Florence, All

Hello! This is not a post about basketball. That will come later. This, in its own way a recap of the last season of my life, feels more important to get out in a timely fashion.

It was maybe 90 minutes into the drive home from Indianapolis on Sunday morning when I saw this:

And I smiled. I don’t know why I smiled; I guess you see something you saw a bunch when you were little for the first time in years and you smile. It was the same reason I left the hotel that morning after my dad yelled “WHO’S GOT IT BETTER THAN US?” as he left the parking lot and I nearly cried. I smiled then. I smile now writing this. I might smile every time I think about this water tower, because it was a virtual halfway point of the drive from Middle Tennessee to suburban Detroit every time we made that drive when I was younger.

The Florence, Y’all tower was an accident. The tower, originally constructed in the 1970s, read Florence Mall, an advertisement for the new mall being built in Florence, KY. Back when malls still held actual importance for shoppers in America, this was probably an effective way to let travelers now you had a mall in your town.

There is one problem: apparently you cannot advertise something that does not exist. (Hasn’t stopped many others!) The state told Florence they couldn’t keep Florence Mall up. Then-mayor C.M. Ewing worked with locals to come up with new ideas. They had to get an idea submitted before severe fines were implemented. Ewing came up with a simple fix: why not blot out the M, turn it into a Y, add an apostrophe, and make the sign say Florence, Y’all? A fix that cost the city $472 ($2,294.38 in 2021 dollars) has stayed in use for 45 years now and has convinced many a traveler to stop in Florence.

The mall itself is still standing 45 years later. I don’t know what point I’m trying to make here. It could be that the simplest of fixes, whether it’s turning an M into a Y or making more than six three-pointers in a 40-shot sample, could be the cure to your problems. Your problems may be deep. Your problems may be many. And yet: FLORENCE, Y’ALL is always waiting for you to show you just how easy it might be to dig out of the hole.

I think at this point, if you are a Twitter user, you know why I was in Indianapolis. The Big Ten football championship was held on Saturday evening, with Michigan and Iowa participating. Michigan is the team I went to support. Because I get asked about this by seemingly every person I have ever met, here’s your explanation.

My father is a Michigan alumnus. For the last 19 years, ever since I found out where he went to college, I have at least been interested in Michigan football. It is hard not to be. The winged helmets are beautiful; the stadium is massive; the play was, generally, pretty good. They were always on TV, because This Is Michigan and whatnot. At the same time, my grandfather was, for a long time, one of the biggest Tennessee athletics fans I knew of. I can remember watching Tennessee football games with him as early as age 7 and listening to a Buzz Peterson-era basketball game on the radio. We didn’t miss many games from either sport, if any.

In my youth, I rebelled against my father many a time. I was so much older then; I am younger than that now. Part of this was pretending to not care as much about his rooting interests and more about the ones that I, the Protagonist of History, had developed. I liked the Tennessee teams. I supported all of the ones from here. I still liked Michigan athletics and watched as many games as I could, but it was secondary. I aimed to keep it that way.

It was this way until I moved away from home to attend Tennessee. That was ten years ago now; we were never very good at talking to each other when I was there and it didn’t become easier when I wasn’t. The only thing you have is to lean on those existing connections, the ones you found common ground on in the first place. The ones that gave you the love you had and still have.

My freshman year at Tennessee, Michigan football made the Sugar Bowl after a horseshoe-up-the-rear season and I went with my dad because I knew it meant a lot to him. My sophomore year, at home for spring break, Trey Burke made a 35-footer that sent a Sweet Sixteen game with Kansas to overtime; I leapt into my dad’s arms and we nearly brought down a light fixture. Every week for the last eight years, during various sporting seasons, my father and I have discussed some aspect of Michigan athletics (and Tennessee, yes, stop asking, I support both sides) and it has been what we’ve leaned on.

It is why I immediately FaceTimed him after Michigan’s defeat of Ohio State on Thanksgiving weekend. I have known my father for 19 years; those 19 years, prior to two weeks ago, had seen one win in the greatest rivalry college football offers. 42-27 felt like a new future, one that proves sports can still provide joy and hope and bliss in the least-joyhopeblissful of times. It wasn’t a question of if we’d go see them play in Indianapolis; it was a question of when we’d get there.

As the seconds ticked down in Indianapolis, I looked over at my father and I realized something: this man smiled all day long. He never stopped smiling. The excitement radiated off of him for four hours and never ceased. It’s like looking at Florence, Y’all up close.

Looking at this picture, I think about all of the games I have watched with him, whether in HD or from section 410. A scant few have resulted in even somewhat-meaningful wins; only this game truly represents something that will matter for decades to come. But even one was enough. It will forever be more than zero. December 4th, 2021 will be a day I remember for the rest of my life, because it took 28 years to get just one and you never know when a second will arrive.

Any drive that starts in Tennessee and ends in Indiana has a severe upper limit on excitement. Mostly, for me, these drives are built around attempting to spot Meijer locations, because they’re the ones that remind me most of going to the grocery store with my grandmother. But I think about the more subtle shifts of these drives, too. It is not just terrain; it is going from seeing Weigel’s and Pilot to Thorntons and Casey’s as your gas station options.

There is something about the terrain, though. It flattens out and becomes cornfields, farms, etc. for miles upon miles at a time. The stark, gray Big Ten sky clashing with the post-harvest field below is an image burned into my brain by all of the road trips we took growing up. The cold is merely a thing you have to embrace and believe in. To be able to do this one more time with my father is a joy. We didn’t share the same car beyond driving to and from the stadium on Saturday, but it was as if we were with each other in spirit. He sent me this yesterday afternoon with the caption “back at ya.”

I don’t know what happens next. I don’t know if Michigan ends up winning the national championship in football and, for the first time in my sports fandom, I see a team I support win the title in their sport. They certainly aren’t the favorite to do so. But it’s also something I no longer care about. They’ve already accomplished so much, and every week, I’ve been able to talk about the games with my dad and keep our connection alight. I think that is more important to me than the championship now.

Unlike when I grew up, we don’t get to watch all of the games in the same house anymore. I’m rarely able to see more than perhaps 2-3 games a season with him. Yet this year, it felt like we were in the same house again, every week. The very first game of the season, when Michigan played Western Michigan University, I told him that I was ready to quit watching college football permanently. Prior to the last month-plus, I haven’t felt any joy or sustained interest watching this sport in a few years, and truth be told, I still barely watched any college football prior to mid-November that didn’t involve Michigan or Tennessee. It’s definitely sour grapes, but can you blame me – us – for being tired of the losing? For being tired of every single season ending with zero surprises? For pivoting all the way to a sport in college basketball that never has two seasons unfold the same way?

His response was this: “You’ve got to invest. Even if it kills you, just invest in one team, because it’s still worth it.” It was. It is. It forever will be. For three months in 2021 and 24 hours in Indianapolis, I’ve felt like the wide-eyed child that loved sports in the first place again. It’s all thanks to my father, who will conspire a DDOS attack once he finds out I have posted pictures of him on the Internet. It’s still worth it.

It was all worth it, all this time.

Tennessee basketball coverage will resume tomorrow. For now, I’m taking a day off of fandom and job requirements to simply be happy.

How I spent my summer vacation

I wasn’t quite sure how to start this but I think there should be a disclaimer at the top that this is a Serious Post. If this is scary and not what you come to my site for, you can exit the tab and it will be fine.

A lot of people have asked about my plans for the 2021-22 season. I’ve held off on giving firm answers for a while now, simply because I didn’t really know what my plans were, either. I wasn’t quite sure if I would still write about Tennessee basketball at some points during the offseason. I don’t enjoy being pigeonholed into any one subject but, undeniably, I am at least acceptable on this very specific one.

The answer is that, for another season, I’m still writing about Tennessee basketball and will be for the foreseeable future. It will be on this website and will be in the same general format. There will be tweaks that are explored later on in this post. I will get games right and wrong again. That answers the first question.

The second question, and one I still don’t have an answer for, is the rest of those plans: the non-basketball ones. Life has become busier than it has been in years. My wife and I are trying to buy a reasonably-priced house in the most unreasonable housing market in modern history. I no longer work in an office, yet am busier than I ever was in that office despite being full-time WFH. I ran two half-marathons this year and didn’t die so I’m stupid enough to want to do more of them. The amount of free time I had even two years ago is dwindling at speeds I hadn’t foreseen when I began writing. And, because these things never go away, I still battle depression and anxiety from time to time, even when things are going well for me career-wise.

My basketball work has shifted a bit as well. Most people reading know that I worked with Jimmy Dykes at ESPN over the back half of the most recent basketball season and that said work was used in the SEC Tournament. That led to a couple of opportunities this offseason I’d prefer to keep private. Along with that, I just completed the largest project I’ve ever worked on before, Eight Games. Collectively thanks to these events, I was led to reconsider why I do the work I do and for what specific reasons I want to do it.

As such, I’ve decided to make a few changes. I’m still doing Tennessee basketball previews under the title of Show Me My Opponent for another season, but I’m going to do things somewhat differently as well.

I won’t be interacting on Twitter this year. Well, mostly. If I follow your account, I’ll see your reply or quote-tweet, so I guess I can interact that way. This is a personal policy I instituted for myself after I spent almost all of September entirely off of social media and felt mentally healthier than I had since COVID life began. One negative online interaction has the capability to send my brain and mindset spiraling for hours at a time. This sounds horrible, and it is. I realize that normal brains don’t work in that fashion, but mine isn’t normal and never has been. (Hello, fellow neurodiverse people.)

Last season, there was a sort of crisis point sometime in February (when Tennessee’s games became less exciting and more frustrating) where I entertained the idea of stopping the Show Me My Opponent series. All it was doing to me mentally was causing me to be frustrated, battle with other people online, and eventually start muting people I know in real life because I was tired of their opinions. I love doing these previews but began to genuinely despise 90% of interactions with words that they drive. I still have not progressed to a point where I feel anything other than depression when I see anything other than a hyper-positive reply. (By the way, read all of that and realize how tame my mentions are in comparison to the average woman’s.)

I realized towards the end of last season that literally all of this was being driven by Twitter. I don’t post these on Facebook or Instagram because the format feels ill-fitting. I do have a couple of more private outlets I interact with, but I’m not there refreshing the page every minute. I really do love writing these previews and investing my spare time into them; I just greatly dislike the main page of the Internet I’m posting them on. I know the Tyler The Creator log-off tweet applies here but it isn’t how my brain works; I delete the app and then all I do is just type twitter.com into the URL on Safari. The black screen has sucked so much of my life away, and I have to regain it before I can’t any longer.

So: in an attempt to stabilize my brain and ensure my mental health is in a good state from November to April, I probably will not reply to anyone’s questions or or attempts at a humorous interaction. If it actually requires a response, email statsbywill at gmail.

The previews have some new additions. Eliminated is the KenPom depth chart section at the end; in is a more graphic-design-friendly piece that shows the starting five, some key metrics, and the rotation pieces. The offensive and defensive sections will also look a hair different. Both will have a statistical summary of each side of the ball for the opponent just so the reader has something to refer back to.

I am also doing something moderately unusual: putting a cap on GIFs. My goal is to have no more than ten in any post and to only use them to accentuate a point. To be honest, the GIFs have become kind of an annoyance for me. They’ve served their purpose for several years now, but I don’t know that anyone is really going to my site to watch 24 different GIFs of Missouri’s offense and defense. Also, Synergy has finally removed my account’s multi-game shot chart access after four years of uninterrupted use for…reasons. (I reached out to them multiple times and never got the same answer on how much more I’d have to pay to get that access. All I know is I pay $5 more than I did four years ago to get less stuff than I did then.)

I’m going to counterbalance this by working on more charts/graphs/still images to get the point across. Those take less time to create, along with less brain power. The hope is that this year, you get more data and a solid amount of video without sacrificing the strengths that the two provide.

There will also be a loose cap on how long the previews are. I’ve noticed that over the last three years, these have slowly graduated from roughly a 2,000-word average to nearly 3,000 last season, which is honestly too much for most people to keep track of from start-to-finish. I’ll try and keep it a little shorter this year; only the very, very important games will crack 3K.

Each ‘week’ of the season will have its own recap. I’m admitting to stealing the game recap idea from Brian at mgoblog, who has written so many over the years I’ve utterly adored (this is a recent favorite) that have been a massive influence on my own writing. Their general goal is to have a recap for every game. Mine is a bit more modest: during the season, you’ll see a weekly recap of that week’s action. This is meant as a fix for two things I started to take issue with:

  1. No one else is really doing that style of game recap in the Knoxville market;
  2. I got in the bad habit of putting my personal recaps in the How Tennessee Matches Up section of SMMO, which makes it less clear as to how Tennessee matches up with the opponent in question.

Some weeks are going to have more action than others. For instance, Tennessee currently has three weeks on their schedule featuring only one game, which would make it a little pointless to call it a weekly recap. My basic fix here is a really simple one: I’m counting every two games as their own ‘week,’ meaning when Tennessee plays Tennessee Tech on November 26 (Friday) and Presbyterian on November 30 (Tuesday), that’s one week of basketball. This should result in 16 true recaps during the course of the season. (I think it probably makes sense to leave Tennessee’s SEC opener versus Alabama as its own recap.)

To recap the recap, this means that from roughly December to March (and possibly further), you should see a minimum of three posts per week on this website.

Because of this, it’s probably unlikely that I’ll get to write publicly about non-Tennessee basketball happenings. I would like to, and I hate that I don’t have the time to…but I simply don’t have the time to. This is another sanity move.

Thanks for following along for another season. The season preview for 2021-22 Tennessee men’s basketball comes out on Thursday. I hope it is good. This will be the fourth-straight season in which I have done the Show Me My Opponent series and, in November, I will crack 100 consecutive games previewed. That is a nice, round number that is mostly meaningless but does mean a little to me.

Here is what I did on my six-month summer vacation:

  • Ran a half-marathon in Louisville, KY (1:55:22) then did another just over five months later in Knoxville (2:07:17). The one in Knoxville was 23 degrees warmer, rained half the time, and held right at 100% humidity most of the way. I’ve started looking up half-marathons in Canada as a protest.
  • Went to Florida. Twice.
  • Did not go to Michigan. Very disappointed to share this.
  • Bought 20 pounds of apples from an apple truck literally called The Apple Truck in front of a Best Buy.
  • Cancelled my monthly-recurring Zoom subscription.
  • Made 23 threes in a row at the gym one day in August and have not cracked double-digits since.

See you on Thursday.

A bandwagoner’s guide to the 2020 NBA Playoffs

It’s August 17, the NBA Playoffs are starting today, and…oh no. Your name is Will Warren, and you have spent the last fifteen years of your life alternating between pretending to like the Memphis Grizzlies and the Detroit Pistons, neither of whom are in the NBA Playoffs. You have certain players you really love, just like anyone, but you don’t have a team. Chances are that the person writing this is not the only one alive with this quandary!

If you, too, are in need of a team to love over the next two months, I’ve worked on a guide that should help answer your questions. Everyone likes something different. A lot of fans will naturally gravitate towards teams that are likely to go very far or are high-end title contenders, but others may want a briefer fling. Perhaps there’s a lower seed that’s really caught your eye. That’s fine, too, and if you’re like me, you might as well add another disappointing, short playoff run to your fandom’s long list of disappointing, short playoff runs.

Below, I’ve broken the 16-team playoff field into four tiers. We’ll start at the bottom with the least-interesting teams and work our way to the top. These rankings are mostly objective, but I did try and allow a little bit of my personal views on each team to shine through. The groups are as follows, again from worst to best:

  • The Magic and the Nets
  • Short Relationships (teams not favored in the first round with <10% odds to make a Conference Final, per 538)
  • The Swing Tier (teams with either a >10% shot at making a Conference Final, per 538, or teams favored in the first round)
  • The True Bandwagoner (title contenders)

This post is not meant to be taken too seriously; obviously, you get to make your own calls. Content time!

The Magic and the Nets

2. Orlando Magic

1. Brooklyn Nets

At the end of this post, I’ve ranked the teams 1-through-16 in terms of bandwagon friendliness. No matter how I ran my own sets of numbers, these two teams always ranked at the bottom. Orlando’s brief spurt of competency in their first two bubble games quickly turned into a six-game horror show with a myriad of errors. Their most likable and best young player is out for the season, and the other most likable young player is more of a nice story than an actual fun player to watch. Unless you like defense, there’s just not much to get behind here; the best-case scenario is them maybe stealing a game or two off of Milwaukee and getting viewers to freak out for a week.

The Brooklyn Nets, however, do offer more. In every game in the bubble since they got blown out by Orlando in the opener, they’ve played hard for all 48 minutes and very nearly ended Portland’s season before they could make the playoffs. Objectively, they have the worst roster of any team in the playoffs. It contains about 2.5 decent offensive players, no great defenders, and an interim head coach. And yet: they’ve been oddly watchable. They do rank at the bottom here, but they’re certainly more fun to watch than Orlando.

Short Relationships

5. Utah Jazz

4. Indiana Pacers

3. Portland Trail Blazers

2. Oklahoma City Thunder

1. Dallas Mavericks

We’ll cover the first two teams here in one paragraph. Both have suffered serious injuries to two of their best players; 20 PPG scorer Bojan Bogdanovic is out for the Jazz, and All-Star Domantas Sabonis is out for the Pacers. That puts a severe cap on how enjoyable they’ve been to watch offensively in the bubble. The Pacers won out simply because of TJ Warren, who was so good in the bubble that he single-handedly won a couple of games for Indiana…but they still weren’t really fun to watch. In late-game situations, both teams go to dribble-heavy guards that favor long mid-range jumpers, and I’m sorry, but even when they hit them it isn’t all that entertaining to watch. It reminds me of 2004-era basketball in a bad way.

Portland also relies on a dribble-heavy guard, but that guard was probably the best player in the seeding games. Damian Lillard has been all sorts of amazing offensively, scoring 154 points in the final three games of Portland’s regular season to drag his team into the playoffs. I think only ranking them third here is going to give readers a bit of concern as to if I actually like entertaining basketball. I do, and I think Portland provides it in spades…especially on defense. Portland provided us with the best offense and the worst defense of the bubble; every single game of theirs was a nail-biter that ended up with a final score of, like, 126-122. That’s why I think they’d be an incredibly frustrating bandwagon choice. Sure, you get Dame, but you also get Portland’s atrocious defense that provides Dame a reason to have to go for 50+ every single night. A great team to watch as a neutral viewer; a pretty awful team to watch if you’re a fan.

Oklahoma City was a fun overachiever this season, a nice redemption story for Chris Paul, and a franchise with a few young, fun players. In particular, you get the benefit of watching Paul (and SGA, and Adams, and Gallo, etc.) take on his old team, the Houston Rockets. That series has several fun storylines that you can get behind. The issue with Oklahoma City: they have the misfortune of running into the Lakers in the second round if they get past Houston. It’s likely that they don’t have the roster power to seriously challenge Los Angeles.

Dallas, meanwhile, is the Chaos Agent of these playoffs. Consider them Portland on hyperspeed: one of the ten best players in basketball, who happens to be 21 years old, scores tons of points every game. His sidekick is a 24-year-old 7’3″ guy that is a fantastic shooter from three and scored nearly 30 points per game in the bubble. They have all sorts of intriguing, weird role players that only make sense on a roster coached by Rick Carlisle. They also happen to have the second-worst defense in the bubble and alternate between going on 14-2 runs and giving up 14-2 runs. Dallas beats out Portland for two reasons: they have a better team offense and a better chance at stealing a couple of games off of their first-round title contending opponent.

The Swing Tier

4. Philadelphia 76ers

3. Miami Heat

2. Houston Rockets

1. Denver Nuggets

These are all teams that, if a few things go right, could make a surprise appearance in their conference final. Also, any of these four could easily be gone in the first round. A great tier for people who deal with stressful events successfully and calmly!

The Philadelphia 76ers, considering preseason expectations, may be the single most frustrating and disappointing watch of this entire field. In the offseason, Philadelphia heavily retooled their roster in free agency and came out of it with a team pretty much everyone agreed to be a serious Finals contender. They looked like the second-best team in the East behind Milwaukee, and given the general distrust in the playoffs of Milwaukee, it was easy to envision a scenario where Philadelphia had its best season in 20 years. Instead, what fans got was a clogged-toilet offense, a bunch of pissed-off players, and a coach everyone wants fired. I strongly advise you stay off of this bandwagon unless you enjoy being angry.

On the other hand, Miami pretty much achieved to the level most expected: a 4/5 seed bid and a good showing by new star Jimmy Butler. However, they contain one of the most fun offenses you can watch in basketball. Erik Spoelstra has designed a ton of hand-offs and off-ball screens for sudden shooting stars like Duncan Robinson, Tyler Herro, Kelly Olynyk, etc. In particular, Robinson has gone from being a Division III basketball player six years ago to being one of the best shooters in the entire league. It’s a pretty easy team to get behind.

It feels strange to rank Houston above Miami. Inarguably, the Heat have the more fun offense, weren’t slightly disappointing, and have better uniforms. (Houston’s 1990s uniforms they’ve brought back out are fantastic, but I really don’t think anything is beating Miami Vice, ever.) BUT. I still think James Harden is one of the most uniquely talented offensive superstars the league has ever had. I think Houston’s experiment with the Pocket Rockets – AKA, the lineup where P.J. Tucker and Robert Covington, two small forwards, are the frontcourt – is wild and bizarre and really fun. I also simply think Houston’s got a more talented roster with a higher ceiling. No team in the entire league gets more wide open threes than Houston does; if they ever have a night where they hit a high amount of them, any game is winnable.

The Denver Nuggets have Nikola Jokic, and if you can’t get behind that, you live a sad life.

The True Bandwagoner

5. Toronto Raptors

4. Boston Celtics

3. Los Angeles Lakers

2. Los Angeles Clippers

1. Milwaukee Bucks

This was tough to rank, because I think at minimum, the first four are really close together. (Toronto is somewhat distant due to a pretty uninspring offense, though there’s very little to dislike about them.) Any of them would be great picks for a viewer that’s looking for a good and long time as a temporary fan. This is where things got a little more subjective.

Starting off: the Raptors. Undeniably, a Toronto repeat without Kawhi Leonard is one of the funniest possible outcomes. To do it with one of the…three? best players in basketball no longer on your team would be a heroic achievement; to do so while defeating at least two of the Bucks/Clippers/Lakers would be something insane. That said, the actual product offers up a lot of duds. Toronto’s offense only ranked 15th in dunksandthrees.com’s adjusted offensive efficiency ratings. Pascal Siakam’s 22.9 PPG leads the team, but he’s had a lot of streaky runs this season, having several duds at different times. They offer the second-best defense in the league, but there’s not much here that actually gets you excited to watch them play. It’s more of a polite respect.

I struggled mightily with leaving Boston at 4. The Celtics have a lot to offer: a top-five offense, several fun young players, a budding star in Jayson Tatum, and the NBA’s most online fanbase. You can rejoice or commiserate with Weird Celtics Twitter through the playoff run and have a great time. It’s a very fun team….that suffered exclusively from the misfortune of not having LeBron James or Anthony Davis on their roster. If you want to go the roster route, Boston is the more fun, strange, enjoyable team. If you prefer stars, as many people do, you’re obviously rolling with the Lakers, who need no introduction.

A lot of people would have the Lakers first in a bandwagon ranking, and no one should fault them. As mentioned, they have LeBron Freaking James, Anthony Davis, great colors, all the titles, all the history. And yet: isn’t it at least a little bit more fun seeing a team make real history? I’m 26 years old; the Lakers have won five championships in my lifetime, and I remember every single one of them. The Clippers, meanwhile, have Kawhi Leonard (my favorite player in the league), Paul George (…not my favorite player in the league, but a great one), a stacked roster full of weirdos and wonderful personalities, and a history devoid of even a single conference finals appearance. On that alone, I had to go with the other LA team. They have the best offense of these five contenders, play an enjoyable brand of basketball, and have a serious chance to do something Clippers fans likely never imagined would happen in their lifetimes. That’s simply more compelling, and more root-worthy, than another Lakers title.

As I’ve mentioned, you could rank any of these three – and possibly four – as the #1 bandwagon of choice. But who was I to argue against the regular season’s best team with a soon-to-be two-time MVP on their roster? The Bucks don’t have the best offense in the league, but they have Giannis Antetokounmpo, the full-stop Best Player in the World that is unlike any other player in basketball history. They have Khris Middleton, formerly the most underrated player in basketball, now a widely-recognized top 15 guy. They have a wide array of reliable role players. They block a ton of shots. They play faster than any other team in basketball. To top it off, they haven’t won a championship in 49 years and have made it to the conference finals just twice since 1986. You can’t go wrong with any of these top four, but it’s really hard to pass on the Bucks.

The Actual 1-through-16 Ranking

I can’t promise that it’ll make sense to you, but it makes a good amount of sense to me, and I clicked the Publish button. If you’ve got different rankings, I legitimately want to see them!

  1. Milwaukee Bucks
  2. Los Angeles Clippers
  3. Denver Nuggets
  4. Los Angeles Lakers
  5. Boston Celtics
  6. Dallas Mavericks
  7. Houston Rockets
  8. Toronto Raptors
  9. Oklahoma City Thunder
  10. Miami Heat
  11. Portland Trailblazers
  12. Philadelphia 76ers
  13. Indiana Pacers
  14. Utah Jazz
  15. Brooklyn Nets
  16. Orlando Magic

Who are you choosing to root for in this year’s playoffs? Let me know on Twitter @statsbywill.

While I’m writing this post-script on Sunday night at 7:57 PM ET, here’s the games I’m covering each day this week. The posts will be up the morning after the game:

  • Monday: Dallas vs. Los Angeles Clippers, Game 1 (9 PM ET, ESPN)
  • Tuesday: Oklahoma City vs. Houston, Game 1 (6:30 PM ET, TNT)
  • WednesdayUtah vs. Denver, Game 2 (4 PM ET, TNT)
  • Thursday: Miami vs. Indiana, Game 2 (1 PM ET, ESPN)
  • Friday: Boston vs. Philadelphia, Game 3 (6:30 PM ET, TNT)

Some scattered thoughts on The Last Dance

Like basically every other basketball fan in America, I’ve spent the last five Sundays watching ESPN’s The Last Dance documentary on Michael Jordan’s career and, specifically, the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls. I think it’s a fairly good piece of work, and I’m certainly glad I watched it. In the sports wilderness created by COVID-19, it’s been nice to see so many people band together to watch a sports documentary about one of the greatest athletes in human history. Regardless of how you feel about Jordan’s status as the Greatest of All Time, it’s a useful artifact to show those younger than, say, 23 just how great MJ was.

That said, the documentary is far from perfect. As Spencer Hall noted on Twitter, MJ getting to sign off on basically every part of this documentary was inevitably going to create positives and negatives. Getting unfettered access to MJ as a source is inarguably a great thing, as Jordan is essentially given the role of a director’s commentary. You get his insight on everything – games in the mid-1980s, the Detroit Pistons, Dennis Rodman, etc. – and it provides great value. That said, giving Jordan such power to sign off on the documentary means we hit dead ends on certain subjects very quickly – the Jordan Rules book, controversy surrounding his retirement, his family today, etc. The director fails to inform you MJ even has a wife until the sixth episode, and you hear from his kids for about two minutes in the final episode. Along with that, the promised behind-the-scenes coverage, aside from a very important scene after winning the title, really falls flat. Very little that’s new is revealed, and to be honest, a lot of the most interesting reveals don’t even involve Michael Jordan.

In short, it’s a good documentary, not a great one. The best thing ESPN has done, and will likely ever do, is still O.J.: Made in America. Whether The Last Dance would have been better without Michael’s involvement is not really worth discussing, as it likely just wouldn’t have existed. (Plus, you don’t get the memes of Michael laughing at others’ interviews.) However, there’s some thoughts I had about the show that I felt like expanding on the day after.

  • The Jordan vs. LeBron debate will inevitably splinter into the documentary world. I fear it isn’t enough to take a look at the two best to ever do it and simply say “they were equally great in different eras.” We’ll have to drive this debate to its absolute extremes, and I am near-certain Skip Bayless will make a regrettable appearance in the LeBron documentary in 2025.
  • Will the LeBron doc have the same level of positive coverage towards him? The clear goal of The Last Dance, beyond giving you a bit of the promised access to the greatest dynasty in the last 40+ years of basketball, is to cement Michael Jordan as the Greatest to Ever Do It in the viewer’s eyes. No corners are cut in this process. Even in the episode where teammates are finally allowed to speak negatively about how he treated them, they immediately pivot to “it was worth it for team success.” Obviously, it worked out pretty well, but I found it odd that not even one guy still felt negatively towards Michael. (It’s probably worth reading about how thoroughly Jordan’s Wizards teammates from 2001-2003 hated him, as reported by Michael Leahy’s book When Nothing Else Matters.) Most hilariously, the 1993 series against the Knicks, in which the Bulls initially trailed 2-0, is presented as this major turnaround from Jordan after two “poor” outings in New York (63 points across two games!). In Game 3, Jordan is shown to have returned to his normal status and have carried the Bulls back into the series. In the actual Game 3, Jordan shot 3-for-18 (though he got 16 points at the free throw line alone) and it was Pippen’s 29 points on 12 shots that helped the Bulls demolish New York by 20 points.
  • To follow that up: this is indeed hagiography, but it’s entertaining hagiographyBy showing Michael Jordan to have nearly zero faults, the documentary crafts him as a Basketball God figure that only adds to his legend and makes it more shocking for younger viewers when he doesn’t hit every game-winning shot. As Jordan himself says, he missed 26 game-winning shots in his career. Obviously, you didn’t come to watch the misses; you came to watch the highlights we all know and a few you may not have.
  • The dichotomy of the 1992-93 Bulls and the 1993-94 Bulls was maybe the most interesting part of the series as a basketball nerd. When I interviewed several college coaches last year for the Building a Better Basketball Offense series, I got to talk to a few coaches whose teams had one dominant scorer and secondary/role players surrounding them. A question I’ve always wondered about teams like this was if it became easier or harder to design the offense around one player. Nearly every coach said “both,” and a couple outlined how it’s typically a little easier for players to buy in to an offense where they know they’ll be able to shoot a decent amount of shots. The 1992-93 Bulls were the second-best offense in the league, and Jordan was spectacular as usual, scoring nearly 33 per game in his first last dance. Once Jordan left, the 1993-94 Bulls fell to the 14th-best offense, though their assist rate did jump a bit. (While this is real basketball nerd stuff that no one cares about, the doc spent zero time exploring how the Bulls were an all-time elite Shot Volume offense, turning it over on just 12% of possessions in 1992-93 and rebounding 38% of their own misses. It’s one of the greatest feats in offensive basketball history.) In the documentary, these two teams are presented as nearly equal, even though the post-Jordan Bulls were clearly worse and got to 55 wins on the back of some lucky bounces in close games. That said: it seems like most coaches would probably deem the 1993-94 Bulls easier to coach, no?
  • I wish we’d gotten at least some coverage of the post-Jordan Bulls, and, heck, the Jordan Wizards. Maybe that would’ve been episodes 11 and 12 of this already-very-long miniseries, but if you’re spending an entire episode covering Dennis Rodman, I would imagine you could talk more about what happened after the Last Dance. The coda of this series gives you brief, one-line updates on the stars: Jordan retired. Scottie Pippen was traded. Steve Kerr was traded. Dennis Rodman was released. You’re telling me that with all of the time afforded to you, you couldn’t go more in-depth on Life After the Bulls for any of those final three players? Even MJ gets shorted in this regard. There’s nothing about how he became an NBA owner, an international ambassador for basketball, a constant national figure, etc. It’s simply that he rode off into the sunset and then came back for a couple years down the road. Maybe that’ll be in After the Last Dance in 2022: multiple episodes on just how entertainingly bad the Bulls were from 1999 to 2004. I get that they dunked on Jerry Krause enough already, but someone has gotta explore Tim Floyd going 49-190 as the Bulls’ head coach.
  • As anyone could and should admit, this had several great parts that made the entire experience worth it. I’d love to hear everyone else’s. For me, it’s getting to see Tex Winter drawing up the triangle offense, Jordan’s wails post-title in 1996, Jordan watching others’ interviews, his mom playing a large part in the first episode, and a bit of the baseball discussion.

Again: good, not great. I wouldn’t have it any other way, because we desperately needed something to attach ourselves to in the midst of the sports wilderness.

Tennessee high school football projections, Week 3

Week 3 has arrived! Last week went much better than Week 1 – a 140-36 (79.5%) record, a full eight games above expectation. Also, thank you to WCDT Radio in Winchester, TN and Will Rabb for having me on their Prep Football Insiders show last night – a great time. (I believe the podcast of the show will be uploaded sometime before the end of the weekend, though I don’t know for certain.)

As a reminder, you can keep track of season-long win projections via this spreadsheet, which is linked here:

Now, on to this week’s games. Unfortunately, the system expects the weakest week of football yet – a 140-33 (80.8%) expected record for favorites, with 63 of the 173 games having a 90% favorite or greater. That’s 21 more than last week, along with having just 19 50-59% games. Here’s how the Win Percentage Groups are hanging after Week 2:

  • 50-59% likely to win the game: 46-35 (56.8%); 22-14 last week
  • 60-69%: 50-23 (68.5%); 30-9 last week
  • 70-79%: 35-23 (60.3%); 19-12 last week
  • 80-89%: 46-10 (82.1%); 26-2 last week
  • 90-100%: 82-4 (95.3%); 42-0 last week

Outside of the very randomly poor performance by 70-79% favorites, everything is at least within its expected range two weeks in. That’s good to see, and a tiny bit ahead of what I personally expected. Just like more 60-69% teams will lose games going forward, more 70-79% teams should win. As always, TV information for games is listed below. All games, unless otherwise noted, start at 7:30 PM Eastern time for EST teams and 7:00 PM Central for CST teams.


  • Sheffield 26 at Memphis Nighthawks 17 (this one happened already, obviously; the Memphis Nighthawks won 36-6. Whoops.)


  • Morristown West 18 at Jefferson Co. 32 (7:00 PM ET, WVLT-TV)
  • Mitchell 20 at Memphis Academy of Health Sciences 11
  • Marshall Co. 22 at Tullahoma 19
  • Raleigh-Egypt 13 at Wooddale 29


  • Hixson 3 at Anderson Co. 55
  • LaVergne 32 at Antioch 17
  • Kingsbury 11 at Arlington 43
  • Kingston 11 at Austin-East 36
  • Memphis Overton 9 at Bartlett 39
  • Goodpasture Christian 8 at Battle Ground Academy 45
  • Dobyns-Bennett 30 at Bearden 17
  • Glencliff 0 at Beech 58
  • Covington 43 at Bolivar Central 7
  • Webb 40 at Boyd-Buchanan 10
  • Heritage 7 at Bradley Central 48
  • Dickson Co. 0 at Brentwood 49
  • McCallie 15 at Brentwood Academy 25
  • Clay Co. 29 at Byrns [Jo] 13
  • Oak Ridge 27 at Campbell Co. 26
  • Sequatchie Co. 32 at Cannon Co. 17
  • Southwind 19 at Center Hill (MS) 23
  • Sevier Co. 3 at Central 44
  • Whitwell 21 at Chattanooga Christian 29
  • Fairview 35 at Cheatham Co. Central 13
  • Champagnat Catholic (FL) 32 at Christ Presbyterian Academy 21
  • Johnson Co. 28 at Chuckey-Doak 23
  • West Greene 23 at Claiborne 27
  • Stewarts Creek 34 at Clarksville 19
  • Fayette Academy 32 at Clarksville Academy 22
  • Maryville 43 at Cleveland 8
  • South Greene 29.9 at Cocke Co. 30.2
  • Blackman 45 at Coffee Co. Central 4
  • Lewis Co. 39 at Community 12
  • Riverdale 36 at Cookeville 16
  • Sale Creek 17 at Copper Basin 33
  • Sullivan North 38 at Cosby 9
  • Greenbrier 8 at Creek Wood 42
  • Tennessee 24 at Daniel Boone 31
  • Stone Memorial 29 at DeKalb Co. 17
  • Friendship Christian 32 at Donelson Christian Academy 16
  • Lake Co. 45 at Dresden 13
  • Forrest 25 at Eagleville 27
  • East Ridge 17 at East Hamilton 23
  • Giles Co. 18 at East Nashville 41
  • Cascade 19 at East Robertson 30
  • Knox Catholic 21 at Ensworth 23
  • Harding Academy 7 at Evangelical Christian 44
  • Baylor 22 at Father Ryan 19
  • Huntland 21 at Fayetteville 24
  • Lincoln Co. 17 at Franklin Co. 32
  • Lipscomb Academy 14 at Franklin Road Academy 28
  • Powell 34 at Fulton 16
  • Hillsboro 25 at Gallatin 26
  • DeSoto Central (MS) 22 at Germantown 29
  • Pickett Co. 6 at Gordonsville 43
  • Sullivan South 22 at Grainger 30
  • Sunbright 8 at Greenback 44
  • Union Co. 5 at Greeneville 50
  • York Institute 36 at Grundy Co. 14
  • Gibson Co. 26 at Halls 21
  • Hampton 16 at Happy Valley 24
  • Science Hill 20 at Hardin Valley 26
  • Camden Central 34 at Harpeth 12
  • Coalfield 27 at Harriman 16
  • Dyer Co. 23 at Henry Co. 29
  • White Station 29 at Hernando (MS) 22
  • Waverly Central 32 at Hickman Co. 20
  • Hamilton 14 at Hillcrest 31
  • Hunters Lane 9 at Hillwood 46
  • Bolton 0 at Houston 59
  • Hollow Rock-Bruceton Central 0 at Huntingdon 57
  • Centennial 27 at Independence 34
  • Hardin Co. 24 at Jackson North Side 27
  • Chester Co. 12 at Jackson South Side 32
  • Northeast 23 at Kenwood 17
  • Grace Christian Academy 19 at King’s Academy 42
  • Fairley 41 at KIPP Collegiate 3
  • Brighton 21 at Kirby 35
  • Clinton 14 at Knoxville Halls 38
  • Karns 2 at Knoxville West 53
  • First Assembly Christian 7 at Lausanne Collegiate 45
  • Mount Juliet 27 at Lebanon 14
  • Soddy Daisy 29 at Lenoir City 19
  • Lexington 25 at Liberty Tech Magnet 9
  • Cumberland Co. 0 at Livingston Academy 49
  • Brainerd 9 at Loudon 37
  • Lawrence Co. 16 at Maplewood 29
  • Polk Co. 19 at Marion Co. 25
  • Jellico 15 at McCreary Central (KY) 34
  • Perry Co. 17 at McEwen 34
  • Cane Ridge 33 at McGavock 18
  • Sweetwater 30 at McMinn Central 22
  • Cumberland Gap 0 at Meigs Co. 42
  • Freedom Prep Academy 35 at Memphis Academy of Science and Engineering 12
  • Collierville 20 at Memphis Central 22
  • Zion Christian Academy 31 at Memphis Nighthawks 19
  • Christian Brothers 13 at Memphis University 30
  • Howard Tech 32 at Middle Tennessee Christian 17
  • Wayne Co. 40 at Middleton 22
  • Oakdale 0 at Midway 45
  • King Prep 8 at Millington Central 42
  • St. Benedict at Auburndale 3 at Montgomery Bell Academy 38
  • Cornersville 23 at Moore Co. 24
  • Cherokee 30 at Morristown East 29
  • Macon Co. 18 at Mount Juliet Christian Academy 23
  • Craigmont 13 at Munford 39
  • Davidson Academy 32 at Nashville Christian 28
  • Smyrna 21 at Nashville Overton 19
  • Unicoi Co. 43 at North Greene 9
  • Whitehaven 8 at North Little Rock (AR) 47
  • St. George’s 30 at Northpoint Christian 19
  • GPittman 37 at Northview 7
  • Middle College 28 at Oakhaven 13
  • Siegel 0 at Oakland 53
  • Dyersburg 42 at Obion Co. 12
  • Haywood 19 at Olive Branch (MS) 28
  • Shelbyville Central 23 at Page 27 (7:00 PM CT, WUXP-TV)
  • McKenzie 7 at Peabody 42
  • Briarcrest Christian 20 at Pope John Paul II 27
  • Montgomery Central 28 at Portland 16
  • Franklin 5 at Ravenwood 40
  • Signal Mountain 7 at Red Bank 41
  • Monterey 46 at Red Boiling Springs 4
  • Mount Pleasant 33 at Richland 18
  • Crockett Co. 22 at Ripley 30
  • East Hickman Co. 12 at Riverside 34
  • Oliver Springs 22 at Rockwood 17
  • Wilson Central 25 at Rossview 17
  • Macon Road Baptist 42 at Rossville Christian Academy 12
  • Alcoa 52 at Scott 0
  • Houston Co. 23 at Scotts Hill 15
  • Chattanooga Central 35 at Sequoyah 18
  • Carter 19 at Seymour 21
  • Melrose 29 at Sheffield 9
  • Notre Dame 39 at Silverdale Academy 14
  • Greenfield 35 at South Fulton 18
  • Milan 22 at South Gibson 31
  • Cordova 19 at South Panola (MS) 32
  • Lookout Valley 0 at South Pittsburg 47
  • Gibbs 11 at South-Doyle 37
  • Nolensville 35 at Spring Hill 10
  • White House-Heritage 20 at Springfield 33
  • Hendersonville 38 at Station Camp 7
  • Pearl-Cohn 39 at Stratford 14
  • Elizabethton 45 at Sullivan East 11
  • Collinwood 10 at Summertown 28
  • Columbia Central 14 at Summit 36
  • Stewart Co. 19 at Sycamore 28
  • Hayesville (NC) 19 at Tellico Plains 24
  • Jackson Christian 25 at Tipton-Rosemark Academy 20
  • Manassas 12 at Trezevant 28
  • University School of Jackson 28 at Trinity Christian Academy 17
  • Bledsoe Co. 17 at Tyner Academy 28
  • Hancock Co. 28 at Unaka 21
  • Adamsville 15 at Union City 27
  • Smith Co. 18 at Upperman 34
  • David Crockett 50 at Volunteer 7
  • Rhea Co. 34 at Walker Valley 15
  • Rockvale 22 at Warren Co. 24
  • Oneida 32 at Wartburg 14
  • Memphis East 21 at Washington 24
  • Trousdale Co. 31 at Watertown 18
  • Grace Baptist Academy 29 at Webb Bell Buckle 15
  • Humboldt 14 at West Carroll 41
  • Northwest 31 at West Creek 26
  • Ridgeway 0 at West Monroe (LA) 52
  • Jackson Co. 10 at Westmoreland 31
  • McNairy Central 32 at Westview 23
  • Memphis Business Academy 22 at Westwood 25
  • CAK 35 at White Co. 17
  • RePublic 16 at Whites Creek 32
  • Ooltewah 25.9 at William Blount 25.7

While this isn’t the most purely competitive week of football I’ve ever seen, it still looks fun. There are 145 Region games being played this week, and Week 3 kind of marks the real start of the season. This is when games take on actual playoff importance; your wins count for more and your losses hurt worse. Barring weather issues, 173 games will be played this week, bringing us to 528 total. If I’ve missed one, email statsbywill@gmail.com. Here are the five best games, plus a few honorable mentions, from my perspective.

  1. Knoxville Catholic at Ensworth (Friday, 7:30 PM CT, NFHS Network). This one is an II-AAA East region battle, and one that could hold a lot of importance by year’s end. Ensworth demolished a solid Hillsboro team 48-7 last week, while Knox Catholic struggled with Fort Thomas Highlands (KY) for all four quarters before a late TD put them over the top. The winner here still has to deal with Brentwood Academy and McCallie at the top, but this would be an excellent win for either school. Speaking of which…
  2. McCallie at Brentwood Academy (Friday, 7:00 PM CT). This one likely will end up deciding the II-AAA East regular season champion, but it’s also important for another reason: this is one of two games pre-playoffs where you can see two of the state’s five best teams play each other. (The other is next week, between Maryville and Alcoa.) BA has already soundly defeated a pair of out-of-state teams that would both be among the 25-30 best in Tennessee, while McCallie destroyed a Webb (Knoxville) team that is expected to win II-AA East. Both sides have several future D-1 players, including McCallie’s Jay Hardy, a likely future Tennessee defensive end.
  3. Collierville at Memphis Central (Friday, 7:00 PM CT). Admittedly, it’s strange to feature a game between an 0-2 team in Central and a 2-0 Collierville team with a +2 point differential (29-28 and 25-24 wins!), but it’s two quality 6A teams with a lot of built-in anxiety. Collierville seems to desire winning by coin-flip every week; Memphis Central has disappointed to start the year and desperately needs this win.
  4. Briarcrest Christian at Pope John Paul II (Friday, 7:00 PM CT). Yes, we have three private school games in the top four, but for good reason: they’re all really close. PJPII is favored by a touchdown, but these are two schools currently beating their preseason expectations with a very real chance to separate themselves from a four-team glob in the middle of the II-AAA West pack. (Memphis University reigns supreme, obviously.)
  5. Shelbyville Central at Page (Friday, 7:00 PM CT). I debated elevating something different here, but any neutral observer should be paying close attention to the insane 5A-5 race. Page is a 4.8-point favorite here, but the play is about the same as it was preseason: they’ve got to win this and at least 1-2 more coin-flips to go 10-0. Meanwhile, the top three teams in 5A-5 are separated by a projected 0.26 wins in region play. The winner here gets a leg up on everyone else.

Honorable mentions: Baylor at Father Ryan (Friday, 7:00 PM CT); Haywood at Olive Branch (MS) (Friday, 7:00 PM CT); Ooltewah at William Blount (Friday, 7:30 PM ET); Marshall Co. at Tullahoma (Thursday, 7:00 PM CT); Gallatin at Hillsboro (Friday, 7:00 PM CT); Oak Ridge at Campbell Co. (Friday, 7:30 PM ET); Forrest at Eagleville (Friday, 7:00 PM CT); Trousdale Co. at Watertown (Friday, 7:00 PM CT); Cornersville at Moore Co. (Friday, 7:00 PM CT).

If you’d like to view it, here’s this week’s spreadsheet. The season-long sheet is linked here.

Best of luck to all teams involved this week!