Sports brawls not new – expectations have changed

Fights and all out brawls are not new to basketball. Episode 2 (1958-1968) of “The Tournament: A History of ACC Men’s Basketball” which is currently showing on the ACC Network presents black and white footage of a brawl between Duke and Wake Forest near the end of a heated game in Durham nearly 60 years ago. Police had little control as players and some fans went at it on the court for six minutes! The University of Michigan and the Big 10 Conference have a slightly different concern to deal with after Michigan coach Juwan Howard punched Wisconsin assistant coach Joe Krabbenhoft during an altercation in the handshake line after Wisconsin coach Greg Gard called a timeout with 15 seconds left in the game and Wisconsin up 14 points. Howard objected to the timeout and first reacted strongly in an exchange with Gard as they passed in the line, then reached past others in the crowded line to punch Krabbenhoft. Players on both teams joined in the fracas. When asked about his feelings and seeing his players join in the fight, Howard noted, “Unfortunately, it had to end up like that. I respect our young men for saying what they’re saying as far as – ‘we are a family’ – but did not want to be in a situation with anything like that.”

More is expected of Howard in his role as head coach at the University of Michigan. His comments of feeling the need to protect himself are ludicrous! I can understand the frustration surrounding the timeout, and the bad taste of a 14-11 season after a #6 preseason ranking but throwing punches during a time to demonstrate sportsmanship is not the answer. Still, almost 24 hours later, the University of Michigan and the Big 10 Conference leadership have not issued any suspensions. This is easy! Howard should be suspended for the rest of the season, then evaluations of additional actions taken after a review of the program if necessary. The only other public statements that need to come from Michigan should be Howard’s apology for his actions, and an acknowledgment of the weight of his responsibility to be the example of the leader of men that is expected by the players that he recruits, their parents, the university, and the community that looks up to him as a role model and supports him. This is not about what Bobby Knight and other coaches got away with in the past. Their actions would not be accepted today. Times have changed. Expectations have changed. This is about now! If other suspensions are warranted, the Big 10 Conference should issue a statement by the end of day. No blustering required! This is not hard!

Update: Juwan Howard suspended for the rest of the regular season.


“Hoops is hoops!”

Many years back over a conversation about women’s basketball, a man, who I don’t know to credit, told me “If you know the game, hoops is hoops!” While concerns about post-season tournament berths worry many that follow ACC Men’s Basketball, the women’s teams are competitive within the conference and nationally with five teams ranked in the Women’s Top 25 polls. Only one team is ranked on the men’s side. The ACC Network and partner RSN gave fans another full night of exciting games featuring nationally ranked teams as #24 UNC defeated #3 Louisville 66-65 while #19 Notre Dame traveled to #16 Georgia Tech for a 72-66 overtime win, and #4 NC State maintained first place among the women’s teams with a 92-61 win over Wake Forest. With less than two weeks remaining in the regular season, all 15 teams could see their league standing change with each game. Key games to closes the season on February 27th, that may decide final seedings for the ACC Tournament include NC State at Virginia Tech, Louisville at Notre Dame, Georgia Tech at Wake Forest, and Duke at North Carolina. Enjoy the hoops!

NCAA Women’s Basketball Rankings


UNC not far from same old concerns

You’ve seen this clip before. The worst shooting team on your schedule comes in and has their best performance of the year. It happens. Maybe all too often for North Carolina. But this isn’t new. Think back. No, further back. This has been a concern even back to Dean Smith, on through Roy Williams’ tenure and now with Hubert Davis and the current Tar Heels. Seriously, break out the Google! This mention is only to say that far from the talk of UNC’s NCAA Tournament resume hits because of losses and inconsistent play this year is the fact that North Carolina’s performance today is actually closer to historical performance than many realize. Smith’s teams initially did little to defend the 3-point line and had bad losses. Maybe Smith was ahead of us all on advanced analytics? Most teams shot the 3-pointer badly initially. I can understand the initial hesitation to defend this part of the floor. Williams’ teams periodically played better defense but not great 3-point defense. They simply outraced or out hustled many opponents. Still, both coaches had their share of embarrassing losses to less talented teams when the other team just shot lights out.

Back to the worst shooting team in the conference. Every ACC team has talent! This talent can shoot 29% from the 3-point line for the season, but shoot 60% in any given half. Note: Pittsburgh against UNC at the Smith Center. Look at the box score. It didn’t matter the gym. Of course, UNC not hustling and not playing solid team defense makes it easier for a usually poor shooting team to score, but Pittsburgh also made some incredible shots to go 51% from the floor, 59% from the three, and 18-20 for 90% from the free throw line. Meanwhile, UNC shot poorly throughout most of the game. Where was the play that showed up in the last 7 minutes? Breaking down the whole game and individual performances just to show that the starters shot poorly and played pretty bad defense will not help us understand why this team cannot give a high level of play from game to game. Even great teams have bad days on offense or bad days on defense. It’s the bad teams that don’t play well on both sides of the floor again and again. This is not a bad Carolina team, but their inability to give it all every game on both or even one end of the floor has many still trying to figure out exactly what they are good at.


Duke survives wild game ending and media coverage

Duke and Mike Krzyzewski usually get more than their share of free positive media coverage. Both the university and hall of fame coach likely welcomed a change of media focus Tuesday after a day of coverage surrounding details in an upcoming book by Ian O’Connor that reportedly details more about the school’s choice of Tommy Amaker to lead the basketball program and the coach’s preference for eventual coach-in-waiting Jon Scheyer. Mark Williams granted that wish with a game winning put back against Wake Forest when Paolo Banchero’s shot rolled off of the front of the rim with .4 seconds remaining in the game. Duke showed some vulnerability by giving up a 19-point second half lead with Krzyzewski out sick after halftime, but the Blue Devils will surely take the win and 1/2 game lead over Notre Dame for first place in the conference.


Olympics drug ruling damages court and games

While young female track and field athletes were banned from the 2021 Summer Olympics, or not allowed to compete in select events because of naturally occurring high testosterone levels and for using marijuana, the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled Monday in favor of a Russian figure skater, allowing her to continue on in the 2022 Winter Olympics after she tested positive for a banned heart medication. The Court of Arbitration for Sport handles anti-doping cases and is the final stop for disputes relating to Olympic games. While seemingly ruling without consideration of circumstances on use of banned substances by track and field athletes, the court actually considered that “preventing the young (Russian) athlete from competing at the Olympic Games would cause her irreparable harm…”

Though I disagree with some of the suspensions that the Court of Arbitration for Sport has upheld, I find it hard to understand how an athlete from a country that cannot compete under its own flag because of past sanctions for using banned substances is allowed to compete after proof that she used a banned substance. This is the type of decision that damages the reputation of the court and does harm to the games, while applying a backhand slap to every athlete that is competing the right way or those that have asked for leniency for using less harmful banned substances.

Update: Russian teen skater explains how she may have been exposed to grandfather’s heart medication.


Davis and Wright close in ACC and Big East

As the season grinds through February, two of my “Group of 7 Coaches” have stayed close in their conference races as Jim Wright and Villanova improved to 19-6 overall and 12-3 in the Big East, and Hubert Davis has his North Carolina team at 18-7 and 10-4 in the ACC. While most of the rest of my watchlist had promising starts, the season has not gone as well in conference play for all as the remaining teams finished the week with at least one loss.

Hubert DavisNorth Carolina18-710-4
King RiceMonmouth16-98-6
Chris BeardTexas18-77-5
Wes MillerCincinnati16-86-5
Shaka SmartMarquette16-98-6
Jay WrightVillanova19-612-3
Jerry StackhouseVanderbilt13-115-7

UNC in chase – grades well

Now clearly in chase mode, UNC got off to its best start of the season against Florida State. Freshman Dontrez Styles was first off of the bench and had his most productive game as a Tar Heel with 8 points and four rebounds in 16 minutes of play. Styles gave multiple teases of the explosive jumping ability and athleticism that some that got to see him play in high school have been hoping to see in Chapel Hill. Kerwin Walton appears to be settling in and had another game of shooting without hesitation and even put the ball on the floor and got to the line. Walton continued his perfect shooting from the free throw line, score 9 points on 3-6 shooting and 2-4 from the three. Trusting the bench against FSU was a confidence building step in the right direction as bench play will be even more important and necessary as the season moves through the last month. Caleb Love played a good game overall with his best single game 3-point shooting but has to learn to stop the dribble drive and stop the bone-headed plays like the missed windmill dunk attempt on an uncontested fastbreak in the second half. Fortunately, Love bounced back on the next play by swishing a 3-pointer! Puff Johnson gets recognition for his play with five points on 2-4 shooting in 11 minutes of play and stepped in to draw a charge.

At 3:55 in the first half, UNC was shooting 74% from the floor, including 70% from the three. Everyone was fresh, active and aggressive in first half. Plus, we finally got to see the Carolina fast break! The team seemed to play with an urgency that’s been missing for much of the season. There was poor execution on the last play before halftime, but the early second half mostly delivered on execution, ball movement, and decision making.

RJ Davis is definitely the steadying presence and initiated much of the offense against FSU, but the rebound and push from Leaky Black and Styles helped keep the pace up throughout the game. With Armando Bacot giving his usual double-double, Brady Manek solid on both ends of the floor, and the players off the bench getting high grades, all deserve “Dean’s List” recognition with A’s today.


Duke loss no time to panic

I prefer not to point out again the inconsistencies of comments relating to college basketball and the over-glorification of some teams and leagues. But why not? To have Duke go into the Smith Center and take down North Carolina with relative ease, only to struggle at home and lose two days later to a Virginia team that made just two 3-pointers and five free throws while getting out-rebounded and allowing Duke 22 chances at the line, points to the constant overreaction and showering teams with praise and glory for wins or doom and gloom for losses. Should Duke followers and media elites who poured it on after the win at UNC now speak up about Duke’s inconsistent play? Big win, head-scratching loss. Four times! All close losses when they were unable to recognize the game situation and seal the win. There’s no need to panic! Each game is simply a snapshot of that moment, not a near predictor of what’s next. Win streaks and losing several games in a row are really just strings of independent occurrences. Unless it happens to be the last game of the year, there’s no need to freak out. Don’t get me wrong, I believe there is some good in statistics and the growing attention to analytics, but I would not bet everything purely on what happened in the last game or in each loss. Throw in all of the talk about Quad 1 wins and losses and which league is stronger, and we have another piece of crap tool to evaluate teams for post season invitations. A Quad 1 game when it was played could be a Quad 2 next week. Team evaluations and the opinions of media talking heads sway too far in each direction from game to game. Virginia forgot about the Carolina-Duke game before Duke stopped feeling good about their “great” performance on Saturday, allowing the Cavaliers to take the home court as Duke did in Chapel Hill. If only the Blue Devils had been hosting in the Smith Center.


How UNC got it wrong and took me down with them

Thinking North Carolina would play better defense, outrebound Duke, shoot the ball well, and make good decisions at home on Saturday seemed like a reasonable expectation. Being wrong in almost every category was not expected. Poor shooting, bad defensive assignments to start the game, and the mental fog that seemed to set in on some players once Duke scored first helped steer UNC back to unfocused play and poor decision making. The Blue Devils looked so dominant during the game that we wouldn’t think that both teams scored on the same number of 3-pointers, both scored 10 points on free throws, both had 59 shots from the field, and that the Tar Heels only had 8 turnovers. Leaky Black and Brady Manek lead UNC with Black holding Duke’s top target Paolo Banchero in check when on the guard, and Manek keeping the team close with his scoring outside and inside. But while Banchero was being held in check, no one had the answer for AJ Griffin as he scorched UNC for 27 points; including the first 10 points of the second half before UNC could score. Duke played as if the Smith Center was their home court, while UNC appeared to be the team playing in a hostile arena. With at least one top recruit in the building that both teams are trying to sign, his choice may tell if this game played any part in his final decision.

On court