BOSTON -- This day contains failure. Every day does. Some failures are life-changing losses, some are spectacular flameouts, but most fall within the category of regular everyday minuses. You might not perform up to somebody's expectations today, or you might forget an important something somewhere and not find it again. You might fail to do something you promised yourself you would do this morning, like go to the gym or write a friend back. Then there are the caused setbacks and defeats that are out of personal control, like the bad airport wi-fi that didn't let me post this entry in the morning, Central Time.
Today doesn't have to be a "bad day," though. It will be a success if we win more than you lose. By extension, our lives will too. My rule of thumb: anybody who has enough available time and resources to read stuff on websites most likely wins 60 percent of the time, at the very least.
Our Game is exactly 50 percent losing, no more and no less. The wins and losses are not equally or evenly distributed, of course, so that basic fact is constantly (conveniently?) forgotten. What college basketball writers do is obsess over winners and what makes them win -- I do too, because most of you would stop reading if that wasn't happening here. But what people in this sub-industry do is present you with the distorted picture readers want to see. It's a fantasy dreamland designed to distract from the true parallels between game and life, the prime logic most folks use spectator sports to escape from. Hostility towards losing tends to be just so much displacement and projection, denial.
Every team here, each of the hundreds, comes into each season as an intricate and delicate mechanism: three to five coaches, 12-15 recruited players with various experience levels, plans, blueprints, goals, slogans, and colored clothing. By this time of year, each machine has been stress-tested for three months. That's enough time to become self-aware of the distance between October expectations and January reality, and to identify all the things that don't work -- not enough points scored, too many allowed, turnovers, weak rebounding, foul trouble issues, any of that. The landscape of Hoops Nation is littered with 3-13 and 6-12 malfunctions, all those failure machines. It's up to each of us whether we treat those with scorn, disgust or outright apathy. I suggest empathy instead. All of us know about how things go wrong, whether that's admitted or not. (All you do is win? Wishful thinking, son.)
Take this, for example. TMM is still around, somehow and miraculously so, with just enough support to maintain a travel schedule that generates and inspires new content on a weekdaily basis. I won't stop being grateful and repetitious about those opportunities. But indeed, there have been a lot of dropped decisions along the way: Bally's Players Club (Season 2), the Basketball Train, regular contributors, the Season 7 Symposium, and all the rest of the great plans we made along the way that didn't generate enough interest or excitement to be viable. It remains to be seen whether the 800 Games Project or the seven-year travel book will be everything we want them to be; those are still in progress. But for now, we still win more than we lose, and so may we all.
So here's to the 10-8 teams, destined to be 18-15 teams that finish 10-8 in their leagues and lose in the quarterfinals. Here's to the squads that make it through the season with more W's than L's and "moral victories," the below-the-radar clubs that are grateful to make it through the season intact and injury-free. Here's to Saint Bonaventure and Montana State and UMKC. This one's for the teams the media forgets, the teams that often slip our minds, the ones that generate numbers that don't add up to anything large or even significant. Here's to the winners who win just enough.
Atlantic 14: So what exactly is up with this Duquesne team? Muddled through non-conference season with a 7-5 record, featuring losses to Robert Morris and George Mason, and now the Dukes haven't lost since Christmas (eight straight) and are running the A-14 like they've been doing it for years. (They really haven't been.) How are they doing it? In one word, defense. Or, if you want to borrow a hockey term (this being Pittsburgh), forechecking. Ron Everhart's team is the best in the land at causing turnovers, with 20.5 forced per game and a staggering 27 percent opponent turnover rate. With all those transition opportunities, Duquesne has shot a conference-best 52 percent on twos this season, has won the turnover battle in 10 of their last 11 games, and is outscoring opponents by an average of 14.5 points. And with lowly and turnover-prone 0-5 Fordham coming up on Wednesday, a ninth straight win looks quite likely. Also in the 0-5 category, a moment of silence for Saint Joseph's. The Hawks have a very talented, raw freshman class, but it's a matter of how much patience the administration has with Phil Martelli. There haven't been consecutive losing seasons on Hawk Hill since the late 1990's, that three-year hangover from the 1997 Sweet Sixteen team. (Historical fact: Martelli survived that one.)
Conference USA: Marathoners talk about "the wall," the psychological, spiritual and physical barrier that is completely solid but totally invisible, and exists due to the human body's built-in technical stamina limitations, which is said to be about 20 miles. It's not supposed to show up on mile 13. After a perfect 13-0 non-conference season, Central Florida is in 11th place in C-USA with a single win in five games, and has lost to Houston, East Carolina and Rice, all teams with triple-digit RPI's. UCF has a Jordan, so it's a more compelling story, but take into account the story of Marshall (13-6, 1-3) so far. The Thundering Herd RLU'd West Virginia last week, but are underwater in Conference USA action. One of those losses just so happens to be UCF's lone league win. Up top, along with excepted Memphis, is high-flying UTEP. In a 57-52 win at Houston over the weekend, former MMBOW Randy Culpepper struck for 18 on a day when five of six road teams won across the league.
SWAC: Monday night is HBCU night in Division I basketball, and both leagues are providing great races this year. In the MEAC, Bethune-Cookman is challenging recent champions Morgan State and Hampton. Down south in the SWAC, a standings scorcher with three 6-1 teams heading into the halfway turn. In Itta Bena, Mississippi Valley State took down Texas Southern 89-76 in a fast, fun cable-televised game that featured a boisterous MVSU crowd (at their newly fixed arena) and five double-figure scorers. The Delta Devils' offense has been unstoppable lately; the 1.19 points per possession against Texas Southern was the second-highest total for a SWAC team this season (D-I games only). The top mark was 1.22, set by MVSU against Prairie View on Saturday in a 96-63 home blowout.
Richmond at Dayton (Atlantic 14) U. of Dayton Arena - Dayton, OH 7:00 EST
Off to Dayton Former Capital, where the hoops action takes place underground. We'll be there in March for the inaugural First Four, a/k/a the Ghost P.I.G., but tonight, the invisible camera crew is doing some location scouting and eating the best pizza in town over on Wayne Avenue. The home team, as usual, is in the position where they needmore wins (it never gets old) if they want to make the Big Dance. The Flyers are 15-5 but 3-2 in A-14 play, having lost a pair of roadies at Xavier (again), and at UMass. It's a truly perplexing team with excellent defense but erratic offense, capable of winning RLU thrillers against New Mexico or Ole Miss, or barely beating Savannah State, or getting doubled up by Cincinnati. The UD Arena will be full tonight, as it always is, but nobody will be sure which Dayton offense will show up until 7:05 EST. The wobbly Flyers have shot 35 percent or worse five times so far, and scored half a point per possession in that Cincinnati tilt. If there's a symbol for Dayton's weirdness, it's 6-foot-8 senior star Chris Wright (13 ppg, 9 rpg), still regarded as some kind of pro prospect. When he's been contained, so the Flyers have been as well. In five team losses, he's shot a combined 16-for-44 and scored a total of 44 points.
Richmond is 15-5 overall as well, but it's a somewhat more promising 15-5 (and they're 4-1 in conference, one game out behind Xavier and surprise contender Duquesne). Sure, they don't rebound that much, but with Chris Mooney's souped-up modified Princeton engine, they make the most of their few possessions. At 1.09 points per trip, it's the most efficient offense in the A-14, and the .091 against has brought the Spiders a bunch of wins. It's when they run into dynamic big guys that they have issues: losses to Old Dominion, Bucknell, even URI. That's been a problem for a while, though. (Ommmmmarrrrr...) But Dayton doesn't have much of that, so this is a decent matchup and a chance for a solid road resume-building win out west, and a possible warmup for a first-place grab at home on Saturday against thus-far league-unbeaten Xavier.