To paraphrase Chris Rock, desperation is the worst cologne. And when it comes to the post–NCAA tournament coaching carousel, the landscape of college basketball feels cloaked by a cloud of metaphysical Drakkar Noir. The absurd time crunch and constant influx of hot new names on a daily basis make the whole process feel less like a protracted mating dance than an outwardly raging, inwardly fraught frat party, with nothing but overeager overtures and the progressive, unmistakable lowering of standards as the night continues.
It’s nearly impossible to look cool in these situations, but somehow, USC has done it. Now, we could just flat-out admit that Andy Enfield was a mortal lock for the Trojans all along — as a guy who achieved his life ambitions of “totally killing it” in the tech and finance games and marrying a Maxim cover girl, he was already a role model for the USC student body even before anyone knew he coached basketball. But as everyone from Old Dominion to Minnesota made eyes at Enfield over the past couple weeks, USC came out of nowhere on Monday night and pulled an "Is That Yo Chick?" move. Who cares if Enfield is grabbing this job off the back of just two wins, or that USC’s basketball team is on probation as often as Gucci Mane? They look cool, unlike these five programs who might need to hire Phil Jackson to counteract the effects of a coaching search that reeks of desperation.
Nobody knew for sure whether Ryan Kelly would play against no. 5 Miami on Saturday. After Duke's loss to Virginia in Charlottesville, the incentive was certainly there. The Blue Devils were reeling; the team's perimeter defense was almost nonexistent, and Mason Plumlee had almost fully devolved into a state of Plumbledum after masquerading as a Player of the Year candidate in December. If there was any way Kelly's right foot had recovered, maybe it would mean a return to the success of the early part of the season, when Duke went 15-0 and reigned as the no. 1 team in the country. Without him, their record was 9-4, including an embarrassing 27-point loss to Miami.
When Kelly came on the court as part of Duke's starting five, there was a sense of relief and hope among Duke fans. Still, they had no idea this would happen:
There have been two really great moments for Duke since winning the title in 2010. The first was Austin Rivers's shot to beat North Carolina in Chapel Hill last season, and this was the second. The fact that Kelly put the team on his shoulders, scored a career-high 36 points on 10-14 shooting (7-9 from 3), and led Duke to a revenge win over Miami is almost too hard to believe. I watched the game in a state of anxious ecstasy, thrilled and worried at the same time. But mostly thrilled, because watching the Crazies flap their arms as the White Raven hit shot after shot, I knew that this was turning into a special moment. Kelly was so good that a loss felt impossible.
First, I wanted to tell you that I'll be calling anyone who reads this column a "Shuffle-uffagus." It seemed like the coolest choice.
Second, I have to report that I've been on a golf course all weekend — watching and reporting on the action down in Arizona — so I watched exactly zero college games. I promise you this is the last time it will happen this year; the quick break from my season-long game face is over, and it's time to finish strong. But since I didn't watch any games, I won't be attempting any analysis. Instead, I'll count down the top 10 games happening this week. Please note that this is a Monday-Friday joint. Last week, people got upset that I didn't include Syracuse-Georgetown, even though that game was on a Saturday and I specifically said week, not weekend. So be forewarned, all right? We'll do the top 10 weekend games on Friday.
When I think of Tubby Smith, I initially think back to my childhood, which coincided with his days as the men's basketball coach at the University of Georgia. A trailblazer, he was, becoming the school's first black head coach.
To go with that, when I think of Tubby Smith, I also think of a serious man. A disciplinarian. An esteemed gentleman, doubling as a pillar of the community, who is not only concerned with winning, but in molding boys and turning them into men. I have no hard evidence to show this is true, but the aura around him has always suggested such.
Last night, at his current gig as the head coach at the University of Minnesota, his team pulled off an upset of the no. 20 Wisconsin Badgers. Of course, this was reason to celebrate, but probably not for someone like Tubby. Tubby doesn't get excited with a little upset. This man has won a title before. He's seen the mountaintop.
Today's Shuffle is going to be a quick one — to get your college hoops fix, check out dispatch no. 1 on Indiana-Ohio State from my Big Ten road trip — but, wow, the wheels have really come off, haven't they? Let's do a list of 10 thoughts and conclusions from the weekend, except let's make it just like college basketball rankings and have the numbers mean absolutely nothing.
7. Nobody is good. Or everybody is good. But if everybody is good, then nobody is good. So in the end, nobody is good. Unless you reverse it, in which case, OH, JUST SHUT UP. THIS YEAR IS COMMUNIST. IT'S A PERFECT COMMUNIST YEAR.
With that in mind, who is communist icon Karl Marx's college basketball doppelganger? What about Friedrich Engels? If you take away the beards, I'm going with Marx as a young Bobby Knight and Engels as a fatter-faced Aaron Craft. But I'm not really happy with either of those, so please help me in the comments.
If the e-mails I sent to my editors reached a level you might call "pleading" or even "begging," you can't blame me. The college basketball currents had been colliding for three months, creating the conditions for a freak wave that finally crested last week and may break at any moment. Against all odds, the bastion of stodgy basketball that is the Big Ten had become the biggest and best show around. I knew I had to get to the Midwest fast, while the magic was thick.
What Big Ten magic, you ask? Oh, the two epic Burke-Craft battles; Indiana's first-half blitzkriegs against Michigan and Minnesota, and the furious comebacks that followed; the Illinois Miracle Minute; Bo Ryan, great coach that he is, stealing game after game despite losing his best defender for the season. And then there's the talented group out in the Twin Cities, the underachievers who rebound like men possessed but keep just losing and now stand on the verge of total collapse ... and it goes on and on. This is a constant, brutal war of attrition, and it's terrific theater.
THE PITCH: Watch the six best Big Ten teams face off in a span of five days. Indiana at Ohio State on Sunday, Michigan at Michigan State on Tuesday, Wisconsin at Minnesota on Thursday. Simple, profound, necessary. The editors sensed my desperation and agreed.
In case you were busy justifying your documentary short's omission from this year's Sundance Film Festival, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday.
Miami scored the final nine points of the game in a 99-90 win over the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center. LeBron James dominated the game on both ends of the court scoring 39 points to go along with seven rebounds and three steals. "We've been bad on the road this year by our standards, so I came out mad," LeBron explained after the game, before Kobe Bryant appeared behind him cloaked in a cloud of smoke. "Oh, you think darkness is your ally? You merely adopted the dark. I was born in it," Bryant said to James with a menacing laugh. A terrified James responded, "Why didn't you just beat us then?" Bryant grinned broadly at James and hissed, "your punishment must be more severe."
I'm a big believer in how brief moments can influence and often define outcomes, especially in sports. I freely admit there's probably some kind of bias at play, and the best name for that bias might be "narrative." At the same time, I hate the artificial stats/story dichotomy that's emerged over the past … 15 years? More? Advanced statistics are an incredible method for adding dimension and contour to our understanding of players and games, and they easily co-exist with the idea that human beings making extraordinary (or extraordinarily poor) choices in critical moments can reverse foggier concepts like momentum and pave their own path to victory or defeat.
Yesterday we looked at the Third Team and the All-Stoppers squad, and now it's time for the best of the best. Tomorrow is opening day in college hoops, and I'll be previewing the top 10 games. For now, here are my 10 top players for 2012-13. All stats come from ESPN and Ken Pomeroy.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday.
Albert Pujols objected to billboards in the Los Angeles area calling him "El Hombre." The words mean "the man," and Pujols would rather not use that nickname in deference to Cardinals legend Stan "The Man" Musial. The Angels quickly agreed, and had the billboards replaced with new ones that read: "Albert Pujols: Mejor que Stan Musial, el gran estupido!"
Derrick Rose told reporters that he never asked Bulls management to trade Carlos Boozer for Pau Gasol, and that all rumors to that effect are untrue. "I did ask them to trade Boozer for silks and spices," Rose told a baffled media, "but that was less about Boozer and more about my insatiable appetite for frankincense. If I close my eyes, I can smell it now, and I'm in heaven."
You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression, and sometimes, you don’t need to.
At the end of the 2007 season, Terry Ryan retired as the Twins' GM, and his longtime assistant, Bill Smith, was named his successor. Smith had a solid reputation as a baseball mind, not surprising given that he was part of an organization that won the AL Central in four of the previous six seasons. But no one knew how he would fare now that he had to make the big decisions himself.
Two months after he took over, Smith made his first big move, trading (essentially) Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett to Tampa Bay for Delmon Young and Brendan Harris. Mainstream baseball fans gave the trade mixed reviews, but most sabermetric analysts felt that Smith had overrated the potential impact of Young’s bat, and underestimated the defensive downgrade the Twins would endure. Young was (and is) a poor defensive outfielder, and the difference between Bartlett and Harris at shortstop was massive.
Welcome back to your monthly dose of Schadenfreude. Here at the Depressed Fan Base Committee, our job is to kick a city while it is down. And man, there are some down cities in this country. This month, 10 voters identified 35 cities as worthy of recognition. Along with the Top 10 list below, nominees included Detroit; Atlanta; Stillwater, Okla.; every city in Texas; the entire state of North Carolina; and the Three M's: Montreal, Manchester, and Milwaukee. (They still call those “The Three M's,” right?)
Disclaimer the First: We're not doing Happy Valley or Syracuse, so don't even ask. I had a whole slew of jokes lined up, but the Department of Justice flagged every single one. Come on, DoJ, don't you guys have something better to be flagging? I've got a neighbor who listens to Bruno Mars nonstop, and he doesn't even get audited by the IRS.
In advance of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, which begins tonight, Shane Ryan and Mark Titus exchanged e-mails discussing Duke, Ohio State, the nature of the Challenge, and a few odds and ends, including a new game called Azerbaijan. And after much fanfare, picks were made.
Have you followed the Jordan Jefferson saga? If you haven't, it's not measurably different from any of the other black marks on college football's name. The gist is that the LSU quarterback and some teammates were at a Baton Rouge bar in August when a fight broke out. Four people were badly beaten — one suffered three fractured vertebrae — and witnesses reported that Jefferson kicked another in the face. He was charged with felony second-degree battery, and that charge was reduced to a misdemeanor last week. Nobody seems to be denying that the alleged brawl happened, but a grand jury decided it didn't warrant a felony. As his lawyer argued, the injury wasn't serious enough. Jefferson was reinstated, and scored a touchdown in the first quarter of last week's win against Kentucky.
Fair enough. If you can't live with that storyline, you shouldn't be watching college football at all.