February 28, 2003

IM Insider

This article goes to press at an odd time; by the time it's published on Friday morning, the first round of playoffs in the men's undergraduate residence league will be finished. Presumably many exciting things will have happened, but, due to a series of common ontological and epistemological commitments that I do not feel the need to reiterate, that excitement remains unknown to me at the present moment. So rather than engage in idle speculation as to the state of the various playoff brackets, and thus join the already bloated ranks of obtuse sports prognosticators, I'll make this an entirely backward-looking column. No discussion of the future; indeed, if such a thing is possible, very little discussion of the present either.

IM basketball is privileged to play under conditions that resemble (at least vaguely) the standard conditions of the game. There's no fundamental variation of the rules (flag football), no reduction of positions and alteration of field conditions (soccer, volleyball), and no pliable standards of game time, location, rules, and participants (so-called "ladder" sports, like ultimate Frisbee). That IM basketball is played according to the same standards as basketball just about anywhere (without the NBA three-point line or the trapezoidal international lane) means that it is also susceptible to some common mistakes, which I've seen all too often this year. I can mention only a few of them in any depth.

Improper use of the zone defense: Perhaps some teams were misled by the NBA's euphoria about the legalization of the zone two seasons ago. This is not a bulletproof tactical decision. In fact, unless the other team has a player who is cutting you apart by driving to the lane, the zone is completely unnecessary and really only allows opposing teams to move around the court and put pressure on the weakest defenders. It doesn't help that every team using a zone uses the same 2-3 zone all the time. At least mix it up with the box-and-one, or a triangle-and-two. That's just common sense.

Cherry-picking, or an evil means to an improper end, as I like to call it: Teams either cherry-pick as an offensive strategy, or use it as a way to run up the score against weak teams. If your aim is to run up the score, you're a jerk, and if your aim is to use it as a consistent offensive strategy, you're a strategically negligent jerk. It can work and work very well, but if an opposing team can do one of three things--get offensive rebounds, close off passing lanes, or shoot well from the field--you're absolutely screwed. Leaving a player at the half-court line, and thus letting the opposing team have an undefended player on offense, can only make disaster more likely. Scoring more points than the other team is always good strategy, but if they can hurry back on defense, this outcome becomes much more tenuous.

One-dimensional offenses: By this I mean one-player offenses, which, given the distribution of athletic talent throughout the housing system, includes the vast majority of intramural teams. A number of one- or two-loss teams no doubt had some of the best players. But this is intramural sports, after all, and if a team's former high school star has a paper or midterm the next day, they're going to lose that night.

I don't mean to imply that all the IM games were marred by these particular flaws, only that they were particularly prevalent and particularly noticeable reasons for losses. But then again I don't think anybody would expect tactical brilliance from an IM game--if this column only discussed well-played games, it'd be about as interesting as Dr. Jack Ramsey's column (that is, not very). No, the fun of IM--and it is supposed to be just fun, after all--is getting shellacked by an opposing team, or shellacking an opposing team. Good, competitive games aren't very funny.

So here's the 2003 IM regular season yearbook, honoring all teams at 3-2 or better, who played well, had a good time, and probably don't have many stories to tell as a result.

Undefeated (5-0 or 6-0)

Vincent, Agent Orange, Laimbeer's Revenge, Graham, Chicago Soccer, Malpractice, Flying Isenberghs (tied once), Freshman Soccer, Rickert, Flint, Delta Upsilon. It bears mentioning, while looking backward over the season, that DU was always good and I never paid any attention. Here's your retroactive praise, effective immediately.

One Loss (4-1 or 5-1)

Henderson A, Homewreckers, Mike Higler: American Hero (tied once), The Revolution, Top 50 and the Immortals, May, Hitchcock-Snell Women, Law School Scrubs (tied once), Hoover, Team Wallace, Durex Trojans, Consiglio

Two Losses (3-2 or 4-2)

Hale, Apathy, The Richard Stabones (tied once), Filbey FA, Flint, Law I, May, Compton Fighting Kiwis, Hitchcock-Snell, Bishop, Dodd-Mead.

As for everyone else, we hope you had a good time. Leave your number with the receptionist and we'll contact you if something comes up.