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February 12, 2009

Freaks and Geeks and Coach K

Filed under: Uncategorized — John Gasaway @ 1:29 pm

It’s been nine years now since “Freaks and Geeks” enjoyed its short happy life on TV, then insured its street cred forever by being canceled after just 12 episodes. In death the series’ legend has only grown, in part because pretty much everyone on it–even the supporting cast–has become famous, a trend helped along greatly by a parallel ascendance in the career of the show’s producer, Judd Apatow.

If you’re new to the legend, I recommend episode 5, “Tests and Breasts.” James Franco plays a stoner, Daniel, who has cheated on an algebra test with the help of his smart friend Lindsey, played by Linda Cardellini. The two of them are hauled in front of the school authorities, where the irate algebra teacher challenges Daniel to simply re-do the first problem on the test in front of the assembled witnesses, including Lindsey’s parents. As Lindsey whimpers in dread, Daniel accepts the challenge defiantly and begins writing in earnest. “See!” Lindsey’s father says approvingly. “Look at him go.” What Lindsey’s father doesn’t know is that Daniel is in fact writing a very ornately rendered “Zeppelin Rocks” on the test.

I’ve loved that “look at him go” ever since, as a reminder of how futile it is to try to watch someone doing what they do. Fred Astaire, Michael Jordan, and Daniel Day Lewis notwithstanding, people who do great things usually do so without putting on much of a display. “Look at him go” cropped up for me a couple weeks ago, when photos were released of President Obama’s first day in office. He looked very earnest and capable, I thought. See, he’s turning this thing around already! Look at him go.

I thought of “look at him go” again last night, as Duke lost to North Carolina 101-87 at Cameron Indoor Stadium. I’ll leave it to media-studies grad students armed with stopwatches and DVRs to confirm my impression, but it’s always seemed to me that Mike Krzyzewski gets more in-game screen time than any coach in the nation, a state of affairs that’s particularly striking when Coach K is pitted against a fellow lion of the profession like, say, Roy Williams. This prominence is no vast Duke-wing conspiracy, I trust, just the unconscious inclination of dozens of different anonymous directors in the proverbial truck.

Those anonymous directors are on to something. For the past few seasons, maybe ever since Elton Brand left, the unstated expectation brought to any Duke game against an elite opponent has been that maybe Coach K can figure something out and get the W for his plucky dive-on-the-floor Blue Devils. If Jon Scheyer gets caught in the air and tosses the ball out of bounds, the next thing we see should of course be Coach K. He’s not only the leader in career wins among active coaches, he also really does look earnest and capable. He’s thinking. Look at him go.

But we don’t watch other teams that way. We don’t watch North Carolina that way. We don’t wait for Jim Calhoun to hit upon a brilliant scheme that will intercede decisively for his Connecticut team. We didn’t look closely to see the wheels turning for Bill Self last year or for Billy Donovan the previous two years. For those teams, the story is being played out on the floor. The camera follows the story.

Not that Duke lacks for talent, of course. There’s no shortage of McDonald’s All-Americans in Durham. But if I were a Blue Devil I’d yearn for a little less depth in the McDonald’s-blessed Scheyer/Greg Paulus category and for a larger supply of McDonald’s rejects like DeJuan Blair or Luke Harangody or Jodie Meeks, players who author their own plots, who keep the camera riveted on them.

If I were a Blue Devil I’d want players that could make me say “look at him go” more often than I say it about the coach.

Behold the best team in the ACC
Last night codified what our eyes have been telling us for the past week or two. Announcers can fret about the Tar Heels’ depth now that Marcus Ginyard is officially done for the year (and Will Graves‘ 11 minutes per game aren’t coming through that door anymore either), but for now UNC is clearly the class of a conference whose other behemoths are mid-stagger.

It took a while, but after an 0-2 start the Heels are officially back on top.

Welcome back 
Through games of February 11, conference games only
Pace: possessions per 40 minutes
PPP: points per possession    Opp. PPP: opponent points per possession
EM: efficiency margin (PPP – Opp. PPP)

                     Pace    PPP    PPP      EM
1.  North Carolina   76.5    1.16   1.00   +0.16
2.  Duke             68.6    1.04   0.91   +0.13
3.  Clemson          69.5    1.08   1.00   +0.08
4.  Florida St.      69.0    0.99   0.95   +0.04
5.  Wake Forest      74.4    1.03   1.01   +0.02
6.  Virginia Tech    68.9    1.07   1.07    0.00
7.  Miami            66.7    1.06   1.08   -0.02
8.  BC               68.1    1.09   1.11   -0.02
9.  Georgia Tech     72.3    0.89   0.96   -0.07
10. Maryland         70.9    0.95   1.04   -0.09
11. NC State         67.7    1.02   1.11   -0.09
12. Virginia         70.2    0.95   1.10   -0.15

BONUS behemoths in mid-stagger note! What in the world’s happened to Wake Forest? Last night they lost to NC State, 82-76, in Raleigh. Last week I noted the Deacons’ recent struggles on offense, but the hitherto offensively meek Wolfpack ringing up 82 points in a 74-possession contest raises a somewhat more ominous possibility. Wake fans, hope against hope that this wasn’t the second act in a full-blown meltdown, one that starts on one side of the ball but becomes so dispiriting that it engulfs the entire franchise.

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