Have No Fear, the Camera’s Here

Superstar (AP)

Superstar (AP)

Curry would not let his team lose. He managed to elude a double-team, took a pass, and made a three over a pair of defenders from beyond NBA three-point range. WVU by one. Back on defense, Curry stopped a taller WVU player’s momentum, anticipating his driving lane to the basket, then pulled down the rebound. No one else touched the ball as Curry headed up court. Curry found just enough space to take another three pointer, and buried it. MSG was Knicks-playoffs loud (remember Knicks-playoffs loud?).  Howard Megdal, “The Stephen Curry Show,” The New York Observer (Dec. 11, 2008).

I remember Knicks-playoffs loud.  I grew up a Knicks fan, and relished the team’s physical and sometimes violent style of play (multiple TV remote controls met their fate during my childhood after especially stressful Knicks playoff games).  For me, Madison Square Garden has always been the greatest arena on earth, and I didn’t think twice in making my pilgrimage to this hallowed venue to see Davidson play West Virginia on Tuesday.  Considering the mediocrity on display in the garden over the last decade or so, Stephen Curry’s brilliance made Tuesday night one of the most exciting nights that the MSG crowd has seen in quite awhile.

Having arrived in New York City after a busy morning of work in DC and a frantic afternoon Amtrak and subway dash north, I met my colleague Base Rich, himself just completing a bus ride from Boston, and we made our way to our 10th row seats, directly behind the basket, hardly able to contain our excitement.  Near the end of warmups, Lupe Fiasco’s “Superstar” came on over the speakers, and BR exclaimed, “they’re playing our song!”  I didn’t get it at first.  By the end of the night, though, the city that never sleeps would witness the greatness of Stephen Curry, and it would be obvious that, as Gus Johnson would say, “folks, we got a star!”

Everyone always talks about how Curry is a better person than basketball player (one of the most annoying cliches in sports), but I had yet to see this first-hand.  Standing outside of the Davidson bar after the game Tuesday night, BR and I found ourselves suddenly amongst the entire team as they prepared to board their bus back to Davidson.  At first, I didn’t even realize that the kid next to me in a gray hoodie chatting with some friends was the man himself, and after a nervous pause, I quickly shook Steph’s hand, congratulated him, and he returned the praise with a sincere “ohh, thanks a lot man!” that immediately made me realize that all the hype still had not gone to his head.  Despite carrying the hopes of Davidson nation on his small frame game after game, Steph was still just a regular kid, enjoying college, but seemingly thinking little of being one of the greatest college basketball players of our generation.

Steph struggled mightily at first under the burning MSG spotlights, but in crunch time, as we have seen so often, he drilled the shots that mattered.  With our invincible Curry weapon armed at the end of every game, Davidson is a hard team for anyone to beat.  Oklahoma, with a 21-point lead on their home floor, barely salvaged a 4-point win after a late-game Curry onslaught.  NC State was buried by a long-distance Curry bomb, and now West Virginia is the latest victim of Curry’s magical skills in the clutch.  Moreover, Will Archambault’s 20-point outburst and Andrew Lovedale’s 18 rebound effort last night suggest that this team has an array of budding stars capable of complimenting Curry’s ridiculousness in tight games.

John Starks has always been my favorite Knicks player as he represented a time in Knicks history, and the NBA in general, when players wore their hearts on their sleeves and battled against playoff rivals as though their lives depended on the outcome.  It might sound a bit dramatic, but I see Stephen Curry as a transformational player.  I think his creative and unique game on the court, his uncanny ability to always rise to the occasion, and the inspiring story of his arrival from obscurity to superstar status could make the NBA fun again.  And he could be my new favorite Knick, too.

4th Watts

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Lebron’s College Experience

Lebrons submission after Currys 30-foot play of the day (AP).

Lebron James humbly submits after Curry's 30-foot play of the day (AP).

When I watch King James watch Steph Curry, I can’t help but think he’s thinking:

Man, I should’ve gone to college.  Forget the fact that I was ready for the League at age 15.  This would’ve been fun.  

Sure, he’s been spotted at precisely two Davidson games — hardly meaningful on its face — but he appears enraptured.  He’s not pecking out emails on his Blackberry, he’s standing up, arms aloft, mouth agape in disbelief, just like a normal, or non-King, human might be expected to behave in response to Curry’s wizardry.  

It’s easy to live vicariously through Steph Curry.  I do it about twice a week when I don my Eric Blancett jersey and begin scrolling feverishly through the DirectTV guide in search of whatever oddball backyard southern sports network is broadcasting the game.  It’s easy to do because it’s almost believable.  We’re about the same size as Steph Curry.  Our egos are similarly proportional.  And, for those of us fortunate enough to have gone to Davidson, we have a pretty good sense of what he eats everyday and where he takes those meals.

What is, of course, completely unbelievable (and makes this whole vicariousness thing fun) is Steph’s performance on the court.  The purity of his game, of his joy, is what this whole college thing is supposed to be about.  Over the past ten or fifteen years, we haven’t seen enough of that. Perhaps then it’s understandable why Lebron would forego college.  It all seemed rather perfunctory.  I just have a feeling though, that if James were but a junior in high school today, he might be a hair more inclined to defer his entrance into the NBA. 

Base Rich

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Taking the Initiative

Coach McKillop (AP)

Davidson head coach Bob McKillop is a compelling figure.  He’s the New Yorker who, for the past twenty years, has strolled down the sleepy streets of a southern college town to pick up his mail.  He’s an enigmatic speaker with a penchant for metaphor whose delivery is as impeccable as his dress, yet he’s eminently humble.  As a coach, he’s a brilliant tactician.  His keen eye for detail and tireless commitment to the unsloppy way make him the envy of his peers.  If there is a truly beautiful strategist in the modern game, he lives twenty feet from campus and once dreamt of the day that his college’s apparel would be sold in the local airport.  But even more, McKillop has a way of inspiring his squads to play beyond themselves that is nonpareil.

It’s easy to credit McKillop for all of the successes of the past few seasons (with a healthy nod to the Lohengrin-like Steph Curry for the past two), but a story published today by Charlotte-based radio station WFAE gives us new reason to acknowledge the contributions of his players.  Shortly after the heart-in-mouth ending of last season, the players issued a four-page memo to their coach.  Said McKillop in the interview:

“They met as a team and put together this four page manifesto, and it covered a variety of topics from the standpoint of basketball technique, training methods, practice sessions, schedule, involvement in the community, the way we would travel, diet.”

That’s a beautiful thing.  I quickly began to miss the point though, wondering who the chief architect might’ve been.  Lovedale did have a way with words in that elite eight post-game interview.  But Rossiter has the heart of a lion.  Max is tenacious on the ball, but with a pen?  Could Curry’s glorious flurry on the court translate into the sort of striking rhetorical flourishes surely contained in what McKillop dubbed a manifesto?  Civi?

No.  The beauty of this gesture is that it reflects a group of intensely focused young men whose collective zeal for self-improvement has transcended the student-teacher paradigm.  Better put, these players have taken the initiative.  They have risen to all the calls and now, they have effectively raised their own bar.   

Perhaps the bit of the report that struck me most was the sound bite of freshman walk-on Will Reigel.  Reigel has tallied a total of eight minutes on the floor in his collegiate career, yet his words evince the same drive and focus as those of his teammates.  And that makes sense, because the vision is a synergistic one, where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.  

“Our team unity sets us apart from other schools and other teams. We’ve got a motto, trust commitment care, and we live by it, by the code. And treat each other with all three of those things all the time, and it’s really big for us.”

Base Rich

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Triangle and 2

Loyola Md Davidson Basketball

Loyola coach Jimmy Patsos during Davidson's 78-48 blowout on Tuesday

Having gorged on turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes, what better digestif than to reflect on Davidson’s odd victory against Loyola Maryland on Tuesday night?  In a game that should’ve been forgotten as soon as the final buzzer sounded, Loyola Coach Jimmy Patsos decided to use this inevitable blowout as a chance to make a name for himself.  As has now been publicly documented, Coach Patsos deployed a self-sacrificing and inexplicable variation on the triangle and 2 defense that placed 2 defenders on Stephen Curry at all times, holding the star shooter to 0 points on 3 shots.  The strategy proved to be utterly devastating.  Davidson smashed Loyola MD 78-48 in a rout that brought public derision to Coach Patsos and overwhelming praise for Curry.  When Steph wins player of the year, which is looking more and more likely, this game will be talked about as much or more than the Socon game later this season when he scores 60 points.

Davidson fans should be thanking Patsos for this opportunity.  After Steph scored 39 on Monday night in a 76-60 win over Florida Atlantic, there was worry that the Curry show, while effective against middling opponents, could be troublesome against more powerful adversaries.  This game did a lot to put those fears to rest.  With Curry out of the game, others stepped up.  Lovedale continued his streak of double-doubles with 20 points and 10 rebounds, Barr rediscovered his shot with 6 three-pointers, and Archambault continued his offensive (and psychological) development with 13 points and 4 assists.

Obviously Davidson will never face such a pointless defensive scheme again, but there is little doubt that Curry will receive the majority of attention from opposing teams in coming months.  While Curry himself can keep this team in the Top 25, consistent contributions from others can make this team one of the very best in the nation.

Davidson’s next game is against NC State, a team who eeked out a 1-point win against the Wildcats last year in a game that left Davidson’s players and fans in tears.  Davidson is 0-5 against ACC opponents with Curry, but I really don’t expect this game to be close.  I think that we’ll see three or four Davidson players in double figures, and Curry will likely drain 35 points as well.  Sure, Tuesday’s performance was a class act by Curry, but there’s no doubt that he’s a little annoyed that his scoring average has dipped to 29 points per game.  Arch goes for 18 and Rossiter fouls out in Davidson’s 77-62 victory against the Wolfpack.

4th Watts

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Where the Wind Comes Sweeping Down the Plain

 

Hearts of Lions (AP).

Hearts of Lions (AP).

I promised myself that I wouldn’t post until I’d had a reasonable cooling period.  You see, I’ve learned to cope with loss.  I grew up cheering for a different breed of Wildcat.  In fact, I spent my entire life until I went to Davidson in the basketball-crazed bluegrass of Lexington, KY.  I’ve studied at UK.  My father graduated from UK.  His father was a professor at UK.  I gauge my age by reference to UK milestones and lineups.  The unalloyed success of the blue Wildcats’ program has helped to erect some of the highest standards in the land.  Lexingtonians fully expect to be playing in the final game of each season.  For this reason, a loss — any loss — stings and feels undeserved.  In order to endure the relative trough in performance over the last ten years, UK fans have been made to develop effective defense mechanisms.  

Freud posited several levels of defense mechanisms, more or less varying in their level of maturity or adaptiveness.  My feelings immediately after the Oklahoma game were of the most basic or most childish sort (or, since I’m an adult, Freud might say of the most psychotic sort).  I simply denied reality.  I refused to accept that we’d faltered and the midwestern barbarians had sunk their free throws at an incredible 84% clip.  Then, with slightly more nuance, I began to distort the night’s event.  We hadn’t lost the game yet — there was an exception to an exception to an exception that granted the refs the discretion to instate an overtime period where the home team dunks after the buzzer and yells an obscenity at its opponent.  We still had a shot!  

My friend 4th Watts engaged in a slightly higher level defense, the sort that Freud supposed was exhibited most often by petulant adolescents.  Immediately after the buzzer sounded he began his search for salve, which he found in the form of YouTube videos of the ‘Cats’ run last March.  The only way by which he could survive the trauma was to retreat into fantasy.  

In the end, however, my better senses prevailed.  If my recollection of Psych 101 at Davidson isn’t too foggy, sublimation is the process of turning negative feelings into positive feelings or actions.  Despite the shortcomings, the overworked Wildcats were able to turn a 21-point deficit into a one-possession game.  And not on neutral turf either.  (How quickly I forgot that during the Cats’ march through March they benefitted from the cheers of just about every neutral observer.)  And they did it amidst difficult circumstances.  Oklahoma’s game didn’t exactly crumble.  Max was sent out of the game after being thrown to the ground.  Rossiter joined him soon afterwards.  And the pressure on Steph was unrelenting.      

So if we must complain about shots that went halfway through the hoop before spinning out of it, about the tired legs that caused a few to clank off the front of the rim, about the incredible third foul on Curry that sent him to the bench with six minutes left in the first, about the incredible fifth foul on Max that sent him to bench with nearly ten minutes left in the second, about the lack of motion on offense, and about the occasional lapse in defensive awareness, then we must acknowledge our achievement as all the more exceptional.  

This team has tremendous potential.  Absurd as it sounds, Steph is even better.  Rossiter has fully embraced the responsibilities delegated to him by Thomas Sander and he appears to bring a new offensive skill set.  Brendan McKillop gave us a glimpse of his potential at the point and showed himself capable of knocking down big late-game shots.  Will just might’ve gotten his groove back, if that dart from 30 was any indication.  (That’s confidence.)  

More than potential, close losses reveal a lot about a team’s character.  This team never gave up.  They pushed and pushed and will continue to push until the final buzzer sounds.  This is the great spirit that Coach McKillop funnels into his system, a system imbued with huge ideas.  Let us raise our heads and take in the big picture.   

Base Rich

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First Test of the Season

Curry lays one in against JMU (AP)

Curry lays one in against JMU (AP)

Having vanquished James Madison with ease in last night’s NIT Preseason tip off, Davidson earned a prime-time matchup with #14-ranked Oklahoma tonight at 9:30 pm est. on ESPN2.  As the rankings would indicate, the Sooners have high hopes for the new season, sporting a pre-season All-American of their own in 6’10 sophomore Blake Griffin.  Many are anticipating tonight’s matchup of top 25 seeds as a battle of potential players of the year.  For both teams, it is much more than that.  In a sport where subjective rankings often make the difference for at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament, tonight’s nationally televised game gives both teams a chance to show that they belong among the upper echelon of college basketball’s elite. 

While Stephen Curry and Blake Griffin both share All-American potential, their games could not be more different.  As we all know, Steph thrives from beyond the arc, and punishes overzealous defenses with swift cuts to the basket and fantastic finishes.  Griffin, by contrast, eschews the outside shot and favors powerful dunks and dominating inside play.  Griffin poses a serious challenge to Davidson’s big men, and the overriding goal of the night will be to minimize Griffin’s impact while also avoiding serious early foul trouble.  Expect Lovedale to assume the duty of guarding Oklahoma’s star, with Rossiter, Nelms, and Allison subbing in and out throughout the game. 

Everyone knows about Curry, but tonight is Davidson’s chance to show off its new starting lineup, along with emerging scoring threats Brendan McKillop and Ben Allison.  I expect Davidson to have little trouble racking up points.  The challenge will be on defense, as Bob McKillop pointed out in his post-game comments last night.  My colleague Base Rich diligently watched the Oklahoma game against Mississippi Valley State (sadly I could not — thanks Comcast), and reported that Oklahoma makes up for their medicore outside shooting with athletic drives to the hole and physical play down low.  I expect Davidson to cede the three-point shot, as it did through much of last year’s NCAA Tournament, in an effort to double down on OU’s bigs and limit points in the paint. 

Davidson’s last encounter with the Big 12 ended in last year’s 2-point defeat to Kansas in the Elite Eight.  Expect the Wildcats to fare much better in this year’s battle with the Midwest. 

We decided not to do official previews or recaps this season, instead focusing on more free-flowing analysis and editorializing, but bold and (rarely) unbiased predictions remain: Curry goes for 45 in Davidson’s decisive 85-75 victory in Norman. 

4th Watts

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Technical Difficulties

Dear Readers:

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll be undertaking some design changes in an effort to make the site more friendly to the eye, without regard to the type of computer it’s staring at.  What you’re now looking at is a bit of a placeholder design.  We apologize for the in-season reformatting but we do not expect any downtime.  New articles will continue to trickle in.  We welcome your comments and are excited about what lies ahead, both in terms of the new design and the Cats’ season.  

4th Watts & Base Rich

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