Not really so in basketball and football and other sports, which tend to move on a chronological line, forward from 0:00 to to the last tick of the clock. Yes, things that happen early can stand out in hindsight, and sometimes it is necessary to look back at some first-half event in order to gain a real understanding of the ultimate outcome; but as a general rule, timebound games move forward—as they are essentially designed to do—marking off minutes and racking up points on a march towards the final tally. Clock sports are forward-marching. Baseball is backward-looking.
Last night's thrilling Florida State victory over Duke, on a tie-breaking, buzzer-beating three-pointer from the wing by Michael Snaer, has some of the narrative feel of a baseball game in its overall makeup: it seems to have been decided, at base, by two plays. These two plays were connected by an ironic and almost eerie temporal symmetry.
It was a very close game. The largest lead by either team was nine points. Duke had that advantage after Austin Rivers hit his second consecutive step-back three-pointer with one minute remaining in the first half. The Blue Devils then got the ball back after Mason Plumlee throttled a Bernard James layup attempt. They tried to find a good look for a quick shot to set up a 2-for-1, but the Seminoles clamped down on defense, and Rivers was forced to take another three-point shot, this one very long, from way above the top of the key.
It bounced off the front of the rim, skied high into the air as the shot-clock buzzer sounded... and dropped through the net—swish—for another crowd-rousing three. Now Duke led 35-23, with eight seconds to go: a commanding, double-digit margin to take into the locker room at the half.
But not so fast. One of the referees—forgive me, I don't know which one; I don't recognize them by face yet—ruled that the ball had touched either the camera mounted atop the backboard or the suspension cable that helps hold the goal in place. It wasn't quite clear to me which one, although I was sitting just a few feet from the referee who made the call at a distance of about 30 feet from the basket. It was loud in there, and he was mostly just pointing up above the backboard. (This same referee had waved off a Florida State shot earlier in the half, on the same equipment-interference call, from a similar distance.) Whatever the ball hit—if it hit it at all—it barely grazed. The home crowd (and bench) expressed dismay.
And then there was a weird—and ultimately fatal—final beat to the first half. Seth Curry committed a foul just past the timeline with four seconds left. Almost exactly four seconds later, Snaer scooped up a loose ball (Tyler Thornton had poked it away from Deividas Dulkys) and awkwardly heaved up, as the buzzer sounded, what Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski would later call a "flyer" from the left wing. The ugly-looking thing glanced off the glass and went right through the net.
So instead of 35-23—with Duke holding possession of the ball to start the second half—it was 32-26.
Whole different ballgame. And, kind of, the whole game.
But the Tar Heels regrouped and dominated early in the second half to claim their first ACC road win 82-68. Carolina’s performance may have been its most determined of the season, as the Heels launched a 19-0 run that effectively decided the outcome.
Just when everyone was ready to relegate Harrison Barnes to something other than serious All-American contender, the sophomore forward played magnificently. Barnes scored 27 points in diverse fashion: He shot 8-for-14 from the field and aggressively drove to the rim, converting 10-for-12 on free throws.
Barnes has suffered criticism for his sloppy ball-handling in one-on-one situations, but Carolina last night assisted him as a dribbler by utilizing high screens to open a lane. Overall, UNC’s offense appeared more structured than the organic, freelance game Roy Williams prefers. Perhaps the second half will serve as a springboard both for Barnes individually and the team’s collective approach to scoring points.
The rest of the night belonged to the Pack, who gave their head coach the birthday present of mustering the energy of a team still smarting from their home loss to Georgia Tech last week. N.C. State bested Boston College in virtually every statistically category, most notably rebounds (44-28), steals (16-9), and fast break points (27-11). The Eagles’ bench outscored N.C. State’s, mainly because the Wolfpack doesn’t have much of one.
“The last time we were at home was definitely on our minds,” said Wood. “So we wanted to start strong and try to not let the fans down this time.”
CAMERON INDOOR STADIUM/ DURHAM—Spend any amount of time around a coach/manager, and you soon come to recognize their catchphrases. Durham Bulls manager Charlie Montoyo, whom I've probably interviewed 220 times, has "day to day," and "he battled" and a few others. To reiterate the watchword is to press a sort of reset button, to get back to basics, to simplify: the coach is reminding himself (and his listeners) of his fundamental approach, his attitude, his way of working and perceiving. When I say this, I am me. Mantras.
Among Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski's mantras is: "It's what we do." I think he's said this three or four times this season in his postgame comments, almost interrupting himself to get it in there at certain moments. The "it" in that phrase can refer to a number of things, depending on the context. Last night, Krzyzewski summoned the phrase while talking about a sequence right near the end of the first half of Duke's 91-73 trouncing of Wake Forest.
The actual events and their consequences were relatively unimportant in the overall picture of the game. Duke was trying for a 2-for-1 with about a minute left to play in the first half, and the thing you need to know about this is that Andre Dawkins had, to that point, made six consecutive three-pointers over a span of about seven minutes, making them from all over the floor, swishing them, bouncing them around the rim, shrugging MJ-style in insouciant glee, and scoring 18 straight Duke points—eighteen!—that basically ended the game before it was half over. Duke had a double-digit lead for the final 26 minutes of the game.
If you are looking for your quick-and-dirty storyline from last night's game, that's it: Dawkins, six straight three-balls, 21 first-half points. He didn't score a single point in the second half, but he didn't need to: Wake was so intent on shutting him down that they forgot about the other guys, and three of those other guys—Seth Curry (who had an excellent game), Ryan Kelly and Austin Rivers—scored at will. Those three plus Dawkins scored 69 of Duke's first 73 points. The Plumli were a non-factor, basically, and for a change they didn't need to be. Duke has a chance to tie its record for consecutive home wins (46) with its next game this Saturday, at home against Florida State.
But back to this 2-for-1 situation: So Tyler Thornton, who had eight assists last night (and it seemed like all of them were on passes to Dawkins), with Duke up 43-30 and about 53 seconds to play, apparently ignored whatever set he'd been told to run and made another quick pass to Dawkins. Dawkins wasn't really set for his shot, but because he was feeling it, he hoisted yet another three-pointer—his 11th of the half—and missed badly. An airball, in fact, if I recall. The Demon Deacons grabbed the ball and ran out on the fast break, and Travis McKie schooled Dawkins on his way to a handsome layup that brought Wake Forest to within a respectable 11 points—and now it was Wake Forest that had the 2-for-1, because there were still 44 seconds on the clock.
So Krzyzewski called time out. And he was not happy. He started to scream at his players. Presumably he used his f-mantra a number of times. He was asked later about this moment: was he mad at Dawkins for the hasty shot?
"No," he answered immediately, "I got on our point guard." And after explaining the whole 2-for-1 plan, he added "Those are things I do—it's what we do."
But what was "it"?
To recap: The men’s and women’s basketball teams contrived to lose two games Sunday and Monday by an aggregate margin of 84 points. Not good for two teams with an aggregate record of 28-8.
Mike Potter tells us that the women have been battling injuries, and too much shouldn’t be read into the 86-35 drubbing they received Monday in Storrs, Conn. at the hands of the nearly unbeatable Connecticut Huskies.
But what’s the men’s excuse? Roy Williams’ crisis-management skills ended up dominating the discussion after an inexplicable 90-57 defeat to the Florida State Seminoles.
The men (16-3) get back on their horse tonight in Blacksburg, Va. in a tilt versus the Virginia Techsters that will be nationally televised at 9 p.m. on ESPN. Four hours before that, on the same campus, the Tar Heel women (12-5) will try to end their three-game losing streak.
Our writers weigh in below… but first, some links to essential sports reading from the week, for those of you who need non-video sports diversions in your workplace:
Does playing sports build character? Mark Edmundson thinks so—with some caveats.
Sports are many things, and one of those things is an imitation of heroic culture. They mimic the martial world; they fabricate the condition of war. (Boxing doesn't fabricate war; it is war, and, to my mind, not a sport. As Joyce Carol Oates says, you play football, baseball, and basketball, but no one "plays" boxing.)
This fabrication is in many ways a good thing, necessary to the health of a society. For it seems to me that Plato is right: The desire for glory is part of almost everyone's spirit. Plato called this desire thymos and associated its ascendancy and celebration with Homer. A major objective of his great work, The Republic, is to show how for a civilization truly to thrive, it must find a way to make the drive for glory subordinate to reason.
You probably know that American soccer fans cringe whenever their treasured sport is called boring! But Grantland soccer writer Brian Phillips says hell yeah, that’s part of what we love about it.
In sports, pure chaos is boring. Soccer gives players more chaos to contend with than any other major sport. So there's something uniquely thrilling about the moments when they manage to impose their own order on it.
Mark Titus, a former Ohio State scrub cager (as opposed to cage scrubber), is doing good work as one of Grantland's college basketball writers. His writing is funny, knowledgeable and provocative. He did a good dissection of UNC's poor defensive work some weeks ago, and he really has it in for Duke's Austin Rivers (whom he calls "Austin Rivers' Punchable Face," or "ARPF," which he writes is "pronounced like a seal's bark").
As long as those two teams are in the upper echelon of college b-ball, they're sure to get plenty of coverage in his weekly "Mark Titus' Top 12" column.
The following is an excerpt from an upcoming article on the recent jump to the pros made by four standout players from the North Carolina Tar Heels men’s soccer team, which won the 2011 NCAA championship last month. Here, forward Billy Schuler speaks to an American reporter for the first time since forgoing Major League Soccer’s SuperDraft to sign with a club in Sweden.
The majority of prospects for Major League Soccer’s SuperDraft, held each January, are college seniors who have exhausted their collegiate eligibility. The remaining choices are comprised predominantly by Generation Adidas signees and non-collegiate internationals. Schuler was eligible for inclusion in last week’s SuperDraft as a graduating junior and because he was offered a Generation Adidas contract. Considered the second-best forward prospect after Akron’s Darren Mattocks, Schuler was predicted in many mock drafts to be the third overall pick.
In mid-December, however, rumors were already swirling that several European clubs were taking a gander at the speedy striker. Finally, two weeks ago word broke that Schuler would decline MLS’ offer and instead sign for Hammarby IF, a Swedish second-division club based in Stockholm. Hammarby recently made news by hiring former U.S. international (and UNC-Chapel Hill player) Gregg Berhalter as their manager, only the second native American ever named the full-time coach of a European club.
Last Saturday, I spoke with Schuler from his hotel in Stockholm, the day he officially signed his contract with Hammarby and two days after setting foot in Sweden for the first time. Schuler says that his agent had made inquiries with overseas clubs “since [UNC’s] season ended,” but that the decision to play to Europe instead of MLS was made “literally a week or two ago.”
This afternoon, the Heels dropped their conference road opener to Florida State by a shocking 90-57 margin that cast unexpected doubt about UNC’s true viability as a national championship contender.
After Georgia Tech in 2011, most fans directed their ire at Larry Drew, the former Tar Heel point guard who soon exited school after Roy Williams demoted him in favor of Marshall.
But Drew isn’t around to serve as this team’s villain. Four of Carolina’s five starters were subpar against FSU, and the issue extended beyond mere poor play—the ‘Noles established dominance early and out-fought UNC throughout the contest.
John Henson, considered a potential first-team All-American, scored just 10 points with three rebounds, missed all seven (!) of his free throw attempts and picked up a technical foul for petulantly swatting the ball away from an opponent in the second half.
Harrison Barnes, another All-American candidate, shot just 5-for-13 from the floor and committed five turnovers.
Dexter Strickland, who in fairness played on a gimpy ankle, damaged the team less in terms of errant shots but was ineffective defensively and scored only four points.
Then there was Marshall, who played arguably the worst game of his career. The Cousy Award (nation’s best point guard) finalist shot 2-for-8 en route to six points and dished out only four assists against seven turnovers.
Tyler Zeller stood out as the exception. He scored efficiently and played tough defense, finishing with 14 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks.
Sophomore guard Chloe Wells is out of school this semester with an academic situation, while highly touted freshman forward Amber Henson, who never was really able to show what she could so, is out for the season following knee surgery.
Still the No. 7 Blue Devils (11-2, 3-0) are in very good shape, hosting a Seminoles team (10-7, 2-1) that lost its way in November but seems to have righted the ship.
Duke has won 32 straight home games and 24 straight at home against ACC foes.
Duke grinds one out this time, getting by a scrappy FSU effort in a 73-66 win.
As a special bonus for the occasion of this weekend's NCAA convention, to which Triangle Offense was invited to apply for credentials but declined because Indianapolis is too far away, we will treat you to an email flame-throw from a week ago, concerning the conditions of servitude among college Division I athletes. The main correspondents are David Fellerath (editor of this here blog and typer of these words), who plays Karl Marx or perhaps Big Bill Haywood to Adam Sobsey's... gonna go out on a limb here and say
Edmund Burke Andrew Carnegie.
But first, let's look at last week, starting with Mike Potter's thoughts on the women's games, then continuing with Neil Morris on the "Roland Ratings" and how they apply to N.C. State's bigs and finishing with Sobsey's thoughts on 9 p.m. starts.
Things we learned this week in the women’s game, other than that the Clemson women certainly aren’t afraid of playing in Chapel Hill
1. Duke’s Tricia Liston should be a force to be reckoned with the rest of her career. Already a great shooter when she arrived in Durham, the solidly-built 6-1 wing has become a more complete player as a sophomore, averaging 11.8 points per game and getting her first double-double Sunday against N.C. State.
3. UNC’s Brittany Rountree is a star as a freshman. The Tar Heels’ most decorated recruit this season, she has been the only consistent double-figure scorer behind senior center Chay Shegog, averaging 11.1 and hitting 47.6 from 3-point range. —Mike Potter
N.C. State’s big men aren’t playing so, well, big
It would be easy to analyze this is terms of individual output. But, another telling method is the so-called Roland Rating, one of those nouveau statistics that is gradually growing in popularity. In short, the RR is the numerical difference between a team’s net points while a particular player is on the court and the team’s net points while the same player is off the court. While the rating certainly isn’t an absolute measure of a player’s ability, it is a guide to how a team performs with or without that player.
After five straight games with a RR of 30-plus, Richard Howell’s rating sank to minus-9 against Maryland and minus-7 against Tech. Meanwhile, DeShawn Painter, despite playing only 15 minutes against the Terps and 20 minutes versus the Jackets, compiled shocking ratings of minus-27 and minus-15, respectively. Perhaps not surprisingly, the only Wolfpack to post a positive RR in both games was C.J. Leslie, including a telling 23 rating in State’s 11-point loss to Tech, further demonstrating how much the team truly relies on him.
As State enters the meat of conference season and even more formidable front lines (UNC, Duke, Virginia, etc.), it bears watching to see if these numbers stand up...and whether State’s big men can stand tall. —Neil Morris
Starting games at 9 p.m. may be hard on us hacks, but adrenaline knows no bedtime
Quickly here, because I've got to write a game story now and it's well past midnight: Seems like it must vary depending on the game.
Duke-Virginia was a helluva tilt on Thursday, and after 11 p.m., while we were in the Duke locker room interviewing players, no one looked tired. There's a point at which fatigue is overridden completely by the forces of adrenaline. I'm sure things were very different in the UVA locker room, but even at that, I bet the minds of the Cavs are and will be racing well into the small hours as they replay what might have been—especially Virginia guards Jontel Evans and Sammy Zeglinski, both good shooters who went a combined 0-14. (Fittingly, it was Evans's wide-open missed 3-pointer at the buzzer that sealed the Cavs' defeat.)
As the ACC season wears on, I think we'll see cumulative fatigue, but in the, say, 24-hour aftermath of a high-level game like last night's, between two top-20 teams, I don't think anyone on either side cares that it started at 9, not even Tyler Thornton, who tweeted on Thursday at about 11:30 a.m.: "3 classes in a row this morning #sheesh." —Adam Sobsey
And now for the main event, emails about the (appalling exploitation of college athletes)/ (EVERYTHING IS JUST FINE!), mostly between yours truly and Mr. Sobsey, with contributions from Mr. Potter, Rob Harrington and Bob Geary. Emails are lightly edited, but non-standard style and spelling may linger.
It started with a passage from an email David wrote to everyone on Tuesday, Jan. 3 at 1:14 a.m.
Over time, I'd like to find a more complex approach. And perhaps we can fold in thoughts about the world outside of Triangle basketball, as well. For example, although I'm ready to get off my "banish the December garbage games" hobbyhorse, I'd like to keep track of other developments in the NCAA, such as the upcoming convention in Indianapolis Jan. 11-14. And the ever-rising calls to professionalize college sports. Perhaps next week I'll invite everyone's thoughts on Joe Nocera's piece in the Times Magazine this weekend:
Sobsey replied at 9:53 a.m., writing in part:
First Bennett. Lauding the way his team clawed back from a nine-point deficit at the 4:54 mark to have a chance to tie the game as time expired, Bennett said: "The kids battled." And then he looked away and down, as if to the shadow of his wiser conscience, and made an emendation: "The young men battled."
About 10 minutes later, Krzyzewski was praising Virginia's Mike Scott, the ascendant forward who has catapulted himself into Player of the Year conversations with his recent play. Scott scored half of the Cavs' 32 first-half points, and Krzyzewski said that "he was responsible for 60 per cent of their offense. When a kid does that"—and he, like Bennett, interrupted himself: "I shouldn't call him a kid. When a man does that in this type of game, he's a high-level player."
This was a game for men. It was close, hard-fought, played at a high level and with strong focus. Bodies hit the floor often. Two players had their eyes poked. The referees generally let 'em play. Except for freshman Austin Rivers—who was, of course, the No. 1 recruit in America this season and is the polished scion of a basketball don—Duke's greener contingent mostly sat. "We're young," Krzyzewski said, twice in a row, but he made his team older last night. Point guards Quinn Cook (freshman) and Tyler Thornton (sophomore) combined for just 28 minutes of action, and reserves Josh Hairston (sophomore, although he celebrated his 20th birthday yesterday) and Michael Gbinije (freshman) didn't play at all. Sorry, boys. Andre Dawkins logged 29 minutes, his highest total since December 10 versus Washington, scored 10 points, and had what Krzyzewski called "by far the best defensive game he's ever played."
But Dawkins' increased minutes didn't owe solely to his age. It also had to do with the older men—the coaches—exchanging chess-like tactical blows. When Bennett switched his guards' defensive assignments, that allowed Krzyzewski to let Seth Curry run the point in a more favorable matchup against the Cavs' Sammy Zeglinski—which in turn allowed Krzyzewski to let Curry, Dawkins and Rivers share the floor together, something they haven't done as often lately as they did early in the season. Meanwhile, Miles Plumlee got more work covering the formidable Scott, and helped hold the tiring star to seven second-half points. Plumlee the elder fouled out with about three minutes left, having played just 15 hard-hitting minutes, including a fast-break throwdown dunk that forced a Virginia timeout about a third of the way through the second half.
Like I said: It was a man's game.