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Hoops hypothesis

The first law of college hoops

Posted: Wednesday February 23, 2005 10:02AM; Updated: Wednesday February 23, 2005 3:57PM
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Iowa State
Iowa State celebrates its upset of Kansas last Saturday.

He's no J.D. Van der Waals (or even Grant Wahl), but Sports Illustrated college basketball editor Dick Friedman did graduate from Harvard -- and he's been known to stay at a Holiday Inn Express. Whereas physicists such as Van der Waals, or Johannes Kepler, contributed to the three Laws of Thermodynamics, Friedman has his two Laws of College Hoops. Newtonian physics, meet Friedmanian basketball. Allow us to cover Friedman's First Law of College Hoops (and to mention, because we'd be remiss not to, that SI's Wahl graduated from Princeton):

Friedman's First Law: It's not an upset if the home team wins.

Friedman, a.k.a. the Wizard of West Windsor, and I had a conversation following Duke's upset of North Carolina two weeks ago. The Tar Heels were No. 2 at the time, but the game was played at Cameron Indoor. We were on an elevator, returning from lunch (even geniuses have to eat), when my sage mentor first imparted his wisdom to me.

I spent the next week using the scientific method (four years as a pre-med and one year as a high school chemistry teacher finally paid off) to test Professor Friedman's theorem. You know, hypothesis (i.e., his first law), observation (the experiment), data and conclusion.

We have the aforementioned hypothesis. The experiment would be college hoops games. So let's move on to the data.

1. Monday, Feb. 14, Lubbock, Texas
No. 2 Kansas at Texas Tech. The Red Raiders topple the Jayhawks in double overtime on the strength of Darryl Dora's 3-pointer with four ticks left.

2. Duke's week
On Feb. 12 the then-No. 7 Blue Devils lost an overtime game to then-unranked Maryland, 99-92, in College Park, Md. Five days later Duke visited Blacksburg, Va., and lost to unranked Virginia Tech, 67-65. Finally, on Sunday, No. 8 Duke hosted No. 5 Wake Forest. The Dookies, behind J.J. Redick's career-high 38 points, beat the Demon Deacons going away, 102-92.

3. Sunday, Feb. 13, Corvallis, Ore.
No. 11 Washington at Oregon State. It is reported that the Beavers "shocked" the Huskies by beating them 90-73.

4. Jan. 18, Tallahassee
No. 5 Wake Forest at Florida State: The Seminoles win 91-83 in overtime.

5. Rutgers women's entire season.
The Scarlet Knights have been unbeatable (13-0) at the Louis Brown Athletic Center, a.k.a. "The RAC." Coach C. Vivian Stringer's squad has taken down No. 1 LSU, No. 5 Notre Dame, No. 6 Tennessee and No. 11 UConn at The RAC. This is a team that has five losses outside the Garden State.

On Sunday the No. 25 Villanova men hosted and beat No. 17 Pitt and yet one sports Web site described the outcome as a "Big East upset". Almost simultaneously, in women's hoops, No. 9 Michigan State hosted No. 2 Ohio State and defeated the Buckeyes. The same site reported "No. 9 Spartans stun No. 20 OSU". Really?

Conclusion: Friedman's First Law of College Hoops is solid. Home teams consistently have higher-ranked teams' numbers.

Clearly there are too many upsets to call a home team upending a higher-ranked team an upset. Do you want to see a real upset? Check out what unranked Iowa State accomplished at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kan., last Saturday.

Eight in the Box

1. Duke students get the preponderance of credit for being clever, but they're not the only ones. On Valentine's Day at the Carrier Dome, on a night when UConn upset (yes, because the Huskies were both lower-ranked and on the road) Syracuse, someone held up a sign that read "Be My Valentine, Juli Boeheim." Coach Jim Boeheim's wife, it should be said, is quite the looker. Meanwhile in College Station, Texas A&M fans serenaded Oklahoma State's JamesOn Curry with the sound of a police siren while whirrling a finger over their heads every time the Cowboy guard touched the ball. Curry pleaded guilty to selling marijuana to an undercover police officer last April.

2. Let's take a moment to recognize the Apostrophe Protection Society. Last summer my Olympic colleague Abby Lorge, who is adorable and yet a self-professed dork (adorkable?) clued me in to the APS. Its mission (and not, "It's mission") is to safeguard the proper use of those little grammatical curlicues. Then last week good friend Shannon Olson, who is a legend in Minnesota not because she lives in John Dillinger's old apartment but because she has written two critically-acclaimed books (Welcome to My Planet, Where English is Sometimes Spoken and Children of God Go Bowling), forwarded me a Minneapolis Star-Tribune article about the APS. In the story University of Minnesota professor Michael Hancher, the chair of the school's English department, is quoted as saying, "People are feeling possessive about the use of the apostrophe."

3. Kudos to Entertainment Weekly for a terrific job on its "50 Greatest Love Songs" list. I'm a Rolling Stone subscriber, but its last two list issues, "500 Greatest Albums" and "500 Greatest Songs" (good luck compiling those lists without asking for a heap of irate reader responses) were uninspired. RS was less interested with what people really love than in sounding erudite. I'm sorry, RS, but how does Boston's debut album not crack the top 500? Only everyone bought it and listened to it for a decade.

4. It seems almost sacrilegious after J.J. Redick's 38-point performance against Wake on Sunday, but last week Arizona coach Lute Olson took umbrage at the accolades Redick receives at, in Olson's mind, the expense of the Wildcats' Salim Stoudamire. Olson, who once referred to ESPN's head hoops cheerleader as "Duke Vitale," wondered aloud "how in the world can somebody continue to go on TV and say Redick is the greatest shooter in the country?"

The numbers, if not overwhelmingly in Stoudamire's favor, do at least support a debate. I'll throw out field-goal percentage, since that skews toward post players (and neither ranks among the Top 50 in NCAA stats thru Feb. 14). Look at free-throw percentage Redick is No. 3-nationally, at 93.2 percent (124-133, again, in games thru Feb. 14) while Stoudamire is No. 7-nationally (91.4 percent, though he's attempted just more than half as many -- 74-81). Finally, in 3-point percentage, Redick ranks 35th in the nation (41.7 percent, 80-192). Stoudamire is No. 1, at 54.7 percent (76-139).

5. Watching the NBA All-Star Game, it hit me who Steve Nash of the Phoenix Suns most reminds me of. At first I thought it was Kelly Leak of the Bad News Bears, but then I went with Moocher from Breaking Away. Of course, both of those characters were played by Jackie Earle Haley. Too bad that Haley is 44 years old, or he could play Nash in a biopic. Then again, if ESPN produces it, they might still go with Haley. I mean, did you see Brian Denehy in A Season on the Brink?

6. Listen, I've heard all the jokes about the Polyphonic Spree. They're a cult, they're Up With People reincarnated. If you were at their Irving Plaza show last Wednesday, well ... at one point I scanned the audience and all I saw were New Yorkers (jaded, cynical, skeptical by nature) with giddy smiles on their faces. We're talking about a 22-member band, all clad in robes, creating a mammoth wall of sound as lead singer Tim DeLaughter (yes, that's his name) repeats the lyrics "Hey, it's the sun, and it makes me shine".

I've seen the Rolling Stones three times. U2 five times. Springsteen nine times. By a bizarre quirk of fate (and my sister Lorraine's goodwill), I once walked out to the stage with Kurt Cobain (Dec. 28, 1991, ASU Activity Center -- still have the ticket). I'll tell you that the Spree captured the audience as well as any of those bands. What other band has all 22 members traverse through, and high-five the crowd, before its encore? It was Phil Spector meets Brian Wilson with a dollop of Sister Act (the eight-member choir) thrown in for good measure.

See the Spree!

7. Rumor has it that new Mississippi football coach Ed Orgeron, who was most recently the assistant head coach at Southern Cal, had quite the eventful introductory meeting with his Rebel gridders. Orgeron reportedly separated the players into two groups and had one half shout "Wild" and the other "Bunch." Then he challenged anyone on the team who was man enough to come and fight him. Nobody did.

How disappointing. I mean, if you're an Ole Miss football player, don't you sack up and step forward? Even if Orgeron kicks your ass, at least the new coach will respect you for standing up to him. Right? Don't you think Orgeron, who's 43, would have answered that call when he was in pads?

8. By the way, what's up with the ironic hats being worn inside (something Mark Bechtel noted in an earlier column?). I couldn't even escape this trend at the SI Swimsuit party last Tuesday, where a few Gen-Y types wore ski caps with their dressy duds. Indoors. I'm going to take the ironic hat craze a step further and wear a Dallas Cowboys helmet to my next social function.

9. One bonus "In the Box" for you (it's free, and we pass the savings on to you!): The next time St. Elmo's Fire is on the tube, pay attention to the party scene. The one in which Judd Nelson punches out Andrew McCarthy (a most satisfying moment for many of us who are of that era). Anyway, in the background, just before the punch, the gang is dancing to ... the theme from St. Elmo's Fire!