ACC Basketball Recap

February 11, 2013

We are roughly halfway through the ACC basketball season. That means its time to step back and try and make some sense of the first half of the season.  This is the perfect opportunity to look back at what we have learned and also make some predictions for the second half.

(I actually have no idea how far into the season we are. The new, unbalanced schedule has thrown things off but traditionally the first Duke-UNC game has been exactly halfway through the conference season.  That game is Wednesday so as far as Raw Thoughts is concerned we are halfway through the season.)

1.  Miami is really good

This isn’t exactly breaking news any more, but Miami is nasty.  They are the only team ever to have beaten Duke and UNC by more than 20 points in the same season, and they have a really good chance to win the ACC regular season.  Yet despite all of this Miami is still ranked below Duke in the polls.  I realize that College Basketball polls do not matter at all but it still is pretty absurd.  Duke had some injury issues but that was an ass-kicking of epic proportions

2.  Mason Plumlee is the best player in the conference, and possibly the nation

Everybody for Duke has had to step up and take on an increased burden since Ryan Kelly went down with a foot injury against Clemson.  Pretty much everybody but Plumlee has struggled with the extra pressure.  Quinn Cook, Rasheed Sulaimon, and even Seth Curry have all looked a little out of sorts without the floor spacing that Kelly provides.  Kelly’s replacements, Hairston and Jefferson mostly, have tried hard and had their moments but are very limited players. (Hairston by his crippling lack of talent, Jefferson by inexperience and the fact that his 6-8 195 pound frame is better suited to a Kenyan distance runner than an American power forward.)

The only reason the wheels haven’t fallen completely off for Duke has been the play of Mason Plumlee.  Since Kelly went down he has two 30+ point games and has averaged 10 rebounds a game.  Mason has also played an astounding number of minutes recently, logging three 40 minute games since the injury to Kelly.  Plumlee’s recent game against State was his finest work to date.  He completely dominated a good front court for the Wolfpack to the tune of 30 points and 9 rebounds on 82% shooting from the field and 75% from the line.

Duke’s ceiling will still be determined by when/if Kelly returns and how close to his pre-injury form he can reach, but Plumlee can go a long way to raising the team’s floor.  If he plays like this all year Duke will compete for the conference title and be a tough out in March

3.  NC State is who I thought they were

State was constantly hyped throughout the off-season.  They were the pre-season pick by both the coaches and the media to win the ACC and were ranked 6th in the AP poll to start the season.  Raw Thoughts wasn’t fooled, and hopefully neither were you.  State has played to type this year by combining maddening inconsistency with a fine choker’s instinct.  They can look spectacular one second and miserable the next.  My predictions for the year in sports are already in shambles so allow me to bask in this one for a while.  From a post in November:

“Picking State to win the conference is like picking France to win a war.  They might have a bigger army but they are still fucking France.”

Not only will State not sniff an ACC championship but they may have to scrape to make it into the tournament.  As always, bet on NC State to be average and thank me later

4.  Expansion is coming at the right time for the ACC

Outside of Duke and Miami, the rest of the ACC really sucks.  The internet says that the ACC managed to snag a tie in the ACC-Big 10 Challenge, but for the life of me I don’t understand how this could have happened.  State, Carolina, Virginia and Maryland are average at best, and no one else in the lower tier of the conference can even claim mediocrity.  I would like to write this off as an aberration but the ACC hasn’t been truly deep in a really long time.  The ACC maintains its reputation as a top conference through the sustained excellence of Duke and UNC, and through fond memories of the early 2000’s when the conference was stellar from top to bottom.  Those memories, and Carolina’s run of excellence, are starting to fade and the ACC is fast becoming a second tier league.  Fortunately, reinforcements are on the way.  Syracuse, Pitt, Notre Dame and Louisville are all joining in the next few years.  With these additions (plus addition by subtraction with Maryland’s move to the Big 10) the ACC should be securely among the top conferences for years to come. (Except during football season)

4.  UNC will get another shot at that elusive NIT championship

UNC has unfinished business with the NIT.  Back in 2010 a young Heels team made a spirited run to the NIT finals where they were defeated by the powerhouse Dayton Flyers.  While I am sure that was a crushing blow, the Heels should have a chance to avenge that defeat this year.  The most recent bracketology predictions have the Tar Heels as a bubble team and a 10 seed.  That was before the beat down they received in Miami Saturday, and obviously it didn’t take into account the two losses against Duke that UNC will pile up this year.  Looking at the schedule, Carolina will probably have to either upset Duke or State, or make a run in the ACC tournament.  While not impossible, I don’t see this year’s UNC team being able to pull it off.

Raw Thoughts is officially endorsing the Heels as the favorite for the 2013 National Invitational Tournament Champion.  I can see it now.  Reggie Bullock and Macadoo embracing triumphantly at mid court after the victory and then cutting down the nets of Madison Square Garden.  Winning meaningless games should also help prepare them for their future careers in the D-League.

 

 

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The dominant story of this post-season has been Ray Lewis.  He announced before the playoffs that he would retire after the season, so each of the last 3 games could have been his last.  Lewis is an outstanding player who has defined his franchise and his position for the pretty much every one of his 17 years in the league.  He is also very out-spoken, media friendly, and by all accounts a very good guy.  As a result the media has spent the last 3 weeks fawning over Lewis, who has responded by turning his particular brand of charisma and over the top excitement up to 11.

Normally I would love everything about this situation.  The atmosphere in Baltimore for that last game was insane, plus I totally respect bumping Nelly before NFL games.  A huge part of me wants to root for the Ravens to win the Super Bowl and send Ray Lewis out on top.  There is only one problem.  HE FUCKING KILLED A GUY. (probably)

On January 31st, 2000 Ray Lewis and his entourage got into a fight at an Atlanta nightclub that left two men dead.  Lewis and two of his associates were charged with murder and Lewis eventually plead guilty to obstruction of justice in exchange for dropping the murder charge.

None of this is breaking news.  I get that.  But if you are anything like me you were either too young to grasp the significance, or have just forgotten the gritty details.  And they are pretty damn gritty.  Thanks to this excellent Grantland piece I have been able to read up on what exactly went down and it really forces you to question the hero worship Ray Lewis is currently receiving.

As far as I can tell Lewis and a few friends got into a fight at a nightclub.  At some point during the fight, two men got stabbed and later died.  Lewis was seen throwing punches but not with a knife.  Once the men were stabbed Lewis and his group got into a limo and drove off.  Lewis was heard telling people not to talk to the cops, and at some point disposed of a white suit that was allegedly covered in blood.

There is no evidence  that Lewis actually stabbed anyone, but that doesn’t really matter.  He and his associates killed a man in a fight and then covered up the evidence.  By the letter of the law, that is murder just the same as if Lewis himself had knifed the man.

(It is important to note that while both of Lewis’ two friends who were accused of stabbing the men were tried for murder, neither were convicted.  Of course neither was O.J.)

My point here is not to demonize Ray Lewis.  He served time for his mistake (not much, but still) and has been an exemplary citizen for the past 13 years, using his money and influence to do a lot of good in the world.  This doesn’t make up for murder of course, but we will never really be sure of what happened that night and I can understand many people wanting to give Lewis the benefit of the doubt.  What I cannot understand is why so many people, especially in the sports media, are willing to not only forgive Lewis but also to forget.

We live in a world where our sports heroes are constantly picked apart.  Cam Newton puts a towel on his head after a bad interception, and all of a sudden he has an attitude problem and is an un-redeemable loser.  Jay Cutler snaps at an offensive lineman after a missed block and is forever labeled as a whiner and a douche.  Ray Lewis has to plead guilty to obstruction of justice to avoid a murder trial and somehow moves past that to become a great humanitarian and leader.  And the murder is hardly ever mentioned.  Bringing it up on TV or in print seems to have become a faux pas.  Like it is in bad taste to remind the world that this sports hero may have also stabbed a man.

The double standard that Ray Lewis receives astounds me.  Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens used steroids to increase their performance on the baseball field and they have been widely vilified and blackballed from the Baseball Hall of Fame.  Mike Vick beat his dogs (which is terrible) and went to jail for over a year, and has never been thought of the same.  All the while Lewis manages to have his legacy uninfluenced by a much worse incident.  My explanation for this is that Lewis is extremely media/fan friendly and always gives a good interview.  Being friendly and approachable is obviously a good attribute but people seem to assume that Clemens, Bonds and Vick committed worse crimes just because they are dicks.  This is dumb logic.

I am not saying that Ray Lewis is a bad person, or that he definitely killed those men.  We will never know what really happened that night so it would be unfair to judge Lewis exclusively on that one incident.  It is equally unfair however to completely ignore it when forming our opinions of him.  The media need to stop glossing over this extremely unsavory aspect of Lewis’ past and paint the full picture of the man.  Failure to do so would be to ignore the facts in favor of the narrative.  This is irresponsible journalism, and one would think a less common practice after the Te’o debacle.

We shouldn’t ignore the great career of Ray Lewis, but we need to remember that bloody white suit along with all of his tackles and interceptions.

Manti Te’o’s Girlfriend

January 17, 2013

Yesterday afternoon Deadspin broke the craziest story I have ever seen or heard of.  The girlfriend that Manti Te’o supposedly lost to cancer on September 12th, and whom he subsequently dedicated his entire season to, never existed.  Lennay Kakua has no social security number, no record of ever attending Stanford, and no death cetificate or record of a funeral.  The details of the story are available all over the internet but I encourage you to read the original story on Deadspin.  It is by far the most detailed and interesting account out there so far.

This story has raised a ton of questions, and most of them are yet to be answered in a satisfactory manner.  The biggest of these questions is whether Te’o was involved in the hoax or just a victim.  Te’o himself, and the Notre Dame athletic department, have both released statements staunchly claiming that Te’o was misled and victimized by an unnamed internet source.  This is so far fetched that I actually cannot believe Te’o had the balls to even try and lie about it.

My immediate reaction to the official statements from Te’o and Notre Dame was a strong “C’mon Man” and nothing I have heard since then has changed my opinion.  There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Te’o was complicit in the scam from the beginning.  A lot of the details have been omitted by the mainstream sports media so far (ESPN, SI, Yahoo) presumably until they can be verified, but if you read the Deadspin article the evidence really piles up.  Te’o repeatedly claimed to have met Kakua in person, and his father stated that she traveled to Hawaii and spent time with the family.  These accounts are directly at odds with the statements from Te’o and Notre Dame that claim the entire relationship took place online.  It is possible that Te’o’s lies were of the harmless variety and were intended only to make him seem cooler for having an online girlfriend, but the sheer amount of lying and deception involved points to a much deeper secret.

Many people seem to think that being in a multi-year online relationship with a fake person is a reasonable mistake to make.  That something like this could “happen to anyone.”  I am not buying that for a second.  I am sure something like this has actually happened before but not in this day and age.  People, especially young people, are so familiar with the internet and social media now that I refuse to believe anyone could actually have been duped in this manner.  It is very common to get the occasional facebook request or twitter follow from an unknown and very attractive person.  It takes about three minutes of investigation to realize that they aren’t real.  The typical indicators are very few friends or followers, weird or unbelievable information or a lack of long-term activity.  Every high school and college kid in the country could identify these people as fake in minutes.  So how could Te’o have been fooled for years.

While there is not yet any conclusive proof that Te’o was complicit in this scam, the official Raw Thoughts consensus is that he was involved from the beginning.  This would indicate mental unbalance and a general lack of understanding of the way the internet works that may be hard to believe, but its the only explanation that makes any sense.

 

Now lets go rapid fire on some of the other big questions this story has raised.

 

What was the motive behind this deception?The common assumption is that Te’o invented and then faked the death of his girlfriend as a publicity stunt to increase his chances of winning the Heisman.  As of now this is where most of the evidence points and is the most likely answer.

There is another possibility however, one that immediately springs to mind when reading the full details of this situation.  I am going to beat around the bush here because I don”t know if this blog is big enough to get sued for libel, and I don’t want to find out.  In general terms however, I think we can agree that life would be very difficult for a Hawaiian, Mormon, All-American linebacker at Notre Dame who happened to be gay.  We can also agree that one way to avoid allegations of homosexuality is to get a girlfriend.  If you connect the dots it is easy to see an alternate explanation for why Te’o may have been engaged in a fraudulent relationship.

(I want to make it clear that I do not think an athlete, or any person, needs to hide the fact that they are gay.  I am just simply noting that given Teo’s background, were he to be gay, he would probably want to hide it.)

How did this farce last so long?

This question might be more puzzling to me than anything else.  Major props to Deadspin for breaking the story, but they didn’t figure out that Lennay Kakua never existed until 4 months after her “death.”  The tardiness of Deadspin is nothing compared to the complete abdication of journalistic responsibility on the part of the rest of the media.  Sports Illustrated put Te’o on the cover of an issue yet failed to notice that his girlfriend wasn’t enrolled in Stanford, didn’t have a social security number and wasn’t registered at a single hospital.  That is just unacceptable and embarrassing.  ESPN is equally guilty.  The World Wide Leader seems to have given up on actual reporting in favor of holding their dicks and watching Skip Bayless yell at Stephen A. Smith.

Has Delonte West been dethroned as the stupidest athlete on Twitter?

Yes.  100% yes.  Depending on which version of the story you believe Te’o either was tricked into a multi-year relationship with a fake person, or believed he could get away with creating, and then killing off, a fake girlfriend.  Either way, that is the stupidest thing anyone has ever done on Twitter.

What happens next?

The truth is going to come out.  There is too much information out there for this to go away until we get a satisfactory answer.  My guess is that the eventual answers come from an NFL team.  Anybody thinking about drafting Te’o has to be in complete panic mode trying to wrap their heads around this situation.  They have the money and the motivation to get to the bottom of this and I believe they will figure it out.

 

I want to wrap this up with a joke I stole from twitter.

Check out Manti Te’o’s girlfriend in a bikini:

deserted-beach-island-slkdl

 

Raw Predictions

January 2, 2013

Now that I have recapped the past year its time to abuse another sportswriter cliche and make some predictions for the upcoming year in sports.  Here are ten things that I am pretty sure will happen in 2013.  Starting with the most likely and going down from there.

 

1.  The Chiefs will blow the number 1 pick- This is an absolute mortal lock to happen.  If vegas took bets on things like this I would put my net worth on it. (Not very much unless you count the car my parents bought me.  Which I do.)  The Chiefs haven’t had a successful draft in years and for reasons beyond my comprehension decided to keep Scott Pioli as GM.  Nearly every single one of Pioli’s major decisions, draft picks and coaching hires, have been disastrous.  I predict the Chiefs either reach for a completely unqualified QB or draft a third consecutive defensive lineman with great measurables and really sheisty college stats.  Worst case scenario here is that the pick ends up as part of a trade package for Michael Vick.  If that happens I may have to permanently switch my allegiances to the ‘Skins bandwagon.  Hail RGIII.

2.  Alabama will crush Notre Dame- The resurgence of Notre Dame is a nice story and all but I don’t think they have a chance in hell of beating Alabama.  Alabama made it through the meat grinder that is the SEC season with only one loss and relatively few close calls.  Notre Dame obviously went undefeated this year but I’m not that impressed.  “Quality” wins over USC and Oklahoma don’t look nearly as impressive now as they did at the time and they had a huge and very questionable call go there way at the end of the Stanford game.  I hope I am wrong on this one, (fat chance) but I’m calling Alabama by at least ten.  I can’t tell if Nick Saban has signed a deal with the devil, or is actually the devil himself.  Either way my money is on the Crimson Tide.

3.  Andy Murray will win at least two majors- This one sounds crazy but I really think Murray follows up his breakout year and starts to dominate the Tennis scene.  Nadal’s body is breaking down and he has already pulled out of the Australian Open with a mysterious stomach virus.  Federer is old and will eventually start to show his age leaving Murray and the Novak Djokovic to split up the majors.  I’m thinking Australia and the French for the Djoker and Wimbledon and the US for Murray.

4.  Duke will win the national title- This is a homer pick, but a defensible one.  Duke has gone undefeated against an incredibly hard schedule, and looked really good doing it.  They pass the eye test, and look even better according to advanced metrics.  This ESPN.com piece, compiled using statistics that I do not understand, has Duke way ahead of the field.  Second place Indiana is closer to 10th place Ohio State than they are to Duke. Duke is pretty clearly the best team this year, and while the best team doesn’t always win the title the blue Devils are my pick.

5.  Brad Stevens will take the UCLA head coaching job- This is a double prediction because it requires incumbent UCLA head coach Ben Howland getting fired, and UCLA convincing Stevens to come to Westwood.  Considering the Bruins early season struggles and general culture of underachievement the former seems like a safe bet. (In 07-08 UCLA had Russell Westbrook, Darren Collison and Kevin Love and failed to win the title.)  The latter could be trickier but should still happen.  Stevens has been wildly successful at Butler and has been offered a couple of better jobs already but has wisely turned them down.  He has hero status at Butler and infinite job security.  It will take a prestigious program and a shit ton of cash to get him away from the Bulldogs.  UCLA can offer both.

(This will piss me off enormously because I want Brad Stevens to take over when Coach K retires.  Hopefully sometime around 2030.)

6.  The Heat will win the NBA title- I hate this so much but it is going to happen.  I don’t even want to talk about it.  Prove me wrong Lob City.

7.  The NHL will cancel the entire season- And absolutely no one will give a shit.

8.  Duke Football will make another bowl game- Quarterback Anthony Boone will lead the blue Devils to at least six wins in a watered down ACC and David Cutcliffe will be hailed (rightly) as the football messiah in Durham.  This one is a little bit of a stretch, but Duke’s defense was young last year and has literally nowhere to go but up.  The offense might regress a bit but six wins is very reasonable.  Keep in mind that I am a huge homer.

9.  The Patriots will win the Super Bowl- I actually have no idea who will win the Super Bowl this year, but it seems like a cop out to make sports predictions and not tackle the biggest sporting event of the year.  The Patriots have an unstoppable offense however and evil genius Bill Belichick calling the shots.  In an unpredictable and hopefully wildly exciting playoffs I like the patriots chances of winning best.

10.  Jadeveon Clowney will win the Heisman- This is the boldest prediction of them all.  No purely defensive player has ever won the Heisman, but that streak has to end sometime.  (Charles Woodson stole the trophy from Peyton Manning in 1997 but he returned kicks and played some receiver in addition to cornerback)  And I can think of no better player to end the offensive player hegemony than Clowney.  He is quite possibly the most athletic person on earth and has been the top rated football player in the country since high school.  And his hit yesterday is actually frightening.  The way he knocked the shit out of that poor Michigan player and then scooped the ball up with one hand is just nuts.

And honestly, just look at the dude.

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The Heisman often comes down to just two players.  Kind of like Thunderdome.  And if two men enter, Jadevon Clowney always fucking leaves.

 

The Year in Raw Thoughts

December 31, 2012

2012 was a busy year in sports.  A lot happened but a few things stand out in particular for me.  Looking back it is easy for me to pick out the ten moments that meant the most to me.  The ones that when I look back in a few years will define sports in 2012 to me.

This is an entirely subjective and personal list.  It is not an attempt to start an argument or convince anyone that some events were more important/memorable than others.  (The tool bags at Bleacher Report have that covered.)  This is simply what I remember best from the past year in sports.

 

In no particular order:

Tebowmania- Lost amidst the fiery wreckage that is the Jets season is the fact that Tebow is responsible for one of the most exciting moments of 2012.  His first round playoff victory over the Steelers capped off an incredible run in which the Bronco’s won close game after close game.  This season’s soap opera with the Jets has been an unmitigated disaster but I choose to remember the good times and not the bad.  And they were pretty damn good.

pb-120108-tebow-cannon.photoblog900

 

The Ricky Rubio Show- Rubio has struggled with injuries and inconsistency in 2012 but when he is at his best he is the most exciting player in the league and I’m not sure that its close.  Plus, I predicted his breakout last year.  Boom.

Check out Slick Rick (that’s gonna be a thing) making Dirk look foolish.

 

The Shot– The highlight of an otherwise pedestrian season for Duke Basketball

RiversSubZero

 

Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson- The winners of The Masters and the US Open respectively, also happen to be two of my favorite golfers.  I like Webb because he is from Raleigh and went to my high school, and I like Bubba because he plays golf like I play Tiger Woods.  Essentially he hits the ball as hard as possible regardless of circumstance.  Watching these young, up and coming American golfers finally put it together on the big stage was an incredible experience.

 

 

Drogba Doing Work- Didier Drogba has consistently been one of my favorite soccer players, (in large part because of his dominance in FIFA) but his performance in the Champions League final was one for the ages.  He almost single-handedly dragged Chelsea to the finals and then hit the winning penalty with his last ever kick for the club.  Total power move.

 

The Javon Belcher Tragedy– This is kind of a downer, but there is no way I will be able to think of sports in 2012 without remembering the Belcher tragedy.  It has been the exclamation mark on a Chiefs season that ranks as one of the truly depressing seasons in modern sports history.  There is one important lesson that I choose to take away from this situation; namely that bad coaches and players can still be good people.

If a coach or player is struggling it is very easy to condemn them as incompetent and unqualified in all aspects of life rather than just football.  Everyone is guilty of this but I have been particularly harsh on Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel and QB Brady Quinn.  They both suck at their jobs, but the way they handled the aftermath of Belcher’s death was extremely admirable.  Crennel in particular deserves our respect for getting the team ready to play 24 hours after he saw Belcher take his own life in the team parking lot.

 

The Fall of Lance Armstrong- This is another really sad story.  It seems pretty clear at this point that Lance definitively cheated and deserved the punishment handed down to him.  This not only makes me look like a fucking idiot for defending him, but also drains every last drop of enjoyment and inspiration that I gained from watching Lance in the first place.  I realize that the anti-doping agencies thought they were punishing Armstrong by bringing these allegations to light.  Unfortunately, the only ones who were hurt by this whole thing were the fans.  Lance is gonna be just fine.

 

RG3SUS- Robert Griffin III sprained his knee for our sins.  On the 14th day he returned to the field and led us to the playoffs.  Hail to the Redskins.

(If you can’t tell I have shamelessly jumped onto the ‘skins bandwagon.)

 

Adrian Peterson- What Adrian Peterson has accomplished this year has been superhuman.  People throw that term around a lot for athletic achievements but in this case I mean literally above what a human should be able to achieve.  Peterson’s ACL injury happened 1 year ago yesterday.  The recovery is typically 18 months but some elite athletes can return in a year, albeit with limited movement.  Peterson has been a dominant force since the beginning of the season, making a full recovery from ACL surgery in half the usual time and somehow being even better than before he got hurt.  His bid to break Eric Dickerson’s all time rushing record fell 8.5 yards short last night but that should not take away from the season Peterson has had.

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Usain Bolt Runs it Back- Usain Bolt’s performance in the Olympics was the most impressive thing I saw all year.  Running, and sprinting in particular, is the purest form of competition.  Literally everyone in the world has an opportunity to compete.  There are no financial barriers.  As impressive as Phelps, Gabby Douglas, and the rest of the Olympic champions were you just can’t compare their sports to running.  The indoor pools and gymnastic arenas that their disciplines require are not available to most of the world.  Everyone has 100 meters of flat ground.

There had never been a repeat champion in the 100 meter dash for a reason.  It is the very definition of a young man’s game.  Unlike other endeavors older athletes cannot rely on skill or savvy to compensate for loss of athleticism.  Usain Bolt somehow managed to be the best, most explosive athlete on the planet for four years running.  Despite having much more money, and thus less motivation than nearly all of his competitors Bolt was still able to triumph.

 

I firmly believe that Usain Bolt will be the enduring legacy of sports in 2012.  He is a transformational athlete that not only dominates his chosen sport but does so easily.  There will be other buzzer beaters, other great young QB’s and point guards.  Sadly there will also be more sports scandals and tragedies.  There will never be another performance like Bolt’s on the track in London.  In 20 years I may not remember anything else on this list.  But I will damn sure remember Usain Bolt.

Usain_Bolt_150054741_620x350

 

 

 

PS.

This is roughly the 1-year anniversary of Raw Thoughts so I wanted to take the time to thank everyone for reading.  A special shout out to anyone reading who doesn’t know me personally.  Not sure how you found the blog but I hope you keep coming back.

Happy New Years,

-Weaver

Down with the NCAA

December 21, 2012

The NCAA has long been an absurd institution.  It is a totalitarian regime that holds absolute power over the lives of thousands of student athletes.  The NCAA acts as judge, jury, and executioner in all aspects of college sports.  It behaves with complete latitude and no fear of oversight or accountability.  Everything from the eligibility of individual players to long-term financial and competitive sanctions against entire universities falls under NCAA jurisdiction.  The NCAA has been given too large a mandate with far too little supervision and it has responded with what can charitably be described as tragic inconsistency.  I prefer to call it gross hypocrisy.  Either way something needs to change.

There are literally thousands of examples of misguided or unfair rulings by the NCAA in the past 20 years, but their behavior recently has sent me over the edge.  UNC is in the midst of a decade long academic scandal where by the university’s own admission athletes have received unfair advantages in the classroom.  This seems to be a cut and dry case that based on precedent requires sanctions and probably the forfeiture of a few wins.  Instead the NCAA has announced as recently as yesterday that UNC appears to have broken no rules.

By failing to act on the UNC cheating scandal the NCAA has abdicated its responsibility to protect the integrity of college athletics.  By ignoring the institutionalized cheating the NCAA has made a mockery of the “student-athlete” label that we still attach to college players.  This is bad enough, but in fairness to the NCAA this label has been a joke for years.  There is a very legitimate argument to be made that this sort of academic advantage is given to athletes at nearly every school and the NCAA is merely accepting that college athlete is no longer synonymous with student-athlete.  I have a problem with this logic, but it is at least somewhat reasonable.

The problem is that while the NCAA is turning a blind eye to academic fraud they are cracking down harder than ever on any sort of illegal benefits given to players.  Just this season alone, UCLA Freshman Shabazz Mohammad, two Indiana freshmen and Texas point guard Myck Kabongo have been suspended for part or all of the season because they took improper benefits.  These benefits usually take the form of meals or plane tickets provided and in many cases are comically small amounts of money.  The Indiana case is particularly absurd as the two players, Hanner Mosquera-Perea and Peter Jurkin, were the recipients of goods from a legitimate non-profit organization.  They were suspended because the administrator of the non-profit gave 185 dollars to the Indiana Athletic Department in 1986 and is thus considered a “booster” and forbidden to give anything to recruits.

The NCAA throws the book at players when they have the audacity to try and gain any sort of financial advantage from their athletic abilities but gives coaches and athletic directors a slap on the wrist, or in the case of UNC, a free pass when they break the rules.  This double standard exposes the true hypocrisy of the NCAA.  Every decision made by the NCAA has two goals; maximize profit for the schools and ensure that the players who bring in the money receive no share of it.  The old argument that college athletes are paid in the form of a free education become more ludicrous with each move by the NCAA.  Every change in the college sports landscape from expanding the NCAA tournament to conference realignment has increased revenues and decreased the importance of academics.  If athletes at a prestigious institution like UNC are the beneficiaries of academic fraud to retain eligibility we can only imagine what goes on other places.

The ideal solution to this problem is for the NCAA to dramatically alter its course and begin to emphasize the student portion of the term student-athlete.  This process starts with emphatically cracking down on academic violations, but it goes further than that.  If the NCAA is serious about legitimizing itself as an academic organization than there need to be serious sanctions for poor graduation rates.  Schools like UConn, with an incredible 11% graduation rate, need to be banned from postseason play until they return to acceptable levels.

Unfortunately we do not live in an ideal world.  The NCAA will continue chasing profits at the expense of academics.  We have essentially gone too far down this road to turn back.  What the NCAA can do is have the balls to call a spade a spade. They need to admit that they are running a professional sports league and begin treating their players accordingly.  This includes paying them, but also giving them some sort of voice in the decision making process.  In professional sports athletes have unions that protect them from abuses of power.  College athletes have no such protections and they are repeatedly boned by the NCAA.  It is time to end NCAA hegemony and give the players a financial stake, and more importantly a voice in college sports.

 

The Kings of November

November 29, 2012

Duke Basketball has had an unbelievable start to the season.  They have gone 7-0 against an impossibly difficult schedule including three top-5 teams.  After an exhausting start to the season Duke steps back now and plays a markedly easier schedule until ACC play starts.  This is the perfect time to look back on the season so far and what it means for Duke going forward.

 

1.  Duke owns November

Duke has been consistently excellent in November for as long as I can remember.  Coach K schedules numerous hard non-conference games early in the year to simulate NCAA tournament conditions, and has done remarkably well.  Duke has not lost a preseason tournament since 2006.  This is a staggering statistic considering the talent levels that the upper tier tournaments attract.  I have no idea what Coach K does differently than everybody else but Duke teams are consistently better at the beginning of the year than everybody else.  This advantage does not always continue until March, but it is still enormously valuable.  Duke gets a head start on a high NCAA tournament seed that proves important if they lose a game or two in ACC play.  Take this year for example.  After running the early season gauntlet Duke could lose at least 4 and maybe 5 conference games and still be essentially guaranteed a #1 seed.

2.  Seth Curry’s injury is the weirdest thing ever

Seth Curry is suffering from an undisclosed, and apparently undiagnosable, lower leg injury.  The current prognosis is that Curry can play, but will be dealing with pain all year.  It has consistently been described as the kind of injury that cannot be treated and won’t get better with time.  My question is a simple one.  What the fuck kind of injury is that?  This is 2012.  I thought we were past the “Just deal with it bro” phase of medicine.  How can the resources of the Duke sports medicine department not figure this out.

Many people have speculated that Curry is dealing with a stress fracture. (Jay Bilas harped on this last night.)  These people are wrong.  Firstly, stress fractures heal with time.  If Curry really had one he would sit out a month or two and be ready to roll by the spring.  Secondly, I had a stress fracture in high school and could barely walk.  There is no way someone with a broken leg could consistently play 30+ minutes per game.

(Regardless of the exact nature of the injury, Curry is showing serious balls by gutting it out.)

3.  Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon are the truth

Duke came into the season with big-time question marks in the back court.  Sulaimon and Cook have played exceptionally well however, and turned a weakness into a strength.  Cook was the MVP of the stacked Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, and has made the whole team better with his play as a pure point guard.  Sulaimon has provided much needed perimeter defense and even flashed some serious offensive game last night against Ohio State.  Unfortunately, Sulaimon suffers from what many call the Zoolander disease.  He is not an ambi-turner and just cannot go left.

4.  Mason Plumlee learned how to shoot free throws

Plumlee’s horrendous free throw shooting was a big hole in his game.  He shied away from contact (a big problem for a center) and had to be taken out late in games.  Now that Plumlee can shoot free throws, he is over 80% for the year, he is unstoppable.  It’s like when Happy Gilmore learned to putt.  No one else stands a chance.

5.  Ryan Kelly has the best nickname in college basketball.  Maybe the world.

THE WHITE RAVEN

 

6.  Duke needs to develop some depth

The start to the season has been an unmitigated success for Duke, but there have been some causes for concern for those of us looking hard enough.  Namely, the complete lack of useable players after the starting 5.  Tyler Thornton is the sixth man and is a decent, but limited player.  He works hard and is a competent defender and ball handler but cannot create his own shot or even reliably make open ones. (Side note: if Thornton was white he would set the record for most times being called a gym rat.)

Beyond Thornton the bench has been disastrous.  The issue is not a lack of talent, but rather a lack of playing time and production.  Forwards Alex Murphy and Amile Jefferson in particular were highly recruited and should be able to help the team if given the chance.  It is possible that Coach K will use the easier December schedule to work Murphy, Jefferson, or injured center Marshall Plumlee into the rotation. (Yup.  There is another Plumlee brother.  By all accounts he is the most Plumlee of the three.)  If not then this Duke team is in trouble.  Eventually foul trouble or fatigue is going to force Duke to go to the bench, and if Josh Hairston and Tyler Thornton are the first two guys off it then the Blue Devils will fall short of their goals in March.

Playing Catch Up

November 26, 2012

The past few weeks have been very eventful for the sports world.  I have had a ton of Raw Thoughts that never made it into the blog either due to my own laziness or the fact that they didn’t quite warrant an entire post.  I am going to try and catch up and go rapid fire until I run out of things to say.  Duke Basketball has obviously been very active but will get it’s own post later this week

 

-NC State was wildly, terribly overrated to start the season.  I know this isn’t exactly breaking news since State has already been blown out once and barely beat UNC Ashville over the weekend but I have been saying this for weeks if not months.  Trust me.  Anyone who predicted State to be in the top 5 or to win the ACC should have their press passes revoked.  Picking State to win the conference is like picking France to win a war.  They might have a bigger army but they are still fucking France.

 
-UNC also sucks which makes me very, very happy.

 

-The NHL is absolutely killing itself.  They evidently didn’t get my letter and are still continuing a lockout that is going to kill the league.  Figure it out hockey

 

-The ACC sucks balls at football.  The conference only has six bowl eligible teams and only two of them are decent.  To make things worse the two good teams, Florida State and Clemson, just got beat at home pretty easily by SEC schools.  Sadly, I don’t really see this changing in the near future.  Miami looks promising but will probably be in NCAA sanction hell for the next couple of years.

 

-Conference realignment has gotten out of hand.  The Big Ten has expanded again grabbing Maryland and Rutgers in a move that makes absolutely zero sense for any of the parties involved.  The Big Ten hopes to lock down the NYC and D.C. television markets with this move and is paying through the ass to make it happen. (Maryland has to pay the ACC 50 million bucks to leave)  The problem is that no one gives a shit about Maryland or Rutgers football.  There is no way that people in the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic are going to pay for the Big 10 network so they can see Minnesota and Iowa beat Maryland 14-9.

The move makes even less sense for Maryland.  They have built up a solid basketball tradition pretty much solely because they play in the ACC and get to pretend to be rivals with UNC and Duke.  Their recruiting is going to dry up and they will lose basketball without reaping any benefits in football.  The ACC however is adding Pitt, Notre Dame and Syracuse, and is gonna be just fine.  Don’t let the door hit you on the ass on the way out Terrapins.  (This actually might make sense for Rutgers.  I just don’t know or care at all.)

 

-The Chiefs are the saddest team in recent professional sports history.  They completely suck and cannot stop cropping up in really embarrassing articles and videos.  First, a man’s obituary cited the Chiefs poor play as the reason for his death.  Then to make things worse an old lady heckled Chiefs receiver Dexter McCluster as he delivered her Thanksgiving dinner.  The Chiefs can’t even win at community service.

Oh yeah.  And Pro Bowl safety is deathly afraid of the Chiefs mascot.  A fucking horse.

 

-The Thunder screwed themselves (and everyone who hates the Heat) over by trading James Harden.  They are still good but have almost no chance of beating the Heat now.  I realize keeping Harden would have been expensive anyone who buys a professional sports team with the goal of making money is an idiot.  Because the Thunder were too poor to pay Harden we are most likely going to have to watch the Lakers and the Heat in the finals.  This is my nightmare.

 

-The General Petraeus/CIA/army/cheating scandal doesn’t really interest me that much.  The only thing I care about is the side story involving Jill Kelly.  She has been repeatedly described as a “Tampa Socialite.”  How the hell does Tampa have a social scene that merits socialites?

 

-DUKE FOOTBALL IS IN A BOWL GAME

I don’t care that we backed into it.  I don’t care that it’s going to be a sheisty bowl and I don’t really care if we win.  After 19 years of horrendous football Duke is back in the postseason.

 

The AL MVP Race

November 15, 2012

Miguel Cabrera just won the American League MVP.  Cabrera won the triple crown and by any measure had a spectacular season.  In most years he would be a very deserving winner.  This year however he was not the best player in the league.  That distinction goes to Angels rookie Mike Trout.  Trout had one of the best seasons in baseball history but did not win the MVP because people are fucking stupid.

I do not want to get too bogged down in each players statistics and respective merits.  These have been extensively written about all over the internet. (Two of the best are Jonah Keri and Joe Posnanski.)  Mike Trout has had a better year by every possible metric except for batting average, runs batted in and home runs.  He stole more bases, scored more runs, was a massively better defensive player, and was actually a stronger offensive player if you go by advanced statistics.  No one on either side of the argument debates any of these points.  And yet somehow Miguel Cabrera won the award.

Cabrera won for a number of completely inane reasons.  The first of which is that he is the first triple crown winner since Carl Yazstremsky in 1967.  The Triple Crown is a very difficult feat that has a lot of history behind it.  MVP voters, and pretty much everyone over 30, seem to automatically tie this accomplishment with the MVP award.  There are a ton of problems with this logic.  The first of which is that the Triple Crown stats are not a very good way to evaluate a baseball player.  They only consider offense, and they do a poor job properly judging that even.  RBI’s for example are an essentially worthless measure for judging an individual player’s performance.  Far too many factors outside of a player’s control factor into RBI’s.  (Quality of teammates, position in the batting order, teammates baserunning abilities, etc.)  RBI’s have essentially been discredited as a valid metric and batting average is nearly as worthless. (On Base Percentage is now used instead) Leading the league in either RBI’s or batting average is not the least bit significant anymore, but since Cabrera was able to combine all three categories these outdated statistics have suddenly become relevant again.  The fact that Cabrera led the league in the only three stats available in 1930 is impressive but it shouldn’t mean that we have to evaluate players the same way we did during the depression.

(One last problem with the Triple Crown.  It is completely dependent on the performance of the rest of the league.  if Josh Hamilton had stayed healthy and hit 3 more home runs then he would have led the league and Cabrera would have fallen just short of the triple Crown.  He would have provided the exact same value to his team but would have had no chance at the MVP.)

The other big reason that Cabrera won the MVP is because many people feel that since his team, the Tigers, made the playoffs and Trout’s did not that he provided more value.  This logic completely ignores the individual nature of baseball.  Baseball is unique among team sports in that an individual’s impact is pretty much limited to their own performance.  A great quarterback can make the entire offense better, and someone like Lebron or Jordan can almost single-handedly win games in basketball.  A historically great baseball player can’t make his teammates hit better, or his pitcher stop serving up meatballs.  I think the argument that an MVP can only come from a playoff team is flawed in pretty much any sport but it is just downright wrong in baseball.

More importantly, the Angels won more games than the Tigers.  The only reason Cabrera was able to “lead” his team to the playoffs was because the AL central was a historically bad division. (This also means that Trout’s numbers were produced against tougher competition.)  Arguing that Cabrera deserves the MVP over Trout because his team made the playoffs is both illogical and unfair.  What would people have Trout do?  He can’t magically put the Royals in the AL West.

It is pretty clear that there really aren’t any good arguments to be made for Cabrera to win the MVP.  In addition to the ones listed above people often bring up nebulous qualities such as “clutchness” or leadership that range from difficult to impossible to quantify.  (For the record the best current metric of clutchness favors Trout.)  People arguing for Cabrera are really doing so because they do not believe in the more advanced statistics.  Baseball is easily quantifiable because each plate appearance is it’s own specific event.  As such hitting stats are the most accurate in sports.  Things like Wins Above Replacement, runs created, and OPS+ help us very accurately evaluate baseball players and even serve as effective predictors of future performance.  Writers, pundits, and old people hate this. (Obviously not all people in these categories, but enough to create a travesty out of the MVP vote.)  They do not want to believe these numbers are accurate or effective because evaluating and predicting baseball players is their job.  The older generation of baseball media in particular feels threatened by the statistical advances and is choosing to bury their heads in the sand and ignore all the evidence.  (I propose a mandatory viewing of Moneyball for anyone who voted for Cabrera)

If you can’t tell by now I feel very strongly about this issue.  Not because I truly give a shit who won the MVP.  Mike Trout got screwed, but he is a 20 year old future millionaire who plays baseball for a living.  I shed no tears for Mike Trout.  He can do things like this.

The world is his fucking oyster.
The real reason that this whole situation bothers me is that a lot of people, many of them very influential, still use such flawed logic to make big decisions.  I watched a debate about this on MLB TV today and had to listen to a grown ass man (radio host Chris Russo for the record) argue that a win counts more in September than it does in May.  This is classic sports narrative logic that has been repeatedly disproven by things like numbers and math.  And yet we hear things like it on TV all the time.  And not just in sports.  Nate Silver, and pretty much everyone else doing statistical modeling, was very certain that President Obama would win the election.  Rather than accept this information as the science that it was, many talking heads ignored it and attacked Silver personally to discredit him.  The information did not fit with the narrative they preferred so they pretended it didn’t exist.  This is a very dangerous way to make decisions.

Since this is America, ignorant people will always be allowed to twist the facts to suit their beliefs.  My hope is that someday these people won’t be the ones who get paid to speak on television.  We don’t let our doctors use techniques form the 1940’s.  Why do we let our newscasters?

The Whitest Team in the NBA

November 6, 2012

I am a huge NBA fan, but due to geographic constraints I don’t really have a favorite team.  There is no team within three hours of Raleigh, and none of the closest teams (Bobcats, Wizards, Hawks) have either the storied tradition or recent history of success that inspires loyalty.  As a result I am something of an NBA free agent.  I pick a few rooting interests at the beginning of each year based on how fun I think they will be to watch.  And I always root against the Heat.  Thanks to the magic of NBA league pass I am able to watch my adopted teams and any other games that seem fun.  It is a weird, low-pressure kind of sports fandom and the polar opposite of the way I consume college football, basketball and the NFL.  It would suck not to have a team in most sports, but it works with the NBA.  I usually like to watch every team once before I pick my favorites for the year, but this year I can definitively say that I am standing behind the Minnesota Timberwolves.

I am choosing the Timberwolves because I respect their bold experiment to try to field the whitest professional basketball team in history.  I watched them play last night and in crunch time the Wolves lineup included 4 white guys.  This was so shocking to me that I looked up their roster and found that 10 of the 15 players on the team were white.  This is an absolutely astounding statistic.  This 66% white player rate is by far the highest in the league.  The Cavaliers are closest at 40% and most teams are between 10-20%.

The percentage of white players isn’t even the craziest thing about this year’s Timberwolves team.  By this metric they are the whitest team since the mid-80’s Celtics teams, but I think their whiteness runs deeper than that.  When everyone is healthy for Minnesota is is possible, likely even, that their best starting lineup will consist entirely of white players: Ricky Rubio at point guard, Alexey Shved at shooting guard, Andrei Kirilenko at small forward, Kevin Love at power forward and Nikola Pekovic at center.  Even more remarkable, out of their top 9 players (NBA teams usually go 9 players deep) 8 of them could be white.  Joining the starting five could be Chase Buddinger, J.J. Barea and Luke Ridnour, with Dante Cunningham as the lone black rotation player.  While the 80’s Celtics and probably a few other teams have been whiter percentage wise, its has been a really long time since an NBA team rolled out an all white starting line up on a regular basis.

Line-up data from the early years of the NBA is relatively sparse, but near as I can tell the last team to rock an entirely white starting lineup for a full season was the 1957-58 Syracuse Nationals.  The 57-58 Syracuse team played in something called the Onondaga War Memorial Arena, and featured the “National Basketball Association’s last two-handed set shooter.”  Yup, its been a long fucking time since there has been a whiter NBA team than the Timberwolves

 

The Minnesota Timberwolves roster is so startlingly white that it has drawn the attention of local civil rights leaders and has even confused some of the players on the team.  In a Minneapolis Star Tribune article that looks like something out of The Onion, civil rights leaders express their concern that this was an intentional ploy to sell tickets. (Timberwolves management emphatically deny these accusations and point to the international nature of the team as a defense.)  Dante Cunningham chimes in stating, “Day One, we were all in the elevator and I kind of looked up and I was just like, ‘Where is everybody?'”

The shock and outrage over a team of exclusively white players is absolutely hilarious to me.  The modern-day argument that a team needs a few black players is just as absurd and offensive as the 50’s and 60’s era argument that teams needed at least a few white players to provide leadership and stability. In a way the 2012-13 Minnesota Timberwolves are a bizarro version of the 1966 UTEP team.  Battling stereotypes and (hopefully) winning games all year-long.  I would love to see Minnesota in the finals against the Heat.  It would be like the final scene from Glory Road.  Except the exact opposite.

Of all the many storylines in the NBA this year, the Timberwolves utter whitewash of their lineup is by far the most unusual.  There is almost nothing that could feasibly happen this year that hasn’t happened at least once since the 57-58 season.  We’ve seen 100 point games, massive on court brawls, full season triple doubles, and even talent stealing aliens since the last time a team regularly took the court without at least one black player.  I don’t know how this is going to work out (I can guess) but I am excited to find out.

Plus the T-Wolves team pictures look like One Direction posters

 

 

My sincere thanks go out to Minnesota GM David “The Bizarro Branch Rickey” Kahn for assembling this roster and at the very least ensuring that The Racist Announcer Watch has its busiest year ever