Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Cognitive Collapse

Pressure can cause strange reactions. It can cause one to overreact, tighten up, or cloud one’s judgment. Whatever the case, if it’s not addressed with even a brief brain bout, the initial result can turn into an epidemic. Illustration: a championship event. Closing out a basketball game can be difficult on many levels, and Memphis learned that the hard way last night. With 8:50 left in the game, Kansas led 47-46. At the 2:12 mark, Memphis led 60-51 after Rose and company compiled a sizzling span in which the point guard himself scored 10 points. The Tigers looked like they were poised to cement the so-called “dream team” label, but the stability they used to get to that state suddenly vanished.

They gave up an uncontested jumper with 1:56, then threw the ball away as Kansas canned a three. CDR made two free throws, but his team went on to miss four of its next five. He also missed a crucial jumper that would have given Memphis a four-point cushion. Meanwhile, Kansas made two more freebies, another 2-pointer, and the clutch three to tie it with two ticks left. The OT was no contest. Memphis collapsed and Kansas capitalized. Emotions shifted. San Antonio became a swing region, where one party that had made such progress suddenly saw its seasonal development evaporate into the Texas air. A team that appeared confident for so long allowed the intensity of the moment to probe and then plow, forcing regrettable pressure to rise. And then, as Billy Packer gloriously commented (and I actually agreed with him), we witnessed the ability, rather inability, to make shots when pressure was paramount.

What happened to the 38-1 squad during the final, fatal fourth? Strong defense diminished. Heel-playing began. Hope overtook expectation. The mental game became most influential. Panic prevailed. Playing fast and being aggressive worked for Memphis. Slowing pace and having to think did not. For example, when it was shut off from the lane, by virtue of the lockdown man defense that cut off right hands and partly because of the box-and-one, creating shots in the half court became more difficult. The Tigers didn’t have enough re-routing power to combat the clutter. Couple that with a contaminated motor program in the last couple of minutes that prevented a smooth stroke and all Coach Cal was left with was a clowder of cats to be categorized as catastrophic.

The brain needs millions of neurons for a player to shoot and make a free throw. Complex functions occur at blazing rates that make use of all of the lobes and human senses. A plaguing thought or even an abrupt delusion can corrupt the shot, causing negativity, constriction, and, ultimately, misfire. Unfortunately for Memphis, the infection spread swiftly, just as the wings of the Jayhawks extended into "Self"ish history.

Other madness observations

  • It took the “premier” college basketball announcer around four game minutes to realize the Jayhawks were in a box-and-one … once he did, he was very proud, repeating the finding a half dozen times.
  • Is it me or does Digger Phelps incessantly bully Dicky V.? During the pre-game on ESPN in which the panel of experts was seated adjacent to the water, Bob Knight, in an explanation about officials not calling obvious charges said, “I can take Dick and with one finger I can push him back.”As Knight pressed Vitale’s chest with his index finger, Digger chimed in. “Not far enough … Right in the river, baby! … Say goodnight Dick! … Can you swim?!”
  • The Stanford women wear black uniforms to intimidate, run the triangle offense, have a 20-point scorer, shoot more than 72 percent from the foul line, and hold teams to 56 points per game at 35 percent field goal shooting. Let’s see if those details work out against the defending national champions who average 78 points per game and have the best player in the women’s game. Should be another great one.


Anonymous said...

Hey Doc,

Great analysis of the game. Keep the blogs coming. They are an asset to both coaches, athletes, business leaders and other professionals working in the performance psychology field.

Justin Anderson, Psy.D.
Family Business Advisor
Legasus Group

Dr. Oliver Eslinger said...

Thank you, Justin, for your support!

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