BOONE, N.C. -- I'm going to get into my grandpa rocking chair and tell
you what's wrong with pop music. I'm sorry that you had to get this from a basketball writer, but that's just the way it worked out.
Most music specifically released for public consumption is far too dependent on context and reputation. At their worst, 21st Century pop songs are built around a 10-second hook that can be resold as a ringtone, and thematically oriented towards a very specific script that suburban 14-25 year olds supposedly live out on a regular basis. But if stores were organized by theme (hurt-hearted breakup songs sung by gravelly-voiced "rock dudes"; countrified female vocals about old-fashioned romance; pattern-validating shout-outs to single females who like to go to clubs), that would keep people from spending time browsing.
At their very worst, modern pop songs are just too specific, mini-movies that make it difficult to understand how a population segment larger than a few thousand people could latch on, much less stand for 20 or more listens. This is why I appreciate "Let It Rock" and "Shake It" so much. Sure, they're both about dudes trying to getting laid, but 95 percent of the best pop music is about trying to get laid -- everyone, even kids, can understand that concept. Both songs have enough general appeal to register on a wider basis.
Consider all the current niche tunes that require readily-available backstory to understand, something that listeners 200 years from now won't have the luxury of having at their disposal. If you were to encounter "Love Lockdown" without knowing what Kanye West has been through personally in the last year, would you consider it anything other than repetitive, tedious piffle? Would it be on the radio if anybody else had recorded it? How about Britney Spears' "Womanizer"? All I know is that when they play over a basketball arena PA system, people sit inanimate. Out of comfortable context, neither could be considered "pop."
Don't worry, this relates back to the topic. The college basketball polls have just as much accountability and connection to the marketplace as the traditional pop charts do. Both types of standings are easily manipulated by outside interests, and both products -- pop songs and college basketball teams -- require constant promotion. Work in the back channels can get your song extra spins on the radio, or your conference extra spins on cable. In both worlds, a lot of money changes hands.
And both types of charts are exceedingly irrelevant in the 21st Century. I'll bet you couldn't name the number one song on the Billboard Hot 100 right now, and even if you could, there are many other rating systems that serve the same purpose -- iTunes, Amazon, Last.fm and the like -- that will give you a different answer. With iPods, XM radios, a trillion MySpace band pages, social networking and file sharing, we don't need people to tell us what to listen to anymore. A song with a very targeted demographic message will hit its intended mark, and there's no reason for anyone to shove it down the general earhole.
Our game's Top 25 is just as outdated as the Top 40. The AP writers, and the assistants who fill out their bosses' coach-poll ballots, are given ultimate authority from November to March, just for watching the same ESPN as you do. In fact, you're probably more informed than they are, reading blogs and evaluating tempo-free stats and poring over charts of national numbers. In all likelihood, your level of intellectual curiosity is far beyond theirs, and you're more open to new concepts and different teams and unconventional thinking. Where's your
Don't hold your breath, it's not coming. Your only recourse is to stop talking about the polls. Ignore them. Don't use rankings when talking to friends, don't go over to check the rankings this afternoon, don't use them to win arguments as to which team is better. Make your own chart, rank the teams yourself, post it on your blog, contribute to the atmospheric static.
The AP and ESPN/USAT polls are only powerful because we pay attention to them, and if we try hard enough and work together, we can diminish their significance. We won't rest until that little number to the left of the school name is eradicated forever, when "No. 1 team" means just as much as "No. 1 song."Conference CallAtlantic 14: The only true "mid"-major conference, the one that straddles the Red Line between the haves and have-nots, is under way. Xavier is 2-0 after the first weekend, but you expected that. One team that has escaped the radar (unless you read College Chalktalk) is Duquesne, a two-win team after beating Charlotte and Bona Bona. The Dukes scheduled for the low branches (again), but can put up a lot of points -- 79 PA total, 87 in the league. They can turn you over, too, so their ability to impact the league will be directly correlated with opponents' paint points. And the best game of the weekend just might have been Saint Joe's 92-86 triple-overtime win over Rhode Island.
Colonial: Might as well give you 10 days' worth of forewarning, but George Mason and Northeastern, both 5-0 at the moment, may be on an undefeated collision course for Wed., Jan. 21, when they'll face off up in Boston. The Huskies have to win their roadies at Delaware and Hofstra (a combined three CAA wins), and the Patriots have at William & Mary and versus James Madison, so it's likely both will be 7-0. VCU, still working off that loss to Delaware, hangs behind at 4-1 with a three-game win streak.
Metro Atlantic: It was fun having some alternate storylines for a few weeks, but the MAAC race is beginning to take shape the way we thought it would back in October. Siena is 6-0 and a 1 1/2 games clear of Niagara, after the Saints won a 68-64 decision in the Emerald City that is Manhattan's Draddy Gym. Since the beginning of December, Siena's only losses are Kansas and Pittsburgh (10-2). The fast start is key: on this date last year, the Saints were 9-6 overall; this time, they're 12-5.
Missouri Valley: No undefeated teams anymore in the Valley, which makes for a rollicking league race but little hope of a second bid. Bradley took its first league loss of the year, shooting just 37 percent at home against 3-2 Creighton in a 73-64 final. But the most shocking result was Illinois State's 75-70 OT loss in the ISU-off -- due in some part to a late Champ Oguchi foul-out -- and the Redbirds have now lost two straight after winning their first 14. Those Bradley Braves are now 4-1, along with two other teams that weren't figured to make waves back when the preseason pubs came out. Both Drake and Northern Iowa are on four-game win streaks after dropping their first MVC tilts.
U'useless Stat of the Day
Back in my first year at ESPN.com, when I did K-Dub's Krazy Facts for the daily blog, there'd be a lot of guest appearances by coaches and players. They'd present their favorite hybrid statistics or numerical theories for public consumption. It's harder to sell that concept to folks when all I have to offer is space on an obscure site full of cuss words and cartoons, but thank goodness for exceptions.
On Saturday, we visited Clinton, S.C. for a Big South matchup between league champion Winthrop and upstart transitional Presbyterian. It was a scratchy, clawy affair that sent the Twittercast discussion into cowbell talk, but the visiting Eagles emerged with a 54-53 overtime victory. After the game, victorious Winthrop head coach Randy Peele looked over the boxscore and noted that the Blue Hose had more than doubled his team at the line -- tripled, in fact. Presby had 23 made free throws to the Eagles' seven.
Peele wondered aloud what the winning percentage of teams that get doubled at the line is. I told him he was talking to the right guy, and he registered a guess: seven percent.
Close, coach. A total of 753 games so far (out of 2,771 that have gone final) have featured one team hitting at least twice the number of free throws than the other. Of those, 93 "doubled" teams have won -- a percentage of .123. Other games this weekend that have featured this phenomenon include UC-Irvine's 80-63 win at Cal Poly (Poly had a 23-7 FTM advantage), Grambling's 55-53 SWAC win over Southern (15-3!) and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi's 70-44 blowout of Central Arkansas, in which the Islanders only needed four freebie makes.
Surprisingly (or not), when a team is tripled in FTM's, the win percentage goes up. In the 277 such instances so far, of which the four above examples are included, the tripled team has won 39 times, or 14 percent.