Wednesday, January 12, 2011

You Can't Spell Tallahassee without H-E-L-L

Happy Thursday, everyone. Today's post is a special two-parter. I wrote the first part last night, when the anger was fresh. The second part came this morning, when my head was at least a little cooler.


It's 11:30pm right now, and I am absolutely livid. I'm in no state to write rationally about the game that just happened. No state at all. I'm a raging idiot, and I shouldn't be allowed near a computer.

Remember when you were, let's say, 19, and some girl broke your heart? And then you went out and got drunk with your friends but you didn't really enjoy yourself? And then you came back to your dorm room and wrote the single most pathetic e-mail in the history of pathetic e-mails? If you need a refresher, it probably included this exact line: "Let me just tell you, Erica, you have no fucking IDEA what you're giving up right now."


Anyway, that's my state. My girlfriend just asked if I was going to write tonight or tomorrow morning, and after some thought I chose tonight. She just nodded. Clearly, she is female. If she were male, a) hopefully she wouldn't be my girlfriend, and b) she'd have experience with the pitiful angry guy e-mail and physically force me to wait until I cooled out.

But alas, she is not a guy. She is a sanguine member of the lady kind. She cares about unimportant things like the fact that our apartment complex doesn't put salt down when it's icy, even though we have handicapped people downstairs and they could die. That's what she cares about. Me? I just get on the ground and roll everywhere when it's icy. I just roll and roll and roll, and I curse the name of Mason Plumlee to anyone who asks.


Listen, let me get serious. A few things.

1. Before you get all righteous on me, I realize Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith had their issues tonight.

2. Did you hear me? I realize it.

3. Nolan Smith is not a natural point guard. He's a natural scorer, but he doesn't have the court vision of a #1. He forces it into the lane way too often, and many times there's a three-point shooter available on the perimeter. He rarely kicks it.

4. Kyle Singler is clutch as hell, but he disappears for long stretches. And he took that crazy long 3 which everybody is pissed about.

5. I realize this. I promise you I realize this.

6. But listen: They had to do it all on their own.

7. I'm serious, please hear me on this one. They had to do it all on their own.

8. Completely.

9. Totally.

10. On their own.

11. With a tiny bit of help from Seth Curry and Dawkins.

12. Do you understand how good Florida State is defensively? Does anybody get that? They're a top 20 team defensively! They are really, fantastically good on defense.

13. It is so near to impossible for a group of guards, any group of guards, to overcome that type of defense with EXACTLY NO HELP from their big men.

14. And they almost did it. They really almost did. It's hard to believe how tough and resilient Nolan and Kyle are.

15. Yes, they turned it over. Yes, they jacked up some ill-advised shots. When you're shouldering a heavy load, that's what happens. You know how in the abstract it seems really awful when people yell at children? How they seem like total villains and you can't imagine how they could direct any bile at perfectly innocent creatures?

16. The act of being around children consistently cures you of that piety. Kids can be an absolute pain. And the people that have to co-exist with them constantly have moments when they break. So they yell, and they look like assholes.

17. That's what Kyle and Nolan did tonight. You shoulder something long enough, you have moments of weakness.

18. But like overworked parents, they were all on their own.

19. I'm repeating myself now, aren't I?

20. Too. Fucking. Bad.

Enough with the numbers. It's time to get to Mason Plumlee. I'm not even going to touch Miles, because he's so terrible Coach K sat him on the end of the bench after 6 minutes. But Mason...


I could just enumerate all the flaws, like I've done ad nauseam in a lot of posts this year. You're probably bored of it by now. I'd be bored of it by now, if I didn't have the anger to sustain me. But let's change it up. Let's just re-visit one possession.

Florida State ball, up 61-58. 53 seconds remaining. Duke has a chance to make a defensive stand, get the ball back, and tie with a 3. It has been an absolute nightmare of a game. Every time we threaten to come back (and threaten we have, erasing deficits of 12 and 7 on different occasions), we're submarined by turnovers or sloppy play or an improbable FSU shot. A lot of this is down to Mason Plumlee. His defensive rotation has been worse than ever, he can't get a single offensive board, and he will end the game with exactly 2 points in the paint. The lowlight comes on an easy offensive rebound that he somehow throws directly off the backboard without even attempting to direct the shot toward the rim.

Here we go. 53 seconds. The Duke defense is strong. Florida State has no rhythm, and they're barely even avoiding a 5-second call. Singleton receives the ball at the top of the key. There are less than 10 seconds left on the shot clock. He drives...and Mason Plumlee commits a lazy, stupid foul.

Just like he's done all night. That's number 5. Singleton nails both, and the game is effectively over.

And if that's not the perfect microcosm of Plumlee's play, you show me what is. Because I can't find it. I literally lost my cool when that happened. I'd been screaming and pacing for at least 20 minutes, but that's when I blew it. The sound I made wasn't a masculine yell or a stoic curse. It was a high-pitched, disbelieving emission of pure premium rage. All that wasted time, the defensive effort, for a stupid game-ending foul.

The stress of the road distilled into undignified failure. I wanted to puke.

2 points in the paint. And to people who said they needed to get him the ball more, I ask this in all sincerity: are you kidding?

Have you ever seen this guy make one effective post move? He has a highly inaccurate half-hook, and an even less reliable fadeaway jumper. That's IT. That's all he has, and they never go in. And that's against mediocre defense. You want to give him the ball against Florida State's interior? Tell me, what good would come of it?

Nolan and Kyle were absolutely on an island. Ryan Kelly spent most of the game missing threes or whining after committing obvious fouls. Seth Curry showed signs of aggression, but he's still very unpolished. Dawkins needs to get over his timidity yesterday, because we need his scoring.

And here's one for Coach K too: the full court press should have been on the whole game. Florida State turns the ball over at one of the highest rates in the country. We should have been in their faces from the first minute, and Tyler Thornton should have had at least 10 minutes of playing time to wreak havoc. At least. Great adjustment when it came, but a simple glance at the stats should have been enough to initiate the pressure immediately.

I honestly don't even want to hear criticisms of Nolan and Kyle right now. Remember Stephen Curry's senior season at Davidson, when all the good guards had left and opposing teams dogged him for 40 minutes? He had some struggles, and this isn't too much different. Great players are going to make mistakes and look bad when nobody has their back.

I'm honestly proud of those two. They almost won a game on their own. When Duke was down 40-29, the biggest deficit of the game, I tweeted this:

This is miserable, and I'm a pessimist, but guess what? This team is too good not to at least make it close. This won't be a rout.less than a minute ago via web

You just knew it would happen. They're too good to go down easy. I was chatting with my pal Chris who, believe it or not, is actually more cynical than myself. When I'm playing the role of the positive person, it's trouble. But I knew they'd come back, as did most Duke fans. At least that's what I imagine. And come back they did.

That's what frustrates me the most. FSU was on the run. The press was giving them fits, we managed to tie the game at 52, and they were scared at home. But we blew it because Mason Plumlee couldn't give us any help.

And don't get me wrong. Florida State played very well. This is a good team with a so-so coach who will probably be inconsistent all year. But this wasn't a fluke. It was an ACC road game. In ACC road games, the team shoots better than their average. FSU is a 42% field goal team with a 33% three point percentage. Against Duke, it was 44% and 46%. It happens.

In ACC road games, Duke will shoot poorly. 31% from the field, 31% from three. They'll turn the ball over 15 times. They'll get nothing inside, and the crowd and energy will carry the home side.

Still, we have two very special players who are unique for having returned after starring on a national championship teams. This makes them capable of winning trap games like this. And that's what makes this so infuriating. With just a little assistance, that game was ours.

Quickly, let's revisit the points from yesterday and see how they panned out. We'll start with the FSU strengths:

1) They're big. 3rd in the country in average height, and 34th in effective height. If the performance of Reggie Johnson and Jordan Williams is any indication, Chris Singleton in particular could be in for a big night. Their guards are very big, too. They'll have at least 3 inches on every guard except Dawkins.

It killed us. It nullified our entire offense. It seemed like our only choice was to shoot threes.

2) They defend the 2 very, very well. They're 4th in the country, in fact. They're not going to give up many mid-range jumpers, and the height of their guards and bigs means Nolan and Kyle will have their hands full driving the lane. Worse, the Noles are first in the country in block percentage. They get a block on 19.6% of their opponent's possessions.

They held Duke to a season-low from inside the arc. They only came away with 2 blocks, but 9 steals and 15 forced turnovers rendered that stat fairly meaningless.

3) They defend the 3 very, very well. 14th in the country. This is down to the height, length, and quickness of their guards. We won't be getting many uncontested, wide-open threes. They'll be playing aggressive man-to-man, and if the Tallahassee crowd shows up with energy, scoring could be a struggle.

31% from three and an 0-10 beginning. THEY ARE WHO WE THOUGHT THEY WERE.

Now the reasons that Duke might win:

1) They (FSU) turn the ball over quite a bit. They're 311th out of 345 teams in terms of turnovers per possession. That's bad, and it's even worse against a team like Duke who creates a ton of frontcourt pressure (38th in the country at forcing turnovers.

We forced 15 turnovers, but it frankly wasn't enough and could have been more. Again, the press should have been on from the beginning.

2) They can't shoot. That goes for threes, twos, and foul shots.

Like we saw, this was not the case. And again, that happens on the road in conference.

I've effectively let some of the anger drain. It's 12:18pm. I'll be posting this in the morning, and this here is the demarcation. We'll see if tomorrow brings perspective. For now, it's dream time. Angry, angry dream time.



And it's the morning time. Birds are chirping, the sun is out, and the world continues.

Luke Winn had a great follow-up article for CNNSI, and it contains this gem from the press conference:

Mike Krzyzewski was the opposite of devastated when he took the podium after Wednesday's loss. He smiled as he answered questions. When a reporter's iPhone -- doubling as a digital recorder -- began vibrating and interrupting some effusive praise of Seminoles forward Chris Singleton, who scored 18 points and hit clutch free-throws down the stretch, Krzyzewski refrained from pulling a Mike Sherman. The Duke coach merely picked up the phone, read its screen, and announced that there was a message from "coach" to meet at Jake's, a Tallahassee tavern. "I told him not to call me on someone else's phone," Krzyzewski joked.

Pretty witty, even though the call was from 'coach,' not to him. Still. Coach K routinely surprises me with his sense of humor.

The loss still stings, but I think Coach K's attitude is the right one. It's not the end of the world. It was so aggravating to me last night simply because we had a chance for a comeback win at the end, but we're still ACC favorites. Here are my main long-term takeaways:

1) I agree with Coach K; without Kyrie, this is a team with the potential to be good but not great.

2) I do not think this is a national championship team. I wanted to wait til the morning to write that to see if I really believed it. But as of now, no, this team is far too vulnerable. With no strength underneath, one bad shooting night spoils the apple, and there will always be a rough shooting night somewhere along the line in the NCAAs.

3) If Kyrie comes back, everything changes. For now, though, this looks like Duke teams we've seen in the recent past. Rock solid at guard, weak inside, and maybe lacking toughness in tense situations. The only difference this time around is the excellence and reliability of Singler and Smith. They're the reason we didn't get run off the floor last night.

4) Florida State is a pretty good team. I imagine they'll continue to lose games they shouldn't lose due to so-so coaching and inconsistent offense, but it's worth remembering that they've already beat a very good Baylor team and held Ohio State to 58 points. Nebraska, Alabama, and Texas are the three teams above them in the 2-point field goal defense category, and with FSU's tougher strength of schedule, it's easy to believe they're the best in the country. This is a team you really don't want to face in an elimination setting.

5) I was not being hyperbolic about our big men. The situation is impossibly dire. If our bigs were a price, they would be prohibitive.

Let's move on quickly to some links.

-Really fantastic article from The Atlantic on the Karen Owen saga. It's nice to hear an intelligent, non-reactionary female go in-depth on what anyone with a brain can see is a really heartbreaking and pitiful tale of low self-esteem. Even though some have taken issue with its portrayal of the University, I think the author's focus was more set on Owen herself and the culture at large, not Duke specifically.

In my head, Duke is divided into three concepts. I'll use letters now since I'm sort of maxed out on numbers.

A) The University I attended, with its beautiful campus and its collection of decent and, yes, entitled students.

B) The ogre of popular imagination, full of the privileged and wannabe-privileged young conservative types I rarely interacted with during my own stay. I learned about "The Duke 500"- a group consisting of the best 5 fraternities, the best 4 sororities, and the lacrosse team- late last year. Which should give you some indication of my own social standing in college. Not only was I not a member of the cool set; I didn't even know about them.

C) The basketball team. Following the Devils is endlessly entertaining and fulfilling. In my head, and even in the campus reality, they are completely divested from the rest of the embarrassing bullshit.

And that's why the FSU loss is the proverbial No Big Deal. The season rolls on, and the hunt for a second improbable title continues.


  1. Did you crib that break up story from The Social Network? Because her name was also Erica. I mean, I guess if you are going to steal, steal from Aaron Sorkin, but I'm surprised at you, Shane.

  2. Who cares about the basketball game? What are the Hot Potato standings?!?!?

  3. Ahh i agree with everything u just said, i cannot wait for the third bumlee (yes they are now called the bumlees after last night) brother to arrive on campus next year.

  4. I keep finding myself getting really mad at Nolan Smith every time he drives into 4 defenders and fails to kick out to an open Curry or Dawkins waiting on the wing, hands at the ready, just behind the 3pt line. I get mad because I care. As for the Plumlees, I guess I've written them off barring some Zoubek-esque transformation.

    As for the three concepts of Duke, I 100%concur. As a kid from California, I had no clue what a debutante was, or why the dude from Chappaqua in my dorm was a total prick and had a brand new BMW. I avoided the Greek scene and I still never heard of the Duke 500 until now. I think this quote from The Atlantic stings, but is true: "It’s a university whose thoughtful students are overshadowed by its voraciously self-centered ones." I loved my experience at Duke, but I am aware that it was only a small piece of what goes on in the "gothic wonderland"...

  5. Excellent article today. I am impressed with how well you analyzed the game and made the recap fun to read for someone who really doesn't care about college bball anymore (now that Steve Donahue is at BC and all but one of the good Cornell players left.. But what a couple of years it was!). Although I didn't watch it, I did half-ass follow the Duke game on Florida St is always dangerous because, like you said, they win games they should lose and lose games they should win.

    I wish I was still the Duke fan I once was back in elementary and middle school. This blog is making me consider putting up that ol' Duke banner that hung in my childhood room for 10 years.

    But then again, the Knicks are back baby!

  6. Carrie, believe it or not, I haven't even seen that movie yet. BUT IT'S ALWAYS ERICA.

    Nasty, I'll post them tomorrow. I can tell you that Carrie has back-to-back perfect picks, and is ahead of second place by 7 points and ahead of third by 15. She's dominating.

    Yeah Keith, at least this next one is taller, I guess? As I've said before, not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing.

    Jonny, you and I sound like we had similar experiences. I stayed away from the frat scene too and my main memories are taking good writing courses, making films, hanging out with friends, and doing things like studying in the gardens. The few brushes I had with the ugly side of Duke were definitely ugly, but that's how it goes.

    Thanks Jacob. I watched the Knicks quite a bit over vacation, and it kinda sucks for me that I'm back in NC where they're not on every night. I had a passing thought to order an NBA package, but then I figured that would be stupid. But yeah, for the first time in a long time I care about the Knicks. It's nice. AND GET BACK INTO DUKE!


  7. Love your posts. Very insightful and thoroughly entertaining. I've been a Moody Blue since I was a freshman in 1986. Go Devils!

  8. one of the more insightful numbered lists i've seen in some time. good work.

    im no dukie, but one of my early visits to durham pretty much sums up your theory about the three concepts of duke:

    1- admiring the beauty of the campus in the early spring and then playing pickup hoops for 3 hours with a bunch of gym rats (people who play that much ball = OK in my book);

    2- being shocked by the campus-wide celebration after a duke march-madness victory and getting excessively inebriated thereafter with random delirious fans; and

    3- getting into a fight later that night with two suit-clad fraternity brothers (phi psi, i think?) after i told one of them that his BMW 3-series was for people who couldn't afford "real" Beemers. (i drove a '94 cherokee at the time, i dont know why i said this).

    -Craig J.

  9. Hackey, I'm jealous, you got in on the ground floor. You may not have seen the title, but you're one of the hardcore old-schoolers. That's instant street cred among the Moody Blues. You're kind of like the dude who was at the 3/23/93 DMB show at Trax in Charlottesville, you know? I mean, am I right??? (Oh God, I've revealed damaging information about myself, haven't I?)

    I think I remember that first visit, Craig, if it was freshman year. Always a good time when the Codders came to visit. And I can easily picture you saying that to the frat guys. Fucking hilarious.


  10. I also agree, I am a total dick. And Duke needs a bigman who ain't afraid of making a damn basket.

    Dr. K