Thursday, March 31, 2011

OPENING DAY! The 2011 Yankee Offense Preview

It occurred to me as I was waking up this morning that in approximately 6 hours, Robinson Cano will be unleashing that sweet swing on a Justin Verlander fastball up in the Boogie-Down Bronx, bringing the cityfolk to their feet and ushering in the springtime.

That's right: on my calendar, spring doesn't start on a specific day, or when the weather turns nice. It starts when Robinson Cano gets his first base hit. In the future, there will be no spring. In the past, there was no spring, but people didn't realize it. And you know what? I'm not sure which is sadder.

It's also "Opening Day," except Opening Day is now weird. The first games used to fall on a Monday, which was fun and exciting. Then they started having a single Sunday game in Japan or Europe or somewhere, and that was no big deal. Now, it starts on a Thursday, except there are only 6 games.

Hmmm. I understand starting earlier. MLB wants the World Series to end in October rather than November, and that's cool. Probably a good idea. But could they at least have had every team play on the same day rather than doing this weird Thursday/Friday split?

Opening Day, when it's packed with teams, is one of the best days in sports. In fact, it's probably top 5. Here's my list of the greatest sports days (in some cases, two days) of the year. Note that these are team-independent. A Yankee World Series would top any of these, but I'm going to treat each event as though my favorite team isn't involved. Sound off in the comments if you've got one I forgot, or just disagree with the order.

10. Super Bowl Sunday

I put it at #10 largely to make a point: Super Bowl Sunday is overrated. The halftime show is usually bad, the commercials aren't as good as advertised, and, when I was a kid, the football stunk. In recent years the games have been pretty awesome, so that part of the bargain is upheld. But though it's exciting to see any championship, Super Bowl Sunday just doesn't give me the chills like it should.

9. Conference Championship Weekend, College Basketball

It's the perfect appetizer for March Madness. On Saturday, the schedule is chock full of championships and semifinals, and you could easily spend an entire day sitting on the couch digesting basketball. On Sunday, you have the ACC and Big 10 title games (and the SEC too, maybe?), and then the incredible Selection Show. Every team and fanbase in America is optimistic at 6pm on Sunday. It's the ultimate anticipation.

8. New Year's Day Bowl Games

These were better when I was a kid, when the schedule wasn't so spread out, but it's still pretty great. The games start at 11am and continue throughout the early afternoon until the Rose Bowl around 4. That's usually a classic, and now they through another BCS game in at night for good measure. (By the way, if the NCAA ever wises up and institutes an 8-team playoff, the quarterfinal round will immediately jump to like #3 on this list.)

7. Masters Sunday

This is a classic case of the hype working. At some point in history, serious white men decided that the Masters would be a holy, revered tournament held in awe by golfers and fans alike. And it worked. I hate myself for admitting this, but Jim Nantz's voice over that soft Masters music still gives me goosebumps. And on Sunday, you can just feel the nerves coming off the players. They want so badly to win, and golf is the most pressure-packed of all sports. The country's eyes are on every shot. You can't beat it for drama.

6. The First Saturday, College Football

And I don't mean whatever nonsense 'Kickoff Classic' thing they do on the Thursday before (which, depressingly, always seems to involve Virginia Tech). It's the first chance to see every team and get back into the Saturday rhythm of watching games. There's usually a couple top-25 match-ups, along with some Alabama vs. Jackson St. type games, and somehow the combination works perfectly.

5. The Wimbledon Sweet 16

Because the British are pretentious, they have a tradition where they don't play tennis on the first Sunday of the tournament. Their hoity-toitiness has a positive effect, though; it means the 16 men remaining in the draw all play on the second Monday. It's a jam-packed day, with eight matches between the world's top players. At least five of them end up being classics. For my money, it's the best tennis day of the year. If you look closely in the audience, you can even see British fans almost smiling. (And by the way, the Brits don't call it the 'Sweet 16'...that would be too awesome.)

4. The World Series, Game 1

Still a lot of magic here. It can be hard to get fully involved if the Yanks aren't playing, which is why I put it at number four. Still, though, as a culmination of the longest season in sports, this is a title that's truly earned. There's an emphatic tension before every game, and when you combine that with the feeling of things coming to an end, so pronounced in fall, you have a recipe for immediate nostalgia.

3. Opening Day, Baseball

Wonderful. The best pitchers are throwing, most teams still believe they have a shot to fight for the playoffs, and FUCKING BASEBALL IS BACK! What more do you need?

2. Ryder Cup Friday

Only happens once every two years, but it's always incredible (or almost always; the weather travesty of 2010 is something I'd very much like to erase from my brain pronto). Not only can we get our patriotism on, and not only does it give us an excuse to hate Europeans like they deserve, but it reveals a golfer's character better than any other event. Do they have trouble playing with a teammate because they're arrogant and egocentric like Tiger? Are they gamers who would rather cut off their left hand than lose a match for their country/continent? Do they somehow thrive with a partner even though they falter under pressure on their own, like Sergio? Are they inveterate chokers? Just an incredible event.

1. March Madness Thursday/Friday

It will never be beat.

So today is #3. That is some goooood stuff, my friends. Yesterday, after a brief foray into unseemly topics, we previewed the Yankee pitching. Now, the offense.


1. Will Teixeira get a hit sometime before August?

The Yankee first baseman is now famous for his slow starts. At the end of May last season, he was batting .221 with a .725 OPS. At the end of June, it was .231 with a .754 OPS. These are not Mark Teixeira numbers. And even though Girardi was like a broken record with his oft-repeated proclamation that "by the end of the year, the numbers will be where they need to be," it didn't quite come true. Tex ended hitting .256 with a .481 slugging % and an .846 OPS, all well below his career averages. Then he went 4-27 in the playoffs (0-14 against Texas), looking like nothing so much as a guy who just couldn't hit good pitching. So the question lingers: is the book out on Teixeira? Is he the kind of hitter who can only rake against the dregs of the league? Will we be watching him wave a curveballs in the dirt all season, or has he improved? This is a huge concern.

2. Is A-Rod back?

I use "back" very loosely, because even in his off years he's pretty fantastic. But I'm wondering if he has one more MVP-caliber season in him. Something along the lines of .600 slugging, 1.000 OPS, .400+ OBP. His spring training performance seems to indicate that it's a real possibility. He had six home runs, batted .388, and drove in 15 over a torrid pre-season stretch. Girardi was pretty effusive in his praise on Tuesday: "Alex's spring was unbelievable, there's no other way to really describe it." With Cano behind him in the lineup, there's no reason he can't have an epic year with a bit of luck from the health gods.

3. Jeter, Jeter, Jeter

We know the story from last season. From April until the end of August, he was as light-hitting as they come. .266, with a horrendous .332 OBP mark and almost no power. It seemed like at least 2 out of every 3 at-bats ended with a ground-out to short. Then he started working with hitting coach Kevin Long, the best in the business, and finished the last month and change hitting .287 with a considerably higher OBP of .376. There still wasn't much power, but you'll take those numbers from a lead-off hitter every time. Can we expect more of the same from Jeter? Was it a legitimate improvement at the hands of a hitting guru, or just a small sample size in a larger narrative involving age and dimmed instincts? Jeter hit .342 in the preseason, but Girardi has already left open the possibility that Gardner could lead off against righty starters. He's hedging his bets, so that probably means we should be, too.

4. What's the outfield status?

Curtis Granderson may be the most important player on our team. Like Jeter, he struggled for the majority of the year, hitting .243 with a godawful .314 OBP through the end of August. And it didn't look he could have made contact against a left pitcher if his bat had the circumference of a fully grown tree trunk. But like Jeter, he went to Kevin Long and began to turn things around. He raised his September average to .263 with a .362 OBP, and his power numbers took a huge jump (OPS went from .747 to .958). Then he destroyed in the postseason, going 10-28 as one of the few Yankee bright spots. After a torrid spring, he suffered an oblique injury, but the Daily News is reporting that he'll start today. I'm feeling real good about Grandy.

Ditto for Swisher. He's another Kevin Long protege, and he's coming off the best season of his career. If he worked as hard this offseason as he did the one before, it's not unrealistic to expect his season OPS to end above .900 for the first time. The only question I have about Swisher is his OBP. It took a slight dip last season due to the fact that he took only 53 walks (compared to 97 the year before), and his power numbers stayed basically the same. Is it better to hit for a higher average and get more total bases, or to get on base more often and work the opposing pitcher? It's a difficult thing to evaluate, though Fangraphs gives his 2010 season a slight edge in wOBA (my favorite stat) and Wins Above Replacement.

As for Gardner, well...he has to prove he's more than just a slap hitter. Until that happens, I don't see him having a very extensive future with the Yanks. He's a dynamo once he's on base, and his .383 OBP was nice last year, but we need to see more improvement. He got exposed in the playoffs, and it was a gaping hole in our lineup against Texas.

5. What the hell is happening with Posada?

He's the primary DH, and he'll also play first base occasionally. It looks like his catch days are all but over, which, frankly, has been some time coming. I mean, the dude is turning 40 in August. We can't expect him to excel defensively. It's enough to ask that he adds some pop at the DH. Russel Martin will start behind the plate, with Gustavo Molina backing him up (Cervelli is on the DL). The Yanks have two very good catching prospects in Austin Romine and Jesus Montero, and it wouldn't surprise me if one of them sees some time with the club later in the year.

6. Finally, will Robinson Cano ruin baseball by being too good?

It's always a possibility, and a terrifying one at that, but in the end you have to lean on this: how can something so beautiful be bad? Am I right? You da man, Robinson.

(And seriously, if this game gets rained out, I will be furious. I'm heading north on a plane tomorrow, and if it gets delayed I'll probably miss most or all of the first game. NOT COOL, GUYS.)

See you tomorrow for some Yankee thoughts and a Final Four preview.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The 2011 Yankee Pitching Preview

It is time for:

Opening Day is tomorrow, and the Yanks get things started at 1:05pm in the House that God Built against the Tigers. It's a classic Sabathia-Verlander duel to jumpstart the season and show all the Yankee haters that they're in for a long season of frustrated tantrums in THEIR MOTHER'S BASEMENTS.* This is supposedly "not our year," if you believe the chatter. Too many question marks in the lineup, too many vacancies in the staff. Well guess what? We'll see. (As far as votes of confidence go, that's all I can muster at the moment.)

*That's right, I'm changing the stereotype. Right now, the idea is that bloggers live in their mother's basements. Once the new lingo catches on, that changes from blogger to anyone who hates the Yankees. Theo Epstein? Mother's basement. In fact, the entire city of Boston is nothing but mother's basements.

As I've admitted to you all before, I'm the kind of fan who is pretty horrible at following a team in the offseason. I'm as obsessed as they come from opening day to the bitter or joyous end, but at that point something in me turns off. The great part about college basketball and major league baseball is that they basically span the entire calendar. And there's almost no overlap! That allows me to disconnect from one sport at the end of a season, turn to the other, and not miss a beat of game action. It also prevents me from knowing how the hell things have changed while I was away. And it's not that I pay no attention. I know all the trades and acquisitions the Yanks have made. It's just that I've spent no time analyzing it.

So yesterday, I started a thread on my favorite Yankee message board asking for everyone's top 5 concerns. I had my own ideas, but I wanted to see the consensus from the hardcore fans and make sure I didn't say something stupid.

So, newly armed with knowledge and ready to begin a season-long obsession, I've come up with the top 20 concerns at the start of the 2011 campaign. Some of them are fake. Today, we present the first half: pitching.


1. Is Hughes a legit #2 starter?

Hmmm. Is he ready? He had a fairly strong season last year in some respects, winning 18 games, but he tapered off at the end of the year and finished with an ERA north of 4. After a nice start against Minnesota in the divisional round of the playoffs, he struggled mightily against Texas. Some thought he got exposed, others that he just had a couple poorly-timed bad starts. But after a scintillating start to the year, his last 12 appearances weren't too impressive; 59 innings, 53 hits, 4.42 ERA. Those aren't second-starter numbers. At least not in the AL East. Hughes is a big question mark.

2. What about Hughes' obsession with police uniforms?

I personally don't think it's a big deal if he dresses up like a cop now and again; everybody has their own thing. But honestly, how long before that's not good enough anymore? How long before he takes it a step too far and actually impersonates a cop, arresting someone on the street? Then you have legal problems and everything else, and that could really hurt the team.

3. AJ Burnett: WHAT'S THE DEAL?

Can he come back from whatever the hell happened last year (rumors abounded, from a messy divorce to alcohol issues to something involving pitching coach Dave Eiland) to give us a solid season at #3 in the rotation? I mean, I don't think anybody would deny that the dude has some of the sickest stuff in the game. His curve can be devastating, his fastball moves, and at his best he's dominant in a way that only 10-15 other pitchers in the league can manage. But last year's 5.26 ERA with only 145 strikeouts in 187 innings (and 204 hits)? Not going to cut the mustard. I mean, Girardi barely had confidence to throw the guy in the playoffs. For $16.5 million, I think we can expect a little more.

4. Will Burnett keep writing his racist blog, "WhiteTimes"?

Look, I respect freedom of expression, but I think it really divided the guys last year. Maybe if he just wrote it and stopped promoting it all the time, it'd be better? I don't know. I just hope Girardi doesn't get roped into doing another guest post this year.

5. What about Ivan Nova? What about the 5th starter, whoever it may be?

As you can see, the top three concerns are all related to starting pitching. The Yanks were really banking on getting Cliff Lee, and it threw them for a loop when he chose Philly. Failing that, they hoped like hell that Andy would be back, but retirement proved too strong a lure. We know what we'll get from CC, but starts 2 through 5 are huge question marks, and the deeper you get, the bigger that question mark becomes.

Nova will be playing his first full season with the Yanks. He's a pretty well-regarded prospect, but nobody quite knows how he'll fare, especially so soon. His fastball averages around 93-94, and he throws a cutter about 1 in every 4 pitches. He'll go to the changeup infrequently, and that's about it.

Freddy Garcia should begin the year as starter #5, especially after his decent outing yesterday to close out spring training against the Tigers.

There are two reasons why these guys are so important. The first is obvious: we can't make the playoffs without some production from the 4-5 spots in the rotation. The second may be even more important: if they can't perform, it means we'll probably sacrifice a top prospect, maybe even Jesus Montero, for a starting pitcher somewhere near the trade deadline. And that would be kind of a shame.

6. Is SuperNova too obvious a nickname for Ivan Nova?

And what if he's bad? What's a hilarious nickname for a guy with the last name Nova who stinks? If he was white, it'd be a no-brainer: the White Dwarf. That would almost be a perfect nickname. Can we maybe ignore that he's not white? Is that too much of a stretch? And how about Garcia? He'll probably be bad, so we should get on this now. Is it better to just make it something sarcastic, like Freddy Franchise?

7. What's the bullpen look like?

Pedro Feliciano, one of our main offseason acquisitions, will be starting the year on the DL and probably won't return until early May. Rafael Soriano is the biggest add, and hopefully he'll live up to his $7.25 million salary. He's clearly the closer-in-waiting, which is fine, and it'll be awesome to have him as an 8th-inning guy. Joba is still around, unpredictable as ever, and he'll probably be competing with Robertson for 6th-7th inning duties. For long relief, we've got Boone Logan and Bartolo Colon. Luis Ayala, a righty, was the last man added to the roster yesterday. The big concern here is that With Marte on the 60-day DL and Feliciano out, Logan is our only lefty. Still, all in all the pen looks pretty solid. At least one ESPN writer is calling it the best in the bigs.

8. Who's going to play point guard on our bullpen basketball team?

I think we're really lacking at the point position, and I don't see a good answer. Sure, Logan is a strong center, and Joba and Colon are great at crashing the boards from the power forward. But we all know Robertson is more a shooter than a penetrator, and Ayala is a glorified cheerleader at best and a coward at worst. That leaves Soriano for the point, but he's always been defined as more of a slashing guard, and I worry that changing his position so late in his career will give him a complex and hinder his confidence.

9. Seriously, how much time does Mariano have left?

Father Time can play forever, motherfucker. Ask again and you'll get a one-way ticket to the headbutt factory. And guess what? I'm the foreman.

10. How's Mariano's bald spot doing?

He's gone past the 'Buddhist Monk' stage. His nickname for this year is "Siddhartha." Also, try to find a picture of his bald spot online. You can't do it. I think Mariano controls the internet.

Tomorrow: the offense. And don't forget to let us all know your precise CST.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

SCSD! Wins Gothic Madness, plus the FUTURE (ooOOooOOOooo)

Ladies and Gents, the final numbers are in, and we have a Gothic Madness champion:

Seth Curry Saves Duke!

Final standings:*

*Nobody has any of the current teams in the final game, so the pool is officially kaput.

1. Seth Curry Saves Duke - 10710
2. Crazie-Talk - 9670
3. The Devils Den - 9560
4. DukeHoopBlog - 9410
5. Devilwolfing - 9360

As if there was another possibility. AS IF.

This reminds me of the time a small child on the street suggested that Seth Curry Saves Duke! might not win the Gothic Madness pool. I nodded, keeping my cool, and asked him what his favorite subject in school was. He said history. I took out a globe, poured gasoline on it, and lit it on fire. Then I spun it around. And around. And around. That child saw a burning world, twisting away on the sidewalk, smelling like burning plastic, and he will never love history again. The Moody Blues erase history.

I'm just saying. There was never a doubt. Oh, and congratulations to our boy T. Hunter for winning the individual contest. You are the moodiest of all the blues, homes.

And while we're talking about the blog, I'd like to give you all a heads-up about the future of SCSD:

1) Very soon, probably within the month, I'll be making the leap to The new site will be hosted on Wordpress and will hopefully look a lot nicer than this one. There may be some advertisements. Most sentences will look like this one:

Hey, guys, you know what's awesome? Jeans.

Just kidding on that last part.

2) I'm sort of undecided on the format of the blog going forward. Duke basketball will be a mainstay, but the offseason is the question. Should I cover the Yankees, cover Duke basketball, or make this a Duke sports blog? There's problems with each. Covering the Yanks is probably what I'd most like to do, but it's difficult to get a piece of that action with a blog name that doesn't reference the team at all. Covering Duke bball is tough because not much goes on in the offseason and, try as I might, I'm not that interested in covering recruiting. And making it a Duke sports blog would be fun, but does anyone really care?

And speaking of recruiting: while I don't particularly enjoy covering it, I do enjoy reading about future Duke recruits. If there's someone out there who's got their eye on the Duke recruiting scene anyway and would like to write something on a weekly basis, drop me a line. I'd like to keep at least a tentative link to that world over the offseason.

Anyway, I wouldn't mention any of this if I didn't particularly enjoy my readers and think you all should have at least a vague heads-up of what's happening between now and summer. And if you have some advice, by all means hit me up. One way or another, the writing style and content won't change. I'll still spend most of every post dragging the discourse down to a level so low and crass that only the basest slice of humanity will want to read. And just when you think the blog might have value, there will be a picture of Coach K trying to bone a wildcat.

Now, because we're in the middle of the week and there's not much going on, I'm going to advertise the first ever SCSD! Mailbag.

Unlike most people who use a mailbag type format, I do not have nearly enough e-mails to sustain the feature on a regular basis. I'll be running this feature like once a month, max. Also, if you don't want your name publicized, I'll make them anonymous in that timeless Dear Abby style (go to hell, Ann Landers, you fucking HACK!). If you want to contribute to the first ever mailbag slash advice column (likely run date: June 2013), drop me a line at shane.spr8 at You can make it about sports, personal issues, romance, or my particular specialty, dining room etiquette.*

*Sample: When you wrap your napkin around your face for a hilarious bank robber joke, make sure the side that's stained with ketchup is facing inward. Otherwise, your girlfriend will call you disgusting and spend a mysterious hour on the phone with her mother.

That's about all I've got for today. I'll close out with some links and the best comment ever.

First, here's a lengthy but worthwhile article posted in yesterday's comments by bluefaced wherein Rob Kirkpatrick takes on the racial issues surrounding Duke hating. He talks in depth about how all the Duke players that people really hate are white, and how the people hating them are also white. Which leads to a broader issue: why is it that good white players on a team you hate are somehow more annoying? I am not at all immune from this strange racial bias. When I think back on the college basketball players I've really hated in my time as a fan, there are definitely some black players (Khalid El-Amin and Reggie Bullock, I haven't forgotten you), but by and large the white dudes have pissed me off way more. I know I'm not alone on this; white friends have described the same phenomenon. I honestly can't even form a theory as to why this is true. Why must I hate Tyler Zeller with such zeal? Am I a reverse racist? If anybody has an idea, shout it out.

Second, WHOA FOLKS, UCONN AND DUKE TONIGHT FOR A SPOT IN THE FINAL FOUR! The Lady Dukies take on the perennial bastards of the women's game, the UConn Huskies, for a chance to make it to Indianapolis. 7pm. I will watch this game. Go Lady Dukies.

Last, sometimes there's a comment so awesome, so transcendent, so frightening, and so weird, that it must be posted. I was checking the weekend post this morning, and somehow I'd missed an absolute gem from Saturday's Kyrie twitter post. A commenter calling him or herself "Darfur" (your guess is as terrified as mine) had a salient point to make about journalistic ethics. Warning: please only read this if you hate nightmares. It starts out fairly normal, but quickly takes a turn for the bizarre. And then comes back to poignant again, but only if you're an insane person.

Gutter Muck Journalism, is Gutter Muck Journalism. All that is required is a second rate want-a-be excuse for a journalist.

I might be more inclined to believe a person that was not accused of child molestation, and bestiality with a geriatric Chihuahua.

We feel the following post from the Chihuahua Don't Ask...Don't Tell blog, warrants a follow-up.

A recent post from the offended Chihuahua is now accusing the phoney "I am not Seth Curry" blogger with RAPE, after he lured her to a secluded dump under the pretense of actually being a legitimate Chihuahua journalist. Only upon her arrival at the secluded dump did she discover the phoney journalist to be a demented under endowed Tar Baby in Drag.

When the feeble 90 year old Chihuahua realized she had been duped by this SCSD TAR BABY PERVERT, she immediately attempted to make her escape on her speedy Hover Round, only to be overtaken and forcibly sodomized by the under endowed Tar Baby.

Later the Rape charges were dropped after the elderly Chihuahua admitted she did not feel a thing from her would be under endowed Tar Baby Rapists pathetic attempt at intercourse.

The Tar Baby Rapist could not be reached for comment, but according to a recent tweet it appears that the Tar Baby Rapist is on the lamb with its new found lover Harrison Barnes, who is known to go by the alias of “I am not Seth Curry”.

WOW! Lashing together a few raw slanderous assumptions, and calling it journalism is real fun, until you wake up and realize your not an under endowed Tar Baby loser pretending to be a real life journalist.

Just because you were not good enough to get in to Duke, is no reason to be hating everyone who was.

Fear not Tar Baby, as long as there is an MSNBC or Fox News your wishful fantasy career as a journalist shall never die.

It would appear that a job is what you will be needing real soon, if you keep posting unfounded slanderous remarks while using the name and image of another in a clear deceptive manner, while concealing your own is a defamation suit waiting to happen.

Ho-lyyyy shit. Also, if you had to guess what time this comment was posted at, what would you guess? 4:55 in the morning? Correct!

I'd like to state for the record that none of these accusations are true. Ahem. Now, if anybody needs me, I'll be shaking in the fetal position on the bathroom floor. Have a great day.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Weekend of Mercy

To some extent- to some small, merciful extent- the universe has settled into a pattern we can accept. Thursday's painful anomaly will always be on the books, marveled at by historians and celebrated by our enemies, but the karmic wheel of the universe swung back to smite the perpetrators before the dust had even settled.

Here, now, are the acts of mercy from Saturday and Sunday:

Arizona lost

Against Duke, they were 9-15 from three. Against UConn? 4-21. If you add those together, you get 13-36, or 36.1%. Arizona's season average is 39.7%. Welcome to the land of corrections, Zona.

They still grabbed offensive boards at an absurd rate (48.7% compared to 47.1% against Duke compared to a 34% team average),* but their effective field goal percentage fell from 61.1% to 42.6%. Most important of all, their offensive efficiency, which at 134.8 was the best single-game effort Duke had ever faced since they started keeping stats in 1997, fell to a reasonable 108.6.

Sure, we had to watch a few more Momo moments, with the chest pounding and the overwrought stare-downs, and the entire game was full of Derrick Williams' distraught supplications every time a call went against him. But now they're gone. Good riddance.

Butler won

Serious question: is there a succession plan at Duke? We all know that, like a kingdom, a college basketball program is highly dependent on the strength of the monarch/coach. And like a kingdom, we need to have a plan for when ours is gone. Why not Brad Stevens?

Because, seriously, how the hell did Butler make the Final 4 again? Everywhere you look, these guys are barely on the good side of mediocre. The 32nd best offense? The 59th best defense? And these numbers were accumulated in the Horizon League, meaning they're probably a little inflated? I mean, those numbers are okay, but they're not Final 4 good. They're not even Sweet 16 good.

I hate to give too much credit to a coach, but clearly Brad Stevens is able to do things with inferior talent that surpasses the capabilities of all other coaches. Not only is he a master of teaching; he has a definite charisma that infuses a team with self-belief and ensures that they peak at exactly the right time.

In a two-week stretch from late January to early February, Butler dropped 4 of 5. Their opponents weren't exactly forces of nature- Wright St., Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Valparaiso, Youngstown St. Immediately after the last game, they had to play on the road at Cleveland St., one of the best teams in the conference. The timing couldn't have been worse.

Somehow, they won that game by 12. And they kept going, winning their last seven regular season games, two in the Horizon tournament, and four in the NCAAs to make their second straight Final Four.

Along with everything else, Brad Stevens is an excellent game coach. In four games against high-ranked opponents since the tourney began, he had to fight for every small advantage on the way to winning by 2, 1, 7, and 3. Against Florida, he brought on seldom-used freshman guard Crishawn Hopkins late in the game, knowing his team needed a spark. Hopkins hit a huge three and a nice assist in four pressure packed minutes. It was a slight touch from Stevens, but it made a huge difference. He and his team also managed to shut down Florida's inside game in the last 10 minutes, allowing them to overcome a double-digit deficit and send the game into overtime.

Point is, the man is young and awesome. He seems to have 5 main strengths:

A- He loves pinpointing another team's weakness. Using advanced stats and knowledge of his own team's strengths, he's mind-blowingly good at making close games of potential blow-outs. And let's face it, last year's national title game was a great example.

B- He's a natural leader. If his players didn't believe in him, they would not have made the runs they made this year and last.

C- He has a sense of the rhythm of a season. Those bad losses in January don't matter; he knows how to get a team to peak when it matters.

D- He's preternaturally calm. Which is an echo of his leadership; his teams will never panic.

E- Despite being limited by his school, he recruits brilliantly, with a focus on defensive-minded players who will stay at least a few years.

He was interviewed at halftime of yesterday's early game, and apparently he told Billy Donovan in the post-game handshake that Donovan had outcoached him. Which is blatantly wrong, but it was a nice gesture. The truth is, Donovan looked panic-stricken and out of his element in the last 10 minutes, and his team was no different. Butler, meanwhile, was a reflection of the coach; tough, calm, and resourceful.

At a time when a lot of Duke fans, myself included, are questioning the game coaching and recruiting abilities of Coach K (because let's be honest with ourselves; the Michigan and Arizona games were a low point in Coach K's career), it's time to start thinking successor. Stevens is signed with Butler through 2021, but there has to be an opt-out clause somewhere. Is it too early to reach out to him? Shouldn't Coach K want to get on board for the good of the program? Why can't he give a reasonable end date for his career; say...2016? He'll have a thousand wins by then and hold every longevity record in the books. And then we can bring in Stevens, and the Duke program can march on uninterrupted.

I know it's big to bring in former players and alums as coaches, but none of Coach K's proteges are really setting the world on fire. And we shouldn't forget that Coach K himself was an outsider. In fact, most Dukies are outsiders in general, from students to faculty to players to coaches. We're not like Carolina; this isn't a family legacy. Stevens, a former hard-working guard who worked his way up from volunteer duties in a small Indiana school, is a natural choice.

Sound off in the comments if you have an opinion on this. Is it better to go outside the school, or should we bring a Dukie back? If so, who?

Kansas lost

I don't have any special hate for Kansas, but their loss was a reflection of Duke's loss. The Jayhawks' offensive efficiency, 88.6, was their second-lowest of the entire season (87.9 against Texas). Their effective field goal percentage, 37.1%, was their lowest single-game effort since March 4, 2009, against Texas Tech. VCU, a team that normally shoots 37% from 3, made 12 of 25 for 48%. Kansas was 2-21.

I'm not saying the quality of VCU's play had nothing to do with Kansas' failure. But the truth is, it could only matter so much. Kansas is the best field-goal shooting team in the country, and they couldn't make anything on Sunday. Unlike the Duke loss, their own poor play was more responsible for the loss than the excellent play of their opponent, but the result was the same. In the end, they picked the exact wrong day to have a horrible game.

That's what makes the NCAA tournament so difficult to win. Bad luck is always waiting, and if it bites you, there's no second chance.

It feels good, in a weird way, to have all the #1 seeds gone. It proves that we've entered the age of parity, and somewhat diminishes the pain of the Arizona loss. I said this on twitter yesterday, but it bears repeating: the combined total of the Final 4 seeds (26) sets a new record. The previous high was 22 in 2000, when Wisconsin and Carolina both made it as 8-seeds. This is also only the third time in history that no #1 seed has made the Final 4, and it's the first time ever that we won't have a #1 or #2 seed. It's a new day in college basketball.

I have a prediction. VCU is really riding a hot streak right now. They've played some great ball, but they've also been lucky. They benefited from an historically bad Kansas game yesterday, and against FSU they had to shoot 12-26 from three and shoot 56.6% from the field just to eke out a 1-point win. In both games, they were badly out-rebounded but survived due to excellent shooting.

Corrections are coming. I think they're going to run into an experienced Butler team this Saturday that will not only out-rebound them, but also won't miss shots. And they'll play solid defense, and the pressure of big stage combined with the law of averages will reduce VCU to normal or below-average output. I think Butler wins a grind of a game by 8-12 points.

UNC lost

The bad shooting that's plagued the Heels all year finally did 'em in. 3-16 from three just doesn't cut the mustard, and it didn't help that Kentucky had their best shooting performance in over a month. It absolutely killed Carolina to lose Henson for so long; all the Flopsy charges in the world weren't going to make up for the lost defense.

Two generalizations about UNC fans:

1- They don't appreciate Zeller. Granted, I hate the guy, but UNC fans seems to give him a lot of hell for being soft on defense and not tough enough in general. I know this isn't universal, but I've heard it enough from friends and seen it on enough message boards to spot a trend. Guys, he's a dynamo on offense. He's ranked 92nd in the offensive player ratings, and he never misses when he has the ball on the block. This is a valuable dude, and he deserves recognition. Without Zeller, Carolina would have been nowhere near the elite 8.

2- They can't enjoy any success without contextualizing it in terms of Duke. Seriously, the number of Carolina fans whose first instinct after beating Marquette was to say something like "Where's Duke?!?!" was downright pathetic. Here's a tip, gang: when you've advanced further than your rival in a playoff system, it's not about your rival anymore. It's about you. The possibility of meeting your rival again is officially null and void. You can enjoy it without worrying about Duke.

Now that both seasons are over, though, I'll indulge the rivalry and take a look back. The balance of the season could have gone two ways on Sunday:

A- Carolina beats Kentucky. They make the Final Four, which gives them rivalry bragging rights despite Duke's 2-1 season edge. The status of the Final Four, like it or not, puts them over the top.

B- Carolina loses to Kentucky, and the only difference in the tournament is that they got to face an 11-seed in the Sweet 16 while we ran up against a blitzkrieging 5-seed. Our season, on the merit of the 2 victories, is superior.

See you next year, fellas.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

An Update on the Kyrie Twitter Scandal

Note: I know some people are shocked and appalled that SCSD! is tackling this subject. But at this point, a player was run off twitter, police reports have been filed, and there's the possibility of legal action. It's a story, gang, like it or not. And frankly, it's interesting, and we have something to add.

Last week, during the Duke-Michigan game, a twitter account called DukeLvr1989 was registered. You can read the full story here, but the gist is that the person in question began saying horrible things about Kyrie, specifically referencing his mother, who died when Kyrie was young. Kyrie responded, and eventually de-activated his twitter account. Before he did, though, he sent a text message to an account called "Miss Hawaii," thanking her (sarcastically, it's reasonable to think) for everything that had happened. The account of DukeLvr1989 was eventually deleted. With Kyrie and DukeLvr gone, the collective attention turned to Miss Hawaii.

(As of today, Kyrie Irving is back on twitter. @RealKyrieIrving.)

Black Sports Online ran two pieces on her. First, they showed how she filed a police report accusing Kyrie of harassment in Mecklenberg County, where Charlotte (and the location of Duke's opening games) is located. This post included texts Kyrie had sent her, the so-called evidence of harassment. From these, we learned that her name is Jessica.

Second, they found pictures of Miss Hawaii and a craigslist post offering her services as a prostitute in New York. Jessica, responding on twitter, accused the ex-girlfriend of Lakers rookie Devin Ebanks of fabricating the craigslist post out of jealousy, since she had been involved with Ebanks in the past.

(Confusingly, her twitter name used to be "IHateMissHawaii," and it was changed at some point during this whole process.)

Yesterday, on this blog, a commenter posted a long explanation of the interaction between Jessica, aka Miss Hawaii, and Kyrie Irving. I marked it as spam to keep it under wraps until writing this post. I've now put it back in the comment section where it was originally written. This morning, the comment was re-posted from a location in Louisville, Kentucky. Here it is, in its unedited entirety. I've only added a few paragraph breaks for readability:

This has gone on long enough. This is the story on Kyrie Ivring and the fake model Misshawaii. 18yr old Kryie Ivring met 30yr old misshawaii on the internet through a friend. They built a internet based relationship for about a month.

Kyrie Ivring and the Duke blue devils had a 1st and 2nd round tournament games in Charlotte NC. MissHawaii thought it would be a good idea for her to show up in Charlotte for the she and Kyrie could meet. So Kyrie Ivring was at the Epic center with his father in uptown Charlotte where he saw misshawaii for the first time in person. He talked to her for about 5mins before they parted ways.

Shortly after Misshawaii kept calling and texting Kyrie Ivring phone, he never would pick up or responded to any of her text messages. The reason for him ignoring her was because when he saw her for the first time in person he was simply not attracted to her. She had on probably a full bottle of makeup and she was over weight (to claim to be a model) look as if she possibly could have been a man.

The only thing that Kyrie Ivring did to her was ignored her after meeting her. Later on that day Kyrie Ivring comes out his hotel outside and who is whispering his name signaling Kyrie Ivring to come over to her it was misshawaii. So they stood there for a few minutes and talked after misshawaii caught Kyrie Ivring off guard by popping up outside his hotel. So when the two parted ways again she continued to text and call his phone. Kyrie Ivring continued to focus on the whole reason he was in Charlotte Nc in the first place.

So he ignored her and ignored her…until sunday night out of nowhere a fake twitter page was created @dukeIvr1989. This twitter page attacked kyrie Ivring over and over talking about his deceased mother over and over. And goes on to say things like “u messed with the wrong girl, u shouldnt play with peoples feelings”. She threaten to post text messages and photos of Kyrie Ivring that he sent her. So later the night a friend of Misshawaii let it be known that Misshawaii is the person behind @dukelvr1989 which it did not take a rocket scientist to determined misshawaii was the person harassing Kyrie Ivring after her feelings were hurt because of Kyrie Ivring Ignoring her.

So after Kyrie Ivring caught wind that it was her (misshawaii) behind the twitter page dukeivr1989 he called and texted her trying to ask her was she the person behind the page. She never ever responded or tried to clear her name. So days later she posted text messages from her and Kyrie of him going on her for her being the person behind that fake twitter page dukelvr1989. MissHawaii also threatened Kyrie Ivring on her real twitter page @misshawaii that she would post videos and pics of Kyrie Ivring. The same threats that were made on the fake twitter page @dukeIvr1989.

So bottomline is this is a SAD case of a 30yr old want to be model feelings get hurt after a 18yr old teen simply ignored her after meeting her for the first time in person. She looked very manly and face FULL of caked makeup…and also a big girl. She has never ever met him in person so y is her feelings so hurt off of him dissing her. When I say diss i mean Simply IGNORED HER.

The things that misshawaii were saying about Kyrie Ivring’s deceased mother is flat out heartless. So truth be told you can not blame Kyrie Ivring for texting and calling her after her heartless acts…shes trying to play the victim. Kyrie Ivring is a great great person


-Kyrie Irving and Miss Hawaii were introduced online and had an online relationship for about a month.

-She came to Charlotte and found him in town while he was with his father.

-Kyrie Irving wasn't attracted to her and tried to get away after a short conversation.

-He ignored her calls and texts in the aftermath.

-She popped up again outside his hotel. Again, he ignored her after a short conversation.

-Scorned, she created a fake twitter account to harass Kyrie Irving.

-After the DukeLvr account popped up, he tried to contact her and get her to stop, and these texts and calls were the basis of her later harassment accusation.

Now, please let it be known: I unequivocally DO NOT KNOW who this commenter might be. I do not know if the content is true. I don't endorse it in any way.

That being said, it piqued my curiosity. I decided to take a look at the last month of activity on MissHawaii's twitter account in an effort to see how the stories compared.

Here's what I found. I'll be linking the original tweet (inexplicably, Miss Hawaii has not deactivated her account) and also quoting it verbatim in case anything gets deleted after this post goes up.

1 - On Saturday, February 26th, about a month ago, she posted the first reference I found to anything Duke-related: "There's a specific Duke basketball player that makes me think of masturbation every second."

2 - A lot of references to Duke follow. On March 6th, she posts this: "The rain is kinda soothing though ... I should be cupcaking right now with @___________ ... But he's n NC :("

3 - On March 9th, less than two weeks before the start of the tournament, she tweeted a friend in North Carolina: "@BITCH_itsRAY see u in less than two weeks !!!"

4 - On March 10th, this: "All this rain is making me wanna cupcake with my dukey:)"

5 - March 16th: "Omg they just mentioned him on sports centerrrrrrrrrrrrrr *faints*"

6 - On March 17th, the opening day of the tournament, she tweeted this picture of a banner in the TWC Arena in Charlotte: "Woooo hooooooooo !"

7 - Later that day, she was at Duke's practice: "At the NCAA practice .. !!"

8 - According to the anonymous commenter above, this was around the time that Miss Hawaii found Kyrie and his dad in Charlotte. A 5-minute conversation transpired. Her texts on Friday the 18th, when Duke played Hampton, are relatively benign. On the 19th, the Saturday, she posted this: "I hate when niggas play bitch games. If you want someone, get them. If you don't want em, let em know. Like what the fuCk son?????"

9 - Followed closely by this quote: "I'm addicted to you, don't you know that your toxic????"

10 - And 7 hours later, this: "I'm cool on him."

She only tweeted 5 times on Saturday, an aberration from her normally prolific output.

11 - On Sunday, she cheered for Duke on her account. That night, her mood seemed to diminish: "I really wish @Esco_B would answer his phone cuz uh I kinda need my best friend right now ... *blank stare*"

12 - On Monday, she began re-tweeting messages from several online astrologists. They all had a theme of revenge or anger, like this one and this one: "If you betray #Scorpio you will make a most dangerous enemy ♥ #LoveScopes" and "If hurt, a #Scorpio really stings -- and does not forgive easily!"

13 - In the afternoon that day, she began tweeting positive messages about her mother. This was at the same time that the other account, DukeLvr1989, began to attack Kyrie on that same theme. "I love my mother! We had the most awesome convo last night and she is totally my best friend! There's nothin like having a caring mother lol"

14 - Then came these two tweets in the late afternoon: "Yesterday I fell in love .... today feels like my funeral ...." and "The worst thing to do is play with someones feelings. That's just not right ..."

15 - On Tuesday, she filed her police report, citing the "harassing" texts and calls from Kyrie that she received on Monday: "And I juss filed a double police report online ...."

16 - That same day, she seemed to be headed to Durham: "@MillzMcJagg yes on my way to durham to start trouble lol"

17 - On Wednesday, she claimed to be receiving ongoing texts from someone for whom she had an arrest warrant out: "Its amazing how you put out a warrant for someones arrest and they STILL keep texting you smfh. Just makes my case stronger."

Following this, there were several references to police involvement over the next couple days. She posted texts between herself on Kyrie, both of them threatening the other with legal trouble. These are documented on the BlackSportsOnline links above.

18 - Yesterday, the police theme re-emerged: "Everyone who tweets me, just know your tweets are being recorded and are apart of a police investigation #thatisall"

19 - Today, she gave her endorsement to the movie "Misery," in which a psychotic woman (played by Kathy Bates) kidnaps her favorite author (James Caan) and 'hobbles' him by injuring his feet so he can't escape: "Omg like she really broke his ankles with a sledge hammer! This movie is awesomeeee lmao"

20 - Last, she tweeted evidence of two people posting her cell phone number and encouraging other Duke fans to call her: "You can delete tweets but you can't delete words. #evidence"

So, that's the timeline. I only post it for comparison's sake, to see how well it dovetails with the anonymous commenter's version of events posted above. Again, I adamantly do not endorse either side of the story. And for the record, Jessica aka MissHawaii has denied any affiliation with DukeLvr1989.

Judge for yourself.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Night Everything Went Wrong

It's over. We've seen Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler in a Duke uniform for the last time. Probably ditto on Kyrie Irving. Maybe ditto on Andre Dawkins, in the off chance that he transfers.

Here are a few reasons we lost the game, briefly, in a haphazard but roughly diminishing order of importance:

1. Arizona's ungodly play
2. Nolan Smith's disappearance
3. Mason Plumlee reverting to Plumblefuck the Younger
4. Seth Curry's injury
5. Miserable defense
6. Poor rebounding
7. Coaching/Strategy
8. Refereeing
9. Kyrie Irving's least favorite science: Chemistry

Let's start at the top.

1. Arizona's ungodly play

In the first half, this was just Derrick Williams' ungodly play. He kept them in the game with 25 points and five threes. I think his last three, an awkward high-arcing loft over Ryan Kelly at the buzzer, might have been his biggest; it cut the Duke lead from 9 to 6 and gave Arizona a psychological boost going into the intermission.

After that, he didn't score much. He didn't have to; his teammates played the game of their lives. They finished 34-63 from the field, and 9-15 from three. That's an effective field goal % of 61.1% I mean...fuck.

Arizona's offensive efficiency: 134.7.

Let's look at that number again. 134.7. When Duke lost to St. John's, a game that felt really, really similar, their efficiency, which is "points scored per 100 possessions," was 125.7. Those of us who suffered through that game can attest tat 125.7 felt like a perfect score, like a team couldn't possibly play any better.

Let's put that 134.7 into context.

A) It's the best single-game offensive efficiency Duke has faced this season.

B) Wait, strike that. Ken Pomeroy keeps these stats going back to 2003. This is the best single-game offensive efficiency Duke has ever faced. (You least since 2003.) UPDATE: keeps stats back to 1997, and it's still the highest single-game offensive efficiency Duke has faced (thanks to anonymous commenter).

C) Half-credit to commenter Matt on this one: Duke, the 4th-most efficient offense in the country, cracked that number just twice: once against Colgate (318th in D-1), and once against UNC-Greensboro (268th).

D) Just for laughs, I looked at Ken Pomeroy's top 25. Exactly two of those teams has faced a team with better efficiency this season. It happened to Wisconsin, when Ohio State dropped a 159.3 efficiency rating on the last day of the season, and it happened to Purdue when VCU scored to the tune of 143.1 last weekend. Other than those two games, no top 10 team has faced a more powerful offense this season.

E) Arizona themselves have not played this well on offense since...the very first game of the season, when they defeated Idaho st. 90-42 at home. Seriously. Arizona's second-best offensive game of the season came against Duke, who you might remember has a top-5 ranked defense. They had more trouble at home against teams like Bethune Cookman (294th in Division 1) and Cal St. Fullerton (260th).

I mean, seriously guys...I'm heartbroken. This was a devastating loss I didn't expect. I'm going to feel down for a couple days, and I'll always wonder what might have been this season.

But, at the same time: holy shit. Holy unfortunate shit. What the hell are you supposed to do with a game like that? They played out of their goddamn heads. It's not really a reflection of either team; they just couldn't miss. If that game was played 100 more times, Arizona would literally never achieve that rate of offensive efficiency again. I can say that with almost absolute certainty. So what do you do? What do you do when absolutely everything goes against you, when a fluky game comes along in the Sweet 16?

You throw your hands in the air. That just happened, and there's nothing to be done. Sometimes life deals you a fucking lemon. I'm about to go into a bunch of other reasons for the loss, but with Arizona playing that well, we could not have won. No way, no how.

What a nightmare. And this is where we get into an element that's going to appear throughout this post: bad luck. We had it in spades yesterday.

2. Nolan Smith's Disappearance

I love Nolan Smith. That's not going to change. He's given us a wonderful four years, complete with ACC championships and a national title. He's been the man on the spot this year, and he's never let the team down.

Last night, he had his worst game of the season. I didn't expect it, and I still can't believe it. Was that Nolan out there? What could possibly have happened? It wasn't just his poor shooting (3-14, 0-3 from deep), and it wasn't just his 2 assists or his 6 turnovers. It was that he looked lost, and he never got found.

And now I'm going to bring something up that I'll explore later in greater depth. It's become a hugely controversial topic, and it's bound to make heads explode around Duke nation. But I'll ask it anyway: did the return of Kyrie Irving throw Nolan into a funk? Did it affect him not to have the ball in his hands at all times? Were we better off with Nolan at point guard for an entire game?

I thought Jay Bilas put it best: Duke was playing excellent basketball at the end of the ACC Tournament. Their best of the year, maybe. But to win a national title, they needed some form of Kyrie Irving. So that's fine. However, once they had Kyrie Irving, it became clear that it was a little too sudden. Nolan wasn't quite comfortable in his new role, and Kyrie wasn't dominant enough to overcome that problem.

On the other hand, Seth Davis, a guy I respect a lot, thinks it's a lazy talking point that can't come remotely close to explaining the loss.

But there was a real oddity at play last night. When things went bad, our style to that point dictated that we had to be rescued by one guy: Kyrie Irving. He was, suddenly, the man we were all counting on. How the hell did that happen? I'm never going to deny Kyrie's amazing talent, but frankly, this was Nolan's team. That changed in the tournament, and I have to say, at the risk of invoking the wrath of the Dukies, that it was a bad change.

Nobody really knows what this game would have looked like if the Duke team from two weeks ago played. It would have been different. I'm not saying we would have won, and I'm not saying we would have lost. It just would have been different, and the team would at least have had a solid sense of itself. I think a lot of fans really missed the point on that one. After the game, I kept hearing some variation of this comment: "Imagine how bad that would have been without Kyrie!" As if, to get an accurate picture of a Kyrie-less team, you just subtract his 28 points and Duke loses 93-49.

That's ridiculous. I will spend a lot of time wondering what might have happened if Kyrie never played, and I will never have a definitive answer. But I do know that we wouldn't have been looking at the same kind of game.

Back to the topic at hand. I felt awful for Nolan. Really, really awful. He came out of that game and you could see the hurt in his eyes. The moment when the game was lost even came down to him; with 6:04 to go and Duke down 11, he led a fast break off a defensive board, beat his man, and then missed an easy lay-up. That would have cut the deficit to 9 and given us a fighting chance, but it wasn't to be. Solomon Hill made a lay-up, Kevin Parrom hit a 3, and that was that.

He's a strong kid, so he'll get over this. He has a title to his name and a bright future. But he deserved a better ending. Again, I find myself saying the sentence above: "sometimes life deals you a fucking lemon."

3. Mason Plumlee Reverting to Plumblefuck the Younger

He couldn't even get a rebound. Arizona's offensive rebounding rate was 47%.


And guys, they fucking HIT 50% of their shots. That means that on roughly 75% percent of their possessions, they either made a shot or got a second chance. How are you supposed to win a game under those circumstances?

Take a guess: when was the last time Duke gave up that high a percentage on the offensive glass?

Answer: March 14, 2009, against Maryland.

And the really sad part is that Arizona has one person on their roster over 6'8". That's Kyryl Natyazhko, and he played six minutes last night. After that, Williams is 6'8" and the rest of their starters are 6'6" or under.

Mason Plumlee, Miles Plumlee, and Ryan Kelly, all 6'10", grabbed a combined 12 rebounds for the game. Derrick Williams had 13. They out-boarded us 40-27. They had 16 offensive boars to our 9. AND THEY DIDN'T HAVE A SINGLE FUCKING PLAYER WITHIN 2 INCHES OF OUR BIGGEST GUY.

WE should have been owning the glass. And, to be fair for just a minute, it was one of those games where a ton of rebounds or loose balls found their way to Arizona. Sometimes life deals you a fucking lemon. But Mason was never in position. He has no basketball IQ. It's not like he was even overtly bad, beyond that hook shot in a critical moment. He just disappeared. He couldn't step up in a game he had a chance to dominate.

If you want to pinpoint a single reason that Duke wasn't a national title team this year, look no further than the Plumlees. It's been a long time since we recruited an effective big man, and we found ourselves stuck this season. If you don't like bad news, don't think about what that means for next season.

4. Seth Curry's Injury

He's been the second ingredient in our success so many times this season. I don't think there's a soul on the planet who thinks we would have won the home against UNC without him. And he's fantastic on defense.

In 8 minutes of game time, Seth was 1-2 from the field with a steal and an assist. After he left, we were stuck with Andre Dawkins and his awful perimeter defense. Make no mistake: losing Seth absolutely killed this team.

More bad luck. Sometimes life deals you a fucking lemon.

5. Miserable Defense

Arizona was on the attack all game. Dawkins got exposed, Ryan Kelly got exposed, and the Plumlees got exposed. Even Kyrie Irving got exposed; he's still not quick enough to guard effectively on the perimeter.

And when we played good defense, they still hit their shots. Who can forget Momo Jones hitting the fadeaway over Kyle and looking back at Sean Miller with a defiant glare while Miller angrily waved him back on defense.

I think we're looking at a chicken-egg scenario. What came first? The ridiculous shots falling, or the heart of our defense breaking? My gut says that the back-breaking desperation heaves that kept going in preceded the utter breakdown, but I suppose that's up for debate.

6. Poor Rebounding

We already did that one, didn't we? See #3.

Screw it, some more context:

Arizona's 47% offensive rebounding rate was the highest any of Ken Pomeroy's top 10 teams faced for the entire season barring two: Connecticut grabbed 48.4% against Pittsburgh in the Big East tournament, and Alabama grabbed 53.3% in a mid-season game against Kentucky.

Oh, and by the way, Arizona was 139th in offensive rebounding rate this season. Here are the teams Duke faced this season with superior numbers in that category, along with that team's offensive rebounding % against Duke: UNC (37.0, 31.9, 39.3), Miami (36.5, 38.6), Florida St. (30.6), NC St. (40.0, 24.3), Maryland (34.4, 30.9), Michigan St. (45.1), Georgia Tech (36.8), and Clemson (40.4).

Sometimes. Life. Deals. You. A. *collapses in anger, sobbing*

And what about our offensive boards? Well, Duke averages 35.1%. Yesterday, on a night when we shot slightly below our usual field goal %, we ended at 27.3% on the offensive glass. Not as glaringly awful as the other end of the floor, but still pretty poor.

7. Coaching/Strategy

What about another timeout during Arizona's 316-12 run? Would that have been too much to ask?

And what about the Kyrie situation?

And what about maybe staying big with Mason and Miles and not letting Andre Dawkins' weak perimeter defense kill you?

What about going to Singler in the post in the second half? I mean, it's rare enough for him to have a good game, and he was on fire in the first 20. What happened to that element?

What about putting the ball in Nolan's hands and forcing him to take over? Why couldn't we live and die with our best player?

Also, what was the plan on offense? Just give the ball to Kyrie and let him try to drive? Ditto for Nolan on 1 of every 4 possessions? Where was the fluidity, the motion, the organized sets? Couldn't that have helped us when we were overwhelmed?

I guess we'll never know.

8. Refereeing

This was so much like the St. John's game that I honestly wanted to puke. A team thoroughly out-played us, got a big lead, and the refs got swept up in the momentum of the crowd and ensured that Duke had no chance to come back. The crowning moment for me was when Kyle Singler played great defense on an inbound pass, Derrick Williams caught the ball and fell out of bounds, and they called a push on Singler.

Also, how many elbows is a team allowed to throw before they're called for a foul? And look, the refs were bad, but they were probably bad for both teams. We just got murdered in a 5-minute series in the second half when we really needed everything to go our way. That killed.

9. Kyrie Irving's least favorite science: Chemistry

I love when people say things like: "Don't you dare blame this on Kyrie!"

That was on twitter quite a bit last night. As though criticizing the strategy of bringing Kyrie back so soon is akin to actually getting mad at Kyrie.

Not a bit. Not even the slightest, token bit. Kyrie Irving is a great player, and I appreciate that he worked hard to get back on the team. I appreciate that he scored 28 points last night and was the best player wearing blue. I like his style, I like his spirit.

But his return did us no favors. How many assists do you think he had last night, without looking? It was 1. How many do you think he had against Michigan? 2.

Hindsight is 20/20, and I'll freely admit I kept the thoughts mostly to myself in the lead-up to Kyrie's return. I thought, as I mentioned before, that we needed another element to make us a national title contender. But now, seeing how it played out, I find myself wishing Coach K had danced with the ones that brung us. And I thought that after the Michigan game, too.

Here's my biggest regret, and the thing that'll stick in my craw for a long time: we should have won or lost that game on the back of Nolan Smith. Coach K, unwittingly, relegated him by bringing Kyrie back. That affected his game, and what we saw last night wasn't the Nolan Smith that made us burst with joy all year.

It's not fair, and it's not right. Losing stings, and we may well have lost one way or another. But this was Nolan's team.


Still, I can't be too upset.

Was it hard to lose. God, yes. I had my anger moments. I said some things to Derrick Williams that I wish I could take back. I kicked some cardboard boxes around the house when I couldn't bottle it up any more. My foot actually still kind of hurts from when I missed and kicked the wall. I even did one of those awkward slaps on the sliding glass door to the patio; the kind where you're mad enough to give it a full punch, but in the process you say to yourself, 'wait, am I really going to punch a piece of glass, risk ruining my hand and the glass itself, for this?' So you sort of stop halfway and slap it gingerly, and then get even more mad because you didn't actually let the anger out.

And let's be honest: those Arizona kids were a bunch of bitches. I will literally spend only a paragraph talking about this, because I know I'm just being bitter. But fuck Momo Jones and his chest-pounding bullshit. Fuck the entire team for whining about every call while they were up 18 with 2 minutes left and had just benefited from awful refereeing for an entire half. Fuck Derrick Williams for raising the roof for the Zona fans at the exact moment when Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler, heartbroken, were getting their sad curtain call. Seriously, I usually hate when people whine and cry about the other team after a loss, but I truly thought Arizona won poorly.

Still, if you want to prevent that kind of thing, you have to win. We can hypothesize all day long about what might have happened if they played this game 1,000 times over, but guess what? They ain't gonna. They play it once, and what happened happened. For some reason, Duke has a weird proclivity to take another team's best shot. We saw it against St. John's, we saw it against Virginia Tech, we saw it against Florida St. And those shots paled in comparison to the brutal haymaker the Wildcats delivered last night.

But like I said, I'm not too upset. Coach K put it best in the post-game: "The tournament is cruel. It's an abrupt end for everybody when you don't win."

And that's what makes it great. Historically, I've had trouble enjoying the tournament after Duke loses. Not this year. I'm determined to make the most of it. I'm rooting for Florida State first, and Butler second. (No joke: I will be severely disappointed if Brad Stevens doesn't take over for Coach K when he finally retires. The man is my hero.) I want to see Kentucky give Ohio State a game tonight. I hope Carolina loses before the Final Four, but I'll just be amused if they don't, because I know Duke is better. I'm going to enjoy the hell out of the rest of this sporting event. Why? Because I'm an adult. I'm a grown-up, and I can live with this loss. I can...I can... *wipes a tear away, gathers himself courageously*...I can make lemonade with all these fucking lemons.

Every team but one goes down. Winning a national championship is all but unthinkable. Sure, you'll always be disappointed when the season ends. But the difficulty involved in surviving til the end is the main reason why you have to appreciate the other moments. The tournament was a disaster; we played horribly against Michigan and got lucky to win, and then we got steamrolled by Arizona.

But the rest of the year, my friends, was beautiful. The Kyrie days, when all of us, in the back of our minds, started dreaming of an undefeated season. The comeback against Carolina in Cameron on the night Nolan Smith made it snow. The gorgeous efficiency of a team finding its stride against N.C. State. The domination of Maryland in their College Park house of horrors. The victory against Clemson, sealing a second straight perfect season at home. Revenge against a doomed Virginia Tech.

And finally, the perfect game. The day when everything came together and the legions of powder blue across this state were forced to acknowledge what the good guys knew all along: this is one hell of a team.

When I was very young, I'd sometimes go to my mom's office after school. She had a variety of cartoons and posters on her wall, and one has always stuck with me. It was a small, one-frame comic in black-and-white that she'd cut out from a newspaper. I'm going from memory here, but in the depths of my childhood mind I see a dragon in the middle, reclined against a tree. It looks beat-up and tired, and there are sad puffs of smoke coming from its nose. A castle may or may not be in the background. Cuts and bruises adorn the dragon hide, and he looks like the saddest creature alive. But that's the key word- alive. Because all around, bits and pieces of a knight's armor are scattered. And the one thing I remember with total clarity is the caption: "Sometimes the dragon wins."

I don't think I completely understood it then, but I like to think it registered in my developing mind as some kind of message reaching back from the future, a brief wisp of an idea I'd take to heart in the years to come. Because today, it's something we all understand. We may disagree on the name of the dragon. But once in a while, man, he wins. It's no fun, but I can live with it if you can.

Some notes for this blog while I have your attention: Typically, SCSD turns to the New York Yankees when the Duke season ends. I'm going to continue blogging about the tournament until it's over this time, and the rest of the offseason will be a little different. I'm not sure exactly how much I'll stay up on Duke basketball, but for now I'm planning a minimum of one day per week. Maybe more, and I'm open to suggestions on that front. So even if you hate baseball, stick around and check in. You won't go wanting.

Thanks to everyone here and in the wider internet world for sharing the season with me. I can't imagine a better way to spend three and a half months. We'll say it one last time until the new crop takes the floor in November: go Duke!

Always, always, always, go Duke.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Duke-Arizona: The Deja Pre-Vu

Guys, I say this in all sincerity: I've never been more ashamed in my life.

Quick opening notes:

1 - We'll have another live chat here around 9pm.

2 - I'm not in a position to update the Kyrie twitter stuff, but I will tomorrow. I think by then we'll know almost everything. For updates, read the comment section of yesterday's post.

Alright, let's talk about these Arizona Wildcats, shall we? They squeaked by Texas in the second round, overcoming one of the country's best defenses to win by one. Let's take a look at the four factors from that game:

As you might imagine, a very tight game in every area. Arizona shot the ball just slightly better (51.9%), and that was enough to make the difference. I've heard a lot of debate in the past few days about whether Arizona's win was a good thing. Would we rather be playing Texas, despite their ability to play great defense? Or did we want to get the fading team and avoid Arizona?

The common wisdom is that Duke won't have an answer for Derrick Williams. The 6'8" sophomore is averaging 19.1 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. He's 8th in the country at getting to the line (and 6th in drawing fouls, for what it's worth), and his aggressive style should give us fits underneath. He's also mastered the simple head fake, ensuring that he'll draw at least three stupid fouls on each Plumlee. He also shoots 58% from three, so there's no way we can have anyone but Singler on him throughout the game. Unfortunately, he's way quicker than Singler. So yeah, that could be a big problem.

The other common wisdom is that their guards won't match up well with ours. The problem is, they have a lot of guys who can shoot. Kyle Fogg, Kevin Parrom, Jamelle Horne, Solomon Hill, Brendon Lavender, and Jordin Mayes all shoot above 35%, and they've all attempted at least 40 threes on the year. Lamont Jones, a starting guard, is close at 32% on 78 attempts. For a team, that is ungodly. THEY HAVE 8 FUCKING GUYS WHO CAN SHOOT THREES!

Worrisome. It should come as no surprise that KenPom has them 9th in 3-point field goal percentage in Division 1. And they shoot it quite a bit; they're in the top half of the country both in 3-pointers attempted, and 3-pointers as a percentage of total shots. Not surprisingly, they're also very good at defending the three; third in the country, in fact.

So while they may not have any guards as good as Nolan or Kyrie, they can certainly throw waves and waves of them on the court, and every single one can shoot. The only guy I mentioned of the eight above who got less than 10 minutes of playing time against Texas was Brendon Lavender. His final stat line? 2-2, both 3-pointers. That's what this team can do to you.

On the other hand, they're pretty small. That's good and bad. They have a 6'11" Russian dude who gets about 15 minutes per game, but other than their tallest player is Williams at 6'8". We should get offensive boards. They're not great at defending the inside shot (281st in the country), and they never force blocks or steals.

Honestly, though, this game scares me. If you've read everything above and can't shake the memory of the Michigan game, you're not alone. We'll be seeing a lot of guards on the floor at one time, just like last round, and Coach K will have to make a hard decision about how to play. Will he panic like last time and match them guard for guard? Will we try to shoot them off the floor? Will we force it inside to the Plumlees and try to exploit the size advantage?

The last move seems logical, but the horrible truth is that at any given time, we're at risk of seeing a clumsy, awful game from Mason and Miles. Those extra inches are nice, but what if they start off with a bad offensive foul, or three straight traveling calls, or missed layups, or forced passes? What if we run up against the hard reality that our big men can't score regardless of the defense?

That's the lesson of the season. Despite their recent improvement, you can't count on the Plumlees.

Arizona has won 6 of their last 7, with the lone overtime loss coming in the Pac-10 championship to a good Washington team. Before that, they lost at UCLA 71-49 after shooting 4-19 from 3. In a loss to USC the game before, they only hit 6-19. But in the win over Texas, they went 8-14. Just like Duke, they're capable of lights-out shooting and dismal cold spells.

I can say this with almost complete certainty: this is coming down to the threes. The team that makes more, at a better percentage, will win the game. We'll do some damage on the drive, particularly from Nolan, and we'll get a few offensive boards. Derrick Williams will be awesome in stretches. But those are the minor issues, and they'll probably cancel each other out. Three-pointers. That's what this game boils down to.

I hate the match-up. I really, really do. I'd rather play a big team or a plodding team or a team with a superstar or anything else. Arizona's profile is so much like Michigan's that I'm feeling serious flashes of deja-vu. Derrick Williams is pure quality, but Coach K does an amazing job of limiting the other team's best scorer. We never get beat by one guy, and that's not going to change tonight. But if they hit threes, we're in serious trouble.

One last weakness I saw in Zona's profile is turnovers. They're only 102nd in Division-1 at protecting the ball. A commenter in the post after the Michigan win hit the nail on the head when he said that our defensive intensity, particularly on the perimeter, started out very strong and lagged as the game went along. Did it use up too much energy? Did the strategy change? In any case, Arizona could be vulnerable to aggressive man-to-man outside the arc. If we can keep it up for an entire game, it'll pay dividends. But the Michigan game seemed to indicate that maybe we can't keep it up for 40 minutes, especially against a guard-heavy lineup. It'll be a fascinating element to watch.

That's about all I've got. I think Duke wins this game. I think we're properly chastened by the Michigan scare, and I think in some ways it's the best thing that could have happened to the team. Coach K has a blueprint now. It's like in golf, when you have a long putt and someone has to go just before you from the same spot. You get to see all the breaks in the green, and by the time you stand over the shot, you know how the ball's going to behave. Arizona is Michigan Part 2, and we're about to see if Duke learned from its mistakes.

Here's my Sweet 16. If it happens anywhere close to my predictions, it'll be the craziest draw possible.

Tonight's prediction: Duke 74, Arizona 66 in a game that stays close until about the 5-minute mark. My stomach knows only butterflies and knots. Come on, Duke. It won't end like this. LET'S GO!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Weird, Horrible Elephant in the Room

Most Duke fans have already seen this, so I suppose there's no point in ignoring it. There's a twitter account called "DukeLvr1989," operating under the name 'Melissa Rodriguez,' and he or she or they are conducting a campaign of terror against Kyrie Irving.

There's really no other way to put it. The account started during the Duke-Michigan game, and to date there are only 50 tweets. The first 10 or so are mostly re-tweets of players or other people associated with Duke basketball, with a couple "Kyrie sucks!" messages thrown in for good measure. Then she posted this:

@kyrieirving you are the biggest inconsiderate low life i have ever seen in my life!!!! thank God Elizabeth isnt here to see you!less than a minute ago via web

Elizabeth Irving was Kyrie's mother, and she died before he was six years old. After that message, Kyrie started responding. He told "her" (I'll be using female pronouns for the sake of readability, though it's impossible to know who or what we're dealing with here) that she could say what she wanted about him, but not to bring his family into it. He used her twitter name, cluing in the rest of the world. He told everyone to read her tweets, presumably so they could all see the awful messages she was posting and rally to his defense. Several players and innumerable fans messaged him with support. Kendall Marshall said, "Keep ya head, bro."

DukeLvr1989 knew she'd found a soft spot. Being merciless, she began to attack the mother issue with tweets like this:

Kyrie can go to the league and make millions thats so great for him ... too bad it wont bring his mother back SHES DEAD DEAD DEADless than a minute ago via web

Around that time, Kyrie Irving erased his twitter account. You can't find him on that particular medium any longer. Then DukeLvr posted his cell phone number. Then she posted a picture of him shirtless. Then she threatened to post sexual text message conversations she'd had with him. Then she threatened to post "a photo of Kyrie Irving's dick."

These latest promises haven't been fulfilled, but it's easy to see why they were made. If Kyrie quit twitter, and stopped responding to the dead mother bait, the natural way to keep him invested was to inspire fear. Which meant threatening the release of pictures or conversations. It wouldn't be enough to just post them outright; to keep him on a hook, a real sadist knows to create anxiety by way of anticipation. What comes next? Impending doom is usually worse than actual doom.

Nobody knows why this twitter account was created. Common speculation is that Kyrie had some variation of a one night stand with her or one of her friends. That seems pretty logical, but it's also just a guess. She could be obsessed. Maybe she's never met him. Maybe she's an opposing fan trying to get under his skin. As I've said, maybe she is a he, or a they.

In 50 posts, Melissa Rodriguez has accumulated over 400 followers. An account called SportsByBr00ks, mimicking the website of the same name, followed her and encouraged her to post more. The internet, in all its labyrinthine strangeness, is creating confused cycles of attention and showering them back on the originator. Her impact, unfortunately, has been felt. We'll never know the extent, but it has taken some toll on Kyrie. It's easy to forget that he's a teenager who made a teenage error. His chief mistake was responding to her in the first place. It gave her a jolt of instant niche-fame, and led to his retreat from twitter. That, combined with the awful audacity of her message, has transformed this story into something "significant."

And it's something that could affect the team. Or at least Kyrie. And yes, I realize I'm contributing to the story by discussing it in this space. But frankly, I waited this thing out. I thought about writing something Monday, and I thought about writing something Tuesday, but I hoped it might die out. It didn't. It's only gotten bigger. For obvious reasons, people are fascinated. We're used to watching and considering these players as separate entities, human beings whose main function in our lives is to play a game. We can praise and criticize them, but it's difficult to imagine that we'll ever influence them, or interact with them in any but the most superficial manner. But Melissa Rodriguez, whoever she is, reached Kyrie Irving. She reached him with a profound, ugly kind of negativity. In a small way, or maybe even a big way, her actions will widen the chasm between player and fan, between player and media, and erode any last vestiges of trust that existed in the frail bond connecting the two.

Nobody, beyond the very psychopathic, thinks they're evil. That's one of the secrets of life. The Nazis thought they were on the right path. The men who flew the planes into the twin towers thought they were doing God's work. We're conditioned to rationalize and justify our own actions in an evolutionary process, ensuring that to a greater or lesser extent, we love ourselves and want to keep on living. Self-belief maintains us.

So. Melissa Rodriguez thinks she's operating from a place of righteous indignation. But as near as we can define something as evil, it has to be this: the continuous, conscious attempt to terrorize another person. It's a sick, corrupted power game, and it stems from a place of insecurity. If you strive for painful, prolonged control over another person, something in you is rotten. There can be no moral relativism in that regard; we're given a measure of freedom as people, and trying to take that from someone else is as near as we can come to absolute evil.

Melissa Rodriguez, I hope you read this. You're falling fast from whatever grace you believe in, and that's a critical mistake. Did Kyrie Irving sleep with you? Did he make a promise he couldn't keep? Sorry, but you're not the first girl to be left cold by an immature athlete. You're not the first to have your heart broken. Are you an opposing fan trying to create strife among the team? Believe me, any success you find won't be worth the price you've already extracted from yourself.

We all live with pain. That takes a long time to learn, but it's the truth; even the people we hate live with pain. I don't know exactly who you are, DukeLvry1989, and I don't know your motivations. But what you're trying to do is very, very common. You're trying to lessen your own pain by making life worse for someone else.

Take it from someone just a little bit older- this will not ease your burden. I've seen it a thousand times, and it never works.


Tomorrow, I'll be back to talk Arizona and the Sweet 16. In the meantime, a couple announcements.

1 - My friend Mike is running a fantasy baseball league. It's a keeper league, and he needs three more interested players. I'll be in the league as well. The draft is tomorrow at 8pm, before the Duke game. Send an e-mail to the address you see to your left if you're interested. Please don't join if you plan on drafting Robinson Cano.

2 - I think we need some comedy, right? Right. Thanks to Adam for cluing me in to this video:

Best part: 0:39.

3 - Here's something redeeming on twitter: Norm MacDonald. The guy could not be more hilarious, and it's not just because I read everything he posts in that classic, deadpan inflection. Nope, he's elevated his game; things keep getting weirder and more hilarious, and you never know what to expect. Lately, he's taken to posting these strange rhyming couplets, like so:

Kervorkain's a killer, Teresa is a saint. She is what I isn't and he is what I aint.less than a minute ago via Twitter for BlackBerry®

He's been doing okay in his bracket picks, too, considering the distractions of the world:

4 - It doesn't get much better than CNNSI's Luke Winn at the tourney. That was his Sunday wrap-up, and you can find the previous wrap-ups linked at the end of the article.

Here's his take on Duke:

Not that we’re allowed to re-pick brackets, but my new Final Four matchups would be Ohio State-Duke and Kansas-Wisconsin, with the best regional final being staged between the Blue Devils and San Diego State. The Dukies who showed up on Sunday wouldn’t be capable of beating San Diego State in an Anaheim final … but they are capable of getting past the Aztecs if Kyrie Irving makes progress over the next week. SDSU’s front line is unreal, but it doesn’t have the guard-play to match what the Blue Devils can potentially get out of Nolan Smith and Irving.

This, unfortunately, is what everyone will be concluding after the near-comeback. But if we'd just played our style and taken down the Wolverines by 20, I don't think anyone would be so eager to write us off. Also, I know we're all supposed to be doing backflips over Ohio State, but let's see how they do against Kentucky first.

See you tomorrow for the Duke-Zona preview and Sweet 16 picks.