Wild American Gooner

When Sports Are More Than Just Sports

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Why Davidson Beat UNC & Duke This Week, Arsenal & Deflategate

Ever since Christmas break wrapped up shortly after New Year’s, life has been a whirlwind with travel, back-to-school meetings and school work. I’ve certainly made time for sports, but I haven’t had the extra hour post-game to write. So today, I want to offer my perspective on a few things I’ve missed relating to college basketball, Arsenal and of course, the Patriots and the increasingly frustrating Deflategate.

I’ll start with basketball. Over the long weekend, I had the opportunity to go to three big time games in the state of North Carolina on three straight nights. On Sunday, I was at UNC-Virginia Tech in Chapel Hill, experiencing the Dean Dome for the first time. Monday night, I joined my high school friend in the front row at Cameron Indoor for Duke-Pittsburgh. And Tuesday night, I put down the pen to revel in Davidson’s surge of school spirit in our upset win over no. 22 Dayton, taking in the game from the student section instead of my usual spot on press row.

Beyond the excitement I get from simply watching good basketball, I really enjoyed picking up on the differences between the three fan experiences. UNC felt like an NBA atmosphere – albeit without luxury boxes. Fans were excited, and granted, it wasn’t that close a game, but it didn’t have the small-town feel I associate with the college game. I loved all the history they played up. I also enjoyed all the smart, intellectual conversation being had about the game all around me. I sat pretty high up, but I felt like everyone around me knew what was going on and could appreciate the intricacies of the Roy Williams defense. I left impressed with their basketball culture and tradition, but underwhelmed by the atmosphere.

Being in the student section at Duke was the opposite. It was about the experience. At one point, I heard the guy behind me trying to explain what an air-ball was to the girl next to him. This is someone who waited in line all day for second-row tickets, and yet they didn’t know anything about the sport. That being said, the environment in Cameron is terrific. It was unbelievably loud and so much fun to be a part of. But it was hard to concentrate on the game. Everyone seemed more focused on getting on tv and taking pictures than actually watching the game. I certainly enjoyed watching Jahlil Okafor post-up, but I’m not sure the girl behind me even noticed the 6’10” superstar ten feet away.

Davidson-Dayton was an anomaly by Belk Arena standards. I’ll admit that Davidson games typically aren’t great basketball experiences. But I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this game was my favorite atmosphere of the three. More than half of Davidson’s student body showed up for this game. Where else does that happen? It was loud and engaging but at least I had a little space to move, unlike at Cameron where line-monitors literally push everyone as close together as possible. People got fired up with every made three, and the roof nearly came off when Davidson kept stretching their lead. And then there were the five swimmers, who stripped to speedos for free throws and danced – see photo (which I am in as well). I loved every second of it. This Davidson game had both the basketball experience and the game experience. For me, this game experience beat UNC’s and Duke’s – at least on this weekend.

From a basketball standpoint, I remain really impressed with UNC, having seem them play Davidson two months ago as well. Their length causes so many issues for opponents, and their offense looks even more balanced now than it did two months ago. With Marcus Paige picking up his play, I expect this Tar Heels squad to peak in March. Watch out. Duke looked good too, especially offensively. Watching Okafor in person gave me a new appreciation for how good he really is. Duke has the shooters to make him all the more effective against the inevitable double-teams too. What worries me about Duke though is their lack of depth and their defensive lapses. Justice Winslow also seems half a step slow to me. They’re good, but right now, I don’t see them as being National Champions-good.

Davidson is at an interesting point in their season. Overlooking the recent 30-point loss on the road at Richmond, this team has done everything right. But injuries are starting to take a toll as the grind of the A-10 begins. Road trips anywhere without Jack Gibbs ’17 at the point won’t be easy. Is this team good enough to make the tournament? Absolutely. But it’ll be a challenge to get there with a seven-man rotation that includes two foul-prone 6’7” freshmen forwards. I’m confident. But cautiously so. Follow me on Twitter (@Klaus_Faust) for continued A-10 coverage and thoughts. It’s going to be a fun couple months of college basketball.

Now to the Arsenal, where I’ve been way behind in my coverage. This weekend was the first time I’ve felt legitimately happy about Arsenal in a really long time. I’m tempted to say since the FA Cup Final, but that was more relief than happiness. The performance against Manchester City felt like a dream. Texts I sent to my friend included, “I can’t believe my eyes,” “What a day to be a Gooner” and “Coquelin is my hero.” If you told me a month ago that I’d say those last four words, I would have laughed.

But I have to keep reminding myself that it was only one performance. Three points are only three points until you win the next game. A shift in mentality is only a shift if it can be repeated. Much is still to be done. And lest we forget, Arsenal are currently outside the top 4. But there is now hope and hope is something I haven’t experienced as a Gooner in far too long. I’d almost forgotten it could be this way.

I’m excited to see Mesut Özil and Theo Walcott back for the FA Cup tie this weekend, but I think Arsene Wenger needs to be careful with rupturing the flow of this team by thrusting them back in the lineup long-term. I want to see them play, but not at the expense of removing Coquelin or putting Cazorla out wide. I also think David Ospina should continue to start in goal. Wojciech Szczesny made a mistake, and he needs to learn. Sit him for as long as Ospina plays better than Szczesny had been playing. If that’s through the end of the year, I’m perfectly fine with that.

Switching topics, Deflategate is one of the most overblown, poorly handled things I’ve seen in sports. As a Patriots fan, I realize nobody cares what I have to say on this subject and won’t take me seriously, but take a moment to step back and think about what is going on. It’s ridiculous that the NFL has let it get to this point.

If the Patriots doctored the balls after inspection, yes, that is bad. They should be punished. But what about the line judge and umpires who touched the balls on literally every single play in the first half? Why didn’t they notice? And if informed by the Colts staff, why didn’t they stop to check them during a break in action? If there wasn’t a noticeable difference – remember the two pounds is measured in PSI, not weight – then it can’t have that big an effect. The referee should have checked it on the field and replaced the ball. If deemed not important enough to check on until halftime, then who cares about it now? It wasn’t even flag-worthy when they found out they were deflated. They just switched them out. So why are we sitting here nine days before the Super Bowl wasting our time on this issue?

If the NFL wanted to punish the Patriots, it should have done so on Monday. Letting it drag out this long is a disservice to everyone, the NFL included. It takes away from what has happened on the field and what will happen on the field. Hate on Bill Belichick all you want. He doesn’t deserve the benefit on the doubt on this one – I get it. But comparing slightly deflated balls to bounty-hunting and to Spygate is an injustice to sports reporting.



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UNC Too Much for Davidson

Davidson hosted a very talented #6 UNC team at Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, ultimately falling 90-72. The lower bowl was close to full with roughly equal amounts of Davidson and UNC fans, but Davidson fans were making most of the noise in the early going.

However, on the court, it was UNC whose play did the talking. Davidson got off to a fast start, with Peyton Aldridge ’18 hitting a couple triples in the opening minutes, but after the first media timeout, UNC locked down on defense and Davidson had trouble getting shots up, much less good shots.

UNC’s size proved a problem for the Wildcats on both ends of the court as Kennedy Meeks (19 points, 12 rebounds) and Brice Johnson feasted on the size differential, getting easy buckets on the offensive end and altering shots on the other end. Meeks in particular was impressive for the Tar Heels, going 9-13 from the field and also chipping in a pair of  blocks. On the perimeter, UNC’s guards were using their length to close out every Davidson shooter immediately. As a result, Davidson shot a season-low 30% from 3 and were quite limited with what they could do offensively.

The Davidson player who shone the brightest today was Aldridge, the freshman from Leavittsburgh, Ohio, who finished with a career high 25 points (6-10 from deep) and 6 rebounds . He was active on both ends of the floor, but excelled on offense, where he looked to attack from the opening tip. He was remarkably poised for a freshman, and considering the circumstances, his performance today was excellent.

Defensively, Davidson did okay given the quality of opposition. Rebounding wasn’t as big an issue as it could have been, as everybody chipped in to box out the UNC big’s. However, Davidson wasn’t able to disrupt the rhythm of national player of the year candidate Marcus Paige, who was able to create quality shots for his teammates, and for himself when he wanted to.

After Davidson had hung around for the opening quarter of the game, where UNC pulled ahead was when Davidson let them get out on the break midway through the first half.  When the Wildcats were careless with the ball, or took a bad shot, UNC were down the floor in a hurry. Their athleticism was unlike anything Davidson has seen this year, and UNC took advantage of any hesitancy or indecision.

The second half was much of the same for UNC, who looked comfortable throughout. J.P. Tokoto put an exclamation point on the victory with a ridiculous alley-oop in the final minutes, showing off the athleticism that plagued Davidson all day.

UNC’s defense locked in on Brian Sullivan ’16 and Tyler Kalinoski ’15 throughout and didn’t allow them much space to shoot. Because the Tar Heels didn’t double team anyone on the block, they were able to stick on Davidson’s two best scorers and prevent them from getting going. While Sullivan and Kalinoski did take a number of shots, they were rarely clean looks at the basket. The two captains found other ways to contribute today, but without their scoring, Davidson was always going to have a hard time.

From today’s game, it became clear that Davidson needs to focus on developing their inside-out game over the next month of non-conference play. When UNC didn’t have to worry about anyone scoring on the post, or anyone driving the lane, they stuck to Davidson’s shooters like glue as good Atlantic 10 teams will. Sure, the Wildcats didn’t shoot their best from deep, and to an extent, this team will always live and die by the three against teams like UNC. But they missed the 3’s today because they weren’t always good looks. To get those, the Wildcats need to find ways to get the ball inside more effectively. Davidson has the shooters to compete on a high level, but the offense isn’t quite there yet this year.

I spoke with Brice Johnson in the locker room after the game and he spoke quite highly of Aldridge, saying that he thought players like Aldridge would ensure a smooth transition into the Atlantic 10. (Unfortunately, my audio recorder malfunctioned, so that’s why I don’t have direct quotes).

Davidson’s next game is a trip to UCF on Wednesday night.