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April 4, 2004

The smells of freshly mowed grass and of the collective hopes of Cubs Nation can only mean one thing...

For those of us whose baseball seasons don't begin and end with the performance of the Yankees, it's just about that time again. And when November rolls around, will I remember the Bartman curse, the curse of the billy goat (WTF), the Sports Illustrated curse, the Peter Gammons curse, or perhaps something even more conspiratorially intricate?

For those of us who can't quite bring ourselves to believe, or who find the field-of-dreaminess of early April a little much, I submit for your perusal the McSweeney's Guide to the upcoming baseball season, in two separate flavors (AL and NL). Perhaps my favorite entry of the bunch:

Milwaukee Brewers After a horrific start, the Brew Crew sign free agents Brook Fordyce and Robert Machado to become their catching battery. They two combine to bat for .450, hit 124 HRs, and knock in 230 RBIs. Brook and Robert become co-MVPs and lead the Brewers to a second-to-last-place finish.

After the season the two put an unprecedented "siamese twin" addendum into their contract, ensuring they will always platoon at catcher with each other. Long after their careers are over, the two retire to a small midwestern town to co-manage a minor league team while dabbling in amateur crime-solving.

April 17, 2004

The other 40

While the attention of FOX and all the Yankee and Red Sox fans was on Fenway tonight, my attention was assigned to WGN this afternoon. There's an old baseball adage that goes something like this: every season you're going to win 60 and lose 60--it's the other 40-odd games that make the difference between the cellar and the playoffs. In other words, most teams tend towards the middle. There are a few really good teams (winning more than 100) and a few colossally bad ones (losing 100+), but most are in the middle.

Today was one of those 40 for the Cubs. They trotted out Sergio Mitre, who's filling a spot in the rotation while Prior's on the shelf. And despite a pretty haphazard pitching performance by Mitre, Wuertz, et al., they came back in the bottom of the 9th on back-to-back jacks by Sosa and Alou to win, 11-10. I know that it's too early to tell, but last year, the Cubs won no games when they were trailing going into the 9th. They were like 0-72 or something. This year? They've already had two 9th inning comebacks for victories. They're playing like a team that knows it has a chance, regardless of where they are in the game.

Makes it even more fun to watch them.

Update: And of course, today's game saw Kerry Wood give up two runs in the top of the 9th to lose to the Reds, 3-2. Of course. For better or worse, that's probably another one of the 40.

May 13, 2004

Depicting speed and a competitive edge

SUlogo.jpg

How shameful is it that it took Derek's post to remind me to make note of SU's logo, color, and mascot redesign? Well, okay, not that shameful. After all, I've had vastly more important redesign thoughts on the brain as of late.

SU also announced that it will no longer clunk around with Orangemen and Orangewomen for teams--from now on, we're just plain Orange. Oh wait, I mean that we're speedy, competitive, angular, aggressive Orange from now on...

May 26, 2004

Triumph!

I didn't start blogging last year until the end of the summer, after the SU Intramural Summer Softball season was over, so my Devoted Readers haven't yet had the chance to share with me the glory, agony, and ennui that is summer softball.

So anyway, our team name, in honor of the fact that nearly half of us are currently dissertating, is One Inch Margins. And as has been pointed out to me, yes, technically it should be One and a Quarter Inch Margins, but as captain, I take a little creative license to make it simpler. We lost a number of players off of last year's team, so we're still feeling our way a bit. We were rained out on Monday, but did get a game in today. Thanks to a little bit of pitching trouble on the other squad, we jumped out fast in the second inning and never looked back. Final score? 28-6.

A pretty solid day for me, all around. Hit a couple of doubles on the way to a 5 for 6 performance from the plate, and on the mound, I think I ran one or two people to 2-ball counts, but that was it. No walks, and with the exception of a 4-run inning, we kept the other team pretty well controlled. They had a lot of players new to the game of softball, so it was nice and casual, and it was the first time that we had actually played as a team. Color us 1-0...

June 9, 2004

softball update

After a funky week off (Memorial Day + off date), your One Inch Margins took to the field this week for a couple of unofficial games.

Monday's was unofficial bc we couldn't field a full team. We ended up borrowing three people, and our cobbled together crew actually won the "game" 9-3, thanks to one big inning that involved us batting around and then some. Today, we fielded a minimal team (8 people), and took a 6-4 lead into the 3rd inning, only to have the game called on account of lightning. The second inning was rain-soaked, but the umps weren't keen on the prospect of the players waving aluminum bats in the air with lightning around.

Ah well. No official games, although we took a loss. And I popped my left knee, which is now roughly 50% again the size of my right knee. Ouch. The good news? Through 2.5 games, I still haven't walked a single batter, and I'm picking up anywhere from 3-4 strikeouts a game. And I'm hitting surprisingly well also. Now if we can just get a full team together and the weather would cooperate...

August 16, 2004

I say Puerto, you say Rico...

NBC Sports just hasn't been the same since they lost the rights to cover the NBA. Little surprise, then, that they would jump at the chance to broadcast, live, Team USA's opening round match against overmatched Puerto Rico, whose "best" player was a backup point guard for the Utah Jazz. And honestly, watching Team USA scratch and claw their way to a 22-pt. halftime deficit, and eventually to a 19-pt. loss, I found myself rooting for Puerto Rico.

Standout players are important, yes. But in the words of Dick Vitale (this is the only time in my life I've ever quoted him),

Basketball is all about understanding roles and not about taking guys who are all number one options on their respective teams and throwing them together. They can't adjust to a different situation with just a few weeks playing as a group.

Watching the US play wasn't a whole lot different from watching an episode of Streetball. PR played a zone, and almost every time down the floor, the US squad would whip the ball around the perimeter, and each guy would take his shot trying to break down his defender. Welcome to the NBA style of ball, where it's all about talent. Problem is--and there are gazillions of examples of this, from Princeton in the NCAA's to Detroit in this year's NBA Finals and now to Puerto Rico's top-5-of-all-time upset--that skill and strategy can make up for huge talent deficits, and it did today. The US played NBA defense, and so a very average Puerto Rico team almost scored at will. PR, on the other hand, played actual defense, and the US shot 3 out of 24 from outside.

I've got no problem with the way that the NBA runs their All-Star Game every year--get the top 2 or 3 guys from each league at each position and let them go at it. But don't ask me to believe that this is the way basketball is meant to be played. You build a team by assembling a group of players who take up a range of roles--you've got to have passers, rebounders, shooters--and if you're lucky, your #1 guy will do all these things well. That was the Dream Team, a squad full of all-around brilliant players--it's not today's NBA. Championship teams have great benches, groups of guys who could do a couple of things well, and compliment the stars. The Lakers this year assembled arguably the single best starting lineup of its generation, but without a bench, they couldn't beat Detroit.

Team USA doesn't have a bench. They've got 15 starters, and with a few exceptions, their skill range is remarkably narrow. That's not to say that they're not good--they're great players, in fact--but they're all great at the same couple of things. And when Puerto Rico challenged them to be great at all facets of the game, including defense and shooting, they failed. And given the options of watching them try to Yankee their way to a gold medal or watching a team like Puerto Rico play the game with a little heart, it was easy to root for the little guys...

September 6, 2004

There goes the BCS

I certainly didn't think that we'd win or anything, but I hoped that it'd be close.

Instead, SU got shellacked by Purdue yesterday, 51-0. Over the summer, the Athletics department has been posting schedules and posters all around campus, one of which touted RB Walter Reyes as a potential Heisman candidate. His line on Sunday? 12 carries, 31 yards, and a fumbled kickoff. Bad news.

Tell me again when basketball starts?

October 21, 2004

If for no other reasons...

I present to you my own personal top 3 reasons for delight at seeing the Yankees choke away a 3-0 series lead. Contrary to the FOX graphic, this wasn't one of the all-time greatest upsets--the Sawx are way too good a team for that to be the case--but the Yankees can rest easy knowing that they've set the MLB standard once more, both in futility and in cost per LCS victory. So anyway, in reverse order:

#3. A-Rod's move last night, knocking Arroyo's glove off, was bad sportsmanship in intramural softball, much less the majors. It was obvious, it was stupid, and it was far less than we should expect from a perennial MVP candidate. For Torre to even argue it dropped my opinion of him down a notch.

#2. The Yankee fans. It's been a Wrigley tradition for years to throw back home run balls hit by the opposite team, but they do so while the hitter runs the bases, and it doesn't interfere with play. Tonight, a Yankee fan threw back a foul ball hit by Johnny Damon and interrupted a pitch. Call me a purist, but that's weak as hell. And it happened a few times.

#1. "Who's your daddy" is the single most stupid chant I've ever heard at a sporting event, and it's got plenty of competition. It was a stupid comment from Pedro, granted, but at root, he was acknowledging the fact that the Yankees had his number. To turn it into a chant, over and over, was the furthest thing from clever.

So, cursal reversal? Not quite. There's another series yet to be played. But my 4th reason for delight tonight is that, for the past few years, the Yankees and their fans have acted like they somehow "own" the so-called curse. Truth be told, the Mets, Cards, and Reds have more to do with stopping the Sox than the Yanks--they actually won World Series against them. The curse was about giving up arguably the best player in the history of the game for a song, not giving him to a specific team. But in Yankees Nation, everything has to be about the Yankees. I like some of their players, and I've generally liked Torre, but the empire as a whole is unforgivably arrogant, so I can't say that I'm sorry to see them perform the greatest choke in the history of MLB.

Go Sox!

October 24, 2004

For the Ages

Let's recap the day's events:

Red Sox 11, Cardinals 9 (World Series, gm 1)
Iowa 6, Penn State 4 (Big Ten football)

Ummm...yeah. It's actually pretty tough to score 4 points in a football game. It's impossible to score just 1 point, but after that, I'd guess that 4 is the next most unlikely. The only way to do it is 2 safeties, one of which is rare enough that it hadn't happened in almost 3 years to Penn State (Iowa did it that time, too, I think.). And yet, for all the offensive futility, it was kind of a fun game to watch--lots of big defensive plays, and I mean that in a non-Manny way. Well, except for that first long snap to the punter that almost split the uprights--that was pretty comical.

"It was a pretty obvious decision," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "Typically, if you punt off your own 1-yard line, it's almost a guaranteed three for the other team. And this type of game, I sure as heck didn't want to give them three easy ones. Just take the safety and ride our defense."

It didn't make a lot of sense to Pam Ward at the time, that difference between "three easy ones" and "two easy ones," but heck, they won. Even though the Sawx outscored both teams combined.

October 28, 2004

Sox 4, Cards 0

Michael Bérubé asks: "Do we really want this?"

And surely some of you must regard victory itself as a prize of dubious worth. Until tonight, your team was legendary, and their legend shaped and defined your self-identification as fans. If you win the World Series, you win the World Series-- and you become kin to the 2002 Angels and the 1980 Phillies. You will be elated (and drunk!) for a couple of days, sure. But then the championship will begin to sink in, and while some of you will say, as did a New York Rangers fan in 1994, “now I can die in peace,? others among you will be plunged into existential crisis.

Heh. As a lifelong Cubs fan, I regard victory as a prize of substantial worth, now that I never have to listen to Bob Ryan or Peter Gammons ever tell me again about how I don't understand--having never grown up in the New England area--the abject misery of a team that has been consistently good but hasn't won the various Series it's been to. Because, you know, it's so much worse to come close and lose than to never come close at all. Why, it must be a curse!

By the end of last night, I actually got to feeling a little sorry for the Cards, whose Series drought (in terms of getting there) was only a little shorter than the Sox. I felt bad for Jason Marquis--Tim McCarver was talking about yanking him in the first inning, and yet he gutted it out for six innings, doing better than the other three Cards starters. I felt bad for Rolen, who was surely Mr. Sucktober. I felt bad for Larry Walker, who had finally made it to a contender.

All things considered, though, it wasn't that surprising to me. Last week, I mentioned that the Cards had good pitchers, but no aces, no stoppers, and that proved to be true. In a short series, if you can get 6 or 7 scoreless innings from your pitcher, you've just about got the game, and the Sox got it three times out of four. The Cards were built for the season, but the Sox were built for the Series. It'll be interesting to see whether the Sox can keep Martinez and Lowe--if not, it'll be a short reign on top.

Another prize of substantial worth: no longer having to watch FOX do cheesy videos for 80's music. After listening Joe Buck segue into Patty Smyth's "The Warrior" (in describing Schilling) or head shots of all the players accompanied by Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes," I was just about ready to vomit. CBS always does this at the end of the NCAA b-ball tourney with "One Shining Moment," which is bad enough, but oh my god. And all those godawful puns headlining the stat sheets. Ugh. That, my friends, is the ESPNification of sports: the natural drama replaced by boo-yah. Note to FOX: we're already watching the games, and we don't watch them to see "Phat Albert" as the tagline for a summary of Pujols' impressive hitting numbers. I don't mind a little of that stuff--I know how desperate you are to show off how clever you are--but filling every second with that crap, running the commercials up to the second the first pitch of the inning is delivered, and getting sponsors for every frickin feature (The Polar Express Play of the Day?!?!)? That was a little much. I wanted to see the Series run longer, but I won't miss all the extra frosting FOX thinks it takes to make the cake taste better.

November 20, 2004

basketbrawl

I was going to lay off the sports this week, mainly out of pure disgust over the NFL Apologevent that was the opening skit for Monday Night Football. Oh. My. God. Every damn time I've watched a game for the last two years, I've been treated to those godawful Coors Light "Twins" commercials, which refer to "twins" in exactly the same way that "Hooters" refers to the owl in their nudge, nudge, wink, wink logo. If it were up to me, I'd make Bruce Smith and John Elway wait an extra year to be admitted to the Hall of Fame for that reason alone. How those commercials differ substantially from a commercial for Desperate Housewives featuring Nicolette Sheridan wrapped in a towel, I do not know.

But anyway. While I was watching SU cruise to its victory in the Coaches v. Cancer tournament, the real show was happening in Detroit, where a Pacers-Pistons game was called on account of violence. Watch ESPNews over the next day or three, and it'll be impossible to miss. In fact, it was nearly impossible for me to stop watching for the better part of an hour. A brawl between Ron Artest and Ben Wallace broke out on the court, and then, as it was settling down, someone in the crowd threw his beverage at Artest, who promptly rushed into the crowd swinging and was followed by several teammates. Minutes later, after everything from popcorn to beer to a chair was thrown at the Pacers players, the game was called. Fans were rushing the court and confronting players, fists were flying, and hooliganism was the rule.

Shameful. On all accounts.

But what they didn't talk much about, except to dismiss it quickly, was the initial incident. Put it in its full context: The Pistons are playing at home, and losing by 15 points to a pretty fierce rival with a minute left. Their best player (B Wallace) goes in for a layup or dunk (I can't recall which)--their best player who just returned from injury, if I remember correctly--and he gets chucked from behind, flagrantly in my opinion, by Artest. Should he retaliate? Of course not. But that foul was late, cheap, from behind, flagrant, and completely unnecessary--the Pistons weren't going to erase a 15 point deficit in less than a minute. Wallace was out of control, as were the Pacers and the fans later on, but none of it would have happened without Artest instigating.

He's a great player--I rue the day the Bulls gave him up for a song--but he's by far the biggest head case in the NBA, and it should be clear by now that he's not going to stop that kind of crap if left to his own devices. I totally agree with Ray Ratto that we're in for lots of apologies, lots of hand-wringing, and no real changes, but if I could see one genuine penalty handed out, I'd like to see the NBA give Artest the month off he was asking for. His behavior didn't warrant the shameful display that followed, but it most certainly caused it.

November 30, 2004

Poll Sham-pionsip Series

I know, I know, more sports? But it is basketball season now, you know.

One of the headlines this week is how the ACC has-wow!-seven teams ranked in the top 25. Umm, yeah. I may be an Iowa homer, but I'd like one of the "coaches" who voted to explain how Virginia, whose 2 victories came over traditional basketball powers Appalachian State and Richmond, deserves to be ranked ahead of Iowa, who beat top-15 teams Louisville and Texas (on a neutral court) and lost to a top-10 team (North Carolina) in the Maui Classic. For that matter, how is Wisconsin--also a 1-loss team whose loss was to unranked Pepperdine--ahead of the Hawks? Or Cincinnati?

The answer, of course, is that (a) the coaches have their assistants vote, assistants whose jobs require roughly 95% of their attention to be paid to their own team, (b) even those coaches who do fill out their own ballots pay roughly 95% of their attention to their own teams, (c) it's far easier to simply assume that ACC teams are "great" than to do a little research, particularly early in the season, and (d) early-season polls are worse than inaccurate, because most of the folk who vote aren't actually qualified to do so, period. For the first two months, the majority of voters are just guessing, based in part on mainstream buzz. How else to explain the five people who gave first-place votes to a Kansas team that struggled to beat Vermont on its home court. Puh-lease.

But that's not as bad as the football polls which, thanks to the BCS, has become a system that is so utterly gamed as to be invalid by now. Almost every analysis I've seen or heard has discussed the voting process in such detail as to make it impossible to vote honestly. And I can guarantee that people will vote for Pitt so that the BCS doesn't suffer the embarrassment of a 6-5 Syracuse squad (who lost 51-0 to Purdue, for goodness' sake) appearing in a BCS bowl. The only reason SU isn't the Big East champion? Instead of tie-breaking by head-to-head (which SU would get, having beaten Pitt), they go by rankings, and this means that even if they lose to South Florida, Pitt will get the Big East bid. And by this time next year, I'm guessing that the Big East will learn what it feels like to be on the wrong side of the electric fence that protects the major conferences from teams like Utah, Boise State, and Louisville.

Okay, I'm done with the sports for a bit. And back to the blogging.

January 2, 2005

Bowled over

Just for the record, and this is a post mainly for my fellow college football fans, the main thing wrong with the BCS isn't the stupid, interminable, year-end, "mythical national title" debates. It's not even the fact that the voters in the polls are unduly influenced by those debates, over-ranking the conference champions of down conferences so that the BCS bowls end up looking better than they actually are.

No, the biggest problem is that the BCS bowls make all the other ones look like small potatoes. Case in point was today's Capital One Citrus Bowl, which pitted Iowa against LSU. I'm a total Iowa homer, I know, but this was one of the most exciting bowl games (and finishes) I've seen in a long time. Both teams are somewhere around the tail of the top 10 (depending on the poll), neither had a real chance at a "big" bowl, but both teams came to play, both have great coaches, and the result was a back-and-forth game that was decided on a last-second 56-yard touchdown pass to Warren Holloway, who scored the first and last touchdown of his career at Iowa. Wow.

And it wasn't just this one. Michigan-Texas? Great game. Boise State-Louisville? Great game. Unfortunately, the BCS guaranteed that Utah would not have a worthy opponent in the Fiesta. Ditto for tomorrow's matchup of Auburn and ACC champ (?!) Virginia Tech. Hopefully, Oklahoma-USC will be decent.

March Madness is still my favorite time of year, but the 2-3 days of Bowl intensity are pretty good in themselves, as long as I get to spend them watching good football (as opposed to bubbleheaded announcers droning about the BCS). Oh, and didn't Keith Jackson retire once already? Isn't it about that time again?

January 4, 2005

Ryno

ryno.jpg

Growing up on the east coast of Iowa, my sports loyalty was always to the teams from Chicago. And while most of my early years are now a blur, I still have memories of going to games at Wrigley to watch the Cubs. Heck, I still remember watching Rick Reuschel and Dave Kingman on WGN after school.

My all-time favorite Cub? Ryne Sandberg. The only qualification I can add to my joy over his election today into the Baseball Hall of Fame is that it took the voters three years to elect him. The recent explosion of power shortstops has left us jaded, I think; how else to explain the fact that the voters failed to recognize a guy who worked his tail off to become the best fielder and hitter at his position for years. Yes, yes, Robbie Alomar, but Alomar took that slot over from Sandberg, who was easily the best player at his position for several years, and who helped change the way that middle infielders were perceived. He didn't have a great deal of fielding range, especially there at the end, but he was amazingly consistent, and his bat anchored the Cubs lineup for at least a decade.

Congratulations, Ryno. Now if the voters will just trouble themselves to remember how Bruce Sutter dominated the game and introduced an entire generation to the split-finger...

February 1, 2005

Fa Sosa Ti Do

I know that Cubs Nation has been waiting on the edges of their seats, waiting to hear what I'll have to say about the Sosa trade, which should be finalized sometime soon, if it hasn't been already. On the one hand, I agree with Phil Rogers, who calls it an "unceremonious dump job" over at ESPN. And for once I wish I were paying for ESPN Insider so that I could read Rob Neyer's take on it. My own sense of things is that it's deceptive to cite stats like Rogers does:

Can they really be better without Sosa, who averaged 41 homers and 97 RBI over the last three years -- not bad numbers for a guy in decline.

Well, yes and no. Those are Sosa's 3-year numbers, but they don't really get at the trends of Sosa's career, and this is where Neyer is gold. Check Sammy's walks: from 96 to 01, he drew more bases on balls each year than the year previous. He dropped a little in 02, okay, but plummeted in the last two years. His pitch selection at the plate has peaked, period. Until 98, he was stealing around 20 bases a season, and had 3 seasons with more than 30. In the last four years combined, 2 stolen bases. 35 homers is a comedown, yes, but he's had two other seasons with 36; the big number there is that last year, he batted in 40 less runs than those other two seasons. It was pretty clear that he was getting better pitches to hit when the bases were empty--he got a rep for hitting the 1-run homer. His OPS and his average with runners in scoring position have dropped for four straight seasons.

So, yeah, it's the end of an era. It was bad enough for him to walk during the final game and then lie about it, but that was symptomatic of a one-man-band sort of selfishness that's been going on since before the NLCS. When you hit your 30's, your talent starts to fade. Guys like Bonds and Gwynn made up for it with skill--Sammy hasn't. He no longer has the bat speed to stand as far off the plate as he does and hit the outside pitches and/or sinkers. I'll miss him, but I won't miss watching him strike out with men on base--and last season, it felt like that happened a lot more than it was supposed to.

I hope hope hope that Sammy will go to Baltimore, work with a hitting coach, and both relearn the strike zone and how to hit for contact. If he can reverse some of these trends, he'll be a contributor for several more years yet. But it won't happen if he doesn't stop resting on talent. And it won't break my heart if he doesn't, not like it would if he were still in a Cubs jersey...

February 6, 2005

Superbole

That's what you get when you cross hyperbole with the Super Bowl. Of course, that's kind of redundant, yes?

There's a part of me that appreciates the fact that Owens and Seymour and others had an extra week to heal up for the Bowl, and yet, that also meant an extra week of:

  • Are the Patriots a dynasty?
  • Is Belicheck the best coach ever?
  • Is Brady the best QB ever?
  • X-factor, X-factor, who will be the X-factor?

X-factor is now on my official Hate List, by the way. It was a good game, better than many had predicted. But the theme of this year's playoffs had to be game management. Philly's clock management in the fourth quarter was horrible. And it extended all the way down to specific players. With 47 seconds to go, Westbrook caught a pass at the line of scrimmage and was promptly tackled, allowing another 25 to drain off the clock. On his own 5 yard line. Bat the damn thing to the ground, please!

The Patriots won the game, fair and square, but the Eagles sure didn't do themselves any favors there late in the game. They looked like a team down by 21, on an end-of-game drive to make the score look a little more respectable, instead of playing like they were down by 10 with a chance to tie or win.

March 8, 2005

The magic #12

Championship Week on ESPN is actually two weeks or so, and we're smack dab in the middle of the best part of it. All of the smaller conferences have their championships right now, and for most of these teams, as the cliché goes, this is their national championship.

So props to the boys down at my old neck of the woods. Tonight, Old Dominion won the Colonial Athletic Association championship and secured a bid to the Tournament. For those of you who are looking for those possible upsets, look no further, especially if ODU manages to get a 12 seed (5 seeds have a lower winning percentage by about 10 points than 6 seeds, since the field moved to 64). Consider:

  • They have the CAA player of the year, Alex Loughton, a power forward who's a 20-10 threat every night
  • They have the CAA leader in assist-turnover ratio, and led the CAA in turnover margin
  • Over the past ten years, the CAA rep in the Tournament has more wins than double-digit losses

Last year, Wake Forest beat VCU (ODU's opponent tonight) by one point in the first round. So, if ODU gets an 11, 12, or 13, and goes up against a team that coasted in, they might not be a bad upset special. They've got a good inside game, and play a 3-guard offense that places ball control at a premium. And they're only graduating one player, which means that next year at this time, I'll be telling you about them again most likely, only I'll be able to say how everyone on the team has tournament experience....

That is all.

March 13, 2005

Bracketonomy

For all you budding bracketologistas out there, some of my personal rules of thumb when it comes to the NCAA Tournament:

Rule #1: Love your #10 seeds

Makes it easy for me. Iowa is the #10 in the Austin quadrant. But keep an eye on NC State, Creighton, and St. Mary's. 10 seeds are often either the best of the mid-majors, or middle of the pack sleepers from the major conferences. This year, there are two of each. Can you guess who I'll be picking? Iowa beat Texas, Texas Tech, Louisville, and Michigan State on neutral floors this year, and they took Illinois to overtime, and played the Illini tougher than any team but Ohio State. They lost their top scorer (Pierce) mid-season, but have had plenty of time to learn to play without him. They've got a couple of good shooters, a workhorse power forward, and a young center, all of whom can play.

Oh, and I forgot to mention: for the past 9 years in a row (9 years!), at least one #10 has made it to the Sweet 16. Last year, it was Nevada.

Rule #2: Keep your eye on the #12 seeds.

Since the field expanded to 64 (65), there have only been two years where a #12 seed did not upset a #5 seed.

Last year, it was Providence losing to Pacific, and Florida losing to Manhattan. This year's crop of #12's includes Wisconsin-Milwaukee, George Washington, Old Dominion, and New Mexico, facing Alabama, Georgia Tech, Michigan State, and Villanova respectively. Much as it pains me to say--because I think 'Nova's a Sweet 16 team--I think Georgia Tech is the only lock of the bunch. UWM, ODU, and UNM are all coming off tournament wins in their home conferences, and all 4 of these teams come from the "major" mid-major conferences, ones with a good history of upsets.

Rule #3: Watch for end of season trends

Last year, Xavier upset undefeated St. Joe's in the A-10 tourney, and then ripped through the tournament. As a #7 seed, they beat Louisville (#10), MississipI St. (#2), Texas (#3), and lost to #1 seed Duke by 3 points. They were 3 points away from the Final 4 last year.

Georgia Tech is low as a #5 (thanks to mid-season injuries) and Louisville is low as a #4 (thanks to ???? on the part of the selection committee)--either of those teams could easily go to St. Louis out of that region. But they meet in Round 2--that's a game that could make or break a bracket.

Syracuse played better defense in the Big East tournament than they've played all season, which is why they've trended up in the seedings. If they play Duke in Austin, that's another game that could make that entire bracket. Either team could beat Kentucky or Oklahoma.

Kansas lost 5 of their last 8, and somehow still managed to get consideration as a top seed, which is bizarre to me, I'll have to admit. With a #3 seed, I'm sorely tempted to pick Wisconsin as a #6 against them, but if I don't, I can't imagine that they'd get through Connecticut.

Rule #4: At least one thing that appears OBVIOUS to me will prove to be entirely incorrect.

Last year, I thought Providence was ripe for a 3 or 4-round tear. Silly me.

This year, the Chicago regional looks like an absolute breeze for Illinois and Oklahoma State. That probably means at least one of them will lose.

Let the bracketologisticalitizing begin. That is all.

April 7, 2005

An open letter to Stacey Dales-Schuman

Dear Stacey,

I just wanted to write and thank you for your work as part of ESPN's studio team for the NCAA Women's Tournament. I haven't followed the women's game very closely since I left ODU, and so on the couple of occasions that you and Lisa Leslie provided analysis, I was listening.

And so when you told me that you really liked Baylor as a dark horse for the Final Four, I went ahead and penciled them in all the way to the Championship, and as a result, I absolutely crushed the other competitors in our office pool. In fact, it would have really helped me out if you could have sprinkled in some advice on the men's side, where I spent most of the tournament in last place. But hey, one for two isn't bad at all.

I know you're busy and all, but if you're ever in the area, I think I owe you a cup of coffee or a little Dinosaur BBQ. Seriously. Just let me know.

Thanks again,
Collin

April 10, 2005

Joy in Wrigleyville

Well, some joy anyway. There are a lot of teams, it seems, who are starting out the '05 season with a 3-3 record. And the Cubs joined their ranks today, with a 12th inning, 6-5 victory over the Brewers, the second 12-inning game of the series.

Jeromy Burnitz (Sosa's replacement) tripled in the 12th, and after an intentional walk to Derek Lee, Todd Hollandsworth (Alou's replacement) singled him home. I don't think that either of them are going to have us forgetting the 80-100 home runs we could expect out of Sammy and Moises anytime soon. Still, it was nice to see them pulling a game out, and that the rubber game of the series.

From the Department of Bad Signs comes the fact, however, that Glendon Rusch, who's appearing in relief right now, has 2 of the Cubs' staff's 3 wins (Zambrano picked up the other yesterday, and was yanked for Rusch in Arizona in his first outing).

I know, I know. 6 flippin games. But getting to watch Hawkins blow a save a couple of days ago didn't leave me in a good mood. It'll be interesting to see what happens if Prior gets the start on Tuesday. If he and Wood aren't right and soon, the Cubs are going to be spending a lot more time this season battling the Brewers, even if they're not playing each other.

April 23, 2005

Draft Day!!

I was going to throw a post up here praising the cosmetic engineers at ESPN, who must have worked overtime for the past couple of weeks wiping the drool off of the chins of the on-air talent during commercial breaks. For the past couple of weeks, there's been hype layered upon hype leading up to today's festivities, the made-for-TV event known as the NFL Draft. In addition to being Christmas in April for all of those afflicted with Male Sports Answer Syndrome, ESPN has turned the event into one of their biggest (and most self-congratulatory) annual productions.

I have to confess that I did indeed tune in, so that I could see who the Bears were picking at #4, and I'm glad I did. The Bears drafted Cedric Benson out of Texas, and Benson was clearly overcome with emotion. After they did the obligatory League promo shots, ESPN interviewed Benson and it was pretty clear that his tears weren't tears of joy, but rather of relief. I give ESPN a little credit for letting the interview run as long as it did, but what Benson told perennially perky Suzy Kolber was that the entire process was demoralizing, manipulative, and abusive.

The fact is that we still exploit the hell out of these kids--at the top of the NCAA heap, there are a handful of "student athletes" who are making money hand-over-fist for their schools, and never seeing a dime of it. And after that exploitation, they go through a process where a (largely white) group of scouts, head coaches, and owners poke and prod at them and treat them like meat. Benson had to endure having his character questioned, not because of anything he's ever done, but because he was an African-American running back from Texas, and the last high-profile RB from UT was Ricky Williams, whom you might remember as the guy who recently committed the heresy of publicly admitting that football wasn't the most important thing in the world. After spending 4 years proving himself against the best teams in college football, Benson got to go through psychologically manipulative interviews (where his willingness to work hard was questioned because he had to reschedule an interview), artificial tests that are only fuzzily correlated with actual playing ability, and weeks and weeks of having his potential picked apart for no more reason than a couple of hundredths of a second in a 40 yard dash without pads.

Yes, these kids are lucky. Benson will make more money next year than I will make in my lifetime, but the Bears ownership will make more money next year than Benson will over his entire career. I don't suffer from illusions about the purity of sports, but I don't think that fans fully appreciate the degree to which the business of sports can psychologically abuse these kids, turning them into pawns or puzzle pieces. It's a process so dehumanizing that, at what should have been one of the happiest moments of his life, Cedric Benson was just relieved that it was over.

And of course, Boomer and the gang just moved on to the next pick, as though they weren't all complicit in this abuse.

I'm not sorry I tuned in, because it was that rarest of rarities on ESPN, an honest moment, one that said a lot about Cedric Benson as a person. He could never take a handoff in a Bears uniform, and I'd still be rooting for him.

June 14, 2005

Meet the new coach, same as the old coach

I think it no accident that today, the day of the most important game of the Pistons' and Spurs' seasons, that Jerry Buss decided to announce the hiring of perhaps the most expensive coaching staff in all of pro sports, Phil Jackson. After all, the Pistons and Spurs were responsible, in 04 and 03 respectively, for knocking the Lakers off of their annually destined march to the NBA Championship. If only, as Buss was wrenching the spotlight from two much more deserving teams, he had had the presence of mind to remember who knocked them out of the 2005 playoffs. And likely the 2006 playoffs, truth be told.

The Lakers are a pretty crappy team right now, and hiring Jackson is desperation in a box. On the one hand, it's kind of cool, because Jackson will actually have to build a team, which is something that hasn't preceded a single one of his 9 rings. He's presided over fine-tuning, to be sure, but he's never had to take a lottery team and turn them into a contender. On the other, though, whatever sincerity I once attributed to Jackson has pretty much vanished. Less than a year after blasting Kobe Bryant in print and saying that he was through with him, he's back as his coach? He's got ten million reasons, I suppose, to take the helm of a team that doesn't have a single top-15-at-his-position player outside of Bryant, but Jackson's schtick has always been that he's above that kind of grubby.

Ah well. I just hope that all of the talking heads who think that Jackson's some sort of answer will admit how wrong they were about the actual question. A year from now, even if the Lake squeaks in as a 7 or 8 seed, the Suns or the Spurs will sweep them to oblivion, despite Jackson's incredible playoff coaching record. And Buss will face the same questions then that he should be facing right now, only he won't be able to lure his daughter's boyfriend out of retirement to disguise the fact that they're bigger questions than whether or not Phil and Kobe can coexist.

That's all. I'm gonna go watch the Pistons close out Game 3.

August 31, 2005

Have you seen Andy's dignity?

This week has begun in much the same way that last week ended: a lot of advising, a fair bit of panic, and a lot more face time at the office than I generally prefer. And before you get on me with the "professors working 6 hours a week" bullshit, let me explain that "more time than I prefer" included being here on Saturday and Sunday, from roughly noon to 10 pm both days. The last day that I wasn't in the office for 6+ hours was some time around the middle of August.

Anyway, last night I managed to work free a little earlier than that, and I got home in time to catch the end of the 2nd set of Andy Roddick's 1st round match at the US Open. I'm much less of a tennis fan than I used to be, so I don't watch much more than a little bit of the majors, just enough to know the names for the most part. And even then, I watched the Cubs close out the Dodgers first.

To my point. I watched Roddick get swept in straight sets, in the first round, at a major, by some random guy off the street from Luxembourg. And then I flipped over to Jon Stewart, just in time to see the new American Express commercial. In the commercial, Andy decides not to go out (the US Open's coming up, you see) and while he's sleeping, some dorky looking guy, who is "Andy's mojo," separates from his body, goes out on the town, and takes Andy's AmEx card. Andy gets up next day, and can't play tennis very well, because he's missing his mojo. And apparently, there was a whole campaign planned around the idea of him squeaking through the tournament and trying to get his mojo back.

This may be one of the all-time biggest sports jinxes in the history of sports jinxes. If only the Cubs could get all of the other NL teams to cut mojo commercials for American Express, we might still have a chance this year...

September 4, 2005

Walking the walk

For as much as I seem to talk about sports, and given that the Carrier Dome is literally about 30 yards from my office, you would think that I had been to countless football games at the Dome. Not so, my friend.

Today's contest between SU and the Mountaineers of West Virginia was in fact the first college football game I've been to in a long long time, and my first ever football game at the Dome. Caught the game with Derek, who offers the following photoset for my nostalgia and your viewing pleasure. Back in the day, my family and I used to run up to Iowa City and tailgate outside Kinnick Stadium on a regular basis, but since then, I've been at four schools without real programs, and then Syracuse. And, to be entirely unfair, it's debatable whether SU has been much of a real program for the past few.

Today's game wouldn't have been especially strong evidence to the contrary. SU racked up an anemic 114 yards of total offense, and while their defense was generally tough (forcing 5 turnovers and setting up their lone touchdown), it wasn't enough. In fact, SU's offense actually outscored themselves, giving WVU eight points on an interception return and a safety, and claiming only seven points for themselves. They were struggggling to move the ball all day long--too many more performances like that, and the Greg Robinson era is going to be a short one.

The offense seemed to be working from an extremely limited playbook--they were running the same plays and the same routes over and over, whether they worked or not, and usually they didn't. SU's QB was remarkably inaccurate, even on fairly simple throws. In short, it was ugly. I'm willing to give the new coach a couple of years to import schemes, personnel, etc., but that's about it. And if their offense is as predictable as it was today, even that's not going to help much. And if not, well, there's always pleasure at a distance to be had following the lads in Iowa City or watching Oklahoma get roughed up by the Horned Frogs...

September 25, 2005

NFL Miscellany



I've had football on in the background as I've tended to various and sundry tasks today, and from that experience, I am prepared to draw three entirely separate conclusions:

1. The more I know about football, apparently, the less I know. Predicting winners against the spread seems to be a virtual impossibility for me. It's gotten so bad, in fact, that I'm thinking about pulling the old reverso next week: pick the winners as I think they'll happen, and then reverse each of my picks. Yes, it's gotten to that point.

2. There's a VISA commercial with Tom Brady and his linemen, who follow him everywhere. When he asks why, one of them replies that they're not linemen, but in fact "figurative metaphors," who represent the 5 layers of VISA security. Okay, kind of clever, but wait a sec. "Figurative metaphors" is redundant--all metaphors are figurative.

3. Finally, when Jimmy Smith caught an overtime TD pass in the Jaguars' victory over the J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets, I had to listen to three different sets of announcers wax enthusiastic over the "timeless," "ageless," "old man" that was Smith. Smith's age? Yeah, it's the same as mine. I've never really been one of those people who worried too much about passing the age of my sports idols, mostly because I never imagined myself playing. But still. Old man? Ugh.

It's clearly getting to the point where even I don't want to watch football with me. That is all.

October 3, 2005

Go Padres!

Over the next week or so, we're going to hear all sorts of nonsense about the playoff-worthiness of the San Diego Padres, who won the NL West with an underwhelming record of 82-80, a record that would have earned them 4th place in the NL East (and even then, only a game lead over the last place team).

You think the Padres don't deserve it? Just wait. One quarter of the way into the NFL season, and the standings for the NFC North are as follows:

Chicago, 1-2
Detroit, 1-2
Minnesota, 1-3
Green Bay, 0-3

And just so we're clear, the division's 3-10 record includes 2 intradivisional games, which means that the NFC North is actually 1-8 against the rest of the league. It's really difficult to imagine that any of these teams will win more than 6 or 7 games this year. We may actually have a team in the NFL win their division while earning themselves a top-10 draft pick for the following year. 10 out of the other 12 NFC teams would be in first place in the North.

And so on. So before you jump all over the Padres, who have done a really nice job of rebuilding as a mid-market team, take a look at the definition of suck that is the NFL North. And I say that as a lifelong Bears fan.

That's all.

October 10, 2005

BEST. GAME. EV0R.

Okay, so maybe that's debatable.

But one thing that's gone largely unremarked in the talking heads' gush over yesterday's marathon matchup between the Braves and Astros is the crucial role that Kyle Farnsworth played. The Braves brought him in yesterday in the 8th to protect a 6-1 lead. And as KF gave it up in consecutive innings to Berkman and Ausmus, Rick Sutcliffe (Sutty??) talked about him as though he'd never been to the playoffs before--the playoffs are a whole different experience, quoth Sutty.

Well, shame on Sutty. If his memory were a little longer, he might have recalled that Farnsworth got the call in Game 6 of the NLCS two years ago, when he was pitching for the Cubs. Yes, Prior got into the jam that eventually made Bartman a household name, but KF came in, faced 4 batters, walked 2 of them, retired only 1, and gave up 3 runs. For years, Farnsworth's best pitching came in the 7th inning--whenever the Cubs used him as a stopper or a closer, KF demonstrated decisively that he has all the talent in the world, but lacks the head to be able to use it. He's had wicked, wicked stuff for several years now, but as soon as the pressure's on, he's a house of cards.

Which means, most likely, that even had the Braves been able to pull yesterday's game out and win another, they would have been in a similar situation (with similar results) had they visited the house of Cards.

As I was watching the game yesterday, and they brought Farnsworth in, 5-run lead or no, I knew the Braves were in trouble.

October 11, 2005

No accident

I'm pretty sure that no one in their right minds would have noticed this other than me, but who knows?

As I was watching the Yankees' last gasp last night, they put in two pinch runners, Tony Womack and Mark Bellhorn. My first response? "Hey, those are both ex-Cub second basemen!"

And as I thought about it, the list of former Cub second basemen in this year's playoffs continued to grow. Bellhorn, Womack, Eric Young (Padres), Jose Vizcaino (Astros), and of course, Mark Grudzielanek (Cardinals). I'm pretty sure (but could be wrong) that all active ex-Cub second basemen made the playoffs this year, which is a pretty astounding (albeit useless) bit of baseball trivia.

But before you write your local GM and demand a trade for Todd Walker so that you can make him the 6th ex-Cub 2B and ride that trend into next year's playoffs, think about this: this is also the year that the best Cub 2B of all time, Ryne Sandberg, was inducted into the Hall of Fame. It could very well just be a one-year deal.

Reading this, you'd think that I have nothing but time on my hands. You'd be wrong. That is all.

October 18, 2005

No shirts, no shoes, no shots

For a few days now, I've been wanting to post something about the recently-announced NBA dress code, and a few of the colossally moronic responses to it. My personal fave was a particular player, who makes more in a year than I may in my entire career, suggesting that it wasn't "fair" unless all of the players received clothing stipends on top of their salaries...

And then I read Mark Cuban's post on the subject. At the risk of sounding like I'm fawning, if there is someone out there who honestly doesn't believe that Cuban is good for the NBA and good for pro sports in general, that person needs to read this entry.

You don't have to agree with everything he does, but the one thing that you should take away is that Cuban treats his players (a) like adults, (b) like professionals, and (c) like they have a stake in more than just wins and losses when it comes to the team. In other words, he treats his players in exactly the way that many fans wish that players would behave. In other words, he gives them the respect that he expects in return. And what do you know? It works.

More power to him.

October 23, 2005

Dear CBS,

Just so you know, pre-empting the final four minutes of what had become a really good, close, and hard-fought game between two of the best teams in the NFL (Philly & San Diego), so that we can see the first quarter of an average game between two largely underachieving teams (Buffalo & Oakland)? Not so smart.

I hate the "regional loyalty" package, where all I get to see are Bills', Jets', and Giants' games, but I understand why you might stick with that model. At the same time, pre-empting a good game for the 1st quarter of one of these is stupid.

Just so you know.

October 27, 2005

Chicago wins the World Series!!

Never in my wildest dreams, given their strong showing a couple years back, did I think an entry with that title wouldn't be about the Cubs, and would instead be praising their South Side brethren.

One of the reasons that I've never gotten all that much into hockey is that it never really crossed the line into comprehensibility for me. In other words, and I'm fully willing to admit my own ignorance here, I just don't understand what makes one squad good and another bad. I've been to a few games, and I've enjoyed them, but I don't really understand the sport in the way I do most others.

And while I'm happy for the Sahx, almost as happy as I was last year for the Sawx, I must admit that I really don't understand how a team with pretty good pitching and average hitting managed to lose only a single game in the playoffs. Granted, their pitchers pitched above themselves (Garland and Buerhle couldn't pitch out a paper sack for much of the 2nd half of the season), and granted, they're a very solid team, but position by position, they're not that much better than the Red Sox, Angels, or even Astros (who got there with very good pitching and below average hitting). Are they?

Maybe the answer is consistency, top to bottom. The Cardinals last year had a staff that was comparable, certainly, but lost to a team with a couple of serious stoppers in Schilling & Martinez (and Lowe pitched out of his mind). The Astros' stoppers didn't. Bakke turned out their best pitching performance of the Series, and the 'Stros didn't support him.

Hmm. Still, I would have liked to see the one matchup that didn't happen, and that would have been White Sox-Yankees. The Red Sox had to play the Yanks to get in, and the Angels had to play them in the first round, but the WSox got through without having to face them. I would have probably preferred to see the Sox face the Cardinals, who seemed to age before our eyes in the NLCS. (You have no idea how hard it is for me as a Cub fan to type the first part of that sentence.)

In the end, though, however it happened, the Sox buzzsawed through the other teams, and did it in a way that all the big budgets and moneyballers couldn't have predicted. Good for them.

And a razz to all of the sports twits who think that the quality of a series is measured by its TV ratings, and only national TV ratings at that. I can't tell you how tired I get of the idiots who honestly believe, in our ESPN-saturated sports culture, that they don't have any influence over perception, that they're just "reporting" the "facts." Every time one of the talking heads asks whether people will be interested, they're raising the possibility that it won't be interesting. And the fact of the matter was that, for all that it only lasted four games, this was a fun series to watch.

Even if the Cubs weren't in it...

December 4, 2005

Bowlin'

I haven't been much for talking college football this season, for two reasons. One is the train wreck that plays in the uniforms of the Syracuse Orange(men), and the second is that Iowa's season hasn't been as promising as it could have been, with really crummy losses to N'western and Iowa State. I definitely don't mind that they're playing Florida in the Outback Bowl again, though. I include this link mainly as a taunt for certain Gator friends of mine, and to explain the "again" part of the last sentence.

The real reason I have for returning to this slightly sore subject is to commiserate with all those Nittany Lions fans out there. Penn State has the 3rd best team in the country, according to the rankings anyway, and their reward for coming out of nowhere to win the Big 11 10 title? A matchup with 4-loss afterthought Florida State. And the "buildup" for this game? Why, it's Joe Pa versus Bobby Bowden! Who wouldn't want to watch a game with two coaches in their 70s staring across the field at each other?

I keep hearing the BCS apologists talk about how, under the old system, we wouldn't have gotten to see USC v. Texas, and that's certainly true. What they're not talking about, though, is how we also wouldn't have had to see Penn State v. Florida State, or Georgia v. West Virginia, neither of which is a particularly compelling matchup.

For that matter, they're also not talking about how a playoff would not only presumably result in the same game, with the added benefit of making sure that #'s 1 and 2 weren't there just because they happened to go undefeated in their respectively mediocre conferences. I don't necessarily disagree with USC and Texas being there this year, but I would have liked to see either or both have to get through the grind of the SEC conference schedule unscathed.

Granted, Tommy Tuberville can tell you that even that's no guarantee. As little business as I think Congress has in sticking its nose in BCS business, there's a little part of me that's pleased that they're doing so. There's still too little of college football being won and lost on the field for my tastes.

That's all.

Update: Well, there's a surprise. A(BCS)PN offers the following insight:

The other common complaint is the BCS doesn't create compelling matchups beyond the title game. Well, it all worked out for this season. Even before a bowl game is played, the BCS can declare victory.

and it does so in an article that barely even mentions one of its "compelling" matchups, and proceeds to ignore the late-season tailspin that Bobby Legend's team endured. Oh well.

February 5, 2006

SuperBowl XL, courtesy of Babelfish

I don't have a lot to say about tomorrow's SuperBowl, but what I have to say I typed into the translation window at Babelfish, and translated it first into German, then into French, then into Italian, and then back into English:

I hope Seahawks tomorrow profit. I know honestly that I would have to be honest to my E region all, dò however, he therefore much Steelers fans and paradewagenmitfahrer of parade automobile round here to that creed, as me for of the Seattle if other that to put one small number to the disposition the equilibrium did not have to radicare for some reason.

Umm, yeah. That's all I have to say about that.

March 8, 2006

Bombin and Dancin

I'm not sure which was the bigger bomb today, the three-point runner (!) that Gerry McNamara dropped on Cincinnati today to give SU a 1-point win in the first round of the Big East tournament (ESPN), or the F (among others) bomb dropped by Jim Boeheim at the post-game press conference.

Boeheim responded angrily to local coverage suggesting that G-Mac was overrated, an opinion apparently offered anonymously by one of the Orange assistant coaches. Boeheim's response, which I think was dead-on, was that Syracuse couldn't have won 10 games (that's 10 effing games) without McNamara and that he was the reason they were even in NYC this week to play in the Big East Tournament.

I'm not sure that this will be enough to get SU into the NCAA Tournament, but I'm tempted to say that it should, homer that I am. They've managed a 20-win season despite a top-10 Strength of Schedule, and they beat Cincy (which has been on a lot of boards) on a neutral floor. I can't imagine that they'll beat UConn tomorrow, but if they manage to show up okay, I think they're in. By the skin of their teeth, but in all the same...

Update: The failure of my imagination wasn't quite as egregious as was Becky's, apparently. Syracuse just beat the top-ranked team in the country on a neutral floor, and locked up for themselves a spot in the NCAA's. And one day after winning the Cincy game on a 3-pointer, G-Mac hit a 3-pointer against UConn in the closing seconds to tie the game and send it into overtime. Take that.

March 11, 2006

Top of the World

For a few, sweet hours, the two teams I root for (Syracuse and Iowa) are in the finals of their respective conference tournaments. I'll be rooting for the Orange tonight, of course, but this is definitely a case where I'm just happy they made it.

For those of you looking for a complete dark horse in the NCAAs, look no further than the Hawkeyes. They just held Michigan State to nearly 30 points below their season average, and while the game wasn't pretty, it was a good sign. The Hawks have loads of senior leadership, good guard play, and great team defense. I don't see them running with the big dogs like Duke and UConn, but they can definitely play with the next tier of teams, and with the right bracket, are more of a threat to go to the Final Four than most of the country realizes. In fact, it's going to be tough for me to ignore my heart when the brackets come out in a few days.

In the meantime, though, I don't have to. Go Orange and go Hawks!

March 13, 2006

Bracket Season

Also known as the Feast of St. Lunardi, this holiday season is in some ways an unapologetic celebration of MSAS (Male Sports Answer Syndrome), the tendency that we menfolk have to simply make up answers to sports questions for which no true answer exists, just because it has to do with sports.

Case in point: you could put together an all-star team made up of players from the Pac 10, and I wouldn't seed them any higher than 3, much less the 2 that UCLA received. Of course, I haven't actually seen UCLA play, so that opinion is being pulled straight out of thin air.

You will excuse me, I hope, for GLOATING long and loud over the next couple of days. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that Syracuse and Iowa each would win their conference tournaments--Iowa had a better shot to do so as a 2 seed. Coincidentally, that's the seed they should have received in the NCAAs. I know, I know, you're thinking that I'm just being a homer, but consider this: all weekend long, there was discussion about whether Ohio State deserved a 1 seed. Iowa beat Ohio State both times they played this year--they beat them in Iowa City, yes, but they also beat them on a neutral floor when OSU still had a shot at a #1. Don't get me wrong--I'm happy with a 3, but they deserve a 2. As do Gonzaga and Florida, in my opinion. In fact, Texas is the only 2 I'm satisfied with. I would have moved up 3 of the 3's, and swapped Boston College and North Carolina (the former having beat the latter at NC, and at Greensboro). I think the committee was a little too tied to conference standings in some cases when assigning seeds within conferences. Especially when you consider that, within super-conferences, all teams don't have the same schedule. Body of work, blah blah blah. What it comes down to for me is ranking the better teams higher; I don't really have an issue with the 1s this year, but everything else feels a little wonky to me.

And I'm big enough to admit that Syracuse got overseeded as well--it's hard for me to imagine, even having witnessed their miracle run through the Big East Tournament that they could have gone from an 11 or 12 (assuming they were even in) to a 5 in less than a week. That's a mighty big leap, and there are at least 2 quality 6 seeds in Michigan State and West Virginia that I would rank ahead of them.

But really, the only thing that clouds my silver lining today is the knowledge that, when Iowa and Syracuse meet, only one of them will be able to advance to the Final Four. You would have thought that the committee could have given my needs a little more direct consideration.

You want your printable brackets? We got your printable brackets.

5 Upset Specials (Pick one)

1. San Diego St over Indiana
2. Pacific over BC (check PU's recent history)
3. Utah St. over Washington (5-12)
4. NC State over California (not that much an upset)
5. Albany over Connecticut (not really. just checking to see if you're still reading)

Two notes from the television coverage yesterday:

Dickie V drove me insane! He had metal buttons on his sleeves, and every time he flailed about (once every .3 seconds), his buttons clinked on the glass top on set. By the end of the show, all I could hear while he was speaking was CLINK (blah blah blah) CLINK (blah blah blah) CLINK.

Jim Nantz and Billy Packer were like little kids when they were talking to Craig Littlepage, this year's Selection Committee chair. When the camera was on them, they were looking down at their sheets, and every question they asked seemed designed to try and get him to admit that he'd made a mistake. At the end of their interview, they cut him off twice as he was trying to congratulate the teams that made it into the field. First, he's chair of a committee of many people, all of whom agreed on the decisions. Second, I think I'd trust decisions made over several days by the selection committee before I'd trust Jim Freaking Nantz's 5-minute-old impressions. I disagree with some of their decisions, but I appreciate the difficulty of making them. Nantz and Packer were downright rude and embarrassed themselves and their network.

Wow, this is a mishmash. But that's all for the moment.

March 29, 2006

Jinx

Great post over at Debbie's about the dangers and aftermath of the ever-delicate sports jinx.

In other news, spring cleaning has begun (gradually), the hair is gone, and the Inbox is now down from a little more than 1000 to 162, a number chosen largely in dis/honor of yet another Opening Day spent with both Prior and Wood on the DL. We may shoot for double digits tomorrow, depending on how much time I spend preparing for and holding meetings.

That is all.

April 2, 2006

One Shining Moron

By no means am I the only person sad that George Mason's amazing NCAA run ended last night. But even as I rooted for GMU to figure out a way to win one more, I had to admire Billy Donovan's strategy wherein he basically used the first half to set up what ended up being a blowout. His frequent substitutions ended up wearing down the Patriots, and it showed in the 2nd half, especially with the bigs. Jai Lewis looked a step or two slower in the 2nd half, and missed plays that he was making in the 1st; meanwhile, Florida cruised. Good for them.

LSU embarrassed themselves. Badly. I kept track: it wasn't until 2:39 left in the game that LSU tied UCLA's first-half output, and it wasn't until 1:55 left that LSU exceeded that score. That's right. If UCLA hadn't scored a single point in the second half, they wouldn't have lost the game until the final two minutes. Talk about domination.

Speaking of embarrassment, I think it's time that CBS found themselves a new top analyst. Not only did Packer look like an ass before the tournament and then suffer the indignity of having to call a Final Four involving one of the teams he originally claimed shouldn't have made it, but then there was this little gem. Packer's keys to the games involved 1 crucial player from each side--Glen Davis, who squeaked out 14 points, mostly garbage, on 5-17 shooting, and then Aaron Afflalo, who only managed 9 points on 3-11 shooting. Neither player was a factor at all, and the one who actually got the better stats (Davis, barely) was on the losing side. Thanks for the insight, Packman.

I know that it's hard for the networks now, what with ESPN, but if CBS can borrow Jay Bilas, then why not some of the others who have been covering these teams for the whole season? It's getting to the point where I almost can't listen to Packer anymore--last night, during the second half, during Afflalo's lackluster showing, he actually wasted time trying to rationalize his analysis from the first half. Ugh. For what's arguably the best sporting event in this country, it'd be nice to have something a little more engaging than 4th-rate announcers.

That is all.

April 4, 2006

299 really rather dull moments

Unfortunately, the NCAA Championship game was dead boring, unless you had a rooting interest in the Gators. Me, I'm glad they won. I like Donovan, and I like their team, but I was more interested in seeing a good game.

All the talking heads were falling over themselves to anoint UCLA the 2nd Coming (or I guess it'd be the 3rd Coming, now, post-O'Bannon), and they failed to observe one simple point. As "great" as UCLA's defense was against LSU two nights ago, LSU actually outscored them in the second half. UCLA didn't need to score, true, but for a long long stretch of that game, they basically didn't score. And so, when for a long long stretch of tonight's game, they basically didn't score, I wasn't really shocked.

I was a little shocked by how much better Florida's interior game was, at both ends. I was pleasantly surprised at how talented Florida's bigs were at interior passing. They have skills, and they deserved to win tonight. UCLA, for all the hype, was exposed as a team that didn't play a serious power conference opponent until tonight (LSU, the 4th or 5th best SEC team, doesn't really count). They got there by beating other good teams (Gonzaga, Memphis) from bad conferences--good on them for getting as far as they got, but they no more deserved to be on the court tonight than LSU did on Saturday. Florida was that dominant.

Two additional notes. My favorite moment of the night came with about 8:55 left, when Joakim Noah walked over to inbound the ball, and the camera caught him winking and flirting with the UCLA cheerleaders. I laughed out loud.

Second, it was a little depressing to me that they couldn't talk about the game for ten minutes afterwards without lapsing into the refuge of the analytically weak: gossip about whether or not the kids at each school will stay or declare for the draft. Really. Pathetic. Give em a little space for goodness sake--they just played for the national championship and the NBA draft isn't for months yet. The most obnoxious part about it was the assumption, on more than one white announcer's part, that Florida's kids were more likely to stay because they all came from families of ballplayers, and thus didn't "need the money." Cuz, y'know, the "kids" these days, they're all about the green.

Sadly, that is all.

May 21, 2006

LeBron reminds me a little...

As we approach halftime of today's Eastern Conference Finals, it occurred to me that the near-orgasmic coverage of LeBron James by the sports media provides the casual NBA fan with ideal drinking game fare. Here are the rules:

Best played with a fair-sized group of spectators. Each time a television commentator explicitly compares LeBron to one of the NBA's all-time greats, one of the group must make an absurd LeBron comparison--if it "works," everyone else drinks; if not, the person him/herself must drink. Turns proceed clockwise.

Here are a few, just to get the juices flowing:

You know, LeBron reminds me a little of a young Casanova, the way he can pretty much score at will.

You know, LeBron reminds me a little of a young Moses, the way he's able to part the sea of Pistons defenders.

You know, LeBron reminds me a little of the artist who created Foghorn Leghorn, the way he's able to draw a fowl.

And so on. The only downside to this drinking game, of course, is having to find out the next day what the score of the game was, since everyone will be pass-out drunk by the midpoint of the first quarter. Life's full of little trade-offs, though.

That is all.

June 13, 2006

Our cup run eth over

Not a lot of time for posting today. I've been watching a fair amount of the World Cup though, and in addition to inching back to within one point of the lead in the Cup pool I'm in, I'm beginning to get a little more of a feel for the action.

And let me just say that we sucked. Really badly. The Czech Republic may have beaten the US anyway, but one thing that really came clear to me was the degree to which the US team had real trouble (a) running any kind of breakaway or counterstrike offense, and (b) defending against any kind of breakaway or counterstrike offense. Not that I'm psychic or anything, but in the first 5 minutes, on the first Czech goal, when I saw their wing trotting down to the corner unchallenged, I said "uh-oh," right before the ball bounced off Koller's head. No way a disciplined team allows that in the first 5 minutes.

The US attack looked like it was trying to emulate the 2nd tier Euro teams, with highly orderly offense, hoping for a break, but spending most of its effort trying not to get blown out. Every time they managed a one-on-one or mini-break, they cleared back out, and let the Czech defense set, and 9 times out of 10, they didn't even manage a shot out of it. It's very cautious offense--they're playing like a team with a lot to lose who's trying not to lose. And failing.

Ugly stuff from a team that all the talking heads are calling the best ever that the US has sent to the Cup.

June 18, 2006

To be fair

I should acknowledge that yesterday's game was easily the best I've ever seen the US team play. Not only did they not suck, but they held up under adverse conditions to earn a draw. It's not encouraging to me that they have yet to actually score a goal, but their draw coupled with the Czech implosion against Ghana gives the US a decent chance to advance. Not a great one, but a decent one.

A couple of quick notes. I'm not sure why the US stopped playing offense with 15 minutes to go. It was frustrating to me, I'll have to admit. Nor do I know why, on the "deepest-ever US team," Arena chose to hold onto his final sub, even when it was obvious how tired the Italians were. I still believe that they had a shot to win, even down a man.

The Italian player who cracked McBride should be suspended for the entire Cup. It was that obvious and that intentional.

Announcers saying that Mastroeni's was a "make-up call" need to update their dictionaries. Make up for what? The US had double the fouls at that point as Italy, and were the victims of thuggery. A make-up call is typically one where a bad call is made to even out a bad call in the other direction. I suppose maybe you could say that it made up the man difference.

I'm with Balboa, though, on the piss-poor quality of the referee in general. Only 1 of the 3 reds was warranted, and the 2nd half was like watching a different game--it was incredibly inconsistent. I'm not a big conspiracy guy, but it sure looked for all the world like the ref made sure that the US wasn't going to get out there without more than a point. The offsides call on Beasley's goal was legit, but there was a lot of flopping and the US generally got the worst of it. Ugly for a different reason, that was.

Still. Great game for the Americans. Ghana's going to be really tough, and I don't expect the US to advance, but at least it's a game that counts for something.

That's all...oh, and happy father's day to everyone...

June 22, 2006

Cup, Part 3

Well, the US went out with a whimper. Rats. As bad as the refereeing was in their match with Italy, it was, as far as I could tell, pretty consistent during their contest with Ghana. The one obvious missed call, of course, was the phantom push that resulted in Ghana's second goal.

It's hard to get worked up about it, though, because (a) it was clearly a dumbass decision on Bocanegra's part to try and clear like that on a breakaway play, and that set up the play that resulted in the "foul," and (b) if the US couldn't score when they were a goal down, what makes us think they would have with the score tied? They should have been taking more risks a goal down, and they weren't. Beasley's pass was the single best kick of the Cup for the US, but they spent so little time over three games putting themselves in those kinds of positions.

I'm not among those calling for Arena's head, but I do think that this Cup demonstrated a couple of things. First, the MLS is not the place where the next gen of US soccer players should be honing their skills. They need to be competing with the best players in the world, and the MLS is not there yet. That was pretty clear. Second, there needs to be some emphasis on creativity. The US team played competently, but couldn't handle really creative strikers, and couldn't generate any offense on their own.

I'm disappointed, but really, I'd rather see Ghana advance than the US--they were a much more entertaining team to watch. And so, I'll be watching the knockout rounds--I've been seeing so much of the group play that I'm genuinely interested, even without my home team...

That is all. Back in Syracuse soon...

July 2, 2006

Prognosticollapse

That last entry read like the turning over of a summer leaf, a transition into much more active bloggity blog blogging, yes?

Problem is, I don't really have much these days. I'm working up to a little bit of a rant that's tangential to some other writing I'm doing, but I would need to stop and mess around with it a bit, and I don't really have the time this week. There are days where it feels like every other thing that happens is bloggable, and then there are those where nothing is.

As a sign of how bad things have gotten, I was contemplating, earlier today, a massive post on how utterly wretched all the commercials are lately. Case in point, the dueling dimwittery that are the chicken sandwich commercials for Burger King and McDonalds. Yeah, that's right. It's gotten that. damn. bad.

Ah well. Here's who I was rooting for the past two days: Ukraine, Brazil, Argentina, and England. Can you spot the feature common to them all? Worst of all, I made the mistake of going against gut and picking three of them to advance. Oops.

That is all.

July 5, 2006

All right already

Okay. Yes, I believe that, as a team, the Italia is more than a collection of flopping divas and the beneficiaries of bad refereeing. At one point, I did indeed think that Italy got to the semifinals due primarily to the softness of their corner of the draw. Even though these 2 beliefs are not entirely exclusive of one another, I am willing to acknowledge now that the Italia has as good a chance as either of the other teams to win the Cup. Much as this acknowledgement does pain me.

July 22, 2006

The headbutt explained

One thing I didn't really blog about in the aftermath of the World Cup was Zidane's infamous headbutt. I was stunned when it happened, and didn't really feel like I had anything to add. Even as recently as yesterday, I didn't really understand it. That was, until I watched the trailer for Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter! As you can see from the graphic below, it's pretty clear from whence Zidane learned his moves:

Holy Headbutt!

I think that we can all agree, considering how willing the Italians were to bloody up our squad, that Materazzi is most likely a vampire, and so Zidane had little choice but to get Biblical on him.

Case closed. Although I am a little sad to have to put to rest the theory that Z saved Materazzi from a sniper. That was my fave.

And I can only hope that this entry satisfies those of you who were concerned about my recent lack of frivolity, not to mention my tendency to translate said concerns into phrases like "recent lack of frivolity." Anyways. That's all.

July 28, 2006

The Worldwide Leader

Apropos of nothing for the most part, as my nose has been to the grindstone on a daily basis lately, I wanted to pause and celebrate ESPN Radio, which I listen to with some regularity--mostly as I fall asleep or occasionally in the car.

At some point in the last couple of weeks, someone at ESPN made the decision that all of their employees would be required to pronounce Tour de France in a uniform fashion, and of course, they decided that France rightly rhymes with pants and dance. Now, certain of the talking heads had already taken this bold step, and asserted their God-given right to bastardize Americanize the name of this event, but you have to appreciate the uncharacteristic fortitude required to impose this mispronunciation on an entire Sports Entertainment Corporation.

What has really earned my admiration, however, is their decision to inject the Americanization into a French phrase, retaining the French for 2/3 of it, and daringly Americanizing the final 1/3. No sirree, no "France Tour" or "French Tour" for these forward-thinking leaders. It's Frenglish all the way! I can't help but experience a little vicarious joy de vivre when I think about it. Tour de France-rhymed-with-pants just has a certain je ne know quoi about it that makes me proud to be an American, proud to live in a country where, when the pronunciation of a single vowel crosses the line, we know what to do. Because, you know, who cares if it happens in another country? It's an American Sports Entertainment Corporation providing the gossip "coverage," and in America we rhyme France with pants.

That is all.

August 1, 2006

I love you, Greg Maddux!!

My title is only partly tongue-in-cheek. The baseball heroes that I grew up with, like Ryne Sandberg and Bruce Sutter, are getting their calls for the Hall, and so I'm in a more nostalgic mood these days when it comes to my Cubbies--this year's miserable team doesn't provide much competition, and the fog of memory hides the equally miserable records from those bygone years.

And so it was with sadness yesterday that I heard about the trade of Greg Maddux to the Dodgers for a guy who has potential but has demonstrated little other than utility status. Maddux and I are of an age, and so, even when he pitched for the dread ship 'Lanta, I followed his career with interest. And when we signed him 2 years ago, it was my fondest wish that he would end that career where he began it, with the Cubs.

In a game that offers plenty of appeal to the quicker-of-mind-than-feet, Maddux was/is the archetypal smart pitcher. Never overwhelming, he's nevertheless outlasted a lot more talented pitchers and a lot more gifted athletes than he is, and he's done it with pinpoint control and intelligence. More than perhaps any other player that I could name, Maddux is a guy who's maximized what talent he had, and he built a Hall of Fame career on skills and smarts.

I hope that Hendry has the brains and loyalty to sign him back after the season, whether as a 4 or 5 in the rotation or as a pitching coach. At the very very least, after publicly saying that his first priority was helping the Cubs (whether by throwing or going), Maddux deserves it.

That is all.

September 5, 2006

My office has a theme song

At least for the next couple of days.

September 9, 2006

Oh. My. Football. Gods.

1. A win is a win is a win is a win.
2. 6 d-line stuffs from inside the 2 yard line!
3. How important is Drew Tate?
4. How dumb does the decision to sit Tate look?
5. How many games are won by the team that loses the turnover battle 4-0?

Iowa deserved to lose that game and Syracuse probably deserved to win it, but I'm going to enjoy Iowa's attempt to make a BCS bowl game more than I would have enjoyed waiting for SU's 2nd win, so I'm content. Of course, I fully expect the Hawks to lose ground in the polls this week, and deservedly so.

October 1, 2006

Overheard during last night's battle of 'Eyes

Dad: We had to come all the way out to Syracuse to watch Iowa suck?!

Me: Count your blessings. This is the second time this season I've had to be in Syracuse and watched them suck.

Or something like that. They're passing through town en route to Vermont for some cycling, and it was coincidence both that Iowa was playing (losing) on national tv last night and that it's Parents' Weekend here at SU.

October 8, 2006

The-uh-uh-uh Yankees lose!

The only real downside to the Yankees' unceremonious exit from the MLB playoffs is that someone, somewhere, will think that there is no problem with one team being allowed to spend as much money as 7 other teams combined on its roster.

Because the fact of the matter is that they just did it badly. They assembled perhaps the most fearsome lineup in the history of the sport, and coupled it with a truly mediocre pitching staff, only two or three of which they should probably keep for next year.

Okay, the second downside is that we'll be treated to two weeks of "should we watch?" bullshit from the talking heads, since there's no NY team in the ALCS. I hope and pray that Tommy Lasorda is busy filming one of those "to the TV!" commercials that features Yankees fans now. And I hope that's the tack they'll take on ESPN, although I doubt it.

Okay, the third downside is that now ESPN will have no reason to cover actual sports when it comes to the Yankees--it'll be all-gossip all the time. As for me, if that gossip doesn't involve a straight up trade, Alex Rodriguez for Aramis Ramirez, I don't want to hear it. When my team is done, as they were in July this year, I become a baseball fan. Well, and a Bears fan.

October 14, 2006

Dee-troit Base-a-ball!!

Someone there is who roots against the Tigers?

Not 'round these parts. Of course, it's hard for me to think of Tigers baseball, and their last World Series in 1984, without also looking back fondly on how MLB screwed the Cubs out of what should have been a date with the Tigs. In the annals of Cub futility, 1984 looms pretty large. The Cubs should have had home field advantage in the NLCS (back in the days of no NLDSs), but because they hadn't yet caught on to the idea of rewarding the team with the best record, the Cubs only hosted the first two games (because, you know, it was an even numbered year). They won both handily, whereupon they flew out to San Diego and received a nifty three-game trouncing. Thanks, MLB.

You know I'm getting old when I remember (a) when the leagues only had two divisions and (b) when the NLCS was only five games. Wow. That was Ryne Sandberg's rookie year, and I surprised a co-worker by being able to name 7 of the 8 everyday players (missed Jody Davis), 4 starters (Trout, Sanderson, Sutcliffe, and the pre-closing Eckersley) and the closer (Lee Smith, of course).

Obviously, for the things that matter, I've got a mind like a steel trap.

Go Tigers!!

October 17, 2006

Oh. My. Defense. Gods

The Bears had no no no no no business winning tonight, but I'll tell you this: an hour ago, I turned the sound way down and started reading. In the last twenty minutes, I've jumped out of my chair three separate times.

Watching the Bears clock the Seahawks was fun, but this was the best football game I've seen in a long time.

November 2, 2006

Nary a hair

I was turning back and forth last night between various shows and the opening night NBA matchups. In addition to watching the first installment in Chicago's sweep of Miami (Bulls d. Heat last night, Bears d. Dolphins this weekend), I noticed a little something as I was catching half-time and post-game on TNT. They're all bald.

Doubtless this has something to do with EJ's health problems, but all the same, Magic, EJ, Kenny, and Charles are all sporting domes. I realize that there's a lot less stigma attached to a lack of hair than there used to be, but even so, it was kind of surprising to see them all side-by-side in a studio show like that.

I don't really have more beyond that observation. TNT's studio show is one of the best things about watching the Association and that, combined with the fact that the Bulls seem to have finally turned the corner on their rebuilding, means that I may be watching a little more ball this year. We'll see.

That's all. 2 down, 28 to go.

November 12, 2006

all praise to the flex schedule

Maybe the single best thing about Sunday night football is that NBC's contract allowed them to choose their 2nd half games based on play during the 1st half of the season. Which makes for far less stinkers (I'm looking at you, Seattle and Oakland). A few thoughts from tonight's NFC proto-championship game:

1. I thought the Bears were nuts to draft Hester as highly as they did in the spring. I'll be the first to admit I was wrong. How many other teams have 3 return TDs so far this season?

2. I like Heroes all right, but "Save the Cheerleader, Save the World" has got to be the dumbest tagline in the world. It's a good thing that they didn't trot that out before the show began, because I wouldn't have watched.

3. When your team hits a snag, you hope that they get over it during the week. Clearly, the Bears didn't--the first half tonight was as ugly as any game they've played. But beginning from the final 2 minutes of the first half, they did as much as they could to regain their swagger, and it was a joy to watch (as a Bears fan).

4. The problem with "trademark" celebrations is that, unless you're planning on winning and all but shutting teams out, you're going to get to watch other teams mock your trademark, ad nauseam. No more with the jump shots, please.

5. Speaking of ad nauseam, my channel changer of the year has to be that series of commercials from Coors Light, where they show clips from Bill Walsh's and Dick Vermeil's press conferences, spliced with fake footage of frattish fans asking stupid questions. (Ex: Fan: "Did your placekicker make this onion dip?" Dick Vermeil: "He didn't appear to make it from where we were standing.") The worst part of these commercials is two-fold: first, it's an incredibly tired idea, and has been done 100s of times, and second, they don't even do it well. The clips are generic enough that lots of questions could be asked, but the questions themselves are written to the answers in an unnatural way. They're not stupid-funny, which I could live with. They're stupid-stupid. Someone made the decision to pay someone else thousands upon thousands of dollars to cut commercials that, given some footage, I could do in an afternoon in iMovie. And guess what? Mine would be written better.

And yes, I'll be closing the comments here soon, so that I don't have to wade through dozens of astroturf comments. The thought that some of that wasted money goes to drones who cut and paste dumbass comments on all the blogs that mention their commercials makes it even worse.

That's all.

November 22, 2006

No longer able to root for Rutgers,

I find myself supremely uninterested in the various debates over the BCS Championship game, and whether or not Michigan should be allowed to rematch. There's a little bit of me that's rooting for Arkansas, but the rest of me is bored by most of the rest of it all.

In the absence of a playoff system, the problem with college football is that there aren't enough matchups among the best teams of each conference. Put in network terms, the college football schedule is marked by a high degree of clustering (densely interlinked opponents in-conference) with minimal connections across clusters, and often those are too indirect to be used as evidence. Without a higher degree of connections among (rather than within) conferences, claims regarding the best or 2nd best teams in the country are nothing more than educated guesses.

And so, I don't know if Michigan, Florida, USC, Notre Dame, or Arkansas is genuinely the 2nd best team, or even really if Ohio State is the best. What allows us to genuinely compare the quality of these various clusters are the bowl games themselves, and the BCS in particular. When West Virginia clubbed Georgia last year, it injected some doubt into the "SEC rules, Big East drools" narrative that we suffered through all last year when VaTech, Miami, and BC bolted.

And so, I'm actively uninterested in watching a replay of a game that I'd just as soon see both teams lose (too many years of watching them clobber my Hawks--sorry). I'm more interested in seeing these two teams meet the best teams from the SEC and the Pac-10, so that we can see who the best conferences are, and who the best teams are.

Mostly, I'm interested in seeing it decided on the field (as OSU-Michigan already has been, in my mind), rather than in the hearts and minds of a whole bunch of sports information directors whose inertia keeps the same old teams at the top year after year, and makes it unnecessarily difficult for teams like Auburn, Utah, Arkansas, and others to break through when they deserve it.

That's all I got today. Happy thanksgiving, all.

January 21, 2007

XLI-nce

Go Bears!!

I must admit that the 3rd quarter had me on the edge, but otherwise, it was a fun game to watch if you're a fan of the Bears. Last time the Bears were in the Super Bowl, I was in high school--that's a long wait in between trips. All I got to say is that they better get back there a third time before I retire.

In the meantime, though, I'll enjoy the weeks leading up to Miami. Go Bears!

Update: And congratulations to the Colts, who have the distinction of being my second favorite team, by virtue of the fact that they have the highest number of combined Iowa and Syracuse alumni on their roster. If I could have chosen, at the beginning of the season, my ideal SB matchup, it would have been Bears and Colts.

January 30, 2007

We're not here lookin for trouble

A Super Bowl prediction, courtesy of Googlefight

February 5, 2007

No fairweather fan, I

I have to pay my proper respects to the Colts, who beat my Bears fair and square. As gloaty as I was after the first, and perhaps ugliest overall, quarter, I knew that there was going to be trouble if the Bears couldn't control the ball. And trouble there was. The only realistic scenario where they were going to win involved special teams (check) and ball control (not so check). If they had been able to string together some drives, then the Colts' strategy of letting them start at the 40 every possession would have been a mistake. As it was, it just meant deeper punts.

My personal vote for MVP would have gone to the Colts' running back tandem. They're the fellers who won the game, honestly. Peyton had a nice game, but Addai caught more than a third of his passes, and between them, Addai and Rhodes almost gained 200 yards on the ground. Kind of depressing that they waited until the Super Bowl to exorcise the ghost of Edgerrin, but good for Colts fans, I suppose.

So congrats, Colts fans. Now, please just suck, so that the Bears can make it back next year and win.

That is all for football, for a while at least.

March 11, 2007

Robbed?

It's hard not to feel like Syracuse got jobbed a bit by the NCAA Tournament committee. I'm sure that all of the commentators will do a better job than I can of recounting the various reasons why SU, not to mention Drexel, better deserved a spot than, say, Arkansas or Illinois. It's actually pretty tempting to dissect schedules, but I'll leave that to the "experts." Bottom line is that I think that Syracuse would have been in the neighborhood of a 7 to 10 seed, and faced with, at best, a showdown with a top 10 team for a trip to the Sweet 16.

I think, after the past two years--which featured prominent meltdown losses to Texas A&M last year and to the legendary Tyler CoppenWHO?-led Catamounts of Vermont the year before--that the committee is sending Syracuse a message. The Orange have been mildly dangerous (G'Town and Marquette this year, last year's Big E tourney), but mostly they've been squarely above average. When G-Mac took off for Euroball and the occasional used car commercial, it was hard not to figure that this would be a down year, a couple of nice surprises notwithstanding.

Oh well. On the bright side, I won't guess wrong for the 3rd year running about when SU will lose. Here are links to ESPN's printable brackets: Men & Women.

March on.

April 28, 2007

Is there a draft in here?

Like Jeff, I don't have a great deal of patience for the hype machine that surrounds the NFL draft. I actually kind of like Mel Kiper, Jr., but too often, even he gets caught up in the nonsense, like the idea that one or two tenths of a second stretched over 40 yards makes all that much difference. I only watched the draft for a little while today, maybe an hour or so, and in that time, I think a whopping three teams made choices, one fifth of the number of those effing l1ght c00rs commercials that showed during that same span. It'd be a lot easier to take discussion of "number of reps" or "40 speed" if they weren't punctuated with that crap.

But I rantgress.

Two points, one ranty, one not. The first is that I was mightily impressed with the good sport that was Brady Quinn. I'm no ND fan, but I couldn't help but admire his composure and good nature as he endured what was an apocalyptically bad interview with him in the green room by Suzy Kolber, whose middle name may very well be Roget. Suzy managed to craft eight or nine questions, every single one of which asked the exact same thing:

  • So, Brady, how's it going?
  • Brady, what's next?
  • Brady, what's your game plan?
  • Brady, did you plan on waiting this long?
  • Brady, you still here?

Every single word out of her mouth could have been distilled down to "Sucks, huh?" There are a number of really good people at ESPN, both men and women, but Suzy Kolber is not one of them. The train wreck was such that the NFL eventually allowed Quinn to leave the groan room.

And they wonder why a top pick like Joe Thomas would choose to go fishing with his dad instead of sitting there?

Okay. Second point. And this goes back to Jeff's comparison of the NBA and NFL drafts. Given how much is invested in the NFL drafts, and the huge deal that is made about them, one thing I've never been able to figure out is why they haven't learned a really important lesson from the NBA about the draft. Every year, the salaries and signing bonuses get larger, and every year, every first-rounder holds out until and sometimes during camp. And every year, a bunch of serviceable players lose their jobs to salary cap math. Why in the world hasn't the NFL just followed the NBA and created a rookie scale for the draft? It's bad enough that players like Drew Brees and Thomas Jones are rewarded for their efforts by not letting the door hit them where the good lord split them, because they had the bad manners to outplay their overpaid backups. But you would think that the Players' Association would want to see the majority of the cap on each team reserved for those players who have, oh, actually played?

In the NBA, you're drafted, you sign, you get to camp, and that's a league where "team" is a lot less important than the system-heavy NFL. You play well, or optimize perceptions of your upside potential, and after three years, you get a big deal. I understand that contracts are different in the NBA, that they're, um, actual contracts, but surely the NFL could figure out some way to emulate their system? Surely having an entire round of holdouts every year doesn't do the league that much good.

Aw, that's all. At least the Bears got the tight end they desperately needed.

April 29, 2007

It's been a long, long time...

...since I was able to watch the Bulls win a playoff series. And if you don't think they've got a decent shot at making the Finals, you're mistaken, my friend.

Chicago Bulls

May 4, 2007

Anti-Mavity

It's only fair that I acknowledge that old-school Warriors' fans, all three or four of them, have had it far leaner than I have as a Bulls fan. I can't say whether this is the biggest upset ever in the NBA, but I will say that I've never seen a more one-sided, key-to-lock series, where one team seemed designed perfectly to take another apart.

And make no mistake--they were dis. man. tled. Say what you will about soft #1 seeds and 8 the hard way--there is no way that this series should have played out like it did. But it's sure been fun to watch. And I'm looking forward to their upcoming series against Hou-Tah.

That is all.

May 29, 2007

The weekend in review, Langerhans edition

Not much to report. My access has been nonexistent because I left my laptop in Iowa while I ranged down to St. Louis. Went down to catch a game at the new (if I haven't been there, it's new to me) Busch stadium, and saw the Cards drop a game to the Natty Bumpkins of Washington, including but not limited to a grand slam punched out of the park by one Ryan Langerhans. Nice hit that.

The Cards, they are a strugglin, and I must admit that this doesn't exactly make me sad. The Cubs' bullpen woes, on the other hand, is a topic for head-shakings and hand-wringings. But only occasionally, as I'm still on vacation.

The end of the week should see me headed back eastward, so we'll see if more frequent posting accompanies that.

That's all.

August 17, 2007

cublogging

Sports entry alert.

It's been a while since I was blogging regularly, and so I haven't had much chance to sing the praises of my Northside boys. If the Reds' 6-1, 7th inning lead holds, then the Cubs will be alone in 1st place of their division for the first time since April of 2004, if I remember rightly. And they were last in 1st when it mattered back in 2003, back when this was just a wee blog, and they were getting ready to tank to the Marlins.

Interestingly enough, there are only 2 regulars left from that team just 4 years ago (Zambrano & Ramirez), 3 if you count Kerry Wood as a regular. And the 4th player from that NLCS on the Cubs, Derrek Lee, played for the other side.

Besides the roster turnover, one of the big differences between that year's team and this year's is the attitude of the respective coaches towards youngsters. I'm struck regularly by how Piniella is willing to give the kids a shot, even if and when they struggle. It's been great to watch Fontenot, The Riot, Pagan, Murton, Fox, EPatterson, Cedeno, et al., not to mention the various pitchers who've gotten shots. They look like they're having fun, and as I've had a lot of chances to watch baseball this summer, I'm having fun too. I think they've got a good shot at the postseason this year, but even if they stumble, this is the first year in a long time where we haven't had to place all of our Cub eggs in a couple of pretty fragile baskets.

Oh, and I should mention that, when you have a 26-year-old pitcher who's competing annually for Cy Youngs and who's never been on the DL, you don't allow him to test the free agent market, even if it does take Zito money to keep him. The Cubs did Zambrano right today, and their fans as well.

/sports.cubs

September 1, 2007

72 days til basketball season

It's been a little difficult to swallow all the hype that's been circulating this week on the ESPN family of media surrounding the arrival of college football season. Part of it is that the BCS encourages the top teams to treat the opening weeks of the season as a variation of the NFL preseason--where college football is worse is that, rather than seeing first-string vs first-string, second vs second, and so on, we get to see the big guns play teams that would probably struggle against their walk-ons. The 4 ranked teams who premiered on Thursday night won their games by a collective score of 212-20. Woooo!

And unfortunately, Syracuse has sunk to the status of nonconference cupcake, so it's hard to get fired up locally. They made the mistake of scheduling last night's debacle vs Washington at a time when there were no other games, so that the entire nation could share in our sadness--the increasingly frequent pans of dejected Syracuse fans were particularly lovely.

I don't know what the answer to SU's current football woes is, but if last night's game was any indication, we'll have a tough time equalling last year's four wins. Ugh.

Update: Cupcakes 34, Wolverines 32. Mwahahahahaha!

September 22, 2007

Why they play the game

Syracuse, Games 1-3: 32 points
Syracuse, Game 4: 38 points

Andrew Robinson, Games 1-3: 486 passing yards, 1 touchdown
Andrew Robinson, Game 4: 423 passing yards, 4 touchdowns (previous high: 208 passing yards)

And here I thought that Miami of Ohio was going to be their best chance at getting off the snide. Unless there's a whole lot of upsets goin on today, we can wave at least a temporary farewell to the Bottom 10, too.

(Oh, and thank goodness they were on the road, too. The road whites are at least unoffensive to the eyes.)

September 24, 2007

I'm going nukulur!!

Apropos of nothing in particular, I thought that I'd let you know that my sports viewing over the past couple of weeks have inspired a couple more moratoria (you might recall my rant, which remains woefully disobeyed, on doing the math):

First, I would appreciate it eversomuch if people would just get over the fact that (a) they're in the background during a baseball game, and (b) they can call home on their mobiles, and wave at someone while they're in the background. I mean, seriously. Is being on TV such a big freakin deal nowadays that every shot of every batter in every game has to have 2-3 morons yapping on mobiles and waving at the camera? Really? It's distracting and it's pathetic. Stop.

And second, I am pleased to announce that sportscasters (looking at you, Madden) who pronounce peripheral as though it were actually "periphial" have achieved for me the same level of displeasure that I register whenever I hear someone talk about "nucular weapons."

And yes, I take this stuff far more seriously than I should.

September 29, 2007

Go Cubs Go!

Yeah, I don't really like that dopey song, but I can agree with the sentiment...

cubs.png

October 7, 2007

Stop Cubs Stop!

Oh well. I can now officially begin my personal "Bring A-Rod to Wrigley" campaign, I suppose.

The limited effectiveness of our pitching wasn't really that surprising to me. I think Hill has got a couple of years yet before he's a legit 3rd starter, and I've always been a little iffy with both Lilly and Marquis (who deserved a shot after last year, imo).

What was most disappointing was the dismal situational hitting on display. The DB played like they deserved to be there, and for the most part, the Cubs did not. Neither Davis nor Hernandez is all that intimidating as a pitcher, but the Cubs made them look a lot better than they actually were. If the series had gone on, Lou's decision to lift Z in Game 1 might have been a bigger issue--they played badly enough to make it a footnote.

All in all, though, it was a good season to be a Cubs fan, especially after last year's debacle. And this is a team that should be able to compete annually now.

December 9, 2007

Two birds, one stone

The urban legend goes that, each NFL season, when the final unbeaten team has been defeated, the members of the 1972 Miami Dolphins pop the cork on some champagne and toast themselves as the only NFL team to ever go a full season without a loss. It's hard to know whether or not this is the case--the Dolphins themselves deny it, but I can't help but think that they keep the rumor alive just so, every year, they get a little attention from the media.

So this year, seeing as how the Patriots are almost certainly going to do them 2 games better (in 72, the season was 14 games), maybe the Dolphins can go ahead and ship that champagne to the members of the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, whose record for futility (0-14) the current Dolphins are likewise almost certain to eclipse.

I'm sure I'm not the first (or perhaps even the thousandth) to suggest this. There's just something really striking to me about the same team occupying both tails of the victory bell curve.

And I need something to entertain myself, given that the Patriots have now won as many games as the Bears, Syracuse, and Iowa combined. It's not been an especially me-worthy football season.

That's all.

January 30, 2008

What in Tar Nation?

I do have a small request.

The other night, I happened to see a bit of the George Mason/VCU game on ESPN, and more power to the Sports Leader for broadcasting it (a) on something other than ESPN U, and (b) in a primetime slot. Seriously, good on them.

But at both ends of the floor on the GMU court, in big letters, was written "Mason Nation." You might recall a few years back that "X Nation" gained some popularity as the Red Sox finally reversed their curse. And honestly, I have no issue with the idea of Red Sox Nation, given how many fans of the BoSox live in other places than Boston. Ditto for Yankees and Cubs. Being myself a member of Cubs Nation, Nation is no exaggeration.

But lately, nation is used to describe the fan base of every team at every level. Did I say "used"? I mean to say overused and abused. Unless we're comparing them to small Caribbean islands, I'm afraid there is no Mason Nation. Nor would it even occur to me to talk about Hawkeye Nation, Bear Nation, Syracuse Nation, Bull Nation, etc.

And actually, given how loosely the term is used now, I'll be stopping with the Cubs Nation after this post. I'm pretty sick of seeing it. Almost as sick as I am of hearing the Dallas Cowboys referred to as "America's Team" 30 years now after the nickname was accurate and/or relevant.

So yeah, you can fill a small arena. This does not you a nation make. Quit it.

February 3, 2008

5 Reasons to be grateful that the Super Bowl is today

1. Mercury Morris vanishes, maybe forever

2. No more tv/radio spots talking about the Super Bowl without being allowed (I guess) to use the actual phrase Super Bowl™

3. 359 sweet, sweet days until the next Super Bowl Media Monday, where all the B-list media outlets compete with one another to be the most "viral." This year? Congratulations to TV Azteca for being the biggest jackasses of a pretty jackassy bunch

4. No more wondering why the hell the freakin SUPER BOWL needs (a) a red carpet, or (b) Ryan Seacrest to stand on it. I know that FOX is the king of irrelevant and intrusive cross-product advertisement, but isn't American Idol already the most popular show on TV?

5. Hey, those wacky! crazy! Super Bowl commercials!

Last year at this time, I cared, since my Bars made it to the Super Bowl for the first time since I was in high school. But as a result, I think I'm even more cynical this year about how shallow and vapid these 2 weeks leading up to the game actually are. I just have no patience for the fifteenth story about the point spread moving from 13 to 12.5, or Tom Brady's phantom sprain, or Eli Manning's magical transformation from schlub to star in 3-4 games, or worst of all, stories about the repetitiveness of the stories. Ugh. Play the damn game already.

That's all.

DeUnDefeated!

It was not a pretty game by any measure, save perhaps for the Giants' defensive linemen's performance. But I'll say this for Super Bowl XLII: I was on the edge of the couch for most of the 4th quarter, and the game was a live one until the second-to-last tick of the clock.

Once again, I don't think that a Manning deserved to win the MVP. My MVP? Syracuse University's own David Tyree, who:

  • caught Manning's first touchdown

  • caught Manning's crazy Tarkentonian scrambly hail mary

  • and most importantly, Tyree dropped the flutterball that almost got picked off--had he caught it, short of the first down, they would have lost a bunch of time, and had trouble setting up the offense.

I am a little sorry that Merc won't have any company in Perfectville, and I'm even more sorry that Junior Seau didn't get a ring, but it's hard to feel sorry watching the SuperPats catch an elbow to the chops like that.

That's all. See you in the autumn, NFL.