Feb 25, 2014

Jumpin' Jim II

sports by killre

There is an aspect of Syracuse head basketball coach Jim Boeheim doing his best Krakatoa impression Saturday night that I merely flirted with in "Jumpin' Jim," a previous post which can be found not too far down the page.  (I can no longer reference Vesuvius, because ESPN's Rece Davis thought it good enough to steal.  Besides, Krakatoa is a better name for a volcano anyway.)  The reason I didn't wholeheartedly address it --despite it being on my mind-- is that nearly all my evidence was anecdotal, and I could not in good conscience even claim it comprehensively so.

Now, however, having watched Monday night's contest between Syracuse and Maryland, I am armed with a handful of pointed quotes and statistics that would seem --on the surface, at least-- to support a suspicion I've been nursing for a couple of months.  That suspicion is this: the Atlantic Coast Conference is hazing its pledges.

Some background is in order.  Eight months ago, the Atlantic Coast Conference --henceforth to be denoted by the abbreviation ACC-- absorbed three schools from a fracturing league known as the Big East Conference, swelling the ACC's roster from twelve to fifteen.  The three newcomers were Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, and Syracuse.

Having grown up a proverbial stone's throw from the Notre Dame campus, I have long been a fan of their basketball team.  Over the years, I had also become quite a fan of the Big East.  If ESPN (or one of the broadcast networks) was carrying a league game, chances are I was watching it even if I didn't particularly like either team.  When that league disintegrated and Notre Dame shifted to the somewhat country-fried ACC... Well, it's been a tough transition for me.

Apparently, I'm not the only one.  During the post-game press conference in the wake of his eruption Saturday night, Boeheim commented, among other things, on league scheduling.  Specifically, he addressed the fact that his team --which had already played two games in four days, one of them on the road-- was due to play another road game just two nights later, against a Maryland team whose last contest was a home game six days prior.

Boeheim: "We know how tough these next few games are.  Maryland's off today, uh, which is (pause) quite strange.  Uh, I guess they do those things down here.  I don't know.  We didn't, we didn't used to do that in the other league.  I shouldn't mention that, probably.  Right, Buck?  I shouldn't mention that?  That, that we wouldn't do that?  We wouldn't do that.  Yeah, I won't mention that.  Oh, I did!  Geez.  (chuckle)  Can't help myself."

Despite an effort at research, I don't know who "Buck" is.  I'm betting it's an ACC official who was monitoring Boeheim's interview for just such a statement.

ESPN reporter Jeannine Edwards gave us the ACC's response during Monday night's game: "...I spoke to the ACC officials today, who told me the two-day turnaround, with the opponent --the other team-- having a bye, is not as uncommon as you would think.  They cited six teams... (she named five) ...that have all been in the same position within the last three years.  They said there's a lot of teams to manage, and a lot of TV networks as well.  It's a lot to coordinate."

It's a lot of redundancy, too, but we get the point: the ACC's excuse for poor scheduling is a whiney, "Darn it, guys, it's really hard."

ESPN play-by-play announcer Sean McDonough [mick-DUN-uh] confirmed Boeheim's assertion that the Big East Conference --which until this year had a contract with ESPN to provide a regular Monday night match-up-- never failed to schedule two teams who had a relatively equal amount of rest.  I think it worth noting at this point that, for the three years cited, the Big East had sixteen member schools while the ACC had only twelve.  How much more complicated the ACC's television contracts were is something I don't know, but I'm reasonable enough to concede it might be true.

Boeheim's comments weren't the only ones Edwards addressed.  In the immediate aftermath of Saturday night's loss at Duke, C.J. Fair --arguably Syracuse's best player and the man whose charging foul was the catalyst for Boeheim's eruption-- stated that his coach's two technical fouls were what ultimately cost his team the game.  Either hoping or merely wondering whether the player would double down on the statement, Edwards approached Fair before Monday night's game.

Edwards: "...C.J. Fair told me, 'We feel as a team that our coach was simply sticking up for us, and he was venting some built-up frustration.'"

Oh?  Built-up frustration, you say?

Something else I feel worth noting: the three former Big East teams have definitely made their presence felt in the ACC.  Until last week, Syracuse was unbeaten.  Pittsburgh got off to a strong start and is still in the upper half of the league standings.  Even lowly Notre Dame, a team that has fallen on its face this season, began its ACC slate with a thunderbolt victory over mighty Duke.

So pray tell, could this previously pent frustration you mention stem from the perception that those good ol' boys down Carolina way are so disillusioned with these carpetbagging, former Big East teams demonstrating with direct, on-court evidence what many people already strongly suspected --that the Big East was a better basketball league than the holier-than-thou ACC-- that they started officiating the games with a bias against these northern interlopers?  Sort of like a creationist cop who only tickets drivers that espouse evolution.  Could that be why two virtually identical blocking/charging fouls at opposite ends of the court Saturday night both went against Syracuse?  The reason I ask is I've been thinking the same thing for five weeks.

Of course, it could just be that Boeheim is instilling his players with the motivational conviction that the league office is out to get them.  It could be that.

During Monday night's game, the referees gave Maryland --a long-time member of the ACC-- twenty-seven free-throws.  Syracuse was awarded six-- and Maryland wanted them to shoot the last two!  They wanted it so badly they fouled Syracuse twice in the space of 0.4 seconds.  That isn't a typo: zero-point-four seconds.

The imbalance kept Maryland in the game despite twice as many turnovers and a lower shooting percentage.  It also led to Fair playing the last four-and-a-half minutes of the game with the danger of being disqualified if he so much as looked at an opponent cross-eyed.

ESPN analyst Jay Bilas [BILL-us] (who, by the way, found an opportunity to send a verbal love letter to his Duke sweetie, Jabari Parker) stated the imbalance was due to contrasting styles of play on the offensive end of the court.  In other words, Maryland had earned 23 more free-throws (excluding the last two) by attacking the basket more often.

McDonough avoided asking if Syracuse's reluctance to drive the lane was born of a fear that they'd be called for charging.  Instead he said (paraphrasing), "I only mention it for the conspiracy theorists."

And we thank you.

Bilas responded (again paraphrasing), "Oliver Stone would be hard-pressed to find a conspiracy here."

27-4, Jay, not counting the last two.  27-4.

P.S.... Bud "I'm Not A Huge Fan Of Basketball, But That Didn't Stop Me From Instituting A Blocking/Charging Foul On Plays At The Plate" Selig must go.

P.P.S... Bud "That Scheduling Thing Sounds Almost As Crazy As A Baseball Game In, Like, Australia Or Something" Selig must go.

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