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Talkin' with Tyler

Congratulations to North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough, who appears on the cover of this week's Sports Illustrated as our national Player of the Year. The 'Bag would love to do an article someday on the stories behind what SI cover subjects were doing when they learned they'd made the cover. Maybe not all of them would be as good as the scene in Almost Famous when Stillwater learned they'd made the cover of Rolling Stone, but some of them probably would be.

Anyway, we'll begin this week's 'Bag with some good B-sides that didn't make it into the mag article:

• After spending a couple hours last Thursday night at the four-bedroom off-campus house Hansbrough shares with teammates Bobby Frasor and Marcus Ginyard and UNC head manager Preston Puckett, I can see why Psycho T loves college life. The pad has just about anything a college kid could ask for: a plasma TV in the living room, a fridge stocked with food, close proximity to a Whole Foods store, four nice bedrooms (Ginyard's is bigger than the rest; Hansbrough calls it "the Presidential suite" and notes that Ginyard pays more than the other guys for it), and a sweet basement/rec room with a ping-pong table, a Wii (recently purchased by Hansbrough, once a notorious technophobe) and a full Rock Band set-up.

• When asked if it bothers him that NBA pundits don't rate him as a lottery pick, Hansbrough had this to say: "That's one thing about me not really having a lot of pressure to leave [college] right there. It also drives me to stay in college and prove them wrong. I have room to improve, and I take it from there. I use it as motivation, to be honest with you."

• North Carolina coach Roy Williams' take on the Hansbrough/NBA topic: "The NBA guys I talk to all say the same thing: he should do what he wants to do. When he comes to the NBA, he's going to be a first-round draft pick, probably not early, but he'll be a first-round draft pick. He's going to play in the NBA for 10 to 12 years, he'll make a lot of money and he'll live a wonderful life. They all appreciate how hard he works and know there's a place in the game for somebody like that."

• Hansbrough's single-most impressive stretch of the season may have been the two games in three days between Feb. 10 (a 103-93 double-OT win over Clemson) and Feb. 12 (a 75-74 win at Virginia). Psycho T had 39 points, 13 rebounds and a game-changing mid-court steal in the second OT against Clemson. The next day marked the only practice he has ever missed at UNC as he dealt with the pain of losing an infected toenail off one of his big toes. When the doctor tried to drain the toe, "the needle went straight through the toe," says Hansbrough, who leaped up in pain. "It was probably the freakiest experience I've ever had." But instead of sitting out the Virginia game the next day, Hansbrough managed to suit up -- and score 23 points, including a critical jump-hook with 21 seconds left.

Before we get to the serious stuff in this week's 'Bag -- namely, the mountain of e-mail we received in response to our article in SI on college hoops fan abuse -- we have to get a question off our chest. The 'Bag tries not to be a journalistic lightweight asking fluff questions, but we spotted something about Boston College's Tyrese Rice in the midst of his ridiculous 46-point barrage against North Carolina on Saturday that made our head spin.

As the ABC cameras zeroed in on Rice leaving the court at halftime, he pulled up his jersey to reveal ... pinstriped boxer shorts riding up about five inches above his uniform shorts. And instantly we recoiled in imagined pain. (On the 'Bag's high school team this practice was called "Free-ballin", sung in the locker room to the tune of Tom Petty's Free Fallin', and was generally regarded as risky behavior if you wanted to have children someday.)

Anyway, the 'Bag knows that Barack Obama recently deflected the boxers-or-briefs question, but that's no reason for Rice to do the same. Could some intrepid Beantown hack get to the bottom of this? Rice already deserves credit for the greatest holy s--- performance of the season, but if he did it wearing boxer shorts that somehow raises it even higher in the pantheon. (At least he got full support from the home crowd.)

Got lots of mail on fan abuse following our SI story, so let's dig in:

I'd like to think I follow college basketball closely but was shocked to hear about the fan abuse you covered. I've always known that at times fans cross the line but what you documented was beyond what I had imagined. Why is your article the first time I'm hearing about it? While there is certainly responsibility on the part of coaches and fans, I think the media has a role to play as well. Any suggestions for your colleagues? -- Scott, Philadelphia

It's certainly not the first time the topic has been written about. The incidents involving Kevin Love at Oregon, Eric Gordon at Illinois and Memphis at UAB had been covered in the media, but (aside from one piece in TheNew York Times, which quoted administrators and coaches but not players and their families) I haven't seen them looked at as a trend.

In Love's case, I sensed that there was probably more to his side of the story since I knew that Oregon students had distributed his cell phone number. And given that some time had passed since the game in Eugene, I figured Kevin and his father, Stan, might be willing to provide some new details. I had no idea that Kevin would describe death threats that he had received, but that's what happened. Keep in mind, too, that the profane and homophobic chants directed at Love were so over-the-top that they got edited out of my SI mag story (even with certain letters left to the imagination).

As for the media's impact, we certainly play some role, but not as much as critics might think. I've heard that some local media organizations portrayed Eric Gordon as "the enemy" heading into the Illinois game, and that seems out of line. But one of SI's regional covers for our college hoops preview issue featured Indiana's D.J. White and Illinois' Shaun Pruitt above the coverline RIVALRY!, and that's within bounds to me, as was ESPN's TV coverage of the Indiana-Illinois game. Maybe I'd feel differently if some TV station had created an animated Itchy & Scratchy episode with Bruce Weber playing Itchy and theatrically slicing the head off of Gordon playing Scratchy, but as far as I know that never happened.

In the end, fans are responsible for their own behavior, and any offender playing the "blame the media" card needs to look in the mirror.

What do you think of doing what European soccer has done on occasion: make offending teams play in an empty arena? Perhaps for a first infraction, at the next home game the student section must be empty. For a second infraction, have the entire arena be empty. The conferences would have to impose this type of penalty, as the individual schools have shown that they are not willing to do anything about the problem. -- Scott Grandi, El Cajon, Calif.

I've covered empty-stadium soccer games before in Italy, and I think your idea's a good one, although I would prefer that a warning (a yellow card?) be issued before you start clearing out student sections. And while I agree the conferences would have to be the ones to impose the penalties, it's the conferences that have been delinquent in their duties this season. The Big Ten never said a peep after the Gordon incident at Illinois, nor did the Pac-10 after the Love incident at Oregon. Meanwhile, Conference-USA continues to investigate the UAB-Memphis incident with all the zeal of O.J. Simpson trying to find the real killer. Well done, conferences!

I understand and applaud your article regarding college fans' behavior. As a Duke alum, however, I also find it concerning that you reference the Cameron Crazies' poking fun at Maryland for their graduation rates within a few paragraphs of Illini fans' shameful treatment of Eric Gordon or, even worse, death threats by Oregon fans against Kevin Love. I don't think you meant to imply the behaviors were comparable, but I'm worried people will read the article that way. Since [former Duke president] Terry Sanford's famous letter to the Crazies in 1984, Duke fans have prided themselves on (and usually succeeded in) cleverly putting down opponents without resulting to vulgarity or cheap shots. -- Alan, Chicago

I'm all for creativity and humor when it comes to signs and chants, and I have no problem with Duke fans lampooning the Terps' graduation rates. "The line" is different for everyone -- I'm always reminded of the hyperventilating Joe Buck calling Randy Moss' faux-mooning of Green Bay fans "a vile and disgusting act" -- and I'm sure some people do have issues with that sign. But I do think there are some things that any reasonable person would agree represent over-the-line fan behavior: profane, racist and homophobic chants and signs, death threats and accosting and abusing the family members of opposing players.

As for the Cameron Crazies, they still have their low moments sometimes, but I think they're usually some of the best fans in college basketball, not least because of their creativity, but also because of the efforts Mike Krzyzewski takes to rein them in (when necessary) and the famous letter from Terry Sanford taking the Crazies to task after the Herman Veal incident in 1984 (in which the Crazies crossed the line with their taunts of Maryland's Veal, who had been implicated but never charged in a sexual misconduct case).

But opposing coaches have diverging views on the Crazies. One coach of a Top 20 team told SI that he thinks Duke's fans are the most foul-mouthed and distasteful that he's seen, "but then they're held up as the best ones." But then Roy Williams told me, "I think Duke several years ago did some things to get their crowd back across the line. I thought they did a nice job of it." At UNC and at Kansas, Williams has dealt with two of the most vocal rival fan groups in the nation: Duke's Crazies and Missouri's Antlers. ("Every year I got a call at 3 o'clock in the morning for the two or three nights before we played Missouri," he says.) But Ol' Roy also credits administrators at Duke and Missouri for taking an active role in improving their hardcore fans' behavior. "I think they should be applauded for that," he says. "And this is coming from a North Carolina/Kansas guy."

Great article about the over-the-top nature of college fans/student sections. However, I think you let Duke off the hook a little bit, as I believe the Cameron Crazies, along with the publicity and praise heaped upon them by ESPN, are the prime reason for the problems we are currently seeing. This ball started rolling in the 1980s when Duke fans held signs such as "J.R. Can't Reid" or taunted Notre Dame's David Rivers as "Buckwheat." It soon became clear that it was no longer enough to simply cheer for your team, you had to mock and ridicule the other team. This is what true fans did and this is what would get you on television. Over and over, Dick Vitale and other commentators will tell us that Cameron Indoor and the "Crazies" create the best college basketball environment, and maybe they do. But, by holding them up as the measuring stick, they are condoning the often personal attacks they unleash. I am sure J.J. Redick and Greg Paulus have had to put up with a lot of abuse on the road, but I cannot help feeling they are only reaping the seeds sewn long ago by their fans. -- Kevin Faris, Lexington, Ky.

Duke fans are no angels, but should they be held responsible for Oregon fans who are unable to match their creativity and resort to profane chants? I'm not so sure. I do think it's interesting that when I spoke with Robert Husseman, a member of the Oregon Pit Crew, he said this: "It would be wonderful for the members of the Pit Crew if it were them and not the Cameron Crazies that people would think of as the rowdiest student section in the nation." By the way, I came away impressed with Husseman, the sports copy editor at the Oregon Daily Emerald school newspaper, who had a clear-eyed view of what happened against UCLA (and didn't participate in the over-the-line stuff himself). "It was a terrible night and it never should have escalated to where we could come up with nothing better than to chant homosexual slurs," he told me. "We do have the capacity to learn from this and move on."

To anyone who says home team coaches/players can't make a difference in controlling this behavior, I always think of this: When I was an undergrad at Duke, Wake Forest was coming in for a game. My memory's a bit hazy (this was about nine years ago), but Loren Woods of Wake Forest was going through a really hard time filling Tim Duncan's shoes with some well-publicized psychological issues. His good friend, Duke's Chris Carrawell, came out before the game and spoke to a packed Cameron Indoor Stadium, essentially asking the fans to be thoughtful in their treatment of his friend. While I know a lot of the Crazies had been blood-thirsty to go after Woods, he ultimately received nothing but polite applause throughout the game and was generally left alone. -- Charles, Philadelphia

Good point, Charles. If people from the Oregon and Illinois programs would have done a similar thing before the UCLA and Indiana games -- which they knew would be volatile situations -- it's unlikely that we would have seen what happened.

Do you think that the three losses to Wake, Pitt and Miami show that Duke is too weak down low to have a good chance in the NCAA tournament? And what seed do you think they will get? -- David, Chapel Hill, N.C.

I guess I don't see Wake Forest and Miami as pillars of inside strength, so it's hard for me to have a full idea yet of whether Duke really will struggle with big teams in the NCAAs. It's one of many reasons why I'm fired up for the rematch between Duke and Carolina on Saturday. As we mentioned before, the Blue Devils have given up a lot of double-doubles to big guys this year, but they've made up for it by causing a ton of turnovers and spreading things out offensively. The better question these days might be: Have Duke's perimeter guys finally started to wear down?

Nearly every announcer I've heard makes some variation of this argument: Tyler Hansbrough deserves the Player of the Year award over Mike Beasley because he plays on a better team. Shouldn't the award go to the best player (clearly Beasley), no matter what team he plays for? This isn't the Heisman, after all. -- Justin Graham, N.C.

It depends on how you define Player of the Year. For me it matters how your team performs, and there is clearly a big difference between Kansas State and North Carolina right now. Just because Beasley is a better player doesn't mean he should be the Player of the Year in college basketball.

The Michigan State-Indiana game is a perfect example of why Indiana is not a bonafide Final Four contender. They may me be uber-talented, but they play mediocre defense and are often selfish on offense. On top of all that, they can be really immature. Do you think Indiana has the best chance to reach the Final Four from the Big Ten? -- Michael Bleach, Wauwatosa, Wis.

Short answer: no, especially considering how Indiana has played since the departure of Kelvin Sampson. The blowout at Michigan State was bad, but the three-point wins against Ohio State (at home) and Northwestern (on the road) were just as concerning. I still think Wisconsin and Michigan State are the two Big Ten teams with the best chances to reach San Antonio; Purdue is a little green for the NCAA tournament pressure-cooker, and Indiana's starting to look like a team that could make a quiet first-round exit.

Got a few more responses on the 'Bag's story on the Dribble-Drive Motion offense, including last week's question on whether an offensive scheme could be registered with the patent office. Even on that topic, though, there was some debate:

It would be next to impossible to copyright an idea such as the Dribble-Drive Motion offense. It is not a tangible object, and never will be. Ideas may be patented, but only if they are an idea related to something which may be produced in some way. To allow anything more than this tangible-item requirement would bring much of business to a halt, as it would prohibit businesses from piggybacking ideas off of one another (i.e. Wal-Mart's distribution plan, the Patriots' offense, or even the makeup of a Toyota car-assembly plant). -- Pat McMullen, esq., Minneapolis

As a patent attorney and avid college basketball fan, I loved the question of whether a basketball play can be patented. Foundational rule of patent law No. 1: for better or for worse, whether something is ridiculous does not determine patentability. Case-in-point: patent number 6,368,227.-- Luke, Chicago

Well, that clears up ... nothing. But I appreciate the input, and I really like the ", esq." suffix on Pat's name. In fact we're going to suggest that our pal L. Jon Wertheim, who has a law degree, start using ", esq." as part of his byline with SI. You too, Jay Bilas.

I really liked the DDM piece you wrote a few weeks ago. Two things stuck out to me as I read your story. First, you said that Walberg's system deviated from traditional sets, at least in part, because it nearly eliminated the mid-range game in favor of layups and threes. For years, people have lamented our highlight-driven basketball culture in which young people only want to dunk and shoot threes. So, do you think Walberg's offense was a contributor to that change, pushing kids toward the prevailing mindset, or do you think he recognized that skills were changing and created an offense that better suited what the available talent pool was doing and wanted to do? Second, I find it a little ironic that Chris Douglas-Roberts, who I think has the best mid-range game in college, plays for a team so deeply committed to DDM, albeit in modified form that likely leads to a few more mid-range looks. -- Joey Litman, New York City

I think Walberg's offense is too new to have contributed to the change of de-emphasizing mid-range shooting. I just think this is the natural impact of the 19-9 three-point line. There is very little incentive to perfect a 17-foot jump shot with a man in your face, at least in the college game. It's a different scenario in the NBA, where the three-point line is much farther out. I'm curious to see if the longer three-point line in the NCAA next year does anything to help bring back mid-range shooting. As for CDR, that's a good point. However, when things get tight for Memphis, the Tigers have no problem taking mid-range jumpers. Remember how many Derrick Rose took in the final minutes of the loss to Tennessee?

• Thursday's showdown between UCLA and Stanford will help determine which team wins the Pac-10 race, but it'll also determine who wins individual honors in my book. Right now I have Brook Lopez as my Pac-10 Player of the Year, just barely ahead of Kevin Love. But I have Love as a first-team All-America and Lopez on the second team since Lopez wasn't around for the first semester due to academic issues.

• Just wanted to remind you of the 'Bag's Magic Eight, the eight teams from which we guaranteed the national champion would emerge: Georgetown, Indiana, Kansas, Louisville, Memphis, Tennessee, UCLA and Xavier. Remember, we did this on Jan. 16, which makes us feel pretty good about those Louisville and Xavier picks. (I'd feel better about the Indiana pick if they hadn't gone through a coaching change since then.) And yes, I'm still worried about not including North Carolina, even though its defense still doesn't match up to the D of the top contenders (as Tyrese Rice could tell you).

Just wanted to say that I (mostly) agree with you on your assessment of the Kansas City barbecue hierarchy. While I personally share Gates as my No. 1 and have Oklahoma Joe's in my top 3, I think you have to consider Arthur Bryant's, if only for the ribs. Their sauce is great, and their ribs are other-worldly good. And, whereas Jack Stack cooks meat with the best of them, their sauce is mediocre, therein relegating them to also-ran status. Furthermore, I find it telling that Calvin Trillin, a fellow Kansas City native and food guru of The New Yorker, ranks Bryant's as his favorite restaurant in all the world. -- Jens, Los Angeles

Good point, Jens. I'll have to hit Arthur Bryant's on my next trip to K.C.; it's been too long. Plus, I'll follow any food rec from Calvin Trillin, who belongs on my food-writing Mount Rushmore with Johnny Apple, Mark Bittman and WilliamGrimes.

• Picks from the 'Bag: Gone Baby Gone. The 'Bag is finally back checking out the movie front, and this one is a solid DVD choice given the lack of many good films in theaters right now. Part of it is due to the top-notch performances by actors from The Wire, including Beadie Russell (Amy Ryan) and Michael K. Williams (Omar Little). But Casey Affleck is starting to grow on us as an actor, and his brother Ben exceeded my expectations as a director. He certainly gets Boston, that's for sure.

See you next week -- make sure to send in a good question!

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