Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Punch-Out

I know it's hard to believe, but I never went through a video game phase. I was just never really into Nintendo or, the Capulet to its Montague, Sega Genesis. The way I like to remember it, I went from Little League straight to The Who, without passing Go, although there were probably more than a few wasted hours lost to this and, more embarrassingly, this. I do remember, though, suffering through hours of my friends playing "Mike Tyson's Punch-Out," which apparently still haunts some children of the 1980s. For those of you unfamiliar with the game, the premise was to beat a series of lesser opponents until you earned the right to take on the champ, Mike Tyson. It's still a good idea for a video game, and an even better idea for either a play or as a weird piece of performance art, whichever the case might be. 

Sugar, Sugar

I just stumbled across this trailer for Sugar, a film about a young Dominican pitcher trying to make it the majors. Written and directed by the same team behind the underrated Half Nelson, the film looks pretty damn good. It premieres this weekend in New York and Los Angeles. I now know what I'm doing Sunday afternoon. 

Monday, March 30, 2009

Fisticuffs

This is one of the primary reasons why people still watch hockey. And the only reason people still say things like, "I went to fight last night and a hockey game broke out."



(Via With Leather.)

Sunday, March 29, 2009

When Pitt Really Lost


Don't get me wrong: Scottie Reynolds' runner was impressive, and one of the most exciting moments of this year's tournament. Still, you'd have to go back to just about three minutes to see when Pitt really lost the game. Up four, with just under three minutes to play, Pitt's Levance Fields passed the ball to teammate Jermaine Dixon to avoid Villanova's heavy--and, at this late point in the game, desperate--full-court press. Dixon then dribbled across the half-court line, into two 'Nova players, before inexplicably picking up his dribble. With nowhere to go, Dixon, of course, turned it over. As if this weren't bad enough, Dixon then compounded his mistake with a boneheaded foul against Dwayne Anderson, who easily converted the bucket and free throw to pull 'Nova within one point, changing the complexity of the game. Dixon's two poor decision's opened the door for 'Nova's charge and, more damningly, Reynolds' late-game heroics.  

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Pre-and-Postseason Prescience

To say the least: 
Like Seth Davis, I'm really high on Michigan State. Under Tom Izzo, the Spartans are always a tough out, and sophomore Kalin Lucas is one of the quickest guards in the country off the dribble. Maybe even faster than Ty Lawson. Maybe. Look for the Spartans to challenge Purdue for the Big Ten Championship and, later, make it to at least the Elite Eight.
All that and more, here and here

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Yankees' Sonny Corleone

Because of a late night and a busy morning, I won't be able to write up notes about tonight's four regional semifinals. In their absence, I offer instead Richard Sandomir's profile of Randy Levine, the president of the New York Yankees and Rudy Giulliani's former deputy mayor. It ain't exactly pretty, and just about what you'd expect from a man who secured $1.2 billion in tax-exempt bonds from New York City for the new Yankee Stadium, and whose personal mantra is, "it's business, not personal." Here's taste:
During labor negotiations with correction officers in the mid-’90s, the union’s president, Norman I. Seabrook, said recently, Levine’s closed-door demeanor was close to a blood sport that neither man took too seriously.

“He’ll smile, shake your hand and cut your heart out if you’re not prepared,” Seabrook said. “Don’t mistake that smile for anything but a knife.”

Randi Weingarten recalled labor talks with the United Federation of Teachers in 1995, when Levine demanded a two-year wage freeze while promising that Giuliani administration officials would not get raises. After the deal was completed, the city raises were announced.
I often have to remind myself why I root for the Yankees. Although I love the team and the coaches, the executives in charge of the organization leave a lot to be desired. 

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Like Attracts Like

Tonight's game between the No. 2 Duke Blue Devils and the third-seeded Villanova Wildcats should be a good one. Maybe even a classic. The two teams love to run, and aren't afraid to throw up a three when the spirit moves them. Duke and 'Nova are also mirror images of one another defensively, playing a tough brand of man-to-man, allowing only 90.9 and 90.8 points per 100 possessions, respectively. The two teams are so much alike, some people have even gone so far to call Villanova the "Catholic Duke," which is taking things a little too far, and an insult to James II, the real Catholic Duke, maybe the greatest of them all. But I digress. Here are three reasons to like the Blue Devils, followed by two solid reasons to get behind the Cats, Duke's doppelganger of the hardwood. 
  1. Gerald Henderson: Is there a more impressive athlete in the tournament? You'd be hard-pressed to find one. In fact, fuck it, I'm going to say it, if you'll pardon the hyperbole: Henderson, who almost went to Villanova, is the best pure talent to play at Duke since Grant Hill. Seriously. The 6-4 guard scored 24 points against the Texas Longhorns in the round of 32, and is a threat to take over a game at any given moment. He's going to make 'Nova's backcourt earn their money tonight. 
  2. Elliot Williams: A lot of people are pointing to Kyle Singler as the key to a Duke victory. I, however, think the play of Williams, particularly his perimeter defense, will play a significant part in whether the Blue Devils advance or go home. Since he joined the starting five, Duke is 10-1, their only loss coming at the hands of North Carolina. He might not be the star of the team, but he does make them better when he's on the court. What else can you ask?
  3. Coach K:  Love him or hate him, Mike Krzyzewski can coach. Although he's gone a bit sour in recent years, he seems to have been rejuvenated from the experience of coaching Team USA to an Olympic gold medal. Like any good coach, he's getting the most out of his team, which always come to play, and the recent ACC championship has put the swagger back in his and his team's game. 
Meanwhile, 'Nova fans have almost as many reasons to be excited:
  1. Jay Wright: The Villanova head coach has a recording of "One Shinning Moment," the NCAA tournament's official theme song, rigged to the door of his office so it plays every time a visitor opens the door, according to Sports Illustrated. The man wants a national championship like Hillary Clinton wanted the White House (h/t N.T.). His defensive schemes, in-game adjustments and unadulterated desire to win rival those of Coach K. 
  2. Dante Cunningham: Villanova's best chances of winning, I think, rest in the long arms of Cunningham, one of the nation's top interior players. This season, he led the Wildcats with 16 points and 7 rebounds a game. I figure most of tonight's game will take place on the perimeter, but the difference might just come down to Cunningham's ability to score points in the paint and, conversely, stop Kyle Singler from getting his. 
God, this is going to be a good one. I'm pulling for 'Nova, but I have no idea how it's going to turn out. 

Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Mo

The No. 2 Memphis Tigers take on the third-seeded Missouri Tigers tonight in what is bound to be an exciting and exhausting game. Here are two reasons to back Memphis.
  1. "The Memphis Attack": Predicated on guard play, Memphis’s offensive philosophy, a variation on the Dribble Drive Motion, is to get to the basket as many times as there are possessions. Their plan of attack is simple and effective: attack the rim and either finish at the hoop, or dish the ball to someone who can score either on the low block or beyond the arc. It’s organized chaos, really, and very difficult to defend, even for outstanding defensive teams like Missouri. 
  2. Tyreke Evans: The starting freshman guard is charged with making this high-octane offense go, and he seems to be doing a pretty good job of it. Since taking over at the point, Memphis is 27-0. Could be a just a coincidence or a product of the start of conference play (Ed. Note: Memphis conference isn’t very good). But 27 straight wins is nothing to sneeze out. If Evans, who’s looked a little shaky over the first two rounds of the tournament, can hold on to the ball, Memphis should be in pretty good shape. 
Of course, Missouri came to play too. Here are three reasons to be excited about Mizzou.
  1. “Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball”: Based on Nolan Richardson’s “40 Minutes of Hell,” Mizzou’s answer to Memphis’s motion offense is to counter with a balls-to-the-wall, full-court pressure defense. Quite simply, the Tigers attack, attack, attack on the defensive end, which, understandably, causes all sorts of problems for the opposition. They never let up, essentially running their opponents into the ground. Tonight’s game is going to be a battle of attrition. Whichever team’s left standing at the buzzer wins. 
  2. Leo Lyons: Although he’s 6-9, he possesses the skill set of a point guard. This doesn’t mean he plays small; he can handle the ball and create his own shot from anywhere on the court. He can play inside or outside, he can block shots, and is almost always going to get to the glass. I expect him to stick Evans at several points tonight. Lyons might be able to rattle the young freshman just enough for Mizzou to pull off the upset. 
  3. DeMarre Carroll: a 6-8, 225-pound senior, Carroll averaged close to 17 points and seven rebounds a game this year. He’s also an important kog in Mizzou’s hell-on-wheels defense. Combined with Lyons, he could give Memphis's staring front line of Shawn Taggert and Robert Dozier all sorts of problems. 

One in Four

You know the drill. Here are four reasons why Pittsburgh, the top seed in their region, will take out the fourth-seeded Xavier Musketeers tonight in the regional semifinals.  Xavier's single beacon of light shines forth below.    

  1. DeJuan Blair: An absolute force down low, Blair is one of the best rebounders and defenders in the country. He can score, too, averaging about 16 points a game to go with his 12 boards. The only way to stop him is to get him into foul trouble. Otherwise, he's almost unstoppable. 
  2. Sam Young: If things aren't working for Blair, the Panthers usually look to Young, who can seemingly do a little of everything. He can hit the three, as he showed again and again and again against Oklahoma State in the second round. Like Blair, he can also bang down low. Young's a handful, and one of the best second options in the country. 
  3. Levance Fields: Known simply as "the General," Fields, a stocky, Brooklyn-born point guard knows how to run Pitt's offense. He averages close to eight assists per game, and has an ungodly 4:1 assist/turnover ratio, one of the best ratios in the country. There is no other player in the country I would trust more with the ball late in the game. 
  4. Pitt's D: I've mentioned how good Pitt is at the end other end of the floor, but there defense is nothing to laugh at either. Sure, there are, without question, better defenses in the country; statistically, Xavier's is more efficient and more likely to get a big stop than Pitt's. Still, Pitt is pretty damn good at defending the basket and cleaning up the glass. I like their chances of shutting down Xavier's slightly above-average, A-10-style offense.

So why should the Musketeers even show up? Easy. Sean Miller, their head coach.  Since 2004, when he took over Xavier's basketball program, the Musketeers have gone 117-45, reaching the NCAA tournament in four of Miller's first five seasons. In 2007, Miller, who first made a name for himself as a star point guard for Pitt in the late 80s, was two minutes away from knocking out mentor--and former Xavier coach-- Thad Matta's Ohio State team, which featured Greg Oden, before a few bad plays late and a couple of terrible calls cost the Musketeers an unexpected trip to the Sweet 16. Miller is one of the best strategists in college basketball. If any coach can figure out a way to beat Pitt, it's Miller.  

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Five Against One

On the eve of the NCAA regional semifinals, I thought I'd preview the upcoming games. Instead of breaking down in detail each team's strengths and weaknesses, however, I decided to write up some crib notes, offering only as many reasons to like a particular team as their opponent's respective seed allows. The No. 1 UConn Huskies, for instance, take on the fifth-seeded Purdue Boilermakers tomorrow night, so here are five reasons to go with the Huskies. The singular reason to like Purdue follows. 
  1. A.J. Price: Price, who's scored at least 20 points in three straight games, makes the Huskies's offense go. Since taking over the offense last month, after junior Jerome Dyson blew out his knee, Price has averaged about six assists per game, including 10 dimes in the sextuplet-overtime classic against Syracuse in the Big East Tournament, while the Huskies, as a team, have put up roughly 81 points per game. In their first and second round games, the Huskies scored 103 and 92 points, respectively, winning both games by an average of 41 points.  
  2. Hasheem Thabeet: The seven-footer averaged about 14 points and 11 rebounds a game this season, and his 146 total blocks this season were second only to Mississippi State's Jarvaris Varnado. Thabeet fills the lane, and can take over a game. 
  3. UConn's Defense: The Huskies have the third most efficient defense in the country, according to Ken Pomeroy's impressive rating system. Through their first two games, UConn held Chattanooga and Texas A&M to 47 and 66 points, respectively. 
  4. Jim Calhoun: Although he's had a rough couple of weeks-- his press conference tirade, his hospitalization and the recent allegations of recruiting violations-- Calhoun is still one of the best coaches in college basketball, leading the Huskies to the Sweet 16 for the 12th time since he arrived in Stoors. After he missed the team's first round game against Chattanooga, the Huskies, to a man, swore they'd run through walls for their coach. Don't think for a second that Calhoun won't make his players live up to their word.    
  5. Stanley Robinson: Since scoring six points in a 70-60 loss to Pitt, Robinson, who's had a largely forgettable three years at UConn, has suddenly put up 28, 24 and 12 in his last three games. He seems to have figured something out, and is now a viable third option for the Huskies. If he can keep it up, UConn will be tough to beat. 
Meanwhile, the Boilermakers will have their work cut out for them. From where I sit, Purdue's only chance of winning hinges on the performance of one player: Robbie Hummel. Sure, 6-10 forward JuJuan Johnson will have to contain Hasheem Thabeet down low for Purdue to stay in the game; but Hummel, who shoots just shy of 40 percent from beyond the arc, will have to go off if the Boilermakers have any real chance of upsetting the heavily favored Huskies. Hummel, a 6-9 forward, can play in the post and on the perimeter, which should give Jeff Adrian and Stanley Robinson all kinds of problems when they try to guard Hummel. He'll need to take full advantage of these potential mismatches, and score at least 20 for the Boilermakers to advance. 

(Ed. Note: I rolled two previous posts into one.)

Master of Puppets

Sports Illustrated writer Luke Winn has an interesting online profile of Oklahoma's Blake Griffin and Frank Matrisciano, the San Francisco-based trainer who helped turn the All-American into a lean, mean, basketball-playing machine by introducing him to a mental-control concept called, swear to God, the "Puppetmaster." How does it work? Well, the process is as startling as its sobriquet:
When USC's Leonard Washington punched Griffin in the groin, Utah's Luka Drca tripped him, umpteen players elbowed him, Ali flipped him and Michigan's Manny Harris undercut him, Griffin stayed in control of the situation. Matrisciano said Griffin was able to do this because he and his brother have the mental discipline of 'robots,' allowing them not only to stay in control, but also plow through workouts that had caused umpteen NBA players to quit the training programs
The trick is to suffocate all human emotion, an icky personal philosophy that would make even Ayn Rand hold back the edge of her gown. Griffin, though, laps this shit up, then begs for seconds. Matrisciano, who, according to Winn, "has no listed number, no Web site and has never allowed his full face to be photographed," gets through to Griffin with motivational lines like this: "You're either a puppet on the court, or you're the puppetmaster" and "You're either allowing someone else to control you, or you're the one in control." 

I'm now officially terrified of Blake Griffin, and somewhat relieved to have his Oklahoma team on my list of 13. 

Knicked

Yesterday, I let slip a revealing fact about my basketball viewing habits: I haven't watched a game since Sunday afternoon. That includes my beloved Knickerbockers. It's true. The same thing happens every year. I live and die by the Knicks from October to mid-March, when my attention turns, almost exclusively, to college basketball.  Is it a coincidence? Hardly. The Knicks, as is their annual wont, display early and consistently inconsistent flashes of progress only to collapse completely by the round of 32, when college basketball is at the top of its game, so to speak. Let's face it: the Knicks, losers of five straight, including inexcusable and miserable losses to New Jersey and Sacramento, haven't been competitive or even-- and it pains me to say this-- worth watching since they returned from their five-game road trip, two days before St. Patrick's Day.  

Let the draft-day speculation begin. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Status Update

I have to admit, it’s kind of nice not having to watch college basketball for a few days. It gives me an opportunity to do a few things I’ve put off since Thursday afternoon, most notably work and sleep. 

The brief respite, though, also gives me a chance to evaluate my picks. How am I doing? Pretty well, actually. Last Monday, I picked 13 teams worth watching out for, predicting that eight of them would eventually make up the Elite Eight, and one would be your national champion. One week later, my list still looks respectable, if not wholly clairvoyant. 

Here are my eight remaining teams.
  1. Louisville
  2. Michigan State
  3. Missouri
  4. Memphis
  5. Pitt
  6. Villanova
  7. North Carolina
  8. Oklahoma
Obviously, Memphis and Missouri, who face off against one another Thursday night, can't both make the Elite Eight, but the other seven have a very good shot at filling out the bracket. Not too bad. Not particularly surprising either, given the team's respective national rankings heading into the tournament. But still pretty good. 

As for the five teams that didn’t make it to the Sweet 16, I only regret picking BYU, which was a total shot in the dark, and based almost exclusively on Ken Pomeroy’s ratings. I also thought they had a shot of upsetting a suspiciously soft UConn squad in the second round, if A&M hadn't gotten in the Cougars's way. Hence my exclusion of the Huskies from my original list. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Purdue knocks them off this weekend. If I could have one mulligan, I would have picked the Boilermakers instead of the Cougars. Hindsight is, of course, always 20/20.

I’m most surprised-- and upset-- that West Virginia didn’t win a single game. Statistically, they should have been a lock for the Sweet 16, if not the Elite Eight. I also thought Arizona State’s offense (re: Harden) was better than it showed in the first two rounds. Serves me right for backing a Pac-10 team. Texas could have (should have?) beaten Duke, but my selection of the Longhorns was, admittedly, a bit of reach, even if the Blue Devils fall to Villanova Thursday night. And VCU? Well, they broke my heart. I had high hopes for Maynor and the Rams.

The eventual national champion, though, is still on my list of eight remaining teams. I guarantee it. 

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Mr. Jackson, If You're Nasty


Cedric Jackson, the recently canonized patron saint of WGASIG, helped Cleveland State upset Wake Forest, finishing with 19 points, eight assists, seven rebounds and, that's right, three steals. I read somewhere that this kid liked the big stage. 

Friday, March 20, 2009

Pick Pitt at Your Peril

While North Carolina and UConn destroyed their first round opponents, Pitt is living up to its March reputation with an atrocious first half against 16-seed East Tennessee State. At the half, the Panthers are only up three, even with the Buccaneers shooting a woeful 24 percent from the field and seven percent from beyond the arc. Imagine if they were putting the ball in the bucket. Pitt would have already been blown out of the gym. Yes, it's still early, but this doesn't bode well for the Panthers's chances in the larger field of 64.

Byron Eaton Does What Eric Maynor Couldn't

Dear readers, the first great finish of the 2009 tournament. It's about time.



(Via, obviously, The Sporting Blog)

Maynor's Miss

A tough way to go out. I really thought he nailed it, and VCU was headed into the second round. Three more inches. Three lousy inches. Still, even though his 17-footer grazed off the front rim, Eric Maynor was the best player on the floor last night. He finished with 21 points, seven assists, six rebounds, a steal and only two turnovers in 39 minutes. Sure, he only shot about 33 percent from the field, but he was able to get to line, hitting 10 of 13 from the charity stripe. He also kept Darren Collison off balance all night and, once Collison picked up his fourth foul with just under 10 minutes left, I thought Maynor would take over. But freshman guard Jrue Holiday, the second best player on the court, scored six straight points for the Bruins, extending their lead to 11, which was just too much of a deficit for VCU to overcome.

Maynor and the Rams made one final push, though, and, with 11 seconds left, Maynor had a chance to win the game. He got through the Bruins's press. Pulled up. Collison stuck him. Maynor missed, then quietly buried his head in teammate Larry Sanders's chest, before finally walking off the court.

It was almost too painful to watch. 

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Chalk

Before yesterday afternoon, I swear to God, I had never heard the expression "chalk" to describe a popular or heavily favored pick. I trust I'm alone in my abject ignorance. As is usually the case, though, when I learn a new word or come across a wonderfully inventive turn of phrase, I end up hearing or reading it everywhere. I've heard either "chalk," "all chalk," or "go chalk" about 25 times this afternoon, and, since I like to think of myself as the inquisitive and handsome type, I started researching its etymology. If you'll forgive my doltishness for a moment, here's a pretty cool explanation of the origins of my new favorite word. I'll assume it's accurate because 1.) I found it on the Internet and 2.) it seems likely. 
When [...] odds changes had to be relayed to the public on a chalkboard, oftentimes the name of the favorite horse would be obscured by all the chalk dust created by the multiple erasures. Some bettors would approach the window near post time, and find themselves unable to read the favorite's name clearly, just referring to that horse as 'chalk.' It became an acceptable way to wager on the favorite, and thus was the genesis of a term we now use on a daily basis.
Obviously, I need to start hanging around the track more. Or maybe reread some old William Kennedy and Damon Runyon stories.  Anyway, aside from A&M's and Maryland's "upsets" over BYU and Cal, respectively, this afternoon's games pretty much went according to chalk. (Ed. Note: Well played, handsome). Memphis blew a few tires but lived to tell the tale-- provided, of course, people still listen to John Calipari when he isn't complaining about something.

I expect tonight's games to be a little less, well, chalk.  

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Presidential Picks



Although I don't agree with all of President Obama's picks, his bracket appears to be in order. The man knows what he's doing. Why am I not surprised? For a detailed explanation of his bracket, take a look here. It's worth the read. 

Know Your Bracket Busters 6


Eric Maynor first made a name for himself when he single-handedly knocked out the Duke Blue Devils in the first round of the 2007 NCAA tournament. Since then, coach K’s bete noir has gotten even better, averaging 22 points, six assists and almost two steals per game this season for Virginia Commonwealth University, the Colonial Athletic Association champion. Arguably the best point guard in the country, Maynor is one of those rare talents that can simply take over a game at any given moment, and will undoubtedly be a first-round pick in the upcoming NBA draft, along with UCLA's Darren Collison, his opponent in the first round of the NCAA tournament. 

Maynor is dangerous, folks, and as good as the game.

Know Your Bracket Busters 5


Matt Kingsley (right) is the anchor of Stephen F. Austin’s punishing team defense, which, believe it or not, allows fewer points per 100 possessions than title contenders Wake Forest, Kansas, Duke, Villanova, Pittsburgh, North Carolina and, among others, Syracuse, the Lumberjacks’ opening round opponent. Kingsley, a 6-9 senior center, can also ball on the other end of the court, averaging 16 points and eight rebounds this season. He scored 20 or more points eight times and notched a respectable six double-doubles, to boot. Named the Southland Conference’s player of the year, Kingsley also picked up the conference tournament’s Most Valuable Player award after the Lumberjacks won the Southland Conference championship, the first in school history.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Know Your Bracket Busters 4


Mississippi State's Jarvis Varnado, a 6-9 junior center, is an absolute beast on the defensive end. Not only did he lead the country in blocked shots with approximately 5 per game, his 165 total blocks this season broke Shaquille O'Neal's Southeastern Conference record of 157, which has stood unthreatened since 1992.  Varnado, who has a 7-4 wingspan, was named the SEC defensive player of the year last week, becoming the first player in conference history to win the award two years in a row. During the SEC tournament, he averaged 14 points and more than 5 blocks over four games. In the Bulldogs's 64-61 victory over Tennessee in the championship game, he put up 10 points and blocked six shots, locking up the tournament's Most Valuable Player award. Varnado should give Washington all it can handle inside when the Bulldogs, winners of six straight, take on the Huskies in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Know Your Bracket Busters 3


Arizona will only go as far as center/power forward Jordan Hill takes them. Sure, the Wildcats have small forward Chase Budinger and point guard Nic Wise to help pick up the offensive slack, but Jordan is the team's defensive presence and, as far as I can tell, its singular source of toughness. Hill, a 6-1o junior who averaged 18 points, 11 rebounds and about 2 blocks per game this season, knows how to finish around the basket and holds his ground defensively on the low post, which could give Utah's Australian center Luke Nevil, a 7-1 junior, all he can handle. 

The Wildcats have a long history of stinking up the NCAA tournament, and a number of sports writers and commentators believe the wildly inconsistent Cats, who lost to UAB but also beat Kansas, Gonzaga and UCLA, didn't deserve to make this year's tournament, especially as a 12-seed. If Hill plays like he did against the Bruins on Valentine's Day (22 points, 13 rebounds and 2 blocks), however, he and his Arizona teammates might just silence a few critics and, in the process, bust up a bracket or two.  

Monday, March 16, 2009

Know Your Bracket Busters 2


Cedric Jackson, a 6-3 senior transfer from St. John's, averaged 10 points, five rebounds, five assists and three steals per game this season for the upstart Horizon League Champion Cleveland State Vikings, who enter the NCAA tournament with a more efficient defense than DeJuan Blair's Pittsburgh squad and winner of four straight, including an upset over the Butler Bulldogs in the Horizon League championship. In the Vikings's December win over Syracuse--at the Carrier Dome, no less-- Jackson finished with 13 points, five assists, four rebounds and three steals. Against the Bulldogs, Jackson, one of the country's best at picking an opposing player's pocket, led the Vikings with 19 points, eight assists, seven rebounds and, yup, three steals. He seems to like the big stage. 

Jackson and the Vikings take on Jeff Teague and the Wake Forest Demon Deacons Friday night in Miami, in the opening round of the Midwest region.

Know Your Bracket Busters


Ben Woodside, a fifth-year senior for the North Dakota State Bison, averaged an impressive 22 points and six assists per game this season. He also shot an ungodly 42 percent from beyond the arc. This past weekend, he hit a 17-footer against Oakland in the Summit Conference tournament championship to put the Bison into the NCAA tournament for the first time, in the school's inaugural year in Division I competition. Woodside even had a walk-on role on this here blog earlier this year, after he dropped 60 points in a triple-OT loss to Stephen F. Austin.  

Woodside and his No. 14- seeded Bison take on the number three seed Kansas Jayhawks in the first round of the Midwest region, in Minneapolis, Woodside's home state, and a manageable drive, I've been told, from the NDSU campus.

You've been warned.  

On a Limb

With the NCAA tournament bracket all set, I feel pretty bullish about which teams look like serious players and which ones look like they're in for an early exit. Although I have no idea, at least at this point, which team will eventually be crowned the national champ, I am fairly confident about which ones will make it to the Elite Eight.

With a nod to Grant Wahl, then, I've put together a list of 13 teams that I'm particularly excited about. I've based my list on two things: 1.) a team's defensive efficiency and 2.) my own rough analysis of a team's guard play, which, although far from objective or even reliable, is based primarily on a complicated algorithm of personal biases, uniform color and length, and an admittedly limited sample size of watched games. Scoff if you must, but this formula has won me some money in the past and, back in November, gave me the confidence to write this about Michigan State and Georgetown.

Like Seth Davis, I'm really high on Michigan State. Under Tom Izzo, the Spartans are always a tough out, and sophomore Kalin Lucas is one of the quickest guards in the country off the dribble. Maybe even faster than Ty Lawson. Maybe. Look for the Spartans to challenge Purdue for the Big Ten Championship and, later, make it to at least the Elite Eight.

I'd love to say the same for Georgetown, but I just don't see it happening. Coach John Thompson III lost Roy Hibbert to the NBA and Patrick Ewing, Jr. to, well, the ether, I guess. Even with three serviceable returning starters (DaJuan Summers, Jesse Sapp and Austin Freeman), I'm worried the Hoyas don't have the offensive weapons to put up much of a fight. Greg Monroe, sadly, is still a year away.
In that same post, I pointed to Louisville as a team that could challenge North Carolina for the title, and expressed doubts about UConn's and Duke's toughness, which still hold true. So there. I might not be Nate Silver, but I’m not Jim Cramer, either. My bona fides are, as they say, tight.

As SI's Luke Winn pointed out at the start of the year, only two Elite Eight teams in the past five years have ranked outside the top 50 in adjusted defensive efficiency. Based on this list, then, I picked out 13 teams that fulfill Winn's maxim and play to my individual biases and personal voodoo. 

I plan on writing up some more detailed scouting reports about each of these 13 teams throughout the rest of the week. Until then, here’s my list of 13 teams worth watching out for. Eight of them will make up the Elite Eight, and one will be your eventual national champion. There's my predictions, and here’s my list. Take them for what they’re worth.
  1. Louisville
  2. West Virginia
  3. Michigan State
  4. BYU
  5. Missouri
  6. Memphis
  7. Pitt
  8. VCU
  9. Villanova
  10. Texas
  11. North Carolina
  12. Arizona State
  13. Oklahoma
If you'd like to offer your own list of 13, please send them my way. We can then pick apart one another's lists. After all, this is the most wonderful time of the year. It really should be spent talking copious amounts of shit with your nears and dears. 

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Even the Losers

Pittsburgh, North Carolina, Michigan State and UCLA, four teams I like to go deep in the upcoming NCAA tournament, all lost in their respective conference tournaments. Is this a harbinger of things to come? I doubt it. Pitt has a history of playing well in Big East tournament only to miss out on all the March Madness fun, so maybe their early exit Thursday night actually bodes well for them this year.  UNC's loss to Florida State this afternoon shouldn't kill their chances at a No. 1 seed. MSU's dismantling, on the other hand,  should put to rest the Spartans's hopes of being a top seed. UCLA might also get knocked down a seed or two, but I'm still bullish about their chances to reach the Sweet 16. Maybe even the Elite Eight.

Right now, though, I'm sure these four teams are smarting over their early exits and hoping that they draw a favorable bracket. In recognition of this, here's a little song from Tom Petty to help them make through Sunday night, when the selection committee determines their respective fates. 

Line of the Night

51 points. 9 assists. 4 rebounds. 3 blocks. 2 steals. LeBron James

Friday, March 13, 2009

One More Reason to Love Brett Gardner

He named his son Hunter, Hunter Gardner.  

Line of the Night

67 minutes. 34 points. 11 assists. 6 steals. 3 rebounds. 1 block. Johnny Flynn.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Really, Patrick? Really?

Oops is right.


I'm not mad, Patrick. Just disappointed. I've come to expect more from you over the years. We'll just pretend this never happened, okay, and think about happier times, like these. 



(Via Deadspin)

Q-Rich Gives Back

Last night, Quentin Richardson came up big for the Knicks with two hold-your-breath shots against the Pistons. I was surprised as anyone. In fact, when the man known as Q-Rich took both shots, I shook my head and hoped he'd at least draw iron. Although they weren't pretty, the baskets helped secure a much-needed victory for the Knicks, their second straight road win. Here's one of them:



The Knicks are now just one-and-a-half games out the eighth--and final--playoff spot, even though I essentially wrote them off just a few days ago, after they blew back-to-back games against the Bobcats and Nets. Can you really blame me, though? Baseball is just around the corner and March Madness is pounding on the front door. Simply put, the Knicks's schizophrenic play was interfering with my growing interest in the World Baseball Classic and, more immediately, my preparation for the NCAA tournament, which is as close to sacred as it gets around these parts. I should clarify, though: the other day, when I wrote that baseball was a much more pleasant viewing experience than basketball, I meant specifically in comparison to the NBA's 82-game schedule. March Madness, on the other hand, is a perfect viewing experience, the best sports has to offer. 

But I digress. This post is about Q-Rich's helping hands. In addition to putting away the Pistons, Richardson donated--during the game, no less-- $1,000 to Feed the Children, an organization that provides food for impoverished families in the state of Michigan, as part of the Pistons' annual telethon.  
Fans in the arena were urged to give at every break in the game's action -- and from his spot on the visiting team's bench, Quentin Richardson got the message. Despite the fact that his team was in the middle of a game, Richardson had a team employee fetch a donation form so he could cut a check for a cool grand at halftime.
Good for Q. Although I've never particularly been impressed with his game, I've always liked him for his unwillingness to put up with Stephon Marbury's crap and his personal resiliency. The guy's been through a lot. 2005 was a particularly rough year for him: his relationship with the singer Brandy came to an end and two of his brothers were murdered in Chicago. That's also the same year he was traded from the Phoenix Suns to the Knicks, which would have been too much for just about anyone. Q-Rich, though, pushed on, and continues to make his presence known, even if it isn't always via the box score.   

Line of the Night

30 points. 13 assists. 10 rebounds. 4 steals. Chris Paul


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Embalmer, On Ice


Before this afternoon, I had never heard of Alf Pike, a key member of the New York Rangers 1940 Stanley Cup-winning team, the last Rangers team to win the Stanley Cup before Mark Messier's ice squad recaptured Lord Stanley's Cup 54 years later, in 1994. After reading Pike's obituary, though, I wish he had popped up on my radar years ago, for two reasons: 1.) he reportedly predicted, in between periods, that he and his teammate, Bryan Hextall, would score the tying and winning goals, respectively, against the Boston Bruins in the decisive Game 6 of the 1940 final; and 2.) he was nicknamed the Embalmer because of his off-season job at a funeral home, which I just find wonderful on so many levels.

Beisbol del Bueno

If you'll forgive my bastardized Spanish, allow me to say, in proper Queen's English, I told you so. Baseball is back, and just as entertaining as ever. Last night, the Netherlands, behind Yurendell DeCaster, knocked out the heavily favored Dominican Republic in an extra-inning thriller, 2-1. The Dutch victory, their second over the MLB-ready Dominican team in less than a week, put them in the second round of the surprisingly entertaining World Baseball Classic.

The Dominican Republic was, by far, one of the most talented teams in the Classic. Their stacked roster included, to name just a few, major leaguers David Ortiz, Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes, Miguel Tejada, Robinson Cano, Jose Guillen, and pitchers Edison Volquez, Johnny Cueto and Ubaldo Jimenez, who notched 10 strike outs in four innings last night, a WBC record. Needless to say, last night's loss was unexpected. Ortiz summed up the magnitude of the Netherland's improbable victory over the so-called "Republic of Baseball": 
Oh, God, thank God I don’t have to go back home for a while. I’m telling you right now, in the Dominican, there had [sic] to be a blackout right now.
[...] I tell you, the whole world is shocked now. Even in Japan, they’re like 'What the heck?' in Japanese.
At least Ortiz doesn't play soccer for Colombia. He and his teammates would be dead by now

Although he makes no specific mention of Japan--or homicide, for that matter-- SI scribe Tom Verducci puts last night's game into proper perspective:
Baseball became a truly global game when the Netherlands, the international baseball version of Buster Douglas, the 1980 U.S. hockey team and the Milan Indians rolled into one, put the tournament on the map by upsetting the heavily favored, star-studded Dominican Republic team, 2-1. Talk about shocking the world. Go crazy, Rotterdam, go crazy.
[...] Major League Baseball can work all of its machinations to pump up interest in the tournament, such as marketing and broadcasting. But there is nothing more powerful to sell the tournament than the unscripted magnificence of the game itself, never more so than when what we regard as the meek overtake the mighty. The Dominicans, because of the country's abiding love for baseball, will bear grief and shame for the defeat.
Round Two begins on Saturday. If you haven't watched a game yet, please do. It's worth it. For a full schedule, take a look over here

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Line of the Night

48 points. 12 assists. 6 rebounds. 4 steals. 3 blocks. Dwyane Wade.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Brett Gardner and Joey Gathright: Separated at Birth?

Not at first blush, but River Avenue Blues takes a closer look. The similarities are striking. To wit: 
Both players were drafted at age 21 and then assigned to a low level squad in the minors (Gardner went to the short season NY-Penn League, Gathright to the Low-A South Atlantic League). Both players started their age 22 season at the High-A level and earned a midseason bump to Double-A, then started the next year back at Double-A before being promoted to Triple-A in the middle of the season. In their age 24 season, their third full professional season, each player started the year in Triple-A before being called up to the big leagues during the summer and finishing the year there. 
The fun doesn't stop there, though. After breaking down their career statistics, both from the minors and the majors, RAB seems to think Gardner will outperform Gathright in the long run, so to speak. 
[W]e can expect Gardner to be a more productive big leaguer than Joey Gathright. He’s shown better on base skills and a better ability to hit for power throughout his minor league career, and he’s a much more efficient basestealer. Simply put, Gardner’s proven to be much more capable of turning his physical gifts into baseball skills, and in turn, offensive production.
I, for one, would be satisfied if Gardner produced at a level equal to that of Gathright. That he might even be a better all-around player gives me even more hope for the upcoming Yankees season. Although Gathright's career numbers aren't anything to write home about, if Gardner produces at or above a similar output, he won't exactly kill the Yankees as a regular center fielder, even if he's splitting time with Melky. Based on RAB's analysis, Gardner might even help the Yankees-- or least land them a pretty good lefty reliever

Sunday, March 8, 2009

A-Rod Shocks World With Uncharacteristic Sound Decision

According to various sources, Alex Rodriguez has decided to have partial surgery on his torn right hip labrum Monday, which would allow him to rejoin the team by mid-May. After discussing his various options with Brian Cashman, his agent, Scott Boras, and noted hip specialist Dr. Marc Philippon, Rodriguez opted to undergo a limited procedure, a so-called "hybrid" approach to repairing the injury rather than simply playing through the pain or fixing in full the bone irregularity in his hip. Rodriguez will reportedly wait until the end of the season to go back under the knife for a more extensive procedure. 

"The goal here is to allow Alex to rehab rapidly in a safe manner," said Philippon, who co-runs the Steadman-Hawkins clinic for sports medicine and orthopedic surgery in Vail, Colorado. "The approach we're using is much safer than letting Alex play the way he is now."

Philippon said he was about 85-90 percent certain this first operation would be successful, and almost 100 percent certain A-Rod will need further surgery after the season. 

All things considered, I do think A-Rod made the best decision available to him and the Yankees. Although he will be out for at least the first month of the season, the partial operation should help alleviate at least some of A-Rod's most immediate pain, protect his long-term health and enable him to play in the majority of games this year. Seems like a win-win for him and the Yankees, who have to be sweating A-Rod's increasingly problematic contract which handcuffs him to the team through 2017. 

Also, as Bernie Williams already noted, A-Rod gets to take a much-needed break from baseball and the intense scrutiny of New York in bucolic Vail. Don't think for a second that A-Rod's two-month exile isn't entirely welcome or won't do him a world of good.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Play Ball!


I know it's only the World Baseball Classic, but baseball is officially back. I trust I'm not alone in thinking this past winter has been one of the longest on record. Ever since the Phillies knocked off the upstart Rays on a rain-soaked October night, I've been chomping at the bit to watch meaningful baseball games again. The quasi-resurgence of the Knicks has been a welcome distraction, but baseball, I find, is a much more pleasant viewing experience. There's just something soothing, even reassuring, about the game, which basketball, and its frenetic 82-game schedule, while compulsively entertaining, can't offer. 

Needless to say, then, I'll be watching the Netherlands take on the Dominican Republic this morning and, later, Team USA against Team Canada this afternoon, instead of the Pitt-UConn rematch.  Of course, the beauty of baseball also includes the opportunity to check in on other games in between pitches and innings.

To help you get in the proper baseball mood, here's a Dustin Pedroia commercial for MLB 09, a video game which seems to think the 2008 AL MVP and Team USA starting second baseman can't hit the inside fastball.  Pedroia begs to differ. 

Line of the Night

42 points. 8 assists. 6 rebounds. 1 steal. 1 rebound. Dwyane Wade. 

Friday, March 6, 2009

Line of the Night

27 points. 15 assists. 4 rebounds. 1 steal. Chris Paul.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Alexander's Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

For A-Rod, who's endured his share of terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days the last couple of weeks.  



I'm sure A-Rod can relate, while you can watch parts two and three here and here. You know you want to. (Spoiler Alert: It eventually gets better.)

A-Rod Out for 10 Weeks with "Stellar Anterooms"

At least according to a totally whacked-out translated report from ESPN Deportes:
Alex Rodriguez will miss not only play with the Dominican Republic in World Baseball Classic, but lost the first month of the season with the New York Yankees after a medical examination revealed that it should be operated on immediately from a cyst in the hip, said a brother of the player to ESPNdeportes.com
That doesn't even make sense. For all I know, Rodriguez is taking time off from baseball to operate on his brother. The best lines of the report, though, have to be these three successive gems:
The Yankees still have not reported anything about his stellar anterooms.

Rodriguez, 33 years, played with discomfort in his hip last season, but the Yankees never thought they were really serious the matter until an MRI exam revealed a cyst on Saturday.

The Yankees sent andalusia andalusia specialist player Marc Phillipon, the Steadman-Hawkins clinic in Vail, Colorado. Reviews by Phillipon found that A-Rod should be operated on immediately.
I hope A-Rod's andalusia andalusia specialist knows what he's doing: those stellar anterooms are nothing to laugh about. If left untreated, they could turn into brilliant antechambers, which, as we all know, is just one architectural development away from, heaven forbid, an untreatable case of outstanding vestibules. 

(UPDATE: John Heyman confirms the report, although he writes A-Rod is likely to miss only six to eight weeks. No mention of flying buttresses, though.)

Line of the Night

35 points. 16 assists. 6 rebounds. 1 assist. 1 steal. Dwyane Wade. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

With Friends Like These

I once convinced a bartender to compliment my friend on his new shirt, which he had been bragging about all evening. She went out of her way not only to comment on the shirt but also on how well he filled it out. My friend fell for it, and my other friends and I were pretty pleased with ourselves, although, admittedly, we knew full well that the prank was pretty weak, and more than a little lame. It looks even lamer now after watching this friendly prank from two friends/CollegeHumor.com collegaues, which took place at an arena full of rabid University of Maryland fans, in retaliation for a series of earlier pranks. 

Take a look. 


Remind me never to get on either of these guys' bad sides, and to apologize again to my friend.

Line of the Night

29 points. 12 rebounds. 3 assists. 2 steals. 1 block. Rashard Lewis. 


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Senegalese Tease

I knew this deal was on the horizon, but yesterday afternoon the Knicks signed 7-1 Senegalese center Cheikh Samb, a former second round pick of the Los Angeles Lakers, to a 10-day contract. The addition of Samb gives the Knicks their first marginal-to-potentially good shot-blocking presence at center since Dikembe Mutombo, in 2004, believe it or not. Mind you, this says more about the so-called centers various Knicks teams have featured at the 5, though, than it does about Samb, who isn't exactly the second coming of Bill Russell, or even Samuel Dalmbert, for that matter. 

In fact, I doubt Samb'll even see extended minutes on the court, because, in 20 career games, his statistics have about as much bounce as a University of Delaware seismic station: 0.1 assists; 0.2 steals; 1.1 points; 1.5 rebounds. He also shot an embarrassingly horrendous 27 percent from the field, presumably, from about two feet away from the basket. 

So why am I even writing about his signing? With three open roster spots, it's in the Knicks' best interest to see if Samb, who did put up some promising numbers in the NBA's D-League, is up to snuff. And, as the Lakers, Pistons, Nuggets and Clippers figured before the Knicks, Samb's freakishly long arms should run into some shots, which, in turn, should turn into some easy baskets in transition. Who knows, if he shows D'Antoni and his staff something in practice, he might just be able to fit into the team's plans going forward, without screwing the pooch for 2010 and beyond. Although this is more than a little troubling. But that kind of thing happened to Patrick quite often

Knickerblogger sees it pretty much the same way, I think:
This is a good low risk-medium reward deal for the Knicks. It’s something that the team has been weak at considering the Roberson/Von Wafer mistake over the summer. If Samb can join the legion of NBDLers who have become solid NBA players he will give New York another cheap player to help the team win now. Additionally players like Samb could help New York field a competitive roster for 2011 without hurting them fiscally.
Worse case scenario, Samb is terrible, and is released before St. Patrick's Day. No harm, no foul. 

Via Chicago

I just returned from a long weekend in Chicago, quite possibly the coldest place I ever hope to visit. I ate a ton of pizza, and nearly got blown away into Lake Michigan, like a two-dollar umbrella. If you've never been, I highly recommend visiting, although I'd wait until at least mid-May for the ice to thaw and the wind to die down, which usually happens, I've been told, around the same time the oppressive humidity kicks in.  

I'm still a bit out of sorts, and hope to get readjusted to blog-time in a day or so. Despite arriving home to 12 inches of snow, spring is, thankfully, right around the corner, which means March Madness and, at last, the return of Major League Baseball. I have some interesting things planned for the blog this month and throughout the rest of the summer. In the meantime, here are three clips that I couldn't help but think about while riding the El. 

Enjoy, as always. 







Line of the Night

42 points. 8 rebounds. 4 assists. 1 steal. 1 block. LeBron James