end of the first half, but that's it. Do I have a litany of excuses? I do. First off, the grad school work load dictates that I have one day free each weekend. The sad truth is that I'd much rather take Saturdays off and watch college football. And now basketball, too.

Also, the Giants look an awful lot like they're on last year's trajectory; awesome start, horrible mid-season form, miss the playoffs. I still believe that after yesterday, when they slipped by a crummy Jacksonville squad. That was annoying to watch last year, and frankly I'll take a pass this time around if I have other things to do. I hate Tom Coughlin. One Super Bowl (and let's be honest, it was a pretty fluky win) and our team is entrenched in mediocrity for years. Was that one win worth it? Yes, it was awesome. But bring on Bill Cowher, please. Or even Colin Cowherd. Anyone with cow in their last name. I'll even take Al Cowlings, the guy who drove O.J. Simpson around. Or an actual cow. It doesn't matter, we just want some cow-oriented change here. What am I even talking about?

Last thing on the NFL: I went to the Jets-Bengals game Thursday night, and while I'm grateful to attend any sporting event, especially when I don't have to pay for the ticket, I must say that that shit is bo-ring. The NFL is so completely designed for television, with the million breaks in action, that it's almost impossible to enjoy it in living color. Maybe it was just that our seats were in the nosebleeds and nobody would try to sneak down with me, or maybe it was the fact that the game itself was a total snooze, but by the middle of the second quarter I was ready to peace out. You know that commercial where the guy gets tickets to a game and his friends don't want to go because it's going to be super cold? The friends are right. Seriously, it's not worth it. The NFL is better viewed from home.

This has been: a spoiled asshole.

7) I was delighted by Boise State's loss and horrified by Auburn's win. Next week, I'll be in the unfortunate position of rooting for a team coached by Steve Spurrier. GUH-ROSSS!* The only good guys left are Oregon and TCU. By the way, this year is setting up for an awesome Wisconsin-Stanford Rose Bowl. Just thought that should be noted.

*This is my new catch phrase, what do you guys think?

That's it for now. Let me know if I'm missing something. It's been a lonnng weekend. Seeing the family was awesome, but spending 20 hours in a car?


Friday, November 26, 2010

The Hillside Run, Part 3


-No Pick Six this week, since we're all traveling and busy. It will resume next Friday, but I can tell you now that we have an unprecedented 4-way tie for first place.

-This article, from Charlotte Magazine, mentions both Seth Curry Saves Duke! and our friends at Crazie Talk.

-For today's post, since I'll be in a car all day, I'm going to post an article on high school football I wrote for ReeseNews. It's about the Hillside Hornets, a team from inner-city Durham attempting to win their first state championship in school history. Their star is quarterback Vad Lee, a senior heading to Georgia Tech next year, but the whole team is pretty well stacked. They're undefeated thus far, and tomorrow night they'll be playing for a chance to make the state semifinals. Last week, they took on a team from Pembroke, NC, in the round of 16. The following article documents that game. It's longer than your run-of-the-mill recap, so feel free to read all, part, or none.



Part 1: Hillside completes an undefeated regular season with a win against rival Northern High.

Part 2: Hillside dispatches Southeast Guilford in the first round of the playoffs.

Opening Gambits

Eight captains stood at midfield, helmets on, their smoky breath already visible beneath the stadium lights. Watching from the Hillside sideline, in the heart of Durham, you could look beyond the players to the scattering of fans huddled together on the visitors’ bleachers, and beyond that to the cluster of pine trees behind the chain link fence surrounding the field. The four captains from Purnell Swett faced the four from Hillside, and the referee tossed his coin.

One of the Hillside captains was Vad Lee, a 6’3”, 210-pound senior quarterback bound for Georgia Tech. Another was Keenan Stalls, a junior defensive back who would knock one of his own coaches to the ground before the game was over. When Purnell Swett chose to receive, all eight players jogged to the end zone. Their teams waited for them off the field, atop a small hill near a softball diamond and the school, in two anxious packs. This was the 4-A North Carolina state playoffs, round of 16.

The Rams of Purnell Swett came downhill first. Their captains urged them on from the end zone, and the fans welcomed them loudly. The white-clad players streamed onto the field like an armed regiment geared up for battle. At 8-4, they were trying to pull off a miracle and upset the undefeated Hornets on the road. The Pembroke team had just come off a 28-14 win against favored Terry Sanford in the first round of the playoffs. But tonight they’d be facing a greater beast, and only a stunner would see them through to the final eight.

On the way to the field, they sprinted past the four Hillside captains. With the rest of the Hornets still far away, there was a distinct sense that Lee and his three teammates were about to be overwhelmed by the opposition. Sure, this was a football game, not a battlefield. But when the visitors crossed the running track and breached the yellowed grass of the field, they unleashed their savage war cry on the four Hornets. A reasonable spectator felt a lump in his throat; the outnumbered captains should walk away. Better yet, they should run.

But they didn’t run. In fact, they jogged casually to their foes until they were close enough to touch. Lee, his posture self-consciously erect, led the way. It was impossible to tell from behind if the Hornet captains were jawing or just staring. What they weren’t doing, though, was backing down.

When the main body of players had passed and a few stragglers brought up the rear, it was the Rams who veered away, cowed by the presence of Lee and Stalls and the brilliant defender Myer Krah and sophomore Shyeim Stephens.

“You can’t touch us now,” the four stars seemed to say, “and you won’t touch us later.” Alone among the enemy, they had passed a crucial test. They showed the rest of their team, watching from above, that nothing scared them.

Then, with a roar that dwarfed its predecessor, the Hillside Hornets charged down the hill. They were hot on the heels of their opponent, and what started as an entrance began to seem like a pursuit. The captains waited, and when the generals met the infantry, the blue mass surged onto the field. The piercing horns of the band blared in the cold air, and the home fans erupted.

I stood rapt, a silent witness to this theater, and now I have to wonder: was that the moment when the game was won?

Coach T

A man with a prominent stomach and gregarious manner spoke with me before the game. A headset hung around his neck, and he called himself Coach T. He wanted to talk about the recruitment of Lee.

“Cutcliffe tried,” he said of the Duke head coach, “but Butch Davis never threw his hat in the ring.” Davis is the UNC coach, and it surprised me to hear that he never pursued Lee.

“Well, he came around,” said Coach T, “but he never really put a good foot forward.” To punctuate his point, he took a giant Groucho Marx step ahead, landing heavily on his right foot. His entire body reverberated. “How you gonna let someone like that get out yo state?” he asked.

The men around him agreed; Lee was special. “Trust me,” Coach T said before leaving, “that coach at Georgia Tech got a steal.

Early Desperation

Like Southeast Guilford the week before, Purnell Swett saw fit to run through a paper banner prior to the start of the game. Pembroke is a traditionally Native American area, and the high school is named after a 75-year-old former administrator who became chairman of the Lumbee Tribe earlier this year. About 80 percent of the student body is Native American.

The Rams received the kickoff and soon found themselves facing fourth and long. Coach Mark Heil, an intense man in his mid-fifties with a shaved head, sent out the punting unit. But they didn’t punt; instead, they faked and passed for a first down. The visiting fans treated it like a great coup, but to neutral observers like me, it had the acrid stench of desperation. Any team faking a punt that early must understand the long odds facing them, and the bold move had the unfortunate side effect of revealing a distinct lack of confidence.

And it didn’t even stand; a penalty reversed the successful fake, and this time Swett had to punt for real.

The Easy Throw

Lee struggled to find his passing form in the first quarter against Southeast Guilford, but on Friday night he started on the money. Hillside opened with four straight passes, marching to their own 35. After a long attempt fell incomplete, Coach Antonion King yelled from the sideline to Lee.

“Take the easy throw!”

Before the game, I spoke with King. I asked him about the fact that the two teams had a common opponent this season. In their first game of the season, Purnell Swett lost to E.E. Smith High School 13-6. In early September, Hillside beat them 48-0. On paper, it looked like another easy win.

“This is the second round of the playoffs,” King said. “Anything is possible. The underdog, per se, can always beat a top seed right about now.”

I took the words as false modesty, but there on the sideline I realized he really meant it; the urgency in his words and the subtle anxiety in his bearing all indicated a belief that the undefeated season could collapse in a single moment. The easy throw not taken might cost a state championship. In this year, of all years, that just wasn’t acceptable. Not with Hillside’s talent. Not with Lee at quarterback.

He needn’t have worried. On the next play from scrimmage, Jamal Williams sprinted through a hole in the left side of the line, found daylight, darted to the sideline, and didn’t stop until he reached the end zone 65 yards later. Khris Francis caught the 2-point conversion, and it was 8-0 Hillside.
They have many strong suits at Hillside

But cultivating suspense is not one of them. As a journalist and a neutral spectator, I crave the close game, the dramatic finish. It would be nice to string a story out to the last word, when a diving catch in the end zone or an unthinkably long field goal launches jubilant Hillside into the rarified air of miraculous victory.

King, selfish man that he is, would rather have the rout. This week, he got his way. 8-0 became 16-0 became 29-7 became 53-13. But even when Hillside dominates, there’s never a dull moment.

The Talent Gap

Here’s the simple explanation: Hillside had too much size and speed. It changed everything.

When Purnell Swett called a good play — and it happened more than once — a receiver or a back would find the corner, try to turn, and maybe eke out 5-6 yards before a large, fast opponent tracked him down and forestalled any serious damage. Often enough, that large man in question was Treshawn Council, a senior defensive end bound for East Carolina next year. Several times I watched him dash from the line all the way outside the hash marks to snuff out a wide receiver screen or a toss sweep. With players like that on the other side of the ball, the field becomes plenty small.

When Hillside called a good play, pyrotechnics followed. Jamal Williams went on his long run; Khris Francis broke through the line; a receiver dashed downfield. Lee only completed 11 passes for 107 yards, but he tallied 105 yards rushing despite a strange tendency to avoid contact. He’d either slide feet-first ahead of the defender (he even managed this on a fourth-and-one sneak) or step out of bounds as a defensive back bore down. There was something almost aristocratic in his refusal to withstand a collision, as though an opponent like Purnell Swett did not deserve the full measure of his brilliance. This was out of character; in past weeks, I’d watched him take on up to three players at once in aerial maneuvers that sent him spinning and crashing at sickening angles.

All of King’s Horses

It hardly seems fair, but Hillside had the coaching edge as well. King is a masterful play caller, and his variety was on full display Friday night. The mixture of runs and passes kept the opposition befuddled. Eight different players rushed the ball and nine different players caught at least one pass. King told me he scripts the first 10 to fifteen plays, but after that he adjusts within the game.

It’s one thing to be blessed with depth and talent at the skill positions. It’s another to know exactly how to use them to demoralize an opponent. At the start of the second quarter, up 8-0, King called run after run, gradually softening the middle of the defensive line. By 5-yard increments, Hillside marched down the field and devoured the clock. On each consecutive first down, Purnell Swett became a little weaker and a little less confident. The withering drive culminated in a 3-yard run by Francis, and the resulting 16-0 lead might as well have been 100-0.

When Hillside attempted and recovered an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff, it was a little like watching a man get kicked while he’s down. Or kicked while he’s falling off a cliff, maybe.

There’s an obvious physical element to any football game, but there’s a psychological component too. King isn’t one to ignore it. When Lee passed to Jarrell Jones for the conversion, Purnell Swett no longer believed they could win. Up to that point, they had managed to furiously bail the water from their endangered vessel, but now the holes were too many and the ocean was rushing in. Then the onside kick happened. Predictably, the ship capsized.

“Now That We Found Love”

That’s the song the Hillside marching band plays whenever the Hornets score. I noticed it in a kind of peripheral way last week, but this time I became engrossed. I’ve watched countless marching bands perform at football games over my spectating career, but none have ever captured my attention until now.

Twenty-five dancers, bundled in blue and wearing white gloves and headbands to counteract the cold, stood at the bottom of the bleachers. Behind them were the saxophones, followed by trumpets, trombones, cymbals, and drums. The tubas stood on the side, emitting their low comical blasts, and the drum major in his white cape directed the spectacle from the track. Every band member wore a boxy shako hat with a feathered plume.

“Now That We Found Love” was originally recorded by The O’Jays in 1978, and Heavy D and the Boyz covered the song in 1991. David Cason, one of two drum majors, pointed at his players in sequence as the dancers juked and bobbed, hip-rolling and dropping low.

The music was soulful, jazzy, blaring, shimmering, sepulchral and funky, depending on which instrument you happened to hear. During the breakdown, when only the tubas played, the trombone section danced with their horns, executing fluid slide moves near the top of the stands. Cason turned to face the field, his cape flapping in the wind. He dipped low to the left, low to the right, smooth in the rhythm.

I had a desire to join them, but I abstained. Lee wasn’t as shy. After one of Hillside’s many touchdowns in the second quarter, he ran off the field, stood next to Cason, and grooved to the band.

It’s Not Just the Players Who Found Love

A.G. Carrington is 45, and he’s on the chain gang for Hillside home games, measuring first downs at the ref’s beck and call. I asked him if the Hillside offense was running him ragged tonight. The more an offense moves, the faster the chain gang has to be.

“Oh, we used to it,” he said. “As long as the box man gets there, we can set up.” He pointed to the box man, a heavier friend of his who holds the marker at the line of scrimmage to indicate the down.

“Problem is, he don’t run so good.” A couple of Carrington’s friends laughed. “But he can move when he wants to. Like when someone’s coming this way to hit him.”

I asked if he liked being on the chain gang. His eyes softened. “I love it,” he said. “Been doing it for five years now.”

Football is a passion for Carrington in the same way breathing is a passion for other humans. When his kids were younger, he coached little league football. Now, he told me, he plays on a flag football team in Washington, D.C.

“Used to go up every weekend,” he said, “til my car broke down. Then I took my van, but that used up too much gas.” These days, he only makes the 5-hour trip every other week.

His friend Ken Bledsoe, a few years older, joined us. Both men graduated from Durham High School, a school that closed in 1995. As kids, they hated Hillside; the Hornets were crosstown rivals. Now they were both on the team’s chain gang, and Carrington’s two sons graduated from the school. I asked them how they fared against Hillside when they played.

“We lost both times,” Carrington said.

“Won three of four during my years,” Bledsoe said. “But that was about the only game we won.” He started to tell me how bad his teams were, citing records that included only a handful of wins.

“Hell, we were the first team in Durham High history go to 0-11,” countered Carrington.

Yet here they were, laughing and rooting for Hillside on the visitor’s side of the field. They found the love.

So did C.A. Tuggle, a professor at the UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication. On Friday night, he wore the white cap of the head referee. He’s been officiating for 37 years, starting almost immediately after he finished high school.

In the first quarter, the Hillside and Purnell Swett lines both seemed to jump offside at the same time. The flags came out, but the decision was uncertain. After conferring with the other officials, Dr. Tuggle faced the Hillside sideline and signaled the bad news.

Later, I asked him how it felt to be booed by 500 people. Tuggle laughed. “I pay no attention,” he said.

Coach Derek Biggs found the love. Kenan Stalls, one of Hillside’s captains, suckered the Purnell quarterback into throwing deep on an out-and-up pattern in the fourth quarter. Once the ball was in the air, Stalls made up the ground, went airborne, and came down with the interception.

Biggs was so excited about the play that he met Stalls on the field. The two celebrants came at each other in a flying hip-check, a variation of the chest bump. Between the older man in a sweat suit and the 18-year-old athlete wearing full pads, the latter won. Biggs went sprawling to the ground, and laughter rippled through the stands. But upon standing, he seemed even more energized than before.

Preston Giles found the love, too. He spent most of the game circling the field, filming the action from different angles. His son Zach, he told me, just won offensive lineman of the year in the Pac-6. He was filming him for colleges.

“Make sure you give that line some credit!” he told me.

Credit to the Line

They average 295 pounds a man, and they provided Lee with excellent protection all night, but Purnell Swett coach Mark Heil gave them better credit than I could ever manage.

It’s become a habit for me to spend the third quarter on the opposition’s sideline, getting the vibe from the losing side. This time, it wasn’t a pretty sight.

One of the Purnell players huddled and shivered in a Native American blanket, surrounded by medical staff. He’d suffered a concussion from one of the many massive hits applied by Hillside (one in particular, doled out by Christian Davis-Ballard to a Purnell receiver, was the hardest hit I’ve ever seen in a high school game).

The fans were booing the play calls, and after Heil expressed his frustration at a Hillside reception that he thought had been dropped, a wise guy in the stands yelled out “throw the red flag and challenge!”

But, as I was saying, the greatness of the Hillside line became evident because of Heil. With the score 29-7 and the Hornets driving, Lee had a 3rd and long just outside the 10. He dropped back, surveyed the field, and found nobody. Then he surveyed it some more. There was no hurry — nobody was close to touching him. Finally he found his receiver, Austin Weeks, for a 16-yard touchdown on a spectacular leaping catch.

“I blitzed six people!” Heil shouted. I’m not sure to whom he spoke, since he was staring intently at the field. It was more like a complaint to the gods, a protest against the inherent unfairness of the universe. His voice softened, becoming less angry and more incredulous. “I blitzed six people.”

Credit to the line.

Losing the Love and Finding it Again

Mark Heil wasn’t having a great night. At halftime, my photographer Josh and I sneaked up on his team’s huddle in the far end zone.

“Shit, it’s three scores!” he yelled, vainly attempting to encourage his despondent team. His raspy voice sounded like the character Mick from the Rocky movies. “You’re playing like zombies! You never stop fighting!” He spoke like a man losing the love.

Now that I think about it, though, Heil kept fighting, impassioned even after a superior team had snuffed out the flame of hope. He stormed and raged up and down the sideline, plotting every play like it might be the one that would turn things around, like the overwhelming evidence piled against his team was just a temporary stretch of bad luck.

Only an occasional look of heartbreak and futility gave him away. But your heart can’t be broken unless you loved in the first place.

The Upshot

Jamal Williams rushed for 169 yards, Hillside rolled, and the newspapers all talked about the depth and range of their offense. I spoke with Williams, a senior, while he stood on the sideline. He’s shorter than he looks on the field, and in its natural state his face reverts to a smile.

I told him I didn’t realize the extent of his speed until the 65-yard touchdown run. He laughed bashfully. “Thank you,” he said. I asked about colleges, and he told me he wasn’t sure yet, but that offers from 1-AA schools would be coming in soon.

“Are you guys ever going to have a game?” I asked.

“We keep thinking these are gonna be games,” he said, pointing to the field. The carnage we surveyed might be called many things, but a ‘game’ was not one of them. “And we might get Dudley next.” They beat Dudley, the #2 seed in the region, 33-0 earlier in the year. If Dudley won, the two teams would meet again.

But down in Greensboro, a team called Lee County out of Sanford, North Carolina, was pulling off a 28-13 upset. They’re led by twin running backs, Isaiah and Israel Williams. Just as those are biblical names, it might take a biblical effort to beat Hillside.

Earlier in the playoffs, Lee County beat Durham Northern 16-12. Hillside beat the same team 38-6 the week before. On paper, the Hornets will be favorites again. The teams will play the day after Thanksgiving.

Possible Stumbling Blocks

1. Overconfidence — It’s been two months since they won by less than 20 points. It’s been one month since they’ve won by less than 30. Will they know what do when things tighten up?

2. Penalties — In the first quarter, Hillside notched five penalties almost before either team had warmed up. The situation improved after that, but in tense situations they become highly mistake-prone. It doesn’t bode well for the future, when entire games may be tense.

3. Sloppiness — It’s rare to see Coach King mad. Before the game, I asked about his serenity. “Sometimes I guess you just have to play the role,” he said. “Whichever role you have to be at the moment. Right now I have a bunch of other people who are a little vocal . . . so I have to sit back. You just can’t have everybody doing the same thing.”

But when Purnell scored their second touchdown on a punt block, he erupted. It was the maddest I’ve seen him, and the score was 50-13. He knows, though his players might not, that these kinds of mistakes can cost everything against the wrong team.

But It Won’t Cost Them Tonight

Lee was out of the game by the fourth quarter. He stood on the sidelines, his arms behind his back, surveying his team like a commandant at inspection. King was mildly miffed that Purnell Swett has kept their starters in. The rest of the players looked free and easy, another win in the books.

On one of the last plays of the game, Christian Jones made a great catch on a deep ball to set up a Frederick Adujua field goal. As Jones ran back to the sideline, feeling good, one of his friends tried to get his attention.

“Christian. Yo, Christian!”

Finally, Christian looked over.

“Christian . . . you still ugly!”

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thankful is a State of Mind

Happy Thanksgiving, my friends, from the entire Seth Curry Saves Duke! family.

I woke up this morning on a king-sized bed, facing a giant picture window that overlooks the Central Park reservoir. I got up, wandered around the 4,000+ square foot apartment, and considered activating the sound system that can pump music into any of the 20 rooms in this 7th-floor Manhattan prize. I walked by the gigantic tub where I took the world's greatest bath before crashing last night. I passed the various beautiful televisions, one of which had showed Kemba Walker destroying Kentucky while I lounged on a 15-foot couch and ate sushi just hours earlier. I passed the children's bedrooms, where my girlfriend tells me there's artwork that costs more than a year's tuition at Duke. (Seriously, a small act of petty theft could erase my college loans...hmmm.... SHUT UP, MORALS, I DESERVE THIS!)

Back when we lived in the city, she sometimes baby-sat for this couple when they went out on weekends. They're filthy, filthy, filthy rich. The kind of rich where they get to be in magazine features about who has the most money in New York City. You wouldn't recognize their name, but suffice it to say they don't worry about things like highway tolls or the fact that most sandwiches cost more than six dollars here.

They're out of town, so we got to experience the high life for a night. I'm thankful for that, for seeing how the other half lives, because God knows I'm never going to be there on my own merits. I write a blog. I'm pursuing a career in journalism. Enough said. Then again, I'm thankful not to be rich, too. I'm at least thankful not to come from wealth. I always feel strangely bad for kids born under a golden sign. I probably shouldn't, because a lot of them go on to be very successful and happy, but there's something oppressive about it too. Maybe it's a justification of being average, but I've always felt like I had the chance to learn more than someone born in high society.

I don't need to go on about this all day, but I enjoy going through each day knowing I only have to meet my own expectations. I was thankful to wake up in the lap of luxury this morning, and I'll be thankful to walk out the door and hit the street.

I'm very thankful for sports. In a nice article on CNNSI, Michael Rosenberg argues that we really hate Lebron James because he tried to "circumvent competition." We can take sins against society, even egregious ones, and we can take cheating. But we can't take it when someone tries to go around the essence of the game, to win without the toil. It's why, Rosenberg says, we all rejoice when the Heat lose. It's a refutation of the idea that we can avoid the struggle. Human beings love drama, and by the time we're in our twenties we learn that nothing will ever be easy. Sports is the stage on which we can watch our own dreams play out; victory and triumph after the grind. The lottery is bullshit. I don't like people who win the lottery. I'd rather watch an NBA blow-out in late November than an old man knocking on someone's door with a load of balloons and a giant check, delivering them from earthly labor.

I'm thankful for the good guys. I'm thankful for Kyrie Irving, whose excellence leads to embarrassing blog posts, and who won his first piece of college hardware yesterday with an MVP in the CBE Classic. I'm thankful for Robbie Cano and Rafa Nadal and everyone else who embodies my particular vision of the ideal sportsman.

I'm thankful for the villains. Sometimes I feel that I'm actually more grateful for the villains, which, I admit, is a little sick. I'm thankful for photos like this, that show how close the villains were to being heroes.

What would we do without Prince Harry? What would we do without the war-like Frank Martin, whose quote in this fun series of articles by Eamon Brennan brightened my Wednesday:

"They knocked the living piss out of us," Martin said. "If there's a team better than they are, I don't want to play them."

I'm thankful for the community of fellow-travelers who blog about sports. I like posts like this one and this one.

I'm thankful for the readers more than anything. I just tried to list a bunch of names, but it became really long and I undoubtedly forgot a bunch. So let me give special props to Carrie, the original supporter, and Spike, the 'guy who's smarter than me that gives me a lot of things to write about.' And to Jill for most of the links in this post. But thanks to anyone who lands on this blog, especially those who do so on purpose and not because they were looking for pictures of Mason Plumlee's girlfriend. (So proud to say this blog is the #1 Google hit for this search, and the picture of Coach K doing a forward-thrusting hip thing is #1 in the image search.)

I'm thankful for my girlfriend and my family and my friends. Those are nice things to have.

And let's take a moment here to recognize the real heroes. Sure, it's nice to gush about folks like Kyrie Irving and the 2010-11 Duke men's basketball team, but in the midst of our passion it's important not to forget those who tested themselves under fire and accomplished something that really mattered. That mattered so much more- so very much more, my friends- than a mere championship in the CBE Classic. I'm talking about the heroes who give us hope, who allow us to live in a manner that so many others around the world could never even imagine:

The 2009-10 Duke men's basketball team.

What?! They won a NATIONAL championship, guys! It was awesome! COME ON!

Okay, I should spend time with my family. Have a great Thanksgiving, everyone. And seriously, thanks for reading. Keep calm and Curry on.

The Kyrie Irving Coming Out Party

Jacob Pullen, a senior at Kansas State, was a shoe-in for this year's preseason All-American team. In the minds of the voters, he was second in the country only to Kyle Singler. Last year, he averaged 19.3 points per game and led the Wildcats to the Elite 8. The Sporting News rewarded him with an All-American selection. After Coach Frank Martin revealed that he'd be changing positions this year, many experts predicted he'd be one of the best point guards in college basketball.

Jacob Pullen, they said, was no joke.

So tell me this, planet Earth: why is Kyrie Irving laughing?

Tuesday night, in front of a partisan Wildcat crowd, Kyrie Irving completely- and guys, I mean completely- outclassed Pullen. I'm trying to rein myself in here, trying to be a professional and keep my language clean, so let me just say this: in maximum security prisons, they have a name for the role Jacob Pullen played tonight.

Good God am I pumped. Anybody think Kyrie's over-hyped now? I mean, what a show. He absolutely dominated one of the premiere guards in college basketball, and he did it on both ends of the floor. He didn't even let the man breathe, and I'm pretty sure that kind of thing is guaranteed in the Constitution. Kyrie Irving violated the Constitution, and the refs didn't even blow a whistle. They didn't have time; he was too fast.

This was the first Duke game of the season I got to watch with my stepfather Tom (we're in New Jersey at a surprisingly nice hotel), and while that's always awesome, it can also be a recipe for extreme negativity. The two of us use sports as a primary means of airing our many grievances about life, and the results aren't necessarily pretty. In fact, they're usually vitriolic and alarming. My mother inevitably ends up leaving the room. Now that my girlfriend is in the mix, she encourages us to at least be quiet. When I fail her moments later, she adopts a pensive look that can only mean "I'm pondering the least hurtful way to opt out of this relationship."

But there was no negativity tonight. Not with Kyrie running the show, and the Devils dominating Kansas State in every way possible. This was a game that was never in doubt, despite K-State hanging around due to a high field goal percentage (47% to Duke's 48%). After last night's mediocre performance against Marquette, there was some question about how the Devils would fare against an even more physical opponent, especially on the road. No question now. All the people with their hands raised just slowly lowered them and said "oh...understood."

And let's spread the credit out.

1 - Coach K

800 wins at Duke. I think Tom put it best when he said that after winning with last year's team, a hard-working group that nobody thought had national title talent even in early March, he shut us up. The rumors of his death as a championship coach were greatly exaggerated, and now he's starting to put up some historic numbers. The Ole Polack is about 4 seasons away from becoming the first Division 1-A coach with 1,000 wins. Tonight, he out-coached Frank Martin from the word 'go,' and watching that obnoxious tyrant smoldering on the bench was a magnificent bonus to the night's proceedings.

2 - Andre Dawkins

Didn't miss a field goal, squashed the last possible rally with a dagger from the corner. Young Threezy got game.

3 - Seth Curry

One hell of a defensive effort tonight that included 5 steals.

4 - Singler & Smith

Huge baskets when we needed them. Not that we'd expect anything less.

Was this a perfect game? No. Miles Ho-Humlee* just keeps looking worse. The interior defense conceded 11 offensive boards. Curtis Kelly notched 19 points and Jamar Samuels added 12, almost all in the paint. The referees were shockingly bad, and most of their calls seemed to benefit Kansas State. I don't think I've ever seen more phantom fouls or ignored traveling calls in a single game. Also, someone needs to tell Nolan Smith that he's allowed to put some arc on his shot when he takes a runner in the lane. Is there an explanation for some of those line drive clankers?

*It was between that and any of the following: Bumlee, Dumblee, Stumblee, Numblee (this was close), and Crumblee.

I'm sorry, though- I have to come back to Kyrie. Did you guys see some of those passes? Did you see the bounce pass to Miles in the lane? Did you see the left-handed finish in the first half? Did you see how he could take Pullen to the hoop at will? Did you see how Pullen was utterly out-of-sorts when Kyrie was manning up on D?

Pronouncement: best Duke player since Jason Williams. Sorry, everyone in the ten years between. You were all great. Thanks for the memories. But this dude is something special.

I know what you're thinking: I should stop gushing sometime soon before I pass out from a lack of oxygen.



(forty minutes pass, my girlfriend finds me on the floor here in our New Jersey hotel room shivering in a cold sweat and mumbling about how assists can be beautiful, takes me to the hospital where the doctor administers smelling salts and warns me about getting too excited at sporting events, girlfriend brings me home, I pretend to be going to get some ice in a bucket but actually race to the hotel lobby to use the internet when all of a sudden)



Truly, this is Kyrie's coming out party. Yesterday I wrote that the various elements required for excellence were almost ready to click in the freshman's mind, and today we saw what happens when they do. A one-man wrecking crew.

Last thing about Kyrie, I promise: he's an excellent rebounder. That cannot be overlooked. I'm incredibly impressed with his ability to go among the tall trees and pluck the ripe fruit. The ripe fruit of a basketball. Metaphors: not my strong suit.

By the way, let this be a lesson for all other transition teams in the country. You might want to try a different style, gang. ESPN showed a quote from Pullen that said something about how K-State loved to run, and if it was up to them they'd never run an offensive set. Well, tonight they saw real speed. Their only defense was to foul us over and over again.

Serious question, gang: if we can get through Oregon, Butler, and Michigan State without taking a loss, can this squad go undefeated in the regular season? In a year where it's entirely possible that no other ACC team finishes in the top 25, doesn't it set up pretty well?

I know it's early, but I'm telling you this: if we win the next three games, I will be writing a post about the chance of a perfect year. And you will call me an idiot. And we will rejoice in the American tradition of respectful disagreement by calling each other names in the comments section.

Okay, I'm out of here. It's 2 AM, and I've got a lumpy pull-out couch mattress waiting for me. It's more wire than bed, actually. I'd describe as a collection of intersecting metal rods draped with a thin piece of bed-sized cotton. It's possible I will not sleep, but at least I'll have something inspiring and wonderful to think about while I stare at the ceiling:

Two dinosaurs fighting each other on the wings of an airplane. One raptor, one triceratops, but the triceratops has a shield he can carry.

Oh yeah, and this guy:

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Marquette Down - Another Win

They don't call me the Headline King for nothing, gang. Here's a recent picture of me receiving an award for writing sick headline after sick headline until fucking everybody is cracking up.

I'm the guy with the award. The dude on the left consistently finishes third in George Steinbrenner look-alike contests.

Before we get rolling for real, a quick scheduling note:

***I will do my damndest to put up a post tomorrow and Thursday. I'm heading to THE BIG APPLE (we all call it that) later this morning for some Turkey Day fun with the family, and I'll be heading to the Jets game Thursday night at the new Giants Stadium. It might be tough to post, especially since my mom's a huge nag about spending time with family (gag me, right?). Nevertheless, I'll give it the old college try. Friday will be harder since we're coming back early in the morning, but maybe I'll use that chance to post some ReeseNews high school football content or something.***

Okay, so we beat Marquette 82-77. But my God, check out this opinion article on ESPN. It's titled "Plumlee's big night could mean big things," and here's the last line:

Translation: If Mason Plumlee is this good -- and there's still plenty of basketball to be played before we can definitively make that statement -- then Duke could be even better than we realized. That is a scary thought.

Alert to Writer: Plumlee had a nice game, and Duke still beat an unranked team by only 5. An unranked team, by the way, who shot 4-20 from 3-point range and could have knocked us off if they'd knocked down a few open shots.

Don't get me wrong, I love this squad. At one point early on, probably when we were up 23-9, I posted a pretty embarrassing tweet:

SCurrySavesDuke: I have been waiting for this team for 27 years. Unbelievable. I love them. I love them. I love them. D-U-K-E! I can barely breathe.


But then things turned around, and our play was pretty lackadaisical the rest of the way. Turnovers, sloppiness, and poor interior defense marked the rest of the night. Marquette kept getting close, and Duke kept going on spurts. But after those spurts, we'd seem to relax on the lead, and Marquette would come crawling back.

It was annoying, and I didn't necessarily think Duke looked like the #1 team in the country. I still think we will be the best team in the land when all is said and done, but nothing about last night should put any fear into our opponents. In fact, they should breathe a sigh of relief, because the Devils didn't look like juggernauts. I wouldn't even be surprised to see Vegas put K-State as the favorites tonight.

Interesting aside from the ESPN article: the College Basketball nation blog is written by two guys. The first is Eamon Brennan, who wrote the article above. The second, though, may have the greatest name in history: Diamond Leung.

I mean...that is an amazing name. It's like his parents though about "Iron Leung," then were like, "fuck that, this kid is going to be the world's premiere badass. DIAMOND."

Truly fantastic. At the center for awesome names, we are grateful for our Diamond Leung.


(stare into the distance dispassionately like any good Radiohead fan.)

Okay, let's grade it up:

Plumdog Billionaire: A-. Good God, where did those post moves come from? Seriously, where? That was amazing. I'm usually pleased if Mason manages to catch the ball and put up a shot without dribbling when he's in the post. Needless to say, this surpassed my expectations. 25 points, 12 boards (6 offensive), 5 blocks. People give me shit about not crediting Mason, and I'll admit I'm usually a critic, but today he deserves praise. The downside: aside from the blocks, he didn't look great on the defensive interior. Gardner ate him up a few times, and at several points he would vacate his position to attempt a help-side block, only to give up an easy basket to Marquette. I still think he's a step slow filling the lane on a rotation when another man is beat, too. The blocks are huge, but there's a lot of room for improvement. Also, the Golden Eagles grabbed 11 offensive boards, one more than Duke, and some of that is on Mason. He got out-muscled more than once, and I think we're already feeling the lack of a big, mean Zoubek type. Still, kudos to Mason for his grace and skill on offense.

Kyle Singler: B. It seemed like he disappeared from this one a bit despite playing 38 minutes. The shooting was a little under par, and he never really got to the rim, but he did provide a key defensive rebounding presence. Just a slightly below-average game for the White Lion. Not awful, by any means, but not special either. I have a feeling he'll erupt for about 25 tonight.

Nolan Smith: A-. Great shooting, grabbed 9 boards, and scored 18 while assisting 3 times. Plus, his frontcourt D is faultless. My only complaint is the turnovers, a bloated 6. You can tell Nolan's excited to be playing a fast game, but he's also prone to going a little too fast and becoming sloppy. He needs find that delicate balance between risk-taking and restraint. And look, I'm not going to cry about the turnovers; when you play up-tempo, turnovers are going to happen. It's a small price to pay for a hectic style that stupefies the opposition. But some of the bad decisions can be reduced, and that's where I think Nolan can improve. But that's largely a matter of experience and reps, and I have no doubt he'll find his way soon.

Kyrie Irving: B+. See also: Nolan Smith. Similar evaluation- great pace, great on-the-ball defense, decent shooting, lots of assists (7), too many turnovers. You can see it almost ready to click with Kyrie. I can't wait until the moments of brilliance stretch out into entire games. He's the real deal, and with an ounce of restraint he'll be the best point guard around.

Young Threezy: A-. I love him, and so does Coach K. He's come out so strong, and he makes an immediate impact whenever he steps on the floor. He only hit one 3 last night, but he filled up the stat sheet with 4 board, 3 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block in only 21 minutes. I have a feeling he's close to becoming our fifth starter (with Singler and Mason as the bigs), but at the moment he looks like one hell of a contender for the 6th Man Award (if they have that in college, and I don't think they do). And his physicality is like night and day from last year. When he led that fast break in the second half and took it straight to the hoop, elevating over the defender, he looked like a potential star. Baby Dawk is good people.

Miles Plumlee: F. It's gotten to the point where I almost feel bad about making fun of him. Then he'll boot another pass, or look totally lost on the court, and I get angry all over again. My disclaimer before this next statement is that I have no idea what kind of work ethic Miles has, and I have no idea what his offseason regimen looks like. But really, how can he be this bad? Coach K has utterly lost faith in him (he played a meager 9 minutes last night), and he looks like he belongs in Division II. At some point I'll have to write a whole post about him, because he's basically this year's tragic figure.

Seth Curry: B-. Unfortunately, he's not making a huge impact when he enters games quite yet. I hope that changes, and I think it will. I'm just not sure how much. He's definitely behind Young Threezy on the depth chart, and that certainly doesn't look to change anytime soon. Still, he's a pure shooter, so there will always be a place for him on the floor. Because of that, he'll have ample time to gain comfort. I'm wondering now if his strength isn't lacking a bit, and if that's preventing him from asserting himself. Then again, maybe it's just a rhythm thing, and he'll be great within 5-10 games. I definitely don't seem him fully in the flow of the offense yet, but experience should cure that. In the meantime, I'm changing the name of the blog to "Kyrie Irving Eats a Pancake."

Ryan Kelly: B-. This is a tough evaluation to make. He started, but Coach K must not have liked what he saw, since he only earned 12 minutes of PT. He's a good shooter and has a modest offensive skillset, but against high-level teams I still think he's physically outmatched. Unlike Seth Curry, Kelly doesn't have enough scoring ability to justify his presence on the floor. Especially since he plays on the interior; there's no room for a weak player among the bangers. When it comes to that, Singler is the better option. Between Kelly and Miles Plumlee, they only provided 20 minutes of game time. That means Singler had to play inside for the majority of his 38 minutes. It's not an ideal situation, but I don't see Kelly earning anyone's faith in the interior.

Team Defense: B-. Not a great night. The inside guys were eaten alive at various points, and Marquette had far too many open looks on the perimeter too. Slow rotations, weakness in the paint, and so-so rebounding hindered the cause. We were damn lucky Marquette shot so poorly from three, or a loss might have been in order. The hive was not abuzz. Then again, our mini-spurts were all prompted by turnovers from pressure. We were like a lazy snake that only bites when he absolutely needs to eat.


Kansas State did their part to set up the season's best showdown to date. Pullen had 18, and the Wildcast out-boarded Gonzaga 37-24. Needless to say, this will be a challenge. I'm psyched, but nervous too. I hate Frank Martin, and it would be awesome to watch Coach K get his 800th Duke win against at his expense.

Okay, time to hit that northern highway, my friends. Hopefully we'll talk tomorrow after a huge win. I'll be watching in a hotel bar, drinking draft beer and hurling invective at Jacob Pullen's ugly chinstrap facial hair. There may be some spontaneous poems for Kyrie Irving, too. GO DUKE!

Monday, November 22, 2010

I Can't Believe UNC Lost Two Games

No, I'm serious- I literally cannot believe it. I don't think it's true.

If you look at the box scores and recaps, it says that the North Carolina men's basketball team lost to Vanderbilt yesterday and Minnesota on Friday. And hey, I respect ESPN. I'm not the kind of guy that's going to sit here and call them out for fact errors. They typically do a nice job. But in this case, it's obvious they're wrong.

The Tar Heels didn't lose. You know why? Two words, four syllables: Harrison Barnes.

Oops, sorry. For some reason, that always happens when you mention his full name on the internet. From now on, I'll try to use either Harrison or Barnes by itself.

My point is that there's no way he could have lost even one game, much less two. But first, let's go over what we know about Harrison. Just the facts!

1. He was the first pre-season All-American selected as a freshman, before he'd even played a single game.

2. He hasn't lost a basketball game on any level since 1989, when his father made a lucky fadeaway three-pointer to win a one-on-one game 15-14. Later, it was revealed that young Harrison let him win. As he told his mother that evening, "I must honor my father."

3. When he plays at a gym with windows, birds gather to watch. When he plays at a gym with no windows, birds throw themselves against the exterior, often dying in the process.

4. He has never missed a shot on a regulation court.

5. Defenders guarding have reported that their hands often tingle for up to twenty seconds after touching him.

6. He will lead UNC to at least 6 national titles during his time in Chapel Hill. In one title game, it is written that he will play one half by himself.

7. When his mother took him home from the hospital a day after his birth, the young Barnes saw a basketball in the living room of his new house. He crawled over, found a powder blue magic marker, and wrote "destiny" on the ball. Except he wrote it in Spanish: "Destino." Nobody knows why.

8. He doesn't play chess because he identifies too closely with the king.

9. If he touches a child before the child's first birthday, even inadvertently, that child will dunk at least once in his lifetime.

10. Within ten years, the sport of basketball will be known as "Barnesketball." The dunk shot will be known as a "Harrison." The three-point shot will be illegal. (Yes, illegal; it won't even count for two points.) Dick Vitale will shout out "that's Barnesome, baby!" when he likes something. Every male in America will be named Harrison, and every female will be named Harriet or Barnetha. The name of the planet will be changed to "Captain Barnestown," and anyone who says 'earth' in a public forum will be executed.

Knowing what we know, how is it possible for UNC to lose to schools like Minnesota and Vanderbilt? I mean, they're not even traditional basketball powers! Sorry, world, I'm not buying it. I don't know what happened in Puerto Rico, but it wasn't this. Not to a Carolina team with Mighty Harrison. Can we even trust information coming out of Puerto Rico after the Spanish-American War?

The truth is, North Carolina is still undefeated. They might have already won the championship; I'm not sure. They've definitely clinched the ACC by now. But I'm not going to complain. Some things are etched in stone, and you might as well resent the rising sun. Coach K had his chance. But he got out-recruited by Preacher Roy, and he'll forever rue the day he whiffed on Harrison Barnes.


But enough of that dude. Let's talk Duke. The Devil demolition was in full effect Friday night, and I direct your attention to the top 5 plays, #5 and #2 in particular:

Good lord, did you see that outlet pass? How many times in life does an outlet pass leave you awestruck? Unbelievable, Mason. You are once more the Plumdog Billionaire. FOR NOW.

And #2...sweet molasses. That's Kyrie Irving, everyone. Kyrie Irving. That's his name, baby.

I love when a player gets about five different reactions from the fans in a single play. First there was the tough rebound over a bigger man, eliciting excited applause. "Irving!" said the announcer, chuckling at the athleticism that allowed him to grab the board in traffic. Then he surged downcourt, and the applause became a hum of anticipation, and the hum turned to a higher frequency as he gained speed. Then the behind-the-back dribble happened, and the fans gasped in a synchronized "ohhhhh!" "Oh...my goodness!" gushed the announcer. Then Kyrie reached the basket, laid the ball in reverse, and a short silence took over as it hung on the rim. When it went down, total Cameron eruption. Kyrie fucking Irving. Welcome to hell, Duke haters.

(Side note: I love the interviews after the top 5 plays. Anybody else get the feeling that Nolan Smith is a legitimately hilarious guy? The way he stares at Kyrie at about the 1:45 mark cracks my shit up.

Also, it's worth saying: props to Coach K for not squashing the individual personalities on his team. I hear about some programs banning twitter and other free interactions with the press, and it's super annoying. Part of the team experience is learning about the players, and I'm grateful we have that chance as Duke fans.)

Tonight, we take the show to Marquette. The kiddy games are over. Time to test our bite against the big dogs. ESPN2, 7:30. Get it.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Friday Pick Six: Volume 2, Week 4 (MOVING WEEK!)

Traditionally, Week Four has been known as "Moving Week" in Pick Six competitions. It's a time when those in the middle of the pack can make heroic leaps into the upper echelons; a time when the leaders shudder in fear. This particular Week Four is even more interesting, because the docket I created pissed everyone off completely. There's just a lot of math.

Before we get going, though, I'd like to make a couple points.

1) For the second straight year, the CC Sabathia Cy Young Campaign has fallen short. It was announced yesterday that Seattle's Felix Hernandez won the award, with CC finishing a distant third. Needless to say, we at the Campaign disagree with Major League Baseball, who have clearly relied on obscure metrics that the common man can't understand. Wins and losses, we argue, tell a clear and unbiased story. Instead, the voters seemed to rely on statistics invented by eggheads just to show how smart they are. "Oh look at me," they seem to say, pushing their glasses up their nose. "I use decimals."

Well, we think that's horrible. Horrible for baseball, and horrible for America. Starting next season, the Campaign's tactics must necessarily shift toward the extreme. We've tried talking sense. We've tried using facts (21 wins, GUYS!). But just like last season when Zack Greinke won, a west coast bias has infiltrated the voting majority. They've legislated from the writer's box. They've betrayed us. And in a final outrageous punch to the kidneys, it turns out Felix's son is cloned from Hitler. Or perhaps Kaiser Wilhelm. Definitely someone German.

(Thanks to Spike for photo and comparisons. I stole both.)

2) Tonight, Duke plays the 35-and-under team from the Colgate Toothpaste Factory.


(hilarious toothpaste rant forthcoming...)

Gee, I hope they don't get bowled over by the "Crest" of the Blue Devil wave. They might need an extra "Arm & Hammer" to make sure they stay "Aquafresh." Otherwise, their legs might get heavy and they might make a "Pepsodent" in the floor. If that happens, Coach K court will loose its "Gleem." Then again, maybe it won't be accidental; maybe we'll learn that the team "Mentadent." Maybe they don't like that it's "Ultra Brite." I just hope Colgate forward Brandon James doesn't get quiet in the hostile atmosphere. Then he might not live up to his nickname: "Oral-B." And at the end of the day, I hope everyone stays safe and alive. After all, there's no "Sensodyne." (deep breath, pull myself together, finish strong...) *ahem* I know I'm wandering, but I think you get my TOM'S OF MAINE point.

Man, I wish there were some people here to high-five.

I won't be able to watch the game tonight (heading to Durham to watch Vad Lee make some Pembroke mothas look silly), but hopefully this is the last one I miss this season.

3) If you want to participate in Pick Six, now's the time to get in touch. We may or may not have a slot available for next time (I think we're booked, not exactly sure), but if you want to get on board for the time after, drop me a line at shane.spr8@gmail.com. Pick Six in the subject, if you please.

That'all being said, let's get to it:



The Friday Pick Six is an original SCSD! game where six people make six predictions for six weeks. Along with their picks, they're allowed and encouraged to submit a 'sound-off' on any topic, sports or otherwise. When it's all done, the winner earns great honor among the people, while the two losers are exiled in shame and the three middle finishers go to purgatory, with the chance rescue their good name up to three times. To learn more about the rules, and about the current contestants, read below:

-The inaugural champ and intros to the New Class
-Week One
-Week Two
-Week Three


1. Tom.

Here's how Volume Two looks:

Creatures in Purgatory: Jill, Carrie, Spike
Newcomers: Swetha & Sabreena, Nick E., Mike L.

Standings after Week Three

1. Spike: 12
2. Mike: 10.5
3. S&S: 10.5
4. Jill: 9.5
5. Nick: 7.5
6. Carrie: 6.5

Spike and Jill made up some serious ground last week, scoring 4 points each. For Spike, it means his first week ever as the OVERALL LEADER. Swetha and Sabreena dropped from that spot with a 2-point week. Mike scored 3 to move into a tie for second, while the tough season for Nick and Carrie continued with 2 points apiece.

Let us not forget:


Scores at the halfway point:

Here's how it looks after two weeks:

Guys: 30
Girls: 26.5

The Y-chromosomes extended their lead ever so slightly, but it's still any gender's game.

And now, without further ado, the docket that made everyone want to kill me (seriously, so many complaints). It's a variety pack, with opportunity for SERIOUS points:

1. Bucks vs. Thunder, NBA, Friday: How many points will Durant and Jennings combine for? 5 points for an exact guess, 3 points for within 5, 2 points for within 10, 1 point for within 20.

2. Duke vs. Marquette, MONDAY: How many threes will be made by Young Threezy (Andre Dawkins) and Transfusion (Seth Curry) combined? 5 points for hitting the mark, 3 points within 1, 2 points for within 3, 1 point within 5.

3. Hillside vs. Purnell Swett, high school football, Friday. Senior quarterback Vad Lee, bound for Georgia Tech, is Hillside's biggest star. This is the round of 16 in the 4-A state playoffs. How many yard will he RUSH for? 7 points for an exact guess, 5 points for within 5, 3 points for within 10, 2 points within 20, 1 point within 30. (Vad Lee's statistics can be researched on reesenews.org.)

4. Nebraks vs. Texas A&M, CFB, Saturday. How long will the longest field goal of the game be (by either team)? 5 points for an exact guess, 3 points for within 5 yards, 2 points within 10, 1 point within 20.

5. Carolina Hurricanes vs. Pittsburgh Penguins, NHL, Friday. Take the total points scored by Sidney Crosby and subtract the number of points scored by Eric Staal. Keep in mind, the final number could be negative. 5 points for exact, 3 points for within 1, 1 point for within 2.

6. Boston College vs Holy Cross (Monday, basketball): Total rebounds in the game for both teams. 5 points for within 4, 3 points for within 8, 2 points within 12, 1 point within 16, .5 points within 25 (because I want to give everyone a chance to at least feel a little good about their pick).

We begin with King Felix's court jester:


51, 5, 78, 41, 1, 86


Swetha & Sabreena

In honor of Felix Hernandez's Cy Young victory--a victory for sabermetrics!--and this super crazy number pick-em, we're going with a math theme today: only prime numbers. Also, our previous methods were clearly not working the past two weeks, so we're trying to shake things up. Let's go.

1. Durant averages 28 and Jennings gets 17.1. (By the way, favorite videos with Kevin Durant (1:00 mark) and Brandon Jennings.) That makes 45, but that doesn't fit the theme and both these teams play good defense. FORTY-THREE.

2. Seth has made six threes this season and Young Threezy (great nickname, by the way) has hit 5. The numbers say 5.5. But Duke does really well in these preseason tournaments, so up it one to SEVEN.

3. We know that Vad Lee likes to run, he's going to Georgia Tech where he'll presumably be running the triple option, and he's capable of exploding for big plays. One of us likes fives, so FIFTY-NINE.

4. Only makes sense that Nebraska's Alex Henery would kick this one because Texas A&M's kicker season-long is 40 yards. Seriously, Texas A&M? In keeping with this nuts-o math theme, we're going with the most plausible prime number. FORTY-SEVEN.

5. The numbers tell us 0.32. That's essentially nothing, which is really equivalent to our interest in hockey, unless we're talking about the Mighty Ducks or America. And even then, one of us missed watching the gold-medal game because the Lakers were playing the Nuggets. ZERO. (Asshole Editor's Note: not a prime number)

6. Boston College=38 and Holy Cross=29. That gives us, whaddya know, another prime number! SIXTY-SEVEN.


Slammed at work and no time to be funny. So I will leave you with this.........

Two drums and a cymbal roll downhill

1. 48 combined points

2. 5 from downtown for Baby Dawk and the Namesake

3. Great, the liberal media (aka, this blog) promoting the liberal media (aka, Shane's internet paper). Shane, please note that the photo of you on there makes me think you are going to rape my children and not even have the decency to enjoy it. It's all about the work with you. 83 yards for Vad.

4. 34 yards for an unsung soccer star.

5. Assuming Friday game. Also assuming that points = goals + assists. This is based on my experience with Sega NHL 93. I don't want to hear any bullshit after the fact that points = goals alone. Answer: +1 differential.

6. 65 boards


48. Over the past 5 games, KD has averaged 30.4 points (Jennings averaged 20.0). It gives me warm fuzzies that he has replaced Lebron in the court of public opinion: an unbelievable talent, seemingly humble, respected by all, makes an irrelevant franchise important. Here’s hoping he never takes his talents anywhere near a nationally televised special. Or anyone with herpes. I’m just saying.

6. Duke’s back-up dynamic duo of awesomeness is so entertaining to watch. Every time that Seth Curry is mentioned in an article or on TV, I have an irrational moment of pride for this blog. As if our little community here inspired him to cavalierly come to Duke, return our team to the height of national prominence, and bring home a championship.

83. Don’t be fooled. “Vad” is merely a nickname and seems way too similar to a “Vlad” typo to be a good one. Lavaedeay Lee, ridiculous name and all, is still pretty great. As a junior, he rushed for 600 yards and had 12 rushing TDs. [Side note: Shane shared a link to “help” us research this pick, which just happened to lead to his own two-part article. Not only did we have to decipher this week’s slat of picks, we were forced to read his 6,722 words about high school football to learn anything about this Lavaedeay fellow].

37. Alex Henry, Nebraska’s kicker, has made only one FG from 50+ yards this season (but he is a solid 13 for 14 overall, going 5 for 5 from 40-49 yards). Randy Bullock has never even tried a 50+ yard field goal for Texas A&M this season. While I am always suspicious of people with two first names, Mr. Henry is clearly better. I guess 37 works.

2. [Goals + Assists] – [Goals + Assists] = X. At first, I thought X was the degree of lameness for requiring math to solve a Pick 6 category. Then again, math has never really been my thing. Staal is inconsistent, with flashes of brilliance (like his hat trick on Wed). Regardless, it is pathetic to campaign for an all-star game two months in advance. Maybe he should focus more on point scorin’ and goal makin’ in Real America before he worries about his 2011 election. So: [3 for Crosby] – [1 for Staal] = 2, in reverence to The Great One. Not the man who threw his wife under the bus.

72. My first thought after reading this final pick was “good god, please let this be over soon.” My mind then wandered to seeing Harry Potter tonight, which brought me such joy, even if just for a fleeting moment. Because I then remembered the task at hand and, like a dementor’s kiss, felt my soul being sucked into blackness once again. BC had 38 rebounds in their first game (and averaged 36 per game last season), while Holy Cross had 33 in theirs (and averaged 37 last season). Numbers, math, adding, averaging, whatever it’s almost Deathly Hallows time, 72.

Nick E.

First they came for Tailgate, then they came for my beloved fourloko. The Pick 6 is all I have - time to dig deep for some data.

1. In their last two games against each other, Durant had 33 and 31 while Jennings had 13 and 14. Of course, we'd be remiss if we didn't scale their scoring averages from last year to this year... Since Durant and Jennings are scoring at 93% and and 110% of what they scored last year, respectively, the final tally comes to 44.65. Lets
round up to 45.

2. In their first two games, Threezy and Trans went 6 for 11 and 6 for 9. Marquette and Duke have roughly equal adjusted tempo stats (68.5 and 68.8), so these stats should be scaled pretty well. One key stat is that Marquette's opponents have shot 42.6% from 3, ranking Marquette's 3 point defense 289 out of 333 teams, not to mention that and each of their three opponents are fairly pedestrian 3 point shooting teams. Even though I imagine that against a tough opponent Singler and Smith will take a few more shots, the guys at the end of the bench should get fewer touches as well. Im going to say 7.

3. I'm going to note here that my research is significantly hampered by my inability to get past Shane's brooding countenance at Reesesport. The only stat I could find is that last year he rushed for 600 yards in 10 games. Whatever, I'll go with 75.

4. A & M's Randy Bullock hasn't hit from past 40 this year, so the long will probably be from Nebraska's Alex Henery. He hit one from 52 against Oklahoma St but missed from 46 against Mizzou. Both teams have tough defenses (A&M is ranked 41st in points against at 22.1, while Nebraska is ranked 10th at 17.5), so it should be a low scoring affair
with ample FG opportunities. I'm going to go with 48 yards.

5. Going back to last year, Eric Stall has 5 points in 5 games and the bitch pictured below has the same. Staal has been really hot lately, with 7 points in his last two games. I'm going to put this one at -1.

6. Both teams have adjusted tempos of about 70 possessions per game. Their raw FG% are .481 and .462, so that comes to 33.67 and 32.34 rebounds in this game. 66


1. So, first I had to look up who this "Durant and Jennings" was. I felt good when I found Durant and he played for a basketball team. But where was his partner-in-crime Jennings? Turns out, he plays for the other team. I bet they aren't even friends. Still, let's say they'll come together (right now*) for...40 points.

*Topical humor alert: did you guys hear that iTunes finally nabbed The Beatles? Which is cool because now people can finally listen to their music.

2. Let's go with 4 threes. There was a lot of math involved in deciding upon this answer for me.Yes, it was basic math. Essentially, addition and then division. But I feel really good about it.

3. Oh my god. My brain is breaking. In recent years, I have just barely managed to cultivate an interest in football. Like, at this point, I enjoy when one team scores and I occasionally even understand how it happened. But "rushing yards"? I don't even really know what that distinction means. (Momentary aside: I'm a pretty decent speller, but I almost never get "occasionally" right on the first try.) Gosh, I just don't even know. I like the sounds of Vad Lee and it turns out I have a six-degrees-of-separation connection to Hillside's championship football program, but none of that is helping me here. Ah! 100? Is that a lot? Is that only a little if you're really good and are already in possession of a name that is going to make you sound like a kickass pro player? How the hell am I supposed to know? I don't even mean that rhetorically. I don't know how I am supposed to know.

4. Fifty yards is like world record setting, right?* So, I don't know that these two teams, great mascots that they may have, are capable of setting world records (real or imagined). 43 seems doable, but also moderately impressive. To me.

*No, it's not.

5. Hockey? Seriously? I have heard of Sidney Crosby. I hear good things. He can probably get two goals. I don't know about Eric Staal, but I imagine since he is a professional hockey player, he can probably knock one in. So, 2 minus 1 is 1.

6. I assume total rebounds means offensive and defensive boards for both. I also assume that "because I want to give everyone a chance to at least feel a little good about their pick" is directly specifically at me. But I tell you what, even with those gimme (decimal) points thrown in there, I don't feel very good about this pick. I could do a little research because I do actually know what rebounds are, but I am real sleepy after all this mathing. 20.


Enjoy your weekend, be safe, root for Duke.