30 March 2012

A Statistical Comparison of the 1975-76 and 2011-12 Boston Celtics Teams

30 March, 2012 11.45 p.m. by Darcy Ireland.

In an anomalous twist to the general flow of this blog, I present a statistical analysis of the 2011-12 Boston Celtics team.

After winning tonight at Minnesota, the 2011-12 Boston Celtics team is 29-22 (in a lockout-condensed, 66-game schedule), one game ahead of the Philadelphia 76ers for the Atlantic Division lead, and has 15 games out of 66 yet to be played. At 29-22, the current win-loss percentage is 56.9%.

The 1975-76 Boston Celtics team, which was considered to be an aging, veteran one and won both the Atlantic Division title and the NBA title that season, finished the regular season at a record of 54-28 in a regular, 82-game schedule. At 54-28, the win-loss percentage here is 65.9%.

I found that the rough equivalent between the 66-game schedule and the 82-game one when the 2012 Celtics have 15 games yet to be played would be 19 games yet to be played for the 1976 Celtics. This finding would mean that the 1976 Celtics had already played 63 games when they had 19 games yet to be played. After the 63rd game, the 1976 Celtics, at 42-21, were at a win-loss percentage of 66.7%.

What I would like to know is what win-loss percentage should the 2012 Celtics accrue over the last 15 games of the season so that the total win-loss percentage for the 66-game regular season closely matches that of the 1976 Celtics.

So far, we know that:

(i) The 2012 Celtics (29-22) are at 56.9% after 51/66 games played;

(ii) The 1976 Celtics (42-21) were at 66.7% after 63/82 games played;

(iii) 51/66 very closely equals 63/82, thus justifying choosing the 63rd game of the 1976 Celtics regular season to use for this exercise; and

(iv) The 1976 Celtics (42-21), with 19 games yet to be played, finished the regular season (12-7), which is a win-loss percentage of 63.2%, for a total record of (54-28).

We wish to discover the answer to (v), which is what the 2012 Celtics must do to roughly equate their total regular season win-loss percentage to that of the 1976 Celtics, at 65.9%.

After some calculations, I found that the 2012 Celtics cannot do so, but can come close to doing so. One of two highly unrealistic possibilities could occur:

(a) The 2012 Celtics could close the regular season at 14-1 to close the regular season at (43-23), which would leave a win-loss percentage of 65.2%.

(b) The 2012 Celtics could close the regular season at 15-0 to close the regular

season at (44-22), which would leave a win-loss percentage of 66.7%.

By (a), the 2012 Celtics (65.2%) would finish slightly below its 1976 counterpart (65.9%). By (b), the 2012 Celtics (66.7%) would finish slightly above its 1976 counterpart (65.9%). As already stated, the chance that the 2012 Celtics can equal the win-loss percentage of the championship-winning 1976 Celtics is non-existent, but the current Boston team could come quite close to doing so.

As I said in passing, the chances that the 2012 Boston Celtics finish its last fifteen games at a pace of either 14-1 or 15-0 are non-existent, despite this team not only wresting control of the Atlantic Division title lead from the Philadelphia 76ers, but also winning six of its last seven games. I merely found a spontaneous opportunity to perform an exercise in statistical analysis regarding the Boston Celtics too good to pass up, especially considering the similarities between the 1976 and 2012 Celtics. How shall this season end? As the maxim goes, "Only time will tell."

28 February 2012

On the Brink of Purity

28 February, 2011 3.00 p.m. by Darcy Ireland.

The published recap can be found here.

The official box score can be found here.

“When arrogance appears, disgrace follows,

But wisdom is with those who are unassuming.” - Proverbs 11.2; from Kethuvim

One rainy Friday evening, in a cozy gymnasium in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a significant and noble affair was playing its course. The Tigers of Princeton University had travelled northward to pay a league rival an expected visit, that rival being the Crimson of Harvard University, that acclaimed and highly esteemed Bostonian conservatory of knowledge. The favorite hosting team was being defeated by the visiting squad, 38-41, approximately four minutes’ time of play into the second half. It was at this moment when a time-out was granted at the request of Princeton. During this break in the game, the Harvard student section, as it is wont to do in such an occasion, began to cry a chant of encouragement in unison. “Crimson and WHITE! Crimson and WHITE! Crimson and WHITE!” they declared according to the cue cards of the Harvard cheerleaders. Given the situation the hosting Ivy League institution’s team was currently handling, along with the physical appearance of both it and its eager student section, the Spectator couldn’t help but reconcile what could positively occur for the Crimson with what had unfolded merely thirteen nights prior, when the overconfident and perhaps prideful Crimson were humbled by the tough Tigers 70-62 in New Jersey. The smile on Princeton junior forward Ian Hummer’s face during the concluding seconds of that initial meeting simply meant, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” The ├╝bertalented Harvard Crimson team, universally anointed as the next ruler of the Ivy League, had found its comeuppance in Jadwin Gymnasium. The Crimson suffered a great blemish, which could merely be remedied not through vengeance, but through purification, something Harvard longed to discover that night...

* * *

Indeed, it was quite a rainy evening as an innocuous young Fellow in a tweed jacket emerged from the entrance to the Harvard Square stop of the Red Line of the ‘T’ subway system. The Fellow found a bustling intersection of a number of streets. With about an hour and a half’s time before Princeton would play Harvard, the Fellow searched all about the Square for the site of a specific pizzeria to which he was recommended by an electronic source. Having spent a half-hour’s time in pursuit, the eatery, called Otto Pizza, was located. Here, the boy, valuing what precious time he had to spare, rapidly purchased and subsequently consumed two succulent slices of a concoction called ‘three-cheese tortellini pizza.’ After having eaten his de facto supper, he began the long stroll down John F. Kennedy Street. Southward, the chap walked over the River Charles. Soon, he eyed the athletic buildings of Harvard, including his desired destination, Lavietes Pavilion, an ancient and glorified hall of basketball lore spanning three generations of mankind. Once indoors, the Fellow, not being receptive to the rain, thankfully settled into his seat, which was right behind the media table and quite close to mid-court. With about thirty minutes before the designated tip-off time, his mind soaked in the sights (which included this man, who paced past the observer). He noticed the student section and the Crimson players all were donning white articles of clothing. It must be a white-out event, he pondered. Next, he spotted one certain Princeton Tiger during his team’s shoot-around time. There he is, the Spectator thought as he eyed Mr. Hummer, the primary catalyst of the humiliation of the Crimson merely a fortnight’s time ago. To win this game, the Onlooker further thought, to purify itself of the sin of pride in Jadwin, the Crimson must humble itself and allow itself to be brought lower, which had somewhat happened. Finally, he saw the leftmost section of the bleachers along the opposite wall of the pavilion, which was filled with Princeton supporters. One fan held a wooden sign; on that sign was painted in orange: ‘JADWIN JUNGLE’. For Harvard to win this evening, it must strive for perfection and escape the jungle unharmed. That two-fold task certainly would not be easy...

As surmised beforehand, the anticipated Ivy League game would be grueling but entertaining indeed. The Crimson began with an expected 7-0 lead. Mr. Hummer kept his Tigers competitive and alert, despite Harvard preserving its lead for several minutes. Harvard senior forward Keith Wright received a ‘back-door’ cut to tie the match at 18-18 with under 11 minutes in the first half (ironically enough, given Princetonian basketball is heralded for its infamous usage of the strategic technique). Not long after Princeton subsequently earned a single-digit lead over its ivy-shrouded rival, a significant event occurred. The student section manager raised a white-board, which read: ‘A tight start doesn’t make you strong!’ Haven’t you learned anything relevantly virtuous since that humbling defeat in the forests of north central New Jersey? the Spectator thought. He was right to consider such an inquiry, for the visiting Tigers then roared ahead. Mr. Hummer made a jump shot, granting Princeton an astounding 33-23 lead over the Crimson, which was undefeated at home this season, with five minutes’ time before the half-time. Perhaps the Crimson read the mind of the Spectator or more likely looked to its athleticism to temporarily resuscitate itself. Fueled by the ability to block attempted shots by Harvard junior forward Kyle Casey, who blocked two attempted shots by Mr. Hummer, the Crimson went on a 9-0 run to end the first half of play down a mere point, 32-33. Harvard still had a chance to redeem itself with an entire half of a game to be played. Yet, the Crimson had not found the way to purification in a thrilling first half of a game of basketball. Perhaps the hosting Ivy League team would discover its need sooner than later...

* * *

A conversation in which the Observer participated during the half-time break confirmed some mental assessments of the match-up. Harvard student, and fellow 800-Games Project participant, John Ezekowitz concluded that “Princeton is a terrible match-up for Harvard.” The Spectator had previously seen the problem the Crimson had with the Tigers when on the offensive attack, and thus could concur with Mr. Ezekowitz. As the Observer also pondered, Princeton is the Ivy League team which could most easily lull the Crimson to succumb to an impurity, that is to lose a game. Additionally, Mr. Ezekowitz projected that Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker could leave the university, thus preventing the Crimson from realizing the historically unthinkable concept of constructing Harvard into a legitimately powerful basketball program, despite the stringent and rigorous academic expectations of the university. Although the once far-fetched notion of Cambridge being the home of a nationally-feared college basketball team is now much more realistic, it can only find fruition when both the right people unite and they then pursue their goals through humility and selflessness. Perhaps the shortcoming in New Jersey was necessary for the Crimson to identify how truly arduous the virtuous path to righteous glory is, even if at least one writer calls into question exactly how the program in Cambridge is being operated. So long as the party under the moral microscope is presently innocent in that respect, that being, in this case, the Harvard Crimson, has the privilege to pursue righteousness despite blemish in the fashion of an inevitable loss in an arbitrary season. As the onset of the second half of game-play quickly approached, the Observer believed that the purity the Crimson coveted would be unearthed, much to the chagrin of the Tigers, especially Mr. Hummer, whose smile prompted the idea of Harvard finding its apparent weakness merely thirteen nights prior...

* * *

Before the Spectator fully realized it, that rallying cry during the time-out with only sixteen minutes of game-time remaining began its resound. “Crimson and WHITE!” the Harvard student section screamed in unison. For the Observer, the chant was not only significant but also powerful. Most importantly, that perhaps crucial mantra was even uplifting in an encouraging way, almost as if the students knew of the situation the Spectator envisioned in his mind. The ‘white-out’ was all too appropriate to accompany not only the white outfits the host team donned, but also the sign of that which the Crimson strove for that night, which is purity, typically portrayed by the color white. Despite being down by three points - recall that Princeton was winning the match by the tally of 41-38 - the Crimson realized that they were on the brink of purity, which they desired to achieve through this game. Harvard could find aid through humility, but only if by surrendering to it and allowing it to impact its decision-making and attitude. The Crimson must remember that they play to honor the virtues embraced by the Ivy League, that hallowed hall of simultaneous academic prestige and athletic prowess, but built upon the foundation of wisdom, which embodies lowliness and humility. Perhaps the Crimson would emerge from the stoppage of game-play with a humbled mentality.

Again, when fortune smiles and the stream of life flows according to our wishes, let us diligently avoid all arrogance, haughtiness, and pride. For it is as much a sign of weakness to give way to one's feelings in success as it is in adversity.” - Cicero, De officiis I. XXVI.

For the moment, Harvard was still unsettled, but not ready to fall again.

With under 11 minutes of time remaining in the latter half of play, Princeton still managed to lead the affair, 50-45. Within a minute afterward, Harvard junior guard Brandyn Curry made a shot, but was fouled in the process, thus establishing a three-point play. After Mr. Curry made the ensuing free-throw shot attempt, Princeton turned the basketball over to Harvard and then fouled Mr. Wright, who calmly made both of his free-throw shot attempts. During the next possession, Harvard clamped down on defense, which pressured Princeton to give up the basketball to the Crimson. Next, Harvard freshman guard/forward Wesley Saunders ran the ball up the court and to the hoop, but missed a rather athletic lay-up attempt. Mr. Saunders was immediately saved by Mr. Wright, who tipped the missed lay-in attempt into the basket, which sent the Harvard faithful into a frenzy of sheer elation. That tip-in shot by Mr. Wright capped a 7-0 Harvard run to convert a 5-point Princeton lead into a 2-point Harvard lead within a single minute of game-play. The Crimson led the Tigers then, 52-50. It was tempting to presume that Harvard had found the redemption it greatly yearned to grasp. But, like a multitude of tribulations in this life, this trial was far from meeting its conclusion. Coach Amaker must have known that the last ten minutes of game-time really meant ten years between then and the end of the match.

The two ivy-shrouded squads essentially traded baskets for the next five minutes of the second half. With about three minutes left, the tenacious defense of the Crimson was cooking so pronouncedly that Mr. Hummer, who had the basketball beneath the basket, was unable to pinpoint a wise shot attempt. In a nice twist of irony, Mr. Hummer was clogged in the lane by the refreshed Harvard defense! With just over a minute remaining, the familiar mantra, which has its basketball origins in a gymnasium in Logan, Utah, was proclaimed in unison by the student section, whose Harvard Crimson team was winning the game by the tally of 59-56, during a substitution time-out. “I BELIEVE THAT WE WILL WIN!” the students repeated - a far cry from the written taunts the Spectator had eyed on the white-board a few sections to his optical right earlier in the match. The last one minute and eighteen seconds of the game would be the conclusion of a thrilling epic, in which Harvard was truly on the brink of purity, while Princeton, led by Mr. Hummer, was oozing with confidence, particularly since it had emerged victorious the last time these two teams had competed against one another. After Princeton senior guard Douglas Davis missed a shot attempt, a Princeton offensive rebound preceded another shot attempt by Mr. Davis, which he made. The tally had altered to a tight 59-58 lead for the hosting Crimson. Soon, Princeton sophomore guard T.J. Brey fouled Mr. Casey with 34 seconds left in the match. Mr. Casey made both free-throw shot attempts, increasing the lead of the Crimson to 61-58. Six Harvard senior guard Oliver McNally free-throw shots and a Princeton 3-point shot later, the tally had ballooned to 67-61 Harvard with merely three seconds before the end of regulation time. Given the amount of time left, Harvard had virtually assured that it had unearthed its desired purity. But the game was not yet over. Mr. Davis used the final possession of the game to sprint the basketball up the court, quickly square up for a 3-point shot attempt from approximately 40 feet from the basket, and nail that shot as the game buzzer echoed its nauseating, but necessary siren throughout the hallowed pavilion.

The game, the tribulation, had finally concluded: Harvard 67, Princeton 64.

A multitude of emotions and states clouded the pavilion as the siren ceased its cry. Relief. Elation. Thankfulness. Satisfaction. Amazement. One could conjure a sizable list to accompany those five named states of being. Not surprisingly, the one which was the most profound and resonated the deepest within the Spectator was purity. As far as the Observer could decipher, the Harvard Crimson finally discovered the necessary state of humility to rightfully conclude the entertaining but arduous affair in victory when its student section reminded them of the symbolic significance of the very hue they donned for the special occasion. Harvard could be thankful for the newness of being found through merciful redemption found after successfully escaping the great tribulation that was matching wits with Princeton. As for the Tigers, they could be grateful they had encouraged the Crimson be teaching them the grueling, but needed, lesson of how truly painful the fall after a bout of haughtiness is, no matter what talents one possesses. They had found the Crimson to be vulnerable, to be mortal, to be the bearer of an Achilles’ heel, as the saying goes. Harvard had cleared the great hurdle the discover the purity needed to cure its blemish, just in time for its next great obstacle. Princeton had gladly obliged as the catalyst for both Harvard’s fall from pride and its revival through beautiful humility.

The Spectator had witnessed quite an enthralling saga that spanned nearly a fortnight’s time. The ├╝bertalented Harvard Crimson galloped into the murky and enigmatic Jadwin Jungle, found its comeuppance by the hunter and renowned marksman Mr. Ian Hummer, with great help from his teammates, and discovered its revival and cure by meeting Mr. Hummer and his teammates once again in the hallowed hall that is Lavietes Pavilion. Quite the chronicle amidst the glorious ivies, the Spectator thought as he allowed the rain and darkness of that Friday evening to enrapture and purify him, as he paced northward into the night...

And this is where the story ends.

“'Wash yourselves clean;

"'Put your evil doings

“'Away from My sight....

“‘Be your sins like crimson,

“‘They can turn snow-white;

“‘Be they red as dyed wool,

“‘They can become like fleece’” - Isaiah 1.16, 18b; from Nevi’im.

30 January 2012

The Big Mean Green

31 January, 2011 11.30 a.m. by Darcy Ireland.

The published recap can be found here.

The official box score can be found here.

The innocuous look on the face of the young man did a noble job hiding his true emotions that crisp Friday evening. As he was pacing toward the entrance of a large cathedral of a building nestled amongst what appeared to be a distinguished college campus, no words were necessary to express what his face did not show. Oh, boy! he happily thought as the entrance drew closer and closer, my first Ivy League basketball game! Most students at Brown University would not have known it, but one of his many dreams was to attend an Ivy League men's basketball game. As he finally reached the entrance to the Paul Bailey Pizzitola Memorial Sports Center, he couldn't not crack a smile out of sheer delight. An Ivy League game
was due to commence in approximately 50 minutes, and he would be one of the handful of spectators. Once inside, after momentarily allowing himself to be enraptured by the presentation of the names along the 'wall of fame,' he noticed two lines of Brown cheerleaders, positioned as if people were to pass between them en route to the court. One offered the fellow something. Would I like a Brown basketball poster? Sure, I'll take one. Thank you. Soon, the small, intimate atmosphere, which would contain the ensuing and anticipated game, enveloped the excited young man, whose dream was slowly unfolding...

* * *

A time existed when a number of colleges could freely choose the Indians as the official school mascot without subsequent scrutiny from various national organizations. The 1942 N.C.A.A. national championship game
featured the Stanford Indians and the Dartmouth Indians. Two years later, the Indians of Hanover would face the Utes of the University of Utah. Although the boys of that prestigious, liberal arts college nestled in the rolling mountains of northwestern New Hampshire would not win either game, the nation acknowledged the athletic representatives of Dartmouth College for what they were, that is the big and mean Green, who ought not to be trifled with.

When the green machine sputtered during the late 1940s, Alvin 'Doggie' Julian, who had engineered that which culminated into the first official men's college basketball national champion in New England simply down the road
in Worcester, was hired to revive the floundering program. After a few seasons, he had done so. During the 1957-1958 season, Dartmouth would be ranked as highly as 18th by the A.P. On March 5th, 1958, the Big Green, who had already won the Ivy League that season, played a conference game at Brown. Captain Dave Carruthers would drive in for a lay-up with four seconds yet to be played to cap a 81-79 Dartmouth victory over Brown and its "powerful one-two punch in Joe Tubo and Allen Poulsen." 'Dartmouth Nips Brown,' read the headline of the accompanying New York Times article. Coach Julian would oversee a team which lost in a N.C.A.A. regional final to Temple, which finished third in the tournament. Although Dartmouth would not reach such wondrous heights again, the Big Mean Green teams of yore must still be beautiful memories in the few Dartmouth spectators that made the trip to Providence that evening and continue to hope for new, positive memories, too.

* * *

For the young man with the forest green tie and the black, v-neck sweater, it was to be an honor to see the Big Green face the hosting Bears in that cozy confinement of a gymnasium. Even the warm-up session before the game compelled him to let the adrenaline begin pumping inside his scrawny frame. The presence of the 'Top-40' musical 'hits' echoing throughout the gymnasium notwithstanding, the sight of the Dartmouth players goofing off with seemingly spontaneous dunks during the warm-up session was a nice way to pass the time before the match. The confidence of the Big Green oozed through their energetic pregame dance ritual, which he was hard pressed to locate amongst the Brown players.

Although Brown began the conference game with a tentative and quick 4-0 lead, the vaunted defense of Dartmouth unhesitatingly appeared. The defense forced a steal, which freshman forward Jvonte Brooks converted into a lay-in shot for two well-earned points. The Big Green had successfully taken the lead, which it would firmly clutch until a few minutes into the second half. The first half was an entertaining and riveting exhibition of the Dartmouth machine when it functions without hiccups. On defense, it was essentially unstoppable, forcing Brown to haplessly surrender the basketball on multiple occasions. On the other end of the floor, Dartmouth would patiently wear down the clock until the right gaps presented themselves for the most opportunistic shots. The offense wouldn't perfectly function, though.

The onset of the second half was somewhat unexpected. While the Big Green was still mean and swarming about the Brown offense like bees to honey, the Bears began daring the boys of Hanover. After a few minutes, and a 7-0 run from the hosting Bears, Brown had retaken the lead, probably triggering Dartmouth coach Paul Cormier to take a stroll down memory lane, to a situation which he had encountered before...

* * *

Coach Cormier was in his second year as the head coach of the men's basketball team of Dartmouth College the evening of Jan. 31, 1986. He was to take his team to play at Brown
, which would win the Ivy League that season. Despite his best efforts, the Bears would win that nail-biter of a basketball game, 76-74. Twenty-six years and eight jobs later, Mr. Cormier, who had come back to Dartmouth to rebuild a program which "vies for the Ivy championship on an annual basis," would find himself in the same place and in the same state of mind, as if he had never left Hanover....

* * *

Fortunately for Mr. Cormier, his boys would not fold. With their signature defense, with the way they had executed their game, they couldn't fold against their rival. Not only did his green-clad team retake the lead from Brown, but it executed a play which signified the tentative resuscitation. The Dartmouth defense again caused Brown to cough up the basketball, this time into the hands of Mr. Brooks. He sprinted to the opposite end of the court and tried to gently lay the ball into the hoop through the front iron. However, the athletic freshman barely missed the hoop. Fellow freshman John Golden, who was right behind his teammate, timely caught the basketball and energetically slammed it into the hoop for a electric dunk. 'Dartmouth 39, Brown 38,' read the scoreboard.

Just when the bystander had thought that Dartmouth would solidify its virtually assured victory in east Providence, another thought occurred to him. Now where is that Brown mascot, Bruno? he curiously wondered. He looked about the small gymnasium. After a few seconds, he honed into the other side of the gymnasium, near where he had entered the place. As if out of a horror film, he visually digested one of the most disturbing and frightening images he had seen in the 20 years of his existence. As if the anthropomorphic brown bear was merely a few feet in front of him, the mascot, with one paw, folded as a fist, horizontally colliding into its other, flattened paw, was slowly pacing from an open door and towards him. The enigmatic jaws and particularly those flaring red eyes told him one thing: I am the Intimidator here. The mascot dared the blameless spectator to imagine a scenario in which the Big Green team would not be sent back to whence it came without a loss.

Bruno, The Intimidator, would prove the bystander wrong.

Although Dartmouth, that Big Mean Green machine, was still efficient on defense, it noticeably began to sputter on the offensive end, which the Bears took advantage of. Brown took the lead for good in the waning few minutes of the grudge match, much to Coach Cormier's chagrin. It was as if the calendar which read 'March 1986' hadn't flipped over. His Big -- and supposedly Mean -- Green began to panic on both offense and defense as the reinvigorated Brown Bears weathered the flurry of Dartmouth fouls. Dartmouth sophomore guard Tyler Melville made a three-point shot out of desperation with under a minute remaining, but it would prove meaningless to the outcome. The Big Mean Green machine had been cooled just it had been one evening in late January of 1986.

Having lingered after the game, the young man had a chance encounter with Brown junior forward Andrew McCarthy. He awkwardly congratulated the victorious Bear on the win, which the Brown student warmly received with sincere thanks. Before leaving that gymnasium, the young fellow took a few seconds to glance at the lone three banners signifying viewers to the slim basketball history the men's basketball team owns. One commemorated the 1986 Ivy League champions -- the very same team which vanquished the Big Mean Green on the same court which he had spent the previous three hours observing. Although the young men that had played that enthralling game that evening are subject to a higher standard than the norm
, they are part of a rich, historic League, which boasts great rivalries. That anthropomorphic bear, which has witnessed the multiple versions of the Big Mean Green machine, could concur.

22 January 2012

'Fire of Fire'

22 January, 2011 11.30 p.m. by Darcy Ireland.

The published recap can be found here.

The official box score can be found here.

Typically, I’d like to think that twenty and a trillion thoughts race through my mind on an arbitrarily-chosen day. That Saturday afternoon, which is now a mere memory in the back of my cranium, that number must have been doubled, if not tripled. Despite the activity within my mind that day, I felt frigid in more ways than the one which could be attributed to the several inches of snow which blanketed the Ocean State. I had much time to devote towards privately mulling over significant issues during the month which I had been generously, and thankfully, given for Christmas break from graduate school this past December. Yet, the sorry excuse of a metaphorical icicle sat quietly and thoughtfully in his seat, listening to Sufjan Stevens on his iPod, as the public bus rolled towards Smithfield, the home of Bryant University. “I want to be well,” screamed my headphones. Indeed, I’d like to think that state to be like that one which the fictional Ray Smith attained when he was atop the Desolation Peak at the end of Jack Kerouac’s 1958 novel The Dharma Bums. For that caricature of Mr. Kerouac, that lookout point atop that Washington peak, where he could feel free and thank God for everyone and everything, was his 'Vesuvius,' his ‘fire of fire,’ which was his warming source of inspiration. I had thought that perhaps the Northeast Conference clash would distract me from my thoughts, if not provide some sort of comforting spark.

Honestly, I had little to satisfy my curiosity as the bus finally stopped in front of the Chace Athletic Center, where I was to watch the host Bryant University Bulldogs compete against the Quinnipiac University Bobcats. Given the grip of winter over the Bryant University campus, I decided to forgo perusing the campus in favor of watching the end of the women’s basketball game, which was a Quinnipiac rout. The men’s basketball match was to be another conference victory, or defeat, for each team, but one wouldn’t know it from the true attendance count. My generous estimate, which I mentally calculated after the first four minutes of game play, was at 150 attendees.

With all due respect to the boys from Smithfield and Camden, I have little to relay regarding their basketball game. Between the myriad of somewhat depressing thoughts racing throughout my head as the rebounds were collected and points were amassed and the subpar offensive showing, I was left vaguely unsettled in anticipated elation, as I had hoped the game would be a temporary escape from my chosen responsibilities resting on my desk merely nine miles due southeast. Near the end of the second half, my attitude had remained the same. My state was still as depressed as it had been when the songs from the ‘The Age of Adz’ album were blaring through my headphones. With just under six minutes remaining in regulation, Quinnipiac was winning by the tally of 61-56. Regarding the game, I had thought the Bobcats were definitely sealing a victory.

Then, a few minutes later, something happened.

Bryant freshman forward Ben Altit was fouled as he made a ‘runner’ shot in the lane, which subsequently led to his making a free-throw shot. Around the last-minute mark, Bryant capitalized on another opportunity to make free-throw shots. Suddenly, the score was 61-61, which meant that either team had a chance to leave that gymnasium with the conference victory. With about forty seconds remaining, and the score at 63-61 Quinnipiac, the teams were in a time-out. “DIG IN!” I could hear from the Quinnipiac huddle. The Bobcats heeded that call, particularly through the admirably tough play of freshman guard Evan Conti, which compelled me to think him a ‘fireball.’ Although Bryant would tie the tally with two free throws to make the score 63-63, the defense of Mr. Conti seemed to inspire the Bobcats to prevent Bryant from having an uncontested chance to win the game in regulation. The game ended with the 63-63 tie, which meant that at least one overtime session would be necessary to settle the match. Within the duration of a few minutes, the nature of the game went from frosty to toasty. A flame had been lit.

The only overtime session belonged to the boys from Camden. With about a minute left in that five-minute period, the teams were in another time-out session. With the Bobcats winning 74-71, one of the Bryant assistant coaches was livid, and explicitly made sure the Bulldogs knew so. “BE AGGRESSIVE!” he loudly pleaded to his players as head coach Tim O’Shea continued discussing hypothetical plays for his team. Although the cry from the assistant coach was heartfelt, the imperative would not help. The Bobcats would dominate the last minute, scoring four more points, to win the surprisingly close match, 78-71.

As I arose from my seat on one of the wooden bleachers, I was surprised to see Quinnipiac sophomore forward Ike Azotam climb up the wooden bleachers in front of me. Apparently, a spectator a few seats below me happened to know the Bobcat. They chatted for a minute or two. As I collected my belongings, I was tempted to simply ask him to encourage his fireball of a teammate, Mr. Conti. Yet, I uttered not a word. Instead, I took not a step. The ‘fire of fire’ that flared inside of me led me back into my own head, into the thoughts I tried not to contemplate while his team played against the defeated Bulldogs of Smithfield.

As I took a seat aboard the bus which waited outside the Athletic Center, my cranium resumed its torture of my momental sanity. Within a minute, the headphones went back into my ears and the depressing, but soothing, crooning of Sufjan Stevens once again overwhelmed my ear canals.

“I want to be well,” I sighed as the bus began its cautious trek southward to Providence. Although that Northeast Conference match, particularly embodied through the play of that Conti fellow, served as a temporary candle to warm the emotional turmoil of my soul on that grim afternoon, I unhesitatingly and sadly realized that not even the inspired play of that fireball could permanently heat the downtrodden state of the spirit within me. As the bus continued its scheduled drive towards my residence, I understood that something else is the source of that which could be my permanent Vesuvius, my unfailing ‘fire of fire,’ as Sufjan Stevens sang through my earphones. “I want so much to be at rest.” “I want to be well.” Where are you, Vesuvius? Oh, where are you, my ‘fire of fire?’ Perhaps someday, I shall know. For now, I must ‘get real’ and ‘get right with the Lord.’