A March Tradition Unlike Any Other: Hating Duke

March 16, 2012

Now that March Madness is upon us, The Washington Post has found a way to combine two of America’s favorite pastimes – filling out brackets and hating the Duke Blue Devils. With apologies to my Duke friends, presenting March Mad-ness:

This is about finding the most reviled school in college hoops. We asked Post readers for the teams they just can’t root for, and you sent in more than 200 comments. After tallying the recommendations, we’ve arrived at an eight-team field. Check out the bracket (and let your blood begin to boil). Also, take a look at the eight teams and read why they made the cut.

Of course, Duke is the overwhelming favorite.*

This is the third item I’ve come across on a national website this week about loathing the Blue Devils, and it’s not exactly like I’ve gone looking for any of them. NBCSports.com’s College Basketball Talk ran this post today about the post-career life of Christian Laettner, maybe the most hateable Dukie ever. That was tame compared to Slate.com’s “Worse Than Laettner” piece, a six-page chronicle of “the 18 most hateable moments in Duke basketball history.”

I’m not exactly fond of Duke either, but I don’t think I’ve seen so much hating since this.


* N.C. State fans may have a difficult choice to make at the end of this. The bracket sets up fairly well for a Duke-UNC final.

Is N.C. State going dancing?

March 10, 2012

The NCAA Tournament picture sure looks a lot better for the Wolfpack than it did at this time yesterday.

Every projection I’ve seen this morning has N.C. State in the Tournament — barely. The consensus seems to be that, as things stand right now, the Pack would be one of the last four teams in and probably playing in the First Four in Dayton on Tuesday.

I’m almost scared to write this, but State feels like a Tournament team after winning against Virginia yesterday. While I recognize that RPI isn’t everything, the Pack now ranks 49th according to Live-RPI.com, three spots ahead of the team they just beat on a neutral floor and with a much better strength of schedule. The Cavaliers are projected as a solid 9 or 10 seed in the Big Dance. If they’re in, then surely State is, too, right?

Things have broken pretty well for State over the last few days, with other bubble teams falling left and right. I know there was some thought that the regular-season sweep over Miami would have looked even better if the Hurricanes hadn’t lost to Florida State last night. But I don’t think the slight boost to the Pack’s RPI was as valuable as watching a team in direct competition for an at-large spot lose.

Still, State’s fate at this point is very much in the hands of the Selection Committee. Despite 22 wins against a tough schedule, the Pack’s only victory against a current Top 50 RPI team* came in November against Texas (who ranks 48th).

Of course, a win against North Carolina today would make the rest of this post moot. And I’d like to think it would be Mark Gottfried’s way of continuing the recent tradition of first-year State coaches making dramatic runs to the ACC Tournament finals.


* Virginia (52) and Miami (59) both fell out of the Top 50 yesterday, according to Live-RPI.com.

UK-UConn: The unlikeable semifinal

April 2, 2011

Since Kentucky beat North Carolina to clinch a trip to Houston, there have been lots of jokes going around about John Calipari making his first Final Four. You might remember Calipari taking Massachusetts and Memphis that far in the Tournament, but according to the NCAA, those Final Four appearances were actually made by “Vacated.”

Calipari’s previous teams got caught for various … ahem … improprieties after he left for better jobs. In both cases, he managed to keep his own hands clean, but it’s kind of hard not to be suspicious of the guy.

All of which brings us to this story reported today by FoxSports.com:

[F]orgotten in Calipari’s quick turnaround of Kentucky is a native of this bustling metroplex who was instrumental in the Wildcats’ resurrection: Bilal Batley.

Batley abruptly resigned as assistant director of basketball operations/manager after he violated NCAA rules by rebounding for a player during a workout in July 2009. Kentucky self-reported the secondary violation and sent Batley a letter of admonishment.

Batley’s job did not allow him to have on-court interaction with players. When he resigned, a team spokesman said he did so to return home because of an illness in his family.

But a nearly two-year FOXSports.com investigation revealed that Batley also broke NCAA rules by making repeated impermissible telephone calls while at both Memphis and Kentucky to recruits, such as DeMarcus Cousins, and their parents.

When approached by a FOXSports.com reporter after his news conference on Friday, Calipari refused to address any questions concerning whether he was aware of Batley’s calls and whether or not Kentucky self-reported the violations.

NCAA rules state that all telephone calls made to or received from a recruit, his parents, legal guardians or coaches must be made and received by a team’s head coach or three countable assistant coaches.

The only thing surprising about this is that it didn’t come out two years from now after Calipari has suckered some NBA team into giving him another pro job.

And in case you didn’t already feel dirty about watching tonight’s Kentucky-Connecticut game, The New York Times reported this about UConn yesterday:

Connecticut and its longtime coach, Jim Calhoun, have already been punished for a variety of sins in their recruitment of [Nate] Miles. The N.C.A.A. has limited the number of scholarships Connecticut can award, has placed its basketball program on probation and suspended Calhoun for three games next season.

But the N.C.A.A., which issued its punishments in February and declared its investigation over, never interviewed Miles, who refused to take part in the investigation. He now says he is ready to tell the full story of his journey from cherished prospect to Connecticut recruit to leading man in a significant university scandal to homeless young father.

“I’d probably be open to talk to them, and, you know, get some things straight,” Miles said.

The N.C.A.A. is taking Miles seriously; a representative of the organization went to his grandmother’s house on Friday.

It’s hard to imagine anyone outside of Kentucky’s or UConn’s own fans cheering for the winner of this game against the Butler-VCU winner. Apparently, Calipari and Calhoun don’t even like each other, going all the way back to Calipari’s recruitment of Marcus Camby in 1993.

Any guess about who the NCAA might want to win on Monday night?

Houston, we have a Final Four preview

April 2, 2011

After licking our wounds from bombing badly on our Tournament predictions, the IoT team took a bit of time out during a hectic week to reflect on how we got to tonight’s unusual Final Four.

Jimmy: Jeremy, this year’s NCAA Tournament is forcing all of us to rethink some things that seemed pretty certain a few weeks ago: the strength of the Big East and the competitive distance between the majors and mid-major, to name two.

I think Connecticut and Virginia Commonwealth may be challenging fundamental ideas about the effect of fatigue on tournament teams. There’s been a school of thought in bracket-building that says to avoid teams coming off grueling, four-game conference tournament apperances. Some coaches, Roy Williams, for instance, have a reputation for easing up during conference tournaments to save their teams for the NCAAs. I think we’ve all been burned by the team that “gets hot at the right time” by winning several conference tourney games, only to flame out in the first round of the Big Dance.

And then along come UConn and Virginia Commonwealth, who have taken the longest Final Four paths in history. The Huskies played — and won — nine games in 18 days. That’s a month’s worth of competition in a little more than two weeks. UConn’s ability to play at such a high level so often is even more impressive when you consider how much the Huskies lean on one player, Kemba Walker. He’s playing 38 minutes a game over that period and has scored more than a third of UConn’s postseason points.

Just to give Walker his due, here’s his stat line for the last nine games:

Min/gm Pts/gm Asst/gm Reb/gm Stl/gm
Kemba Walker 38.2 26.3 5.3 5.9 2.2

He’s also shooting better from the field and the line than he did during the regular season, and getting 10 free-throw attempts per game. If the tournament ended right now, he’d easily be your most outstanding player.

VCU, meanwhile, has won more March Madness games than any national semifinalist in history. The Rams are the first play-in team to reach the Final Four since the NCAA began handing out fake tournament berths in 2001. I’m wondering if we should rethink our stance on the “First Four” — it may be a bad idea, but there’s no denying that the extra NCAA tournament game makes VCU’s achievement that much richer.

Jeremy, are UConn and VCU’s performances cause for fundamentally rethinking the role of fatigue in tournament performance? Or are we just looking at two very special teams?

Jeremy: Jimmy, what we’re looking at has been a fundamentally screwy NCAA Tournament.

Not to diminish UConn’s or VCU’s feats of endurance (especially UConn’s), but fatigue really shouldn’t have been a factor for either team once they got to the second weekend of the Tournament. And honestly, I’m not sure how big of a deal it was on the first weekend.

Don’t get me wrong. UConn winning five games in five days to take the Big East Tournament title was one of the more amazing accomplishments in college basketball history. I’m also sure they could have used another day or two off before their first game. But the Huskies got nearly five days to rest before playing Bucknell in their opener, and that wasn’t exactly a challenge.

In fact, I’d say UConn benefited in terms of rest from their seeding and draw. Before they won the Big East, the Huskies were projected in at least one bracket as a 5 seed. By getting upgraded to a 3 seed, they got an easier opener. I suspect their familiarity with fellow Big East team Cincinnati helped in their second game (although that, of course, could have cut either way).

As for VCU, I would have been a little more worried about them from a fatigue standpoint if they had faced Clemson’s ridiculous First Four schedule. Instead, they got the late game in their pod for the second round and had a much shorter distance to travel than the Tigers.

Again, both great accomplishments, but I don’t see them redefining the role of fatigue in the Tournament.

Read the rest of this entry »

The IoT Bracket Challenge winner(?)

March 29, 2011

The National Championship game is a week away, but one member of the IoT team is already celebrating his "One Shining Moment."

The inaugural Instead of Texting Bracket Challenge ended at approximately 4:43 p.m. Sunday. With VCU’s win over top-seeded Kansas, the last shot that either Jimmy or I had for any of our picks to make the Final Four ended.

In a sense, you could say there really was no winner in our little competition.

Well, that’s not entirely true. There was a winner — me.

Like just about all of America (except for this guy), neither of us came anywhere close to picking the right Final Four. But thanks to a 26-for-32 first round, I didn’t fare quite as badly as my IoT partner.

So yeah, my victory may not have been pretty, but that’s not going to stop me from celebrating my One Shining Moment.

Arizona brand beats Duke brand

March 25, 2011

“Lute (Olson) is one of the top coaches to ever coach in college and that brand never went away, even though there were some not-so-good things happening, and then Sean (Miller) is just a heck of a coach. He’s a really good guy, but he’s a great coach and he had his team so well prepared. It was a great hire for them, to build back a brand that was right — you know, it’s there.” — Duke men’s basketball CEO Mike Krzyzewski, after last night’s season-ending loss to Arizona.

Coach K’s right — Sean Miller has really rebuilt that Arizona brand. At this juncture, Duke basketball’s brand managers are probably looking at that turnaround and asking themselves some difficult questions. Are we delivering on Duke basketball’s brand promise? Are we effectively communicating our value proposition? Are there fundamental flaws in our brand architecture?

Identifying Duke’s problems weaknesses challenges potential growth areas opportunities will require some soul-searching, a deep dive into the current state of the Duke basketball brand; the 30,000-foot view won’t be enough. Assess every touchpoint with customers. Focus-group this thing. Put some black-belt, Six sigma mojo on it.

Who knows what K’s brand management team will find? Maybe Duke’s frontline staff have been operating in silos, and it’s time to tear down the walls between them. Vertically integrate. Challenge the status quo. But as K and his team do so, they need to make sure they’re defining roles and clearly communicating action steps to each member of the team. Really flesh out that vision for the future state, and identify the change agents who can drive the process.

Once Duke’s defined the problems challenges opportunities, K should launch the solution phase of the process with an off-site, all-hands brainstorming session to start: a no-holds-barred approach where no idea, no matter how back-of-the-envelope, is dismissed. It takes that sort of environment to really cultivate outside-the-box thinking. K may want to bring in some outside thought leaders, critical thinkers who are plugged into best practices for reviving an aging declining faltering opportunity-blessed basketball brand.

The good news for Krzyzewski is that his company organization team family has a lot of quality human capital to draw on. K’s going to need buy-in all the way up to the C suite. But getting sweat equity from everyone shouldn’t be a problem for Coach K. The man knows how to motivate.

I think K’s management team is going to find that this isn’t a burning platform situation. The solutions here are evolutionary, not revolutionary. But that doesn’t mean there are going to be easy solutions. Just bringing in new brand ambassadors next year won’t solve the problem. There are no Band-aids for Duke’s problems issues opportunities and no workarounds to greatness excellence increased market share.

A Very Special IoT Tournament Challenge Update

March 24, 2011

You know, we have a lot of fun around here at Instead of Texting.

A few times a week, we all gather ’round the ol’ water cooler and just enjoy ourselves. We have some laughs over the foibles of our favorite athletes. We relive past sporting glories. We try to take a fresh look at the week’s sports news.

It’s all pretty light stuff.

But today, I want to talk to you about something serious: identity theft. Read the rest of this entry »