December 22, 2008 9:58 am ET by Kyle Whelliston
NATCHITOCHES, La. -- I can't prove this, because it came out of one of those directionless garbage-time conversations amongst us proud folks who refuse to leave any game early. But one of my most brilliant ideas ever was The Sportswriter's Thesaurus, which would give sportswriters all the material they need to write decently on deadline. For example, there are lots of ways to describe the distance beyond 20"9': 3-point land, downtown, behind the arc, etc.. Anything to keep from using the same noun or phrase twice in a paragraph, which I just now did on purpose to illustrate how bad it reads.
Much of sportswriting language is that of the people, that is to say the people who don't have much time or energy to accept new ideas. One of the most common ways to convey the quality of action is to lay it over a temperature scale. "Hot" is good, while "cold" is bad. Sadly, what separates the AP stringer and the well-heeled columnist is usually the ability to spot points on that spectrum -- icy, lukewarm, torrid, frigid, blazing. I hope I'm not giving away too many trade secrets here.
But it's undeniable how close to home the weather hit this weekend, if you look at things from our perspective. On Saturday, we personally witnessed the tragic collapse we hinted at last week -- triple-superhero Stephen Curry's 5-for-26 shooting night against Purdue on free national television, which unleashed a wave of mid-major backlash and ensured that it will be a long while before the coaches and writers will allow the Davidson Wildcats back into their special Top 25 club with the doormen and the gold-plated washrooms. We, on the other hand, left fascinated about the future, wondering how this team will adjust to overcome its omissions and weaknesses. We saw it as a cautionary tale told in feature-film length, a fable about the endeavors of a red-colored organism, one that foretells the harsh equation many Americans will find themselves living out next year.
In 2009, specialization equals fucked.
But walking outside Conseco Fieldhouse on Saturday night was stepping into a sports metaphor. It was minus-10 with windchill, the kind of cold that buckles steel and crumples internal organs. Gusts that carefully guided pedestrians to the worst glistening ice slicks, a calculated and coordinated war by nature against man. And this was just the tail end of it -- for the second time in a week, elevations in the Northeast were raised higher over sea level by feet upon feet of thick snow.
And so it was for The Mid-Majority. High-flying teams like Miami of Ohio were frozen stiff by power-conference opposition like West Virginia. Proud A-14 teams like Xavier were iced over by the likes of Duke. Dreams were chilled at the last moment, like those of Belmont (as well as for our distant cousins Gonzaga). Zags aside, this was the worst weekend of the year for teams in conferences under The Red Line: after weeks of hanging around the 14 percent upset mark, the bating average has slumped to .128. That's just a percentage point better than it was last year.
To add insult to injury, which is a phrase often carelessly thrown about in sportswriting, our Sunday flight to Texas was delayed by ice on the wings of connecting planes in Chicago. When Dallas was achieved, it was 30 degrees. It's colder here in Louisiana, which is technically in the South and supposedly immune to this.
But it's cold out there, Hoops Nation. Real cold.
Red Line Upsets
Wright State 60, South Florida 43 -- It wasn't all bad, though, we did get a few low-key wins out of the weekend. But this one happened in the tropical climes of San Juan, where the Horizon League's Raiders whomped one of the Big East's premier football schools. The Bulls shot just 27 percent against a Wright team that looked hopelessly adrift after an 0-6 start marked with brutal scheduling and injury. But the Raiders, who have not been under-turnovered yet this season, have won five of six and playing some tough D.
IUPUI 67, at Seton Hall 65 -- Saw the Jaguars get off a plane at the sparkling new Indianapolis airport. Airport rule of thumb: if you see a team, all in sweats, and some players are giving each other noogies, that means they won. (Saw the Davidson team a few minutes later... zero noogies.) IUPUI dealt prodigal mid-major coach Bobby Gonzalez his second loss by outrebounding and outshooting the Pirates, but more importantly scored its first win over a Big East opponent in school history. Noogies all around!
Also worth noting: Drake's 17-point Hawkeye State win over Iowa, its third straight in the series; and Denver's in-state victory over Mountain West sad-sack Colorado State. Both were home games for the smaller schools.
U'useless Stat of the Day
One of the great new features on Basketball State for 2008-09 is the ability to split individual and team stats over 400 ways -- by common opponent or opposing conference, day of the week, and other types of situations. One of my favorite daily checks is the two leaderboards of scorers in team wins and in team losses.
For instance, Stephen Curry scores 31 points when his team wins, shooting 49.1 percent from the floor in those eight games. His point production drops slightly to 28.5 ppg in those two losses, but look at that shooting percentage: 30.9. It's a small sample size, but it's one of those rare times when numbers actually speak English. In this case, they're saying, "Help me out, guys."
There are quite a few interesting splits, I'll give you a couple. Take Eric Maynor, for example. In VCU's four losses, he scores 25.8 ppg, and stands seventh in the nation in ppg while losing. On the other hand, he only needs to score 22.3 ppg when they the Rams win. A big reason for that is emerging sophomore Joey Rodriguez' split of 11.3 (wins) and 8.5 (losses). Maybe that Obama guy, a pretty good baller himself, had a point about spreading the wealth around.
Here's another one. Temple's Dionte Christmas, who will have to deal with bad sportswriting for the rest of his career, has achieved 17.8 ppg, 41.8 percent shooting, and five boards in the Owls' four losses. But when he's on, Temple wins: 23.0 ppg, 51 percent shooting, and his rebounding output goes up by two per contest. Not that the "stop that guy" thing wasn't all obvious to anybody who's been watching, but A-14 opponents, there's your Blattford Mitsubishi-Kia key to the game.
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