Friday, March 1, 2013

welcome to the pantheon

The school's official postgame releases these days have been noting Joe Harris's steady climb up the UVA scoring chart.  At last count he sits at 1,170, in 35th place between Joe Noertker and Chip Conner; the latest players to move down a slot thanks to Harris's exploits are Conner, Olden Polynice, Paul Adkins, Devin Smith, and Adam Hall.  Harris is a threat, by the end of this season, to move past Roger Mason and get into the top 30; by the end of his career, assuming health and a solid scoring pace, he should be top 15, maybe threaten the top 10.

That's all well and good, but the list of players who've scored 1,000 points in a Virginia uniform reads like a Hall of Pretty Good.  Even the top 15 isn't exactly full of retired jerseys.  I definitely appreciated the smooth, seemingly effortless game that Chris Williams (#8 on the list) brought to the court, but a list of Cavalier greats would go a long way down before you'd find his name.  You've got to do something special, something memorable, before you get invited to the real show.

And if 36 points against the #3 team in the country to lead your team to a signature, very likely NCAA-tournament-clinching win doesn't do it for you......

The announcers kept going back to the last time UVA knocked off a top-5 team, which was the same team and on the same date of the year, so their focus isn't without a certain poetic righteousness.  The brilliance of the performance, though, had me thinking instead of a different night some six years ago, with a particular shot that's burned into the memory of just about all of you reading this.  In case it's not:

Sean Singletary wasn't even having his best game; he only hit 6-of-16 that night.  But you give the ball to your best player when the game is on the line, and then you find out if he's made of greatness.  And it hit me sometime in the mid-to-late second half, when Jontel Evans deferred to Harris to bring the ball up court, even though Harris was being defended and Evans wasn't.  That's when Singletary came to mind.  Five seconds left in overtime is when you need greatness, and you define it by what happens next.  The context was different; the demand was no less.  Here, Joe Harris: we need some greatness.  Here, said Joe Harris: I've got some for you.


The end result was extraordinary, in a cats-lying-down-with-the-dogs kind of way.  You had Jay Williams pimping Harris for ACC POY.  You had Seth Greenberg having UVA's back on the court-storming thing.  (About which more in a bit.)  Why, even Jerry Palm saw fit to move UVA onto the bubble.  What a nice guy.  (What a knob.  Palm's methodology appears to at least be consistent: his justification for having Kansas as a 3 seed while Lunardi has the Jayhawks as a 1 is the TCU loss.  OK, yes, the tourney committee looks at losses.  But if "don't have bad losses" was their main criterion, VT would've made it in 2010 when they were 23-8, 10-6.  Good wins carry more weight than bad losses, and UVA's got two sparkling ones.  The knobbishness comes from the fact that Palm's modus operandi in dealing with fan feedback appears to be to only respond to the least intelligent comments and then hold that up as his example to the world for why he's right.)

Lunardi, on the other hand, scooted UVA all the way up to a 10 seed.  Huzzah.  That puts us in a place where it would take a real collapse, rather than a tiny slip, to miss the tournament.  Maybe even more importantly, there is now no mathematically possible way that North Carolina can earn the ACC's seeding tiebreaker over UVA.  UVA's magic number for clinching the 4th seed and an ACC bye is now 2; the magic number for clinching the 3rd seed is 3.  And yes, the 2nd seed is doable as well, but I consider that to be all gravy.  The big bold line is between the 5th and 6th-best teams in the conference, so being higher than 4th is what makes the difference.

And what about that POY discussion?  Well, I wouldn't put it past certain Tar Heel State media wonks to drop Harris to the second team.  You know how it goes.  But objective voters ought to see it as a four-way race between Harris, Erick Green, Shane Larkin, and Mason Plumlee.  No, Mr. Tudor, James Michael McAdoo will be nowhere to be found.  And Plumlee might have blown it last night, if people watch too much of the highlight where he just stood there as Harris raced around him to snag his own rebound.

UVA has a short turnaround before playing on Sunday at Chestnut Hill.  There won't be a full preview for that game, so here's an abbreviated one: as long as the players don't let Thursday's events linger in their minds, they will be fine.  Duke almost lost at BC, mind you.


And now, because Coach K decided to make an issue out of this, we must talk about court-storming.  Granted, the media blew it up as the media is wont to do, and granted, K was asked a question and he answered.  I'm still not on board with the Duke line that he didn't want that to overshadow the UVA effort.  How many years has Coach K been doing this?  He knows by now what the media will talk about when he says something.

Fortunately, "the media" isn't exactly united in their treatment of the event.  Seth Greenberg, as mentioned, was like, look, at Duke where they do their little hand-wavy thing while you're inbounding the ball, their hands are mere inches from the player's head.  Say what you will about Seth's undisciplined basketball teams and his obnoxious tournament campaigning when his Tech squads hadn't beaten anybody ever, but he makes a solid analyst.  And even more so on that event.

Meanwhile, USA Today had a headline that went a little something like this: "Coach K Cursed at Virginia Fan After Orderly Court-Storming."  That's a link worth clicking for both the YouTube video that's on there - in which the line of yellow-jacketed security guards is unmistakable and quite effective - as well as the picture that helps headline the thing.  It's glorious.

You know, I'll bet some student said something to K which prompted a few nasty words in return.  Jeff Capel got into it too: "Assistant coach Jeff Capel went back and yelled a few curse words while another assistant coach, Steve Wojciechowski, did his best to quickly usher players into the safe area."  I'm not gonna make this a sermon about how you ought to just ignore semi-drunk English lit students that say something at you because you're the famous coach and you know better.  Really what I love is this: K is a demigod at a place where they derive a hell of a lot of their pride and self-worth from being bigger and more creative dicks to opposing players and coaches than anywhere else.  That's the whole Cameron schtick, man.  They spend weeks actually researching the lives of their opponents so they can be more effective dicks.  And that's why they consider themselves the best fans in college hoops.  I don't mind that so much, honestly.  It adds color to the game.  But if K can't take a little of the medicine back.... that's just kinda sad, really.

Then there's Capel.  When K is telling the media that his main thing is he thinks security's primary concern should be to get the losing team off the court - and if you were to email Duke's admin about K's comments they'd tell you the same - it loses a lot of steam when their assistant coach goes back onto the floor to hurl more curse words into the stands.

I'll finish with this and that'll be the end of it.  I don't make a practice of copying and pasting stuff from the paywalled reporters, but in this case I don't think it will be a thing; it's better off not behind the paywall.  This is CavsCorner's Brad Franklin:

First off, link below gives you our vantage point from media seats. You can clearly see that Duke and Coach K were surrounded by security and ONLY when he chose to grab a cop, turn him around, scream profanities in his face, and push through did the storm become a problem.

Second, this whole thing is laughable because those media folks doing the most talking either weren't there or WERE ALREADY IN THE TUNNEL AND COULDN'T SEE WHAT THEY ARE TALKING ABOUT! It's maddening.

I watched K the whole time. I realized later that I must've been worried. I had a conversation pre-game with a source because I noticed guys walking around with ear fobs and I wondered if Duke had security for Coach K. Maybe his wife or family was coming? No, I was told, it was because JPJ has weird angles for a court storm and the powers that be wanted extra security.

What I saw clear as day: The Duke players and coaches were surrounded by security and had they waited two or two and a half more minutes, the "gate" of security line swings and they go to the tunnel completely safe. But because Coach K grabbed that cop and literally pushed him through people, it became an issue.

I actually think the security plan would have been fine had Duke waited. I also think in the future they pick one tunnel, create a path, and block it off nearly same way as last night. You can see the yellow jackets line up and I could see football players like Morgan Moses try to break through and go with the team but yellow jackets were having none of it. They did their job well.

This is a non-story. It comes down to Coach K not wanting to wait on the court while the kids rushed, NOT because his players were in danger.

Bold emphasis is mine, capital letters are as they were posted.  At the end of the day, Coach K is the one in the wrong for ever even calling this an issue.


Technical bullets about the game:

-- What an amazing job done defensively on Mason Plumlee.  There were times when the "entry pass" found him three feet from the arc and twelve or sixteen from the rim.  And in some cases that led directly to a turnover when Plumlee tried to get away with an arm hook as he drove to the rim.  Refs were having none of that.  Even when it didn't lead to an offensive foul, it was almost flawlessly effective defense.

-- Duke's best offensive move of the night came from Alex Murphy.  That's how you know they're in trouble.

-- Paul Jesperson's jump shot looks like it's starting to need work again.  He's not lifting his arms and the shot is flattening out.  I worry that it's starting to become a self-fulfilling prophecy where he's not shooting well, which causes him to be anxious and shoot even worse.  Even so, how impressive is it that the team laid down that strong of a beating while shooting 3-for-11 from three?

-- Admit it: when Harris fouled out you wanted to crawl into a hole and never hear the word "basketball" again.  You'd seen that movie before and knew how it ended.  But how about the team's response?  In order: a beautiful press-break and some mini-four-corners action that took eight seconds; eight more seconds of defense before Quinn Cook dropped in a three; freshman Evan Nolte sinking two free throws icy-as-you-please; and then twenty seconds of outstanding defense that took the clock down to nothing.  Very impressive.  I mean, it should be easy, really, but it never is, and I'm not sure it gets any easier even if your name is Kentucky and not Virginia.

-- So that's what it looks like to have a game refereed without a disgustingly obvious bias toward the Tobacco Roadies.  If you catch me at my most honest, I can see where Duke might have been a little upset about the refereeing, because UVA was playing a very physical game but the refs were calling some minor bumps.  (Even then, I took note of a few no-call instances where, upon replay, a no-call was the right call but it looked like a little rough play at first glance.)

That said, I'm not sorry.  At all.  I'm not even sorry I'm not sorry.  And for the record I don't even think the refs were Virginia-slanted (although there's a bias in that statement that for obvious reasons cannot ever go away,) I just think that the refs' approach to the game isn't one that Duke is used to, nor did it quite match the game's intensity.  A little more "let 'em play" might've been more appropriate - and more favorable to Duke since they were the ones doing most of the actual hacking.  Really, though, it's just that having the shoe on the other foot feels incredible.  Seeing Duke melt down over the refereeing is possibly the grandest, most exquisite thing I've ever seen in almost 25 years of watching college hoops.  I don't know when the last time was that a Dookie fouled out with over eight minutes to play, but that sort of thing is like a relic from another time.  Makes me wonder: is this what Duke fans always feel like?


Jaehl said...

Thanks for such thorough work in your analyses and write ups. I always come to your blog for actual writing and analysis cuz you take the time to do the work. Others just watch and write what they think they saw.

I don't feel any pity for Duke getting/not getting foul calls. Almost 50% of their shots were from beyond the arc (less aggressive), they got thoroughly out hustled (rebound, steal, and block margins) and we got 4-6 extra free throws for them hacking us at the end. Take those away and we only shoot 3-5 "regular" FT and even after all that they only had 5 more fouls than us. Nothing to see here Dookies. Move along.

Anyways, just wanted to add some data to your great reasonings. Keep it up (you take donations?)

Anonymous said...

Oh man, please don't go suggesting donations. I couldn't afford the altruism.


Jaehl said...

Haha...true but you know it's worth it.

Brendan said...

Free money sure is hard to turn down. That said, setting up a donation box is something that I've only ever thought of on rare occasions, and when I do I pretty quickly come to the conclusion that the readership of this blog is too small to get anything substantial out of it. The thought is much appreciated, but I don't do this for the sake of my pocketbook.

If anyone is really set on filling my checking account, the time to look would be in June when I'm considering - considering, mind you, I haven't actually decided to do it or not - extending my begging hand in celebration of the blog's fifth birthday.