Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Immaculate Inning's Master Debaters

Welcome to a new segment here at Immaculate Inning. It will pose some of the great minds of our day talking about sports. There's no real agenda, just discussing whatever seems to come up. Feel free to leave your comments on these topics. Today's Master Debaters are mehmattski and Agent Swag.

mehmattski: So, what's the biggest story of the year as the baseball season opens again?

Agent Swag: I've got to think it's Dice-K

mehmattski: Well he's not the first Japanese import, and there have certainly have been busts in the past... Nomo was okay and he threw that no-hitter, but within a few years he was on the Devil Rays. And don't forget Hideki "Fat Pussy Toad" Irabu.

Agent Swag: That's true. I think Dice-K will definitely have a great deal of his success the first time he goes through the league. The question is whether or not he can sustain it once batters have seen him and start to get a read on his tendencies. It's the same thing that any rookie pitcher goes through, but in his case he has exceptional stuff and the advantage of being older and knowing better how to manage a game.

mehmattski: Good points, but I can't help but think the story of the year is that the biggest record in all of sports- the career home run record- is going to fall this year, and most fans don't even care about it.

Agent Swag: I'll be honest with you - I care a lot more about Craig Biggio's quest for 3000 hits, because he goes about things the right way. He plays hard, keeps his mouth shut, and exemplifies much of what is right about baseball. Barry Bonds has turned himself into a sideshow, and I think fans are pretty much in agreement that even if the record goes down, he is not Hank Aaron.

mehmattski: Even so, I think he needs to be recognized for the amazing talent that he is. Sure, he took steroids, but I think it would be fundamentally different if he were the only player taking steroids. He played in a souped up home run culture when many players were probably juicing- and he wasn't just good. He dominated. He may not be Hank Aaron, but our generation of baseball fans deserves some heroes, and should stand up to those who suggest that the greatest players of our generation are somehow cheapened by a few chemicals.

Agent Swag: I'm not sure he qualifies as a hero in any sense of the word though. America likes its sporting heroes to be good guys as well as fantastic players, and Bonds has systematically alienated most of his potential fanbase and nearly the entire sports media. If he were perceived as less of a villain, I would think that people would care about his quest more. At this point, he seems to not care about the fans or anything except for his quest for the record.

mehmattski: I don't think that being a baseball hero and being a jerk are mutually exclusive categories- look at Ted Williams, Ty Cobb, even Babe Ruth was kind of a dick. Did you know he once charged the stands after a fan called him fat? This was a few days after being named the first Yankees captain (along with Gehrig), and led to his fourth suspension of the season.

Anyway, we should move on. How about some final thoughts on college basketball. Was the lack of a true Cinderella/sleeper team a detriment to the NCAA tournament?

Agent Swag: I don't think that in itself was necessarily a detriment, although it did make the first few days less exciting than usual. I think the real problem with this tournament was a combination of the lack of a cinderella and more importantly, the lack of a lot of truly compelling games. The favorites almost always pulled games out in the end, and there just weren’t any definitively "great" games. This tournament just lacked the excitement that it usually promises.

mehmattski: That's true, many of the first round games featured close contests that, in the end, were won by the higher seed. What you had this season, much more so than the last few seasons, was a level of parity among the top 25 or so teams. The fluctuation in the polls speaks to that- I think five different teams were number 1 after New Year's. In the end Florida showed an ability to "turn it on" at the right time, and I think that annoys a lot of fans- they want to see consistent dominant performances, and that's not what we saw in the regular season (save their demolition of OSU the first time).

Agent Swag: and even in that demolition, it was with a one-handed Oden and a very young OSU team. However, that should have been our first hint that they really could turn it on when they felt like it. They saw a young challenger, and decided to put them in their place right then and there.

mehmattski: Back to the parity for a second, I think an undeniable cause of the raised level of play is the NBA's age limit. With 18 year olds unable to declare for the draft, they are headed to school for a year- and it's not like those top high school players are going to pick a Butler or a George Mason for their one year stops. They're going to pick Kansas and UNC and Texas- and the top of college basketball gets heavy again. The mid-majors may be in a decline because of the NBA's rule.

Agent Swag: While I think that may have some merit, this year also featured an exceptionally talented class, so it may well be an aberration that the landscape was quite as top-heavy as this year. The rule definitely benefits the big-name teams, but at the same time, the ones that are going to be the MOST successful are those that have continuity from year-to-year. The young phenoms did a lot of damage this year, but the team that in the end was head-and-shoulders above the rest was a team that was returning their entire starting lineup as juniors (and one senior).

mehmattski: That is a fair point, and one that is debated endlessly on the top Duke message boards. Coach K was one of the last ones to be rocked by early NBA departures, but then felt it constantly up until 2003 with Deng and Livingston. Should a team like Duke focus on team-building, or going after the one-and-done players? If you think about it, one-and-done players are going to be the top 10 recruits every year, and if Duke avoids those, going for the recruits in the 25 to 30 range, then every year, they are going to have a less talented basketball team. Will "experience" of those (less talented) recruits help teams like Duke once they reach their senior years?

Agent Swag: I honestly think this is going to be the biggest challenge that Coach K has faced in quite some time. My answer would be to split the difference and go after some of each. I would target one or two of the top players whose talents Coach K thinks he can maximize for a year and then build around them with solid four-year players.

The gift and the curse of being Duke is that you are only like to appeal to certain types of players - generally players from solid family backgrounds with high basketball IQs and a good head on their shoulders. This is great when that type of player is among the best in the class (see Battier, J. Williams, Brand, etc), but it presents a problem when the players at the top of a given class are not interested in the Duke ideals or system (take OJ Mayo for example - what he did in telling Tim Floyd that he was coming to USC would never fly at Duke).

So to return to the question, Coach K is really going to have to balance between supreme talents and players who will truly buy into his system and fulfill the image of the "ideal" Duke player. If he can get enough players like Battier, then he can certainly recruit a few of the very top talents who might be "riskier" and not quite fit the Duke mold to start with but could be brought into line by the team's leaders.

mehmattski: I do think Duke has some of that balance in the class of 2011- potentially four top 30 players, including a top 5 player in Kyle Singler.
Agent Swag: I think that if Duke can manage to bring in Patrick Patterson (another top 10 or so talent) to go along with the rising sophomores and the rest of the talented incoming class (that includes at least two or three potential four-year players), they will have the nucleus for another run of domination.

We're about out of time, any other topic you'd like to sound off on?

Agent Swag: The NBA season is entering its last 10 games or so, and the playoffs are shaping up to be first-rate. The Suns and Mavs are both playing an incredibly entertaining style of basketball, and with the Spurs, Rockets, Jazz, and Kobe Bryants also playing great ball, the Western Conference playoffs should be quite a spectacle. Do you have any final thoughts before we go?

mehmattski: I'm excited to see how the first month of the baseball season plays out. Young players on teams such as the Diamondbacks, Marlins, Brewers, and Devil Rays make for an exciting opportunity for these teams to get back on a competitive track. Don't be surprised to see more than one of these teams in the playoff hunt come August.

Agent Swag: ...and if the NCAA tournament has taught us anything, they will all come up just short.

That'll wrap it up for the first edition of Immaculate Inning's Master Debaters.


Anonymous said...

Great debate? If we land Patterson we could at least win more games than last year? Maybe Elite Eight?

Matt said...

I think Patterson would certainly give Duke the deepest team they have had in a long, long time. Still, it would be a relatively young team, and we cannot expect Patterson, Singler, and the other freshmen to step right in and make Duke a top 10 team right away. They have the potential to be very, very good, but they are not finished players who can take over games right away like a Durant or Oden. We must keep in mind that while landing Patterson will make the 07-08 Blue Devils better, there shouldn't be outrageous expectations, remembering that Patterson is no higher than a top 25 recruit.

That said, as a team there should be enough talent and experience, peaking at the right times, could make a run in the 2008 NCAA tournament. But that is a long way away.