INDIANAPOLIS -- It is so cold, so unstoppably frigid, that the view outside the window is completely frozen in place like a badly composed painting: the skyline, the cars on the roads, the birds in the sky, the smokestack steam. All perfectly still.
Also suspended in invisible amber is our weekly Bally contest
, which yielded many correct answers but only one prize for the fleetest. We were seeking a deep link in the ESPN.com archives, a five-year old column about traveling to a Southland game which was intended to extend a helping hand but basically ended up crapping on "low" majors. It was an important instigator in my building this site (and eventually getting a WWLIS gig), so it's a historic document in the Mid-Majority reliquary. Reading those words for the first time since 2004 made me angry all over again, especially the part about skipping out on buying a ticket by playing the ESPN card. The worst thing is that the writer, considering who he is and where he's been, should have known better.I knew it was you, F-----. You broke my heart. You broke my heart...
The winner of the contest, although known, will be announced and notified on Tuesday. The person who wrote the article remains my favorite ESPN employee, and we're not trying to start an internal war by plastering up the link.
My life on the road this season is full of contrast between light and dark -- chiaroscuro of the soul, if you will. Wednesday was my second consecutive night of polyphasic
sleep (a technique made popular by Leonardo da Vinci and Cosmo Kramer
), two broken hours in rest areas between Cleveland and Indianapolis. I write to you now from the dimly-lit restaurant of a gently fading luxury hotel, accented in black and red lacquered wood, on Circle City's outer perimeter. My GPS system hasn't caught up with the new road names, but this is the ghost town that resulted by the move of the international airport.
This was supposed to be the best year ever. Season planning has been honed and perfected, and I'm finally wrapping up child support payments -- an obstacle that ranks somewhere between a broken fingernail and hemorrhoids on the Inspire-O-Meter. I've also been one of the key beneficiaries of the collapse of the American suburban economy -- with all the money I'm saving on gas, I can afford to drop forty dollars on the occasional 3 1/2-star hotel. Yes, you read that right. Companies and families are too afraid to travel now, so there's a bonanza of cheap unsold space that's being quietly redistributed through bargain websites. This is the kind of recession that could last forever, as far as I'm concerned.
At the same time, this has been the hardest season of the six (including the "lost episodes" of 2003-04) to get through. My book project
has hit snags, since each of my three teams have developed fatal flaws that are resulting in wide losses (If they all come back and make the NCAA's, however, the book will be optioned into the most inspiring film since Gandhi
). In addition to The Official Wife's deployment to Iraq
, there have been other, queasier complications that I'll likely come clean with once the chapter is closed
. I mention all of this for one reason: TMM would not be afloat right now if it wasn't for the readership.
When it comes down to it, you are the heroes of Season 5. The stories, observations, notes, contest entries and expressions of thanks have kept me going through this, even if I never solicited them. Your letters, of which there are sometimes over 100 a day, fill my days so much that I've written a program to hold them back into one big batch that's mailed to me at night. Even the hate mail has been life-affirming.
But I've been a real jerk about all of this. I'm bad about writing in return, I don't provide much thanks or feedback, and worst of all I only reprint about .001 percent of the mail. But you guys still keep writing. I don't understand it.
I also don't remember why I stopped the mailbag, and I think it was because I didn't want to get lazy and cheap by posting too much user-generated content, but the fact is that it's easier to copy and paste than type up paragraphs, and you all are writing better than I am a lot of the time. My late New Year's resolution is to be better about this.
Here's one from Jeff P., who surprisingly doesn't have a ready.gov e-mail address.
Kyle, You're an idiot! Not because of what you write about basketball, but because you put yourself and others at risk by driving all night from Boone to Nashville. Take care of yourself, guy. Don't push it. What would we do if you fall asleep wipe out a family coming home from grandma's house and kill yourself in the process? The Mid-Majority will never update and my B-state subscription will not be refunded.
By the way, have you followed the Dept of Homeland Security's advice and adopt a plan for what your business(es) will do in case emergency strikes and you drop dead (or lose your laptop)? Just trying to look out for you.
PS - How 'bout that MPG hitting 3s for Davidson in Boone? He did it again tonight at Belk Arena. Who needs the White Lobster when we have Max!
You guys are the best, I swear.Conference CallAmerica East: Being so far afield from our Rhode Island homestead has caused us to miss out on a lot of early A-East games. But we're following along, don't worry. Last night's Vermont invasion of Boston U., a 70-56 win, was available on Full Court and Sling-O-Vision, but we would have traded that for a chance to watch Albany pull out a slim home victory over previously league-undefeated Binghamton, a team that had just flown in from a poorly-scheduled date at Utah Valley. The Scoobies and Bearcats are both at 3-1.
Patriot League: Staying on the right coast, America's second-most bookish conference completed its second slate on Wednesday. Navy and American are both 2-0 and on five-game win streaks, respectively banishing Lehigh and Bucknell to the winless basement in a pair of close games. Your third undefeated PL squad is the purple gang from Holy Cross, which held the entire Army to single digits in an ouch-inducing 47-36 win.
Southland: Speaking of the league that should require ESPN employees to pay admission if they're not covering the games, Texas-San Antonio is riding an eight-game win streak and is one of three remaining 2-0 teams, a distinction relegated to the Lone Star side of the bifurcated standings table. The Roadrunners railroaded Nicholls State 62-55 last night behind a 15 point, 13 rebound performance by Josh Bonney. Stephen F. Austin, the highest-rated team in both the RPI and the State, dumped Central Arkansas on the road by 17.
U'useless Stat of the Day
Basketball State subscribers look at the world this way already, but here are a couple of concepts that work together like peanut butter and chocolate. The possession is the basic core unit of basketball, despite anything you've been told by color commentators. Raw efficiency is a measure that the NBA uses, a basket of good stats (shots made, rebounds, assists, etc.) measured against bad stats (turnovers, missed shots). Using special maths, we can figure out how efficient players have been with the possessions they're out on the floor. Here's the formula, modified for college (we underweight rebounds slightly to account for the premium on guard play):
((Points + Rebounds*.8 + Assists + Steals + Blocks) - ((Field Goals Att. - Field Goals Made) + (Free Throws Att. - Free Throws Made) + Turnovers))
Special note to geeks: we know the direction we're going in by adding multipliers. We're conducting a season-long, non-public experiment calculating John Hollinger's PER, which we'll likely break out on the site in 2009-10.
Here's a simple example: last night in that Stephen F. Austin game, Jereal Scott went 1-for-1 with a block in two minutes for an efficiency score of three. SFA had 60 possessions in the 40-minute contest, so that scores a 1.000 in efficiency per possession.
It was the best score of the night among sub-Red Liners. But it paled in comparison to the best night of the year by this measurement, that of Northern Iowa's Jordan Eglseder on Dec. 21. Against San Diego State, the Panthers' big man was on the floor for 22 minutes and hit four of seven shots, adding seven rebounds, one assist three free throws and a block. When you put that through the calculator, you come up with 4.839 efficiency units per possession. Nobody this season has made more of his time on the floor.