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Uncertain Principles

Physics, Politics, Pop Culture

Saturday, April 05, 2003

Game Day Analysis

My clever plan to overdose on televised hoop coverage has been cruelly thwarted by the weather-- the continuing ice storm in the Capital District knocked our power out last night, and it hasn't been turned back on yet. Seeking heat, light, and Internet connections, Kate and I have come over to campus, where the electricity still flows. Of course, it's Saturday, so I'm not about to do actual work, so instead, I'll post some comments on tonight's Final Four teams.

Marquette is the clear sentimental favorite in the field, as they return to the Final Four for the first time since the late, great Al McGuire coached them to a national title in 1977. McGuire was a wonderfully colorful figure in the college basketball world-- I only knew him as an announcer (where he came off as sort of a cross between Peter Falk and Phil Rizzuto), most memorably when he did a herky-jerky little dance with some Syracuse players in 1996, but he was justly famous as a coach before that.

Marquette made it to the Final Four with a surprising thrashing of everybody's office-pool favorite, Kentucky. Kentucky's Keith Bogans was hampered by an ankle sprain (I feel his pain right at the moment, having rolled my own ankle Wednesday. Damn it.), but still the Golden Eagles (nee Warriors) put the hurt on them big time, behind a stellar performance from Dwyane "Note Spelling" Wade, who finished up with a triple-double: 29 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists.

Wade is a bona fide star, and guard Travis "Can I See Some ID?" Diener is one of those slightly improbable-looking skinny little guys who always seems to have complete control of the ball, even when it looks like he's just itching to turn it over. Their coach, Tom Crean, has done a great job with this team, and has them playing some really good basketball at the moment. He's sure to be at the top of the list for every big-school coaching vacancy in the next year or two, but after this year, he could probably stay at Marquette for as long as he wants.

Marquette's semi-final opponent, Kansas, would be the sentimental favorite if not for Marquette. Coach Roy "Deputy Dawg" Williams is one of the nicest guys in big-time sports, and has racked up an astonishing number of wins without managing to win a title. This is his fourth trip to the Final Four (they lost to my Terps in the semifinals last year, and made two trips in the early 1990's), and you'd be hard pressed to find any basketball fan who wouldn't like to see Roy win a title eventually.

Muddying the waters for Kansas is the North Carolina situation. Williams was an assistant for legendary Tar Heel coach Dean Smith, and after El Deano's retirement several years ago, it's been assumed by UNC fans that the interim coaches were mere placeholders, keeping the chair warm for Roy Williams. He almost took the job three years ago, but backed out at the last minute, and with current interim coach Matt Doherty having worn out his welcome, everybody now thinks this is the time for Roy to take the job.

Personally, I think he'd be absolutely insane to take the UNC job: Carolina fans have wildly unrealistic expectations for coaches, rivaled only by UCLA fans, and the pressure to win immediately would be intense. Moreover, at UNC, he'd be filling in for a legend-- at Kansas, he's The Man. He's had fantastic success at Kansas, after coming in under slightly troubled circumstances, and nobody there is comparing him unfavorably to any past coaches. His situation at Kansas is about as good as you can get in his profession, and it's not like Kansas is some penny-ante bush league program. They have a basketball tradition stretching all the way back to Dr. James Naismith, who invented the game in 1891.

Of course, Williams would really prefer to focus on the games, and leave the coaching speculation for after the season. There's not much chance of that, which is a pity, as he's got a very good team. The Jayhawks are, in many ways, reminiscent of Maryland's championship team from last year: They're returning to the Final Four the year after a semifinal loss, and they're led by a senior inside-outside tandem, with Nick Collison in the post and Kirk Hinrich outside the three-point line. These are sort of quintessential Roy Williams players, his fantastic success being based on his magic portal to the Planet of Goony-Looking White Guys With Game. Collison looks gawky, but is almost unstoppable on the blocks, and Hirich, who looks a great deal like a young George Harrison, is one of those players who never stops moving. Ever. They play an up-tempo brand of basketball, and get out on the break faster than any team in the nation

Kansas came into the tournament as a #2 seed, and really probably should've had the #1 that was given to their league rivals, Texas. I'm not quite paranoid enough to claim that it was all about the Benjamins, as Michael Wilbon did, but the decision to make Texas a #1 and let them play home games (effectively) in San Antonio was a little baffling.

Texas is a damn fine team, though, which has to be galling for North Carolina fans who have loathed coach Rick Barnes since his days sparring with the Sainted Dean in the ACC. As you might expect for a Barnes team, Texas has plenty of guys who can goon it up in the paint (most notably Schenectady native James Thomas), but they've also got T. J. Ford, who may be the best guard in college basketball at the moment. Ford does some downright incredible things with the ball, and is the guy who lifts this Texas team above the ordinary. I really would've liked to see Ford and Steve Blake go head-to-head, but Maryland lost to Michigan State in spite of a furious rally, so it was not to be.

The Longhorns undeniably got a boost from getting to play in front of a home crowd, and they face a Syracuse team who had a similar advantage in last weekend's games. They've had a week to prepare for the infamous 2-3 zone, so we'll see if they fare any better than their league-mates from Oklahoma.

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim is one of the great stories in basketball, and the only guy with a chance to rival Roy Williams for sentimental favorite among the Final Four coaches (he'd get the nod if not for his whiny demeanor). Boeheim came to Syracuse as a player in the early 60's, and has never left town. After playing with the great Dave Bing, he stayed on as an assistant coach, and eventually became head coach 27 years ago. This is his third trip to the Final Four, having lost two title games, one to Keith Smart's last-second jumper in 1987 (dammit), and again to Kentucky in 1996, despite a superhuman effort by forward John Wallace.

Over the years, Boeheim's gone from being something of a laughingstock (after many early-round exits from the NCAA's) to something just short of a dean of the coaching community. Longevity has a way of doing that, and Boeheim has been coaching and winning for a long time now. He's an institution at Syracuse, and in the Big East-- they named the court in the Carrier Dome after him, putting him in the same company as people like Dean Smith and Mike Krzyzewski.

Even more amazingly, the 2-3 zone that the Orangemen play has acquired a certain cachet. This is baffling to anyone who knows the game, as the 2-3 is the lazy zone that desperate coaches with no talent whatsoever turn to. It really doesn't require much talent to run, and you can teach it to junior-high kids. And yet, when Syracuse plays it, it becomes weirdly baffling. They're holding opponents to something like 36% shooting in the tournament, and Oklahoma was positively flummoxed by it.

It's open to debate whether the rise of the 2-3 is a sign of coaching genius on Boeheim's part, or a distressing lack of sound basketball fundamentals on the part of most of the rest of the country, or just a testament to the fact that he's got some very good players playing that zone at the moment. Carmelo Anthony is in the running with Wade and Ford for "Best Player in the Tournament," and Hakim Warrick has improved incredibly since last year, and Jeremy McNeil gives them a shot-blocking presence at the back of the zone, which makes a big difference. Freshman guard Gerry McNamara is a remarkably tough kid, and very active on defense, while at the other end of the floor, he's a great shooter and a steady hand at the point.

(Warrick and McNamara are sort of quintessential Boeheim players, in the same way that Collison and Hinrich are classic Roy Williams players. Syracuse has had some really good talent in the last twenty-odd years, but more than that, Boeheim has a knack for finding great players in unexpected places. For every heralded recruit-- Billy Owens, Derrick Coleman, and now Anthony-- there's a guy who comes out of nowhere to fill a gap for them-- Sherman Douglas, Lawrence Moten, and now McNamara and Warrick. Boeheim never really gets enough credit for this, but that's a different rant...)

This should be an interesting weekend. Every team has at least one spectacular player who could shine on such a big stage. For two of the coaches, a win would end years of frustration and crown their careers, while the other two are on their way up. No matter who wins, there's a great story to sell (Texas hasn't won since the 40's), and there are plenty of intriguing match-ups possible along the way.

All we need now is the power to come back on, so I can watch the games...

Posted at 11:31 AM | link | follow-ups | 2 comments

Friday, April 04, 2003

Assume a Spherical Cow

There's an old joke in physics circles about a dairy farmer who, in a fit of desperation over the fact that his cows won't give enough milk, consults a theoretical physicist about the problem. The physicist listens to him, asks a few questions, and then says he'll take the assignment. A few weeks later, he calls up the farmer, and says "I've got the answer." They arrange for him to give a presentation of his solution to the milk shortage.

When the day for the presentation arrives, he begins his talk by saying, "First, we assume a spherical cow..."

OK, it's not a great joke, and it's the sort of joke that's only funny to physics majors. Because this is a common feature of physics lectures-- you begin considering the problem using simplifying assumptions which are often bizarrely unrealistic. Any object you need to model is first considered as a sphere, if not a point. Strings are assumed to be massless, surfaces frictionless, and mirrors and lenses loss-less.

(This is sometimes taken to absurd extremes-- a former colleague claimed to have had great success modeling the growth of his baby daughter as a sphere accreting cells at a fixed rate...)

None of these assumptions are remotely realistic, but in their own way, they're absolutely essential. Students are often baffled and bored by the simplified cases-- one of the best students from last term's introductory mechanics class remarked at the end of the term that "we neglected friction and air resistance, and all the interesting stuff." But if you don't make those assumptions, you can never discover the underlying laws and general principles that make physics such a successful science.

The ability to abstract away the "interesting stuff" and get down to the basic principles is one of the qualifications of the Great Names in physics. In a way, this is what Einstein did, by demolishing the idea of simultaneity (though another way of looking at it would be to say that he removed a simplifying assumption that people didn't know they were making). And going back even farther, it was the specific failure to consider the "interesting stuff" my student commented on that let Newton and Galileo get the whole field of physics started.

Newton's Laws have been around for long enough that they've sort of become part of the atmosphere surrounding us. Phrases like "an object at rest tends to remain at rest" or "for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction" have attained the same sort of unconscious quote status as various Shakespeare references ("there's a method to his madness" and the like)-- say the phrase to a randomly chosen person, and it will at least sound familiar, even if they don't understand what it means.

Of course, if you stop to think about it, the full statement of Newton's first law-- "an object at rest tends to remain at rest, an object in motion tends to continue in motion in a straight line at constant speed, unless acted on by an external force"-- is a little tricky to really see in action. Half of it is trivial-- stationary objects rarely start into spontaneous motion-- but the other half is actually not that obvious. Pick an object near you, and start it moving-- odds are, it will stop moving in fairly short order. Thrown objects will be hauled down to the ground by gravity, while sliding objects are subject to friction. It takes a day like today, when there's a quarter-inch layer of ice on everything to really make you believe in Newton's first law.

Plenty of people tried to develop general theories of motion before Newton came around, and all of them got tripped up by their inability to see past the inescapable forces of friction and gravity. Aristotle is probably the most famous of these failures, and while Galileo did better, he didn't get all the way there. Newton is justly famous for being the first to realize that gravity was also an external force, and get to the laws that bear his name.

The step of ignoring friction and gravity is the absolutely critical moment in early physics. It's what lets us get from an incomplete and unsatisfying description of the everyday world to a broad and elegant description of everything. If you believe that the natural state of inanimate objects is to be motionless on the ground, you won't do too badly at describing the sort of objects Aristotle had to work with in ancient Greece, but you'll have a terrible time trying to describe the motion of planets, stars, and galaxies, or the behavior of atoms and molecules. To get rules that apply to everything, you need the imagination to start with the ideal case, and work back to the more complicated reality.

This extends well beyond mechanics, of course. In dealing with electricity and magnetism, you start with the assumption of perfect conductors and insulators, and work back to real materials. In quantum mechanics, you start with impenetrable potential barriers, and work back to finite potential values. In atomic physics, everything starts with two-level atoms, despite the fact that, as my former boss was once (mis)quoted, "There are no two-level atoms, and sodium is not one of them."

You need to work the simple, idealized problems first, to get the general rules, and then apply those rules to whatever more realistic situation you're interested in. Daft as it may seem, you need to solve the spherical cow problem before you can understand the problems of a cow shaped like, well, a cow. And sometimes, genius lies in knowing how to look at a cow and see a sphere.

(Of course, hand in hand with knowing how to make the "spherical cow" approximation to render a problem soluble goes the knowledge of when not to make those kind of approximations. Excessive zeal in making simplifying assumptions is the bane of more than a few physicists, and whole fields of social science. But that's a topic for another day...)

Posted at 2:11 PM | link | follow-ups | 4 comments

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

There's Hope for the Place Yet

Having suggested that the whole state of Texas ought to be given back to Mexico in a previous post, in part due to the travesty of the Tulia drug busts, fairness demands that I note this surprising update to the story:

In a stunning reversal, the state agreed with defense lawyers that the former officer, Thomas Coleman, was an unreliable witness even though his testimony was the only evidence used to convict the defendants, some of whom are serving sentences of 90 years or more.

Asked if the convictions represented a travesty of justice, the state's special prosecutor, Rod Hobson, hesitated a moment and then said, "Yes."

Prosecutors have agreed to throw out the convictions of 38 people from this case, stipulating that Coleman "is simply not a credible witness under oath."

The deal still needs to be approved by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which has been known to do some wacky things in its own right, so I'm not ready to relent completely. On the basis of this new development, however, I'm prepared to back off to giving the whole place back to New Mexico...

Posted at 9:08 AM | link | follow-ups | 2 comments

Tuesday, April 01, 2003

Navel Gazing and Giant Puppets

On a somewhat lighter note, The Agonist steered me to an NZ Bear post comparing embedded reporters and bloggers. "The Bear" is one of the most relentlessly triumphalist of "revolution in journalism" bloggers, and thus the general tone of the comments is sort of predictable:

The crucial aspect of weblogs is that they are independent. They represent one individual (or a self-selected collection of individuals) viewpoint. Their thoughts, their ideas, hopes, fears, experiences, whatever. Uncut, uncensored, and unfiltered.

Embedded reporters, on the other hand, are the exact opposite. In the first place, they are Professional Journalists, which doesn't mean they are evil (or even necessarily incompetent) --- but it does mean that they are edited, filtered, distilled, and otherwise limited by their own organizations. Yes, that on-the-battlefield report might be streamed live. But the choice to stream that reporter's account at that particular moment wasn't made by the reporter --- it was made by some editor sitting in Atlanta. "Embeds" are tactically uncut --- but strategically neutered.

And if serving their one master (Big Media) wasn't bad enough, the embedded reporters have all by definition struck an even more devilish bargain: every last one of them is reporting through the lenses that the U.S. military provides them. I don't know what impact this has on their reporting: and that's kind of the point. Neither do you.

I post this not because I agree with the remarks-- I don't. For one thing, this is about the fourth different "crucial aspect" of weblogs that I've heard cited. More importantly, if he really thinks that weblogs are completely "unfiltered," he's on crack-- all weblogs are filtered, at one level or another. Pseudonymous bloggers like, well, him, scrupulously avoid posting anything that would reveal their identity. Named bloggers like, well, me, scrupulously avoid comments that could get us in trouble-- I won't post specifc comments about current and former students, nor will I use this space to hold forth on the various policies of my employers. Ideological bloggers, like, well, Andrew Sullivan, scrupulously avoid posting actual facts that might undermine their chosen positions. Everybody filters what they post, if only in an attempt to avoid looking like an idiot.

What strikes me as noteworthy about the post is that "NZ Bear," who has always struck me as annoyingly libertoonian, has unwittingly drifted into rhetoric that's oddly reminiscent of anti-globalization protestors-- media corporations and the military are Eeevil, repressive organizations, and not to be trusted. It's only a matter of time before he's waving puppets outside the next World Bank meeting...

Posted at 10:21 AM | link | follow-ups | 3 comments

Know Who Said That? Mel, the Cook on 'Alice'

Elsewhere in blogdom, "Demosthenes" rips Kevin Drum for criticizing extreme left-wingers, saying in part:

Kevin, it happens for a very simple reason, and it's you. No, really, you're a great blogger and from all accounts a great guy, but it's the truth. This kind of thing, specifically.The spectacle of center-liberals constantly and embarassingly repudiating the left is something that is completely unmatched on the right. Indeed, as I've mentioned in the past, that's one of the strengths of the right- although they don't go out of their way to associate with the loons, they don't go out of their way to repudiate them, either.

Yes, well. What do you propose to do about it? Patrick Nielsen Hayden has some similar comments, again, without really giving me a clear sense of what, as a good liberal, I ought to do about this problem.

Am I supposed to endorse idiotic things said by leftists? I'm not in for that-- the "million Mogadishus" remark was reprehensibly stupid, and the guy who has his knickers in a twist over the Oscars needs to take a cold shower and lay off the semiotics for a while. I can't pretend to agree with them, because I don't agree with them-- they're idiots, and if asked, I'll repudiate them. Because, well, they're idiots.

One obvious solution would be to simply ignore stupid things said by left-wingers unless they're specifically brought to my attention. The argument in favor of the "ignore stupid things unless you're absolutely forced to comment" line is, of course, that this is essentially what right-wingers do now-- see any number of entries under the name "Lott."

Of course, that's what I'm already doing-- there's just a dedicated corps of Republican hacks out there whose whole job seems to be digging up this sort of idiocy, and throwing it out into the public sphere, forcing moderate liberals to repudiate them or be tagged as extremists themselves. This is, more or less, why "Glen Reynolds" has become a name to conjure with.

(Yeah, fine, Kevin dug the Oscar thing up on his own, but he was trying to make a meta-commentary sort of point (long since lost in the shouting). It's not like his site is normally dedicated to liberal breast-beating...)

At the risk of sounding like Richard Perle, the best defense in this case would probably be a good offense. The Republicans don't lack for super-scary extremeists-- put them in the same situation liberals have been put in. Find every reprehensible statement made by anyone to the right of Jim Jeffords, and put every Republican talking head on the spot to either agree with or repudiate the remarks. To paraphrase Lyndon Johnson, let's hear them say that they don't fuck pigs.

The problem is, this can't really be done with a series of civil blog posts-- those are too easily ignored. It requires the sort of relentless hammering on a given point that Atrios and Instapundit specialize in, and then some. To really make it work, you need to flood the email inboxes and comment threads of the "blogosphere"'s echo chamber with the same points over and over. You need to hound Rush Limbaugh, and Bill O'Reilly, and Michael Savage-- yeah, they control the mikes, and can cut guests and callers off, but they can't run a whole show of nothing but truncated phone calls. You need to be tenacious, unscrupulous, and annoying. You need to be, well, Republicans.

Of course, that does nothing to help the cause of civil debate. Which is the whole quandary in a nutshell, isn't it?

Posted at 10:17 AM | link | follow-ups | 3 comments

The Wogs Begin in Westchester County

Matthew Yglesias continues (albeit somewhat obliquely) his campaign to reform or replace the US Senate, on the grounds that it grossly over-represents small rural states relative to more populous urban areas like New York.

As my political sympathies are generally more in line with the underrepresented urbanites, I half want to agree with this. Especially since I really don't like the people that the rural types tend to actually vote for. On the other hand, though, as a long-time resident of New York State, but not The City, I have a good deal of symapthy with the original intent of over-representing the small states. In state-wide races, Broome County (where I grew up) is more or less in the position that Montana would be without the electoral college-- completely and utterly irrelevant. The Albany area isn't much better.

In the recent gubernatorial race, the only candidate to run commercials in Broome and Schenectady counties was independently wealthy nutjob Tom Golisano, and his whole campaign seemed to consist of trying to leverage the upstate/downstate split into votes for him. Pataki ran one or two attack ads when Golisano started to get a little traction, and one baby-kissing commercial, and I never saw any ads for Carl McCall, the notional Democratic challenger. Given the vast hordes of soccer moms in Nassau and Westchester counties, it's just not worth candidates' time and money to attempt to win the votes of people in the rest of the state.

In its most extreme form, this leads to spectacles like that loathsome toad Al D'Amato running commercials in which he pledged to solve the crime problem in The City by shipping criminals off to "work camps somewhere upstate." Granted, most of the Jeezemoids in Broome County were probably going to vote for D'Amato anyway, but he didn't even make a pretense of caring what people "somewhere upstate" may have thought of the idea-- it just didn't matter.

Yeah, it sucks that some rural Western states have a disproportionate influence over national policy, especially when they insist on voting for conservative whack jobs. On the other hand, though, I don't think the fear of large states running roughshod over small ones is quite as abstract as a lot of urban people think.

Posted at 9:30 AM | link | follow-ups | no comments

Sunday, March 30, 2003

Live-Action Basketball

After boring the hell out of several regular readers with lengthy basketball commentary during the regular season, I haven't actually said anything about the NCAA Tournament, now whittled down to the Final Four (Syracuse, Texas, Kansas, and Marquette). For the first round, the combination of family tragedy (incidentally, thank you to all who sent condolences in the comments and elsewhere) and international events sort of overshadowed the games. For the third and fourth rounds, the televised games were overshadowed by the fact that I had tickets for the East Regional games in Albany this weekend.

I bought the tickets (at Kate's urging, believe it or not) from an on-line re-seller for a moderately ridiculous amount of money (well over $100 per game), but they were worth every penny. While there are advantages to watching games on tv-- chiefly the availability of slow-motion replays-- there's really nothing quite like seeing games live. You get to see a lot more of the court, and the atmosphere is terrific, even if you're not a big fan of one of the teams. The fact that I am a fan of one of the teams in the regional was just a bonus...

Since I've got this blog as an outlet for whatever I feel like babbling about, I'll post some scattered comments regarding the games I saw. General thoughts on the tournament may or may not follow in a separate post.

Game 1: (12) Butler vs (1) Oklahoma.

Butler was the clear sentimental favorite of the field-- they were seeded twelfth in the region, and upset both Mississippi State and Louisville to make it to Albany. Located in Indianapolis, they're one of those small-conference schools that routinely get screwed out of a tournament bid after amassing a great regular-season record. This happened to them last year, in fact, but they rallied to get in this year.

What I didn't know about them (well, strictly speaking, I didn't know that they were located in Indianapolis until I read it in the game program) is that they play a very aesthetically pleasing brand of basketball. They were more or less continuously in motion-- passing, cutting, screening, working to get open-- and distributed the ball very well. They had Oklahoma tied in knots for the first ten minutes or so of the game, and it was fun to watch them do it. This is basketball the way it's meant to be played.

Unfortunately, they didn't quite have enough to stop Oklahoma. Ebi Ere (pronounced "Arah") lit them up for 25 points, and Oklahoma absolutely dominated the boards. Butler got very few rebounds, and despite a game effort, just couldn't quite keep up.

Another thing that impressed me was the fan turnout for Butler. They absolutely packed the quarter of the lower deck that they'd been allotted, and had a fair number of fans scattered around the rest of the arena (including a few sitting right behind me). They also brought a large and loud student contingent, and seated them on the floor behind one of the baskets. Oklahoma, on the other hand, had a median fan age of about 60, and hardly any students. Even on Friday, there were a fair number of Syracuse-orange sweatshirts down in the Oklahoma section, which did not bode well for the Sooners.

Game 2: (10) Auburn vs. (3) Syracuse.

This was the game most of the people in the arena really wanted to see-- myself included, as I grew up rooting for the Orangemen (Scenic Whitney Point, NY is about an hour's drive south of Syracuse). While Albany was technically a "neutral court," it's a two-hour drive from Syracuse, so this was for all intents and purposes a home game for the Orangemen.

For thirty-seven and a half minutes, this was a very entertaining game. Syracuse jumped out to an early lead, and led by ten at the half. In all to typical fashion, though (as I said to the people around me, I'd almost rather see them trail by five than lead by ten at the half-- when they're down, they play with some intensity, but when they lead by double digits, they get a little complacent), they started slowly in the second half, and Auburn hung around for the whole game, cutting the lead to three on a few occasions. Syracuse got a great second-half performance from freshman sensation Carmelo Anthony (after a great first half from fellow freshman Gerry McNamara, and most-improved-player Hakim Warrick), and managed to push the lead back to six or seven every time Auburn got close.

Then we came to the last two and a half minutes, which served as a showcase for the biggest problem in the college game. On paper, it looks like it was an exciting finish-- Auburn hit four three-pointers in the last 1:18, and lost by a single point, 79-78. In person, however, it was excruciatingly dull.

The sequence went like this: Syracuse would put the ball in play, and Auburn would foul the first player they could lay hands on. They'd walk to the other end of the court, and shoot two free throws. Then Auburn would take the ball, run down the court, and throw up a three-pointer. If it went in, they'd call time out. And then everybody would fidget uncomfortably for a minute and a half, while CBS showed commercials on tv, and the pep bands did pep band things. And then it would all start over. In addition to hitting four three-pointers, Auburn also called four time-outs in the last two minutes.

The stopping and starting sucked all life out of the game. Two and a half minutes of game time dragged on for half an hour or more of actual time, most of it spent either watching Syracuse players shoot free throws, or watching cheerleaders cavort lamely during a time-out. There wasn't really a sense of a dramatic comeback being underway, because the game wasn't really moving-- all the time-outs did was drag the ending out. The worst part being when the officials went to the videotape to determine that three tenths of a second remained after the final shot, and forced Syracuse to go through the charade of inbounding the ball (since three-tenths of a second, by rule, isn't long enough to catch the ball and get a shot off, this was merely a formality, and drew a deafening chorus of boos).

Something really needs to be done about the end-game in college basketball. Too many entertaining games are drawn out ridiculously by this sort of stunt. Painful as it is to watch this nonsense on tv, it's infinitely worse in person-- if you're watching on tv, you can at least channel-surf. They should either reduce the number of time-outs (and really, with four tv time-outs each half, do they need five per team?), or start calling intentional fouls (two shots plus the ball) at the end of the game.

Anyway, the game finally ended, with Syracuse victorious, and I headed out to the parking garage, where I sat in my car and listened to the bitter end of Maryland's season on the radio while waiting for the traffic to clear.

Game 3: (3) Syracuse vs. (1) Oklahoma:

As noted above, this was effectively a home game for Syracuse. It was even worse Sunday afternoon than Friday night, as most of the departing Butler and Auburn fans had sold their tickets-- to Syracuse fans. The box score claims an attendance of 15,207, and I'd be shocked if there were more than 500 Oklahoma fans in the building. It was a Syracuse crowd, and a rowdy bunch, too.

An early sign of what lay in store came a good forty-five minutes before tip-off, when the Oklahoma players finished shooting around, and gathered in a circle at mid-court for one of those athletic-bonding huddles before heading into the locker room. The crowd (maybe 2,000 people at that point) booed them. Loudly.

In a particularly amusing quirk of organization, the Oklahoma pep band and cheerleaders found themselves taking up the first two rows of the seats behind the basket... in what was effectively the Syracuse student section. Fifty or sixty of the loudest orange-clad fans, worked up into the sort of frenzy that only college-age sports fans can attain, were sitting right on top of the only Oklahoma students in evidence. It was a long afternoon for the band, I think...

(On a semi-related note, it was interesting to watch CBS's cameramen choreographing some of the student zaniness during time-outs-- at one point, I saw one of them posing Oklahoma's mascot and cheerleaders. They also went to some lengths to try to hide the band-student mismatch-- when they took shots of the band, they used a really oblique angle, so you could only see the first couple of rows, and when they shot the Syracuse students, they went around to the back of the section...)

(Getting to see silly behind-the-scenes stuff like that is one of the perks of seeing a game live. I also got a kick out of the fact that the "Budweiser" logos on the cup-holders on the seats had all been covered up with "NCAA" stickers. All 15,000 of them...)

Surprisingly, this was never actually much of a game. Oklahoma has a very good coach in Kelvin Sampson, and they're renowned for being a good defensive team, so I thought this would be a tough game for the Orangemen. They jumped out to an early lead, though, and never really looked back. Again, they led by ten at the half, but this time, they didn't let up at all in the second half, and more or less cruised to victory. The Sooners looked baffled by Syracuse's trademark 2-3 zone defense, and never really figured out how to beat it.

The only blemish on the game came in the form of some staggeringly poor officiating, including a bizarre sequence in the mid-to-late second half when an Oklahoma player ran halfway across the court to throw a hockey check into Carmelo Anthony, knocking him sprawling into the scorer's table. The referees blew the whistle, everybody dusted themselves off, and the PA announcer said that a foul had been called, but Syracuse didn't shoot any free throws, and Oklahoma got the ball back. I have no idea how the Oklahoma player wasn't ejected, let alone how they got the ball after that-- this stands as one of the strangest plays I've ever seen, and of course, none of the stories about the game mention it.

After the game, fan that I am, I stuck around to watch the usual post-game rituals. The T-shirts and hats announcing the Final Four berth were trotted out immediately (the shirts and hats printed up for Oklahoma will presumably be finding their way to the local homeless, or something), and it was nice to see Carmelo Anthony run across the court to toss a shirt up to his mother in the stands (followed a while later by Hakim Warrick). And when Anthony climbed the ladder to cut down part of the net, the arena rang with the chant of "One More Year!" (Anthony, the MVP of the regional, is almost certainly NBA-bound after this season.) Jim Boeheim got a rousing ovation as well-- Roy Williams of Kansas is his only competition for "best active coach without an NCAA title," and, like Williams, he's only two games from possibly taking that off his resume...

This was the first NCAA tournament I've ever been to. I've seen games live at the Carrier Dome and in Maryland's Cole Field House, and we went to the Big East conference tournament a couple of years ago, but this was definitely a different vibe than any of those. It's also a lot more fun to be there as the games are happening-- I'm not sure I'd shell out the kind of money I did for these games to see some teams I know nothing about, but I'm definitely glad I got these tickets.

Posted at 10:28 PM | link | follow-ups | 4 comments

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