Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Fantastic Four & The Improbable Comebacks

If you weren’t a believer in March Madness being the greatest idea ever, then you should be by now. As already mentioned throughout America multiple times – last weekend was simply magnificent. Louisville came back from 20, Illinois came back from 15 down with 4 minutes to play, Coach Tom “H to the” Izzo led Michigan State to yet another Final 4, and UNC barely survived Wisconsin.

Since most of the storylines have been exhausted by this point, I just wanted to point out the unlikelihood of the BIG TEN getting 2 teams in the Final 4. My Rule 6 states that: “there will just about always be one conference with 2 teams in the Final 4.” Unfortunately, I was banking on the ACC (just like 98% of America).

The other interesting storyline is that if Illinois ends up playing UNC, it will be UNC’s 3rd straight Big Ten opponent. The Big Ten was getting ripped on all season, but they really came through when it mattered most. This is taking the ACC-Big Ten Challenge to a whole new level! So far, the Big Ten is clinging to a 2-1 lead in the Tournament. I will be utterly shocked if Michigan State beats UNC. Then again, “H to the” Izzo in the tournament is just sick. His players are so well-prepared. Ultimately, I’m expecting the gargantuan showdown between Illinois & UNC at this point.

Louisville could be the big wild card this weekend. I need to give them some praise - they won their game while the other team shot 75% from 3-point land! In addition, they came back from being 10 points down with 4 minutes to go with their best player (Garcia) fouled out, and their 2nd best player (Dean) was out with cramps! I think if there was ever a game that was an Instant Classic – it was that game. The shots of Dean crying on the bench deserved a “Graphic Violence Warning.” The amazing thing was, he would cry for like 2 minutes, limp on the floor and make a 3, then go back out! I’ve never seen anything like it.

Let’s just hope the Final 4 has as much drama.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Madness and Me: I'm Spent!

Well for those that doubted if the tournament could live up to they hype as THE greatest single sporting event, the regional finals better known as the Elite Eight answered your questions. 3 out of 4 of the games went to OT. The other, a nail bitter down to the last few seconds. Three point shots rained like curse words coming out of Mo's mouth at a Yankees-Red Sox game. West Virginia, a school who I believe you can major in agriculture, agriculture technology, agriculture economics and the ever popular agriculture for dummies, hit 18 3 point shots. Wisconsin, a team who was once outscored by their football team, scored over 80 points. That's like 30 points higher than their average and 50 points higher than West Virginia's average IQ. Furious comebacks ruled the weekend as all 4 of the teams that went on to win trailed at some point in the 2nd half. Illinois, powered by Bill Murray, went on a 17-3 run over the last 5 seconds (well maybe a little longer) to defeat Arizona. Louisville led by a man known as Dean, somehow came back from a 20 point deficit to win. Michigan State, possibly because Tom Izzu threatened to beat up his player's families if they lost, somehow held on. Jalepena! Good thing I wear adult diapers or there would be some serious clean up duties for someone. Thank goodness there is only 3 more games left cause I'm not sure my heart could take it.

To add to my excitement, baseball (both fantasy and real) starts in about a week. Don't worry I'm sure before the start of the season the blogging community (including myself) will be making their picks on who will win, who will flop and which would you rather have a Chicago deep dish pizza or a New York deli sandwhich. Nonetheless I'd like to add my thoughts on Barry's possible comeback. While Mo does make a fair point about the monetary incentives for Barry to return, I would note that his ego may hold him back. Without steriods big Mac's body fell apart and as 40 year old with bad knees, unless Barry can find an undetectable steriod, Barry's body will also fall apart. Somehow I feel that if Barry's skills go the way of McGwire maybe it would be better for Barry's ego if he can blame reporters for his retirement. And after all is there really anything Barry cares about more than Barry?

Friday, March 25, 2005

Musings on Hypocrisy

My most recent post expounded, in 450 words, why Barry Bonds is the biggest dick in the Major Leagues.

Now I have another target: the Baseball Writers Association of America. These buffoons of self-congratulatory nature were asked recently how they would vote in a Hall of Fame ballot for Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds. Amazingly, of the writers who responded to the query, McGwire only received 55.6% while Bonds received 80.8%. Players need 75% to gain entry into Cooperstown.

What sort of hypocrisy is this? Before the Congressional hearings, McGwire was considered a sure-shot first ballot Hall of Famer. Now, after his appearance before the federal panel, he is a sort of pariah, even though he admitted to nothing under oath. Granted, I also viewed his testimony (or stall tactics, whichever you prefer to label it) as unfortunate and as a tacit admission of guilt. However, nothing has changed in that we still do not have evidence that McGwire cheated at anything. Contrast this to Bonds' testimony at the BALCO hearings in January of 2004 where he stated, under oath, that he unknowingly took steroids. The point is, he took steroids, whether he knew about it or not.

Baseball's steroid testing plan did not begin before the 2002 season. McGwire and many other players of his era used steroids in a free and protected environment. Baseball owners, union leadership, management, writers, players and fans all stuck their heads in the sand and permitted this sort of behavior to continue. It was never illegal; lacking integrity, maybe, but not illegal. Bonds violated MLB rules. He cheated. And yet he gets into the Hall?

The BBWAA is obviously missing something here. How is it that McGwire gets left out and Bonds doesn't? Isn't that inconsistent? I mean, they both took steroids. They both broke the 70-homer plateau at a time when they were chemically altered. How is one guy's transgression forgivable and another's deemed unacceptable to our high moral standards? Utter bullshit. Some of the BBWAA members who responded tried to hide under the cover that McGwire, before his entrance into the 500-HR club (coinciding with his use of steroids), was merely an average player while Bonds has been a star since his early days with the Pirates. That argument just doesn't fly with me. If you use the excuse that McGwire cheated and took the leap from mediocrity to superstardom as something to hold against him, you are indirectly absolving the kind of cheating that propels the great to the other-worldly. You can't blab about morality if you aren't willing to be consistent about it.

Morality has no place in the Hall. Mickey Mantle, my favorite player, was a wife-beating drunk. Ty Cobb, the best pure hitter of the dead-ball era, was a racist pig and a malicious SOB. Ted Williams was unbearable to be around. The Hall is as full of cocksuckers and douchebags as it is full of wonderful people like Jackie Robinson, Ernie Banks and Yogi Berra. Bonds will fit right in with the cocksuckers and douchebags but there's a place at this table for McGwire too.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Musings on Barry Lamar Bonds

"You finally got me." In announcing he's done (possibly for the season), Barry Bonds' mistake is appealing for pity through the filter of the very media he's blaming. But the media is impervious to guilt trips. But buried within Barry Bonds' pity party is some truth: As baseball's biggest (and most media-unfriendly) star, Bonds has had to deal with the most aggressive take-down campaign in sports history. I can see the cynics' viewpoint: That he's sitting out the year to let the rage over 'roids simmer down. I can appreciate the critics' frustration: That he's projecting blame for troubles of his own creation onto the media. But I can also understand that when the media can break the will of someone as strong as Bonds, that's a unique achievement -- and not something to be proud of. Congratulations! We've driven the era's best baseball player out of the game.

-Dan Shanoff, ESPN.com

When I read that, I just wanted to vomit. The concept of accountability (remember that word? It means something your parents should've taught you when you were old enough to know better) is a foreign one to Barry Lamar Bonds. No one in the general public or the media shot him up with steroids. No one in the general public or the media told him to cheat on his wife and his three children for eight years with a gold-digging whore who is now singing to the Feds like a canary. In short, no one in either of these groups has done anything to Barry Bonds other than boo him at the ballpark or ask him tough but fair and honest questions. I can understand the pressure Bonds must be under right now with all that he must be going through. However, that doesn't mean that I excuse it or sympathize one bit. His problems are of his own creation and he doesn't deserve our sympathy, if only because he is trying to blame US for everything going on in his life.

Barry Bonds, FUCK YOU. You're a douchebag and you've been one your whole life. You don't deserve your family's love.

PS -- If anyone really, truly believes that Bonds will miss the season or any part of it (other than the necessary knee-rehab time), they're nuts. Since pulling out of the MLBPA Licensing Agreement last winter, Barry Bonds' self-licensed merchandise and memorabilia has cleared an income into the seven figures. The average cut for players operating within the framework of the MLBPA Licencing Agreement is $20,000. Missing any time at all would cost him revenue and he's not about to miss out on what will be a windfall once he actually cheats his way past The Babe.

Sweet Delicious 16

Just for some perspective on what occurred last week, about 30 hours into the tournament, the only notable upset was a 12-seed over a 5. Everyone was amazed at how many favorites were winning. Meanwhile, I was running around warning everyone to strap on their seat belt- the last time the tournament lulled everyone into a false sense of security, in 2000, the wheels fell off. TWO 8-seeds went to the Final 4.

Nothing that drastic happened this weekend, but 3 of the 3 seeds fell, and 2 of the 2-seeds were beat to certainly make the first weekend frustrating for many of the office pools.
But, the 1-seeds are all still present. I covered a number of teams and games last weekend, so I’ll try and touch on some different teams this week.

Editor’s note: If you were expecting rules for the Sweet 16, you will be disappointed. There are simply no rules for the Sweet 16. Anything goes, anyone can win at this point.

ACC- Big 10 Challenge
Since both conferences have the most representatives in the Sweet 16 (3 each), it’s only fitting that there’s 2 games where they play each other.

Wisconsin vs. NC State –
For a trip to the Elite 8. Who would have thought that? Then again, these teams reside in the “Region of Doom” where anything is possible. I think of this game as a play-in game for a 1st round draft pick – Wisconsin’s Wilkerson vs. NC State’s Hodge. The winner gets an NBA guaranteed contract for making the Elite 8! NC State has a size disadvantage- Hodge might be their tallest player at 6’7”. Granted, UConn also had a size advantage and it didn’t mean anything simply because UConn’s guards were terrible. The same thing might hold true here.

Duke vs. Michigan St. –
Neither team has looked especially dominant. Also of note, Duke beat Mich St. in the ACC-Big 10 challenge in a real close game earlier this year. Could Michigan St win the rematch? Probably not.

Biggest Underachieving Conference
I would give the award to the SEC, but we already knew that the SEC was weak this year. I think the biggest under-achiever is certainly the Big East. Everyone was raving about the depth of the Big East. Pitt got a terrible draw, losing to Pacific in the 1st round. Meanwhile, Syracuse also bowed out in the 1st round and UConn & BC in the 2nd. The Big East did get some surprise Sweet 16 participants in West Virginia and Villanova.

The patheticness of the Big East only slightly edges out Kansas & their gimpy guard, Langford, and the rest of the Big 12. At least the Big 12 has one of their main teams, Oklahoma St, left to make some noise. The Big 12 also has the eccentric Bobby Knight, a cast of inflatable furniture to throw, and a team of Red Raiders. I'm not expecting much.

Most Intriguing Matchup- (other than last week’s aforementioned Arizona-Oklahoma St)
Washington vs. Louisville –
Honestly, I don’t know much about Washington. I know that they like to shoot 3s, but so does Louisville. Washington may be slightly undersized, giving a rebounding edge to Louisville. What I do know is that the winner of this game better go to the Final 4 – I don’t want to see the winner of Texas Tech-West Virginia in the final 4. Am I biased at all? Yes.

Darling Cinderellas -
Just wanted to say hello to UW-Milwaukee. Congratulations on making the Sweet 16 as a 12-seed.
Also wanted to wish good luck to my Super-Cinderella Final 4 team – Utah. Remember, I’m changing my blog name to Nostradamus if they find a way to beat Kentucky & Duke. If 7-foot tall Bogut keeps showing off Stockton-like passing skills like he did against Oklahoma, there may be a chance.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Steroids Make You Stupid

Between McGwire's "testimony" last week before Congress, and Bonds' "tired" interview today, I'm convinced that those dumb enough to take steroids somehow become much, much dumber after taking the drugs.

Side note: I used to think that September 8, 1998 was one of the greatest nights of my life. I spent that evening at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, and witnessed first-hand McGwire's 62nd home run of the season, breaking Roger Maris' record. It was a moment of pure excitement, adulation and joy - and now I realize that the whole night was a sham.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Know when to hold, Know when to Fold

If a woman had to decide between catching a fly ball and saving and infant's life, she would save the infant's life without even considering if there was a man on base.
-Dave Barry


Well folks the Madness that is the tournament has taken over. Top seeds are falling faster than the dollar. UConn, Kansas, Syracuse, Georgia Tech all went down like a Pi Phi on a Saturday night. Those of you who called it all, obviously need to quite their day jobs, move out to Vegas, and start gambling while drinking rum drinks with tiny umbrellas in them. Those that handled their picks like Dusty Baker handles starting pitching (read horrifically) I have a diagnosis for you: its called malaise. I am a sufferer from malaise. Teams I pick turn to crap. I was born in 1979. No Cleveland team has a won a championship since 1979. Coincedence? I think not. I pick Syracuse, a team that had played relatively well all year, and they lose to a bunch of ski bunnies (read Vermont). Wake lost to West Virginia team led by a Clevelander (Mike Gansey). Gansey who obviously has ice in his veins, couldn't miss and Wake's coach apparently came down with the stupids (gee man to man defense didn't work for 15 minutes..i know I'll keep trying it)

The next round seems to holds the possibility of intriguing matchups: rematch of Duke v. Kentucky.( damn you Christian Laettner). Bobby Knight v. refs, chairs, human decency. UNC v. Villanova (Big East v. ACC redux), Washington (of the non-Saint Louis variety) v. somebody else I don't care about.

Nonetheless as the madness continues here are few things to keep in mind: 1) Never have all Number 1 seeds made the final 4; 2) Politicians like the spotlight so expect John McCain to continue to sell out and yell at baseball 3) Sammy Sosa actually doesn't speak Spainish or English, he is only fluent in Yoruba 4) The NBA is getting close to the playoffs (but I'm uncertain if anyone cares at the moment)

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

March Madness 2005

This is the greatest time of the year. Productivity across the nation dips to its lowest point of the year as everyone catches basketball fever. OK, let’s get right to my analysis to help as much as I can in your pool (which isn't much).

Best 1st-round matchup: Pitt vs. Pacific
The Committee was crazy this year. They basically decided to watch the conference tournaments, and then bump a team up or down 2-3 seeds based on that performance. This game features an incredible Pacific team that has lost 2 games all year, and a Pitt team that was ranked most of the season. Pitt played ‘Nova in the 1st round of the Big East with the exact same credentials, ‘Nova won. ‘Nova got a 5-seed as a result, and Pitt got a 9! I have no idea who will win the Pitt-Pacific game, but I think the winner has a good shot against Washington.

From here on out, I'm just going to highlight some of the rules which led me to my choices.

Rule3: When a non-1 seed wins, it happens in 2 straight years.
So, we are due for a 1-seed to win. Right off the bat I’m eliminating Washington and Duke. This may be overkill, but even though Duke has a relatively easy region, I just don’t trust them. We’ll get to that region momentarily. I’m in love with Illinois & UNC, so let’s just pencil those 2 in the final 4 right now.

Rule4: A 12-seed always beats a 5 (except in 2000)
Let’s go with UW-Milwaukee over Alabama. Someone’s gotta do it. Old Dominion over Michigan State isn’t a bad idea either.

Rule8: The MAC has never gone consecutive years w/o winning a tourney game (well, since 1994 anyway).
Well, Ohio University somehow ended up in the tournament with 3 freshmen starters based on an OT buzzer-beater. What the hell, give them another victory! Everyone beats Florida in the 1st round of the NCAAs anyway.

Rule9: If you win your conference tourney, you won't do well in the NCAA tourney. (Exception: top 10 teams)
So, we are looking at major conferences here. The teams that will stink are: Florida (only strengthens the probability of losing to Ohio), and Syracuse. Syracuse is playing Vermont, so jump on that bandwagon and that guy named Copperhead.

Rule 10: The favorite almost NEVER survives the “Region of Death” (Duke in 2004 made the Final 4), and certainly will never win the whole tournament.
Finally, to answer the question that everyone already knows the answer to: UNC’s region is the “Region of Death”. UNC, Vilanova, Kansas, Wisconsin, & UConn certainly qualifies. Unfortunately, I’m going against the odds and still picking UNC to win the region. They are so talented, have a great coach, and they have more depth than anyone else. I’m still taking them all the way to the finals, just not to win the whole thing.

Rule6: There always is one conference w/ multiple teams in the final4
Well, the ACC is still the best conference in the land. Before ACC season began, 7 teams were ranked! Obviously, they all beat the snot out of each other, and not that many are ranked anymore. As a result, when I look at the Washington region, Wake Forest seems like a super-power. They have a great backcourt let by Chris Paul, they made the Sweet 16 last year, and I think they can make the leap.

The Duke-Region, home of Cinderella
Finally, the one region I haven’t touched on is Duke’s. Duke has a cake-walk to the Elite 8, assuming Syracuse is knocked out earlier on. Everyone in the nation is hoping for a Duke-Kentucky and a Duke-UNC Final 4. Every year, the game that everyone roots for never happens. Who do I see messing up all these parties? Utah.

Yes, I know Rick Majerus is no longer the coach. The thing is, I have all favorites in the Final 4 right now with Illinois, Wake, UNC. Utah has the best big-man in the country in Bogut. Plus, they shoot 37.5% from 3-point land as a TEAM! That’s a pretty good inside-out combo that most teams will have lots of trouble dealing with. So, I’m anointing Utah as my crazy final 4 team. They will have to beat Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Duke to get to the Final 4. If this happens, the blog is raising my salary substantially - to 2 pizza slices per month, a $5 cost of living increase, and I will change my name on the blog to Nostradamus.

Finally, I’m going with the championship game that everyone wants to see, but probably won’t happen. Illinois will take down UNC in the finals, merely because UNC will have nothing left after surviving Nova, UConn, and the juggernaut Utah.

Other Teams That Could Make Noise
Kansas – I would like Kansas, but their fortunes are completely tied to Langford’s ankle, which hasn’t been healthy. They could lose to Wisconsin in the 2nd round, or go to the Final 4, all depending on one ankle’s health.
Louisville- Strongly considered anointing Garcia and his mates as my surprise Final 4 team. Decided that beating Georgia Tech, Washington, & Wake was also really difficult, and wanted to go with something more shocking (read: Utah).
Arizona- As a 3-seed, they may have to play Oklahoma St in the sweet 16! That should be a sensational game, and either team would have a great shot against Illinois.
UConn- Team most likely to survive the Region of Death that’s not named UNC. The only problem is that I don’t know if they have the guard-play to make it. They certainly have the big men. They remind me a lot of a young Michigan State team that made it to the Final4 team the year AFTER Cleaves left. It's completely realistic for UConn to follow in those footsteps.
Gonzaga- Have to give my annual shout-out. They have disappointed me every year since 1999, when they made the Elite 8. I’m in love with mid-majors that succeed. The problem is, they would have to beat Wake in the Sweet 16, which is a very tall task. I can only hope that Turiaf’s dreadlocks will give them the power to succeed.

That’s all I got. Let the madness begin!

Sunday, March 13, 2005

We all go a little mad sometimes...

Well its Selection Sunday, my favorite sports selection show, narrowly beating out Diorama-rama and the NFL Draft (also known as can the Cleveland Browns figure out the difference between their ass and a hole in the ground?). Despite the 64 team format there is inevitably controversy over the "bubble teams". Frankly I wish the Mid-Majors didn't have tournaments and merely sent the best team. 1) They would be more likely to win a game in the tournament and 2) This format often blocks more deserving bubble teams. On the other hand any kind of controversy should deflect my attention from Congress and Baseball steriods (why exactly aren't GMs, agents, owners, trainers, union leaders, journalist being called to testify? Oh, merely having a show trial for athletes keeps it from being McCarthy style witch hunts. Yeah keep repeating that to yourself.

So while typically I'd throw in my 10 cents (given the price of gas 2 cents sure doesn't go as far as it used to) about who is going to win. However that might help people and my contract with Back Seat Drivers specifically forbids any kind of help. Hence I'll just outline some strengths and weaknesses of the top teams.

Before I do that, I just wanted to highlight the best and worse of the Conference Tournaments. The best part was when Marrisa Miller did a strip tease for me to alleviate the pain of Duke winning the ACC. The worse part was when Darius Washington, freshman for Memphis, missed two consecutive free throws to give Louisville the 74-73 win. Now I really can't imagine a more pressure filled situation than shooting free throws AFTER time has expired and my heart just broke when I saw that poor kid crumple to the floor after he missed. I hadn't seen a man cry like that in public since Hart found out Toys R US was out of "my little pony".

Anyway onto the main event...
The Contenders
1) Illinois - Big 10 Champs and except for a trip to the Buckeye Nut House, undefeated. They've had big wins over major teams (read Wake Forrest), great guard play and probably the best 3 point shooting team of the true contenders. However as OSU showed, if the team gets cold or if the opposing team can dominate the offensive boards, Illinois turns quickly into a paper tiger.

2) UNC - The regular season ACC champ and since the ACC has the most number of true contenders of ANY conference that deserves some dap. They're probably the deepest team in the tournament with well balanced scoring, high octane offense and big enough to have their way in the paint. However the team goes through droughts because of a lack of outside shooting, compounded by Rashad McCants recent stomach ailments (he saw the recent Vin Diesel movie)

3) Wake Forrest - Probably has the best player in the country in Chris "Nut Puncher" Paul. They have size, speed, strength and a shaman that can put curses on the opposing team. However relying on one player is a risky business. Without Paul this team doesn't have the balance to go deep (witness their thrashing at the hands of NC State when they were without Paul)

4) Duke - The Dookies as always are locked and loaded for a potential Final 4 run after winning the ACC tournament. JJ Reddick can hit a three pointer from the Men's Room of Tokyo's International Airport. Coach K still has his Jedi Mind powers (These are not the fouls you are looking for). However Duke only has 3 players on their entire team. If you ever see more than 3 players for Duke, remember its all CGI effects. Impressive, no?

5) Kansas - This team has been a bigger mystery than why is Kevin Costner still in show business. They've been consistently inconsistent. When they are on, they can go into Kentucky, make fun of the hill billies and come away with a win. When they are off, the Young Jewish Professionals of Columbus can beat them. Part of the inconsistentcy is that they've been injury plagued. Now its looking like for the first time since the start of the year they will be healthy but...

6) Kentucky - Good team defense (opponents averaging only about 40 points) but frankly I couldn't identify anyone on that team if you paid me. Their slip up against Florida and the weakness of the SEC points out they might not have the offensive firepower to hit the Final 4.

7) UConn/GTech - Last Year's Championship Game. Both have had a rocky a start but have come on as of late. UConn does it with their big men (Boone and Caveman Lawyer (i.e. Villeuneva) and GTech does it with their small men (Jack and Elders) but both are dangerous (UConn more so but only because they carry guns)

8) Other Teams that you have probably never seen play (Arizona, Washington, Louisville, Harlem, Gonzaga, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma Polytechnic Center for Orthopedic Medicine, Syracuse) - Do your own research!

Viva La Madness!

Pick'em Fun

Dear All,
Just a quick community service. I have attempted to create a March Madness tournament challenge via yahoo. All are welcome to participate. If anyone is missing from the initial list who would like to participate, please let me know. Again if anyone would like to be insulted, please let Hart know

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Another Quick Word On Steroids Subpoenas

Really briefly, before I go onto another subject that I'm thinking about...

Doesn't the federal government have anything better to do than waste a whole day holding hearings about baseball's steroid problem? Can you imagine what it's like to be a scheduling secretary right now? I figure it's something like "Well we have the vote to put individual Americans in financial peril by upending the bankruptcy code at 9am today, then we have to make sure that terrorists on federal watchlists are protected by the 2nd Amendment at 11:30. After lunch we have to screw everyone over by flushing Social Security in the toilet. Ah hell, let another committee worry about ruining the country, we have to talk about steroids!" I mean, does anyone else think that the feds are a little out of their jurisdiction here? Let MLB police itself. Selig and Fehr finally figured it out and realized that 'roids is a bad thing. They have changed the league's policy. GREAT. No need to waste taxpayer dollars on flying a bunch of shrunken-nut, back-zitted guys to Washington. Enough already, move on.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Rules of Engagement

Editor’s Note: I will be writing each and every Wednesday from now, until the end of the tournament in honor of something we call… March Madness.

This is a special moment in history. Due to the lucrative contract I signed with the blog (I get a free slice of pizza once a year), I will now be unveiling to the public something extremely valuable. So valuable in fact, that this document was protected by a password AND it was scrambled using a Cracker Jack decoder ring. I will now be unveiling to the readers of this blog… Goldberg’s Ten Rules to Predicting the NCAA Tournament Field.

[Applause. Cheers. Jeers.]

What is the success rate of these rules? Let’s just say, I wouldn’t bet any substantial amount of money on these rules. But, they are my guidelines… developed and tweaked from the 13 tournaments I have followed and the Bracketology classes I have attended.

Rule#1: All (4) 1-seeds will NOT make Final4
Pretty much common sense. You can’t pick all 4 #1s. Some females even know this rule.

Rule#2: At least (1) 1-seed WILL make Final4
Once again, common sense. Picking which one is more difficult.

Rule#3: When a non-1 seed wins, it happens in 2 straight years
Getting a little tricky. But, in 2003, 3-seed Syracuse won, and in 2004, 2-seed UConn won. That’s right, a 1-seed WILL win this year. We are due.

Rule#4: A 12-seed always beats a 5 (except in 2000)
This has taken on strange-but-true lore. It really does work for some unknown reason.

Rule#5: If the 1-seeds do poorly one year, they do well the next year.
This is a rule of thumb. Last year, the 1-seeds were terrible, 2 were knocked out in the 2nd round, only 1 made the Final 4. The last time only 1 1-seed made the Final 4 was in 2000. The following year in 2001, a 1-seed won, 2 were in the final 4 and all 4 made the Elite 8.
Meaning… you can bank on the 1-seeds succeeding this year.

Rule#6: There always is one conference w/ multiple teams in the final4
Just about always. Obviously, I’m banking on the ACC this year.

Rule#7: NEVER has there been a final4 w/ teams all from the same conference
The Big East got 3 back in 1985 (first year of 64 teams). Getting 4 is just absurd. Don’t do it.

Rule#8: The MAC has never gone consecutive years w/o winning a tourney game (well, since 1994 anyway).
That means the MAC will win this year. No ifs, ands, or buts. The biggest problem though (which may warrant deviating from Rule 8) is that every team in the MAC has the same record. Parity rules. They probably will be drawing a tough opponent. Proceed with caution.

Rule#9: If you win your conference tourney, you won't do well in the NCAA tourney. (Exception: top 10 teams)
Teams that come out of nowhere to win a conference tourney usually have nothing left come NCAA tourney time. I think a “cockiness complex” is definitely at work here. The team gets over-confident after beating down everyone, they get to the tournament, and suddenly, they lose in the 1st/2nd round. (example: Maryland 2004 was going to be like a 10-seed, earned a 5-seed, lost in 2nd round.)
Top 10 teams obviously are exempt from this rule, and need to be looked at on a case-by-case basis. 9 of the last 20 champions won their conference tournament and were top-10 teams entering the Big Dance, which is more than enough to warrant an exemption from the rules.

Rule #10: The favorite almost NEVER survives the “Region of Death” (Duke in 2004 made the Final 4), and certainly will never win the whole tournament.
In 2004, Duke became the first favorite (1-seed mainly) to survive the region that I anoint, “Region of Death”. This terminology comes from the World Cup soccer tournament, where the European reporters always anoint the toughest group as the “Group of Death”. (Last World Cup, favorite-Argentina could not even make it out of its group). Same principle applies. It’s a statistical anomaly how so many good teams end up in the same group. I’m still amazed that Duke survived in 2004– other teams in its region included Arizona, Illinois, UNC, Texas, Xavier, & Mississippi St. Usually, the “Region of Death” is readily apparent and everyone will know as soon as the brackets are announced. Tune in next week, as I officially announce the 2005 Region of Death.

A Quick Word On Steroids Subpoenas

How come the federal government is interested in having Bud Selig, Donald Fehr, Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmiero, Jason Giambi, Curt Schilling and Frank Thomas come to Washington for hearings on the steroid scandal? How come Barry Bonds isn't included in this panel? Barry Bonds is the f-ing ringleader in this BALCO thing and he gets to sit at home shooting himself in the ass with his juice while the rest of these guys have to go sweat it out on C-SPAN on an off-day? Ridiculous.

You gotta hand it to the guy though. Barry Bonds has the best strategy I've ever seen -- behave like a complete dick for your entire career, make everyone fearful of your outbursts and you'll be left alone. The alternative? Being a nice, accessible guy like Raffy, McGwire or Sosa and you get your ass hauled into federal chambers like a piece of shit off the street.

Monday, March 07, 2005

What is Phil doing on the Golf Course?

Quoting my good friend John Henroid:

Golf has never looked more gay


Not that there's anything wrong with that.

3 Sided Die

As an unofficial contributor thus far, and in the semi-exclusive role of contrarian and general irritant, I would now like to make my first official blog posting on this page.

If I had to pick my favorite time of the baseball season based on the parameters set by Mikey and Hart, I would have to say that August/September is my favorite time of the baseball year. During that time, the contenders separate themselves from the pretenders, teams in the Wild Card hunt jockey for position and fans have something to do when they get home from work during the hot, muggy summer. What's better than getting home, taking off your suit and cracking a cold one in front of the couch and getting to spend the next 3 hours of your night watching the Great American Game?

I'll tell you what's better...WINTER MEETINGS. Without a doubt, that is the best part of the baseball season. It is a time of raising expectations and increasing hope. It is a time when the mercury reads -15 but the temperature inside a baseball fan's heart is over 100. Think about it: just 2 months after the conclusion of the World Series, we're talking baseball again. The big trades, the big signings, the drama of free agents picking your team over the next guy's. That's what makes baseball unique. The off-season is by far more interesting than any of the other sports' off-seasons.

Give that 3 sided die a 4th side I say!

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Harbinger of Madness

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Well as a current resident of buckeyeville, home of THE Ohio State University I was witness to the appetizer to the Madness. OSU using some combination of luck, determination, hard work and duct tape upset Illinois. Now I'm no Steven A. Smith but going undefeated in Big 10 play until the final game of the regular season is impressive. Illinois typically shoots from the locker room and makes it. But somehow OSU beat them. And that my friends is why the Madness has begun. The Tournament is here. No team is safe and those of us watching the games (possibly while studying for an exam) are given the pleasure of close finish after close finish (quick sidenote love the Bonus Coverage e.g. switching midgame to catch the last 20 seconds of a game befor switching back to the main dish). NBA and college basketball aren't even comparable. College basketball is a game of streaks. Witness UNC v. Duke today. UNC was up by 8, then down by 9, before going on a 11-0 run to win it in the Dean Dome. By the end I needed a beer and a change of pants. In THE tournament no lead is safe and no matter how storied the tradition ANY team can lose. In the NBA if a team is up by 10 with 2 quarters left the fat lady is singing. Sure in theory a comeback can happen in the NBA, but in theory communism works and as we all know its just not going to happen. Oh, and the tournament has better betting (note gambling is only legal if you are in Vegas or Hart's apartment)

Now typically I'd pontificate about which team is going far in the tournament but given the fact that 3 potential number one seeds lost Sunday (Kansas, Kentucky and Illinois) I'm backing off and not picking anything before bracketology is completed (can you major in bracketology? I got a degree in psychology and frankly braketology seems far more practical) Nonetheless see the Madness, love the Madness, be the Madness.

While I'm on the stump I thought I'd use the power of the blog (I guess since I've written a column and now I'm blogging I'm technically clogging) . The power of the blog is to poll members of the committee and solicit opinions (on the downside a blog is also the place where Max Kellerman still makes some sort of insane rant. How was it possible he was ever on tv?). Nonetheless since its the begining of baseball season I thought I'd ask the question of what is your favorite time of baseball season? Hart and I divided it up between spring training, August/September of pennant races and October for the playoffs. After much soul searching and a rolling of a three sided die I went with the pennant race as the best time to follow baseball. Now a true pennant race doesn't happen every year and the wild card has diluted the joy a bit but there's something magical about following the standings as the season winds down. Its the time when the scrubby 5th starter must come through to secure playoff dreams. Was not the "shot heard round the world" which capped the remarkable run by the Giants to pass the Dodgers the best baseball had to offer?

Shut Your Piehole!

Time for Back Seat Drivers' new feature: Shut Your Piehole! In this segment, we call out sports personalities for saying really stupid things. Here's our first entry:

On SportsCenter this morning, Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith debated exactly how good the University of Illinois basketball team should be considered. Bayless, in a rare moment of clarity, explained that he wasn't "sold" on the Illini because the Big Ten is a weak conference this year. Smith, in contrast, argued that he couldn't buy into Illinois just yet because the team lacks the "tradition" of schools like UNC, Duke, or even Michigan. If it were Michigan that were 29-0, he said, maybe he'd believe - but according to Stephen A., Illinois just doesn't have the history.

That's some of the dumbest logic I've ever heard. Should we mathematically alter teams' won-loss records to reflect their history? So maybe UNC at 25-3 is actually 27-1? Illinois' 29-0 is maybe 26-2? And what the hell do we do with Pacific?

If you're not convinced about Illinois due to the weaker Big Ten (especially compared to the rigorous ACC or Big East), that's perfectly reasonable. But because Illinois doesn't have a series of trophies sitting back home in Urbana? Totally irrelevant. Stephen A. Smith, once again you've shown that you don't have a frickin' clue - so SHUT YOUR PIEHOLE!

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Sunday in Ohio

If I were in the Buckeye State tomorrow, I'd make my way to Columbus to see the lowly, bloodsucking Ohio State men's basketball team take on the top-ranked Illinois Fighting Illini, as the Orange and Blue seek to go undefeated in the regular season.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Q & A with Isiah Thomas


Suave GM Isiah Thomas Posted by Hello

--I’d just like to thank you for taking time out of your day to join us for this chat. Not many people realize the extensive experiences you’ve had. After playing, you started out as a Toronto Raptor GM, but you left before the team made the playoffs, AFTER you had selected Tracy McGrady in the draft. What exactly happened?

We were starting to build a great team with Vince Carter, and T-Mac was just 18 years old. On Toronto, T-Mac was a rookie, and was hooked on some video game called “Quake” where you shoot lots of people. Can you believe that? I can’t believe youngsters today. I went in once, turned off his game, smiled and said, “Violence is not the way young man.” He says that I turned off his game on the last level and really held a grudge against me. This really hurt our relationship I think. But I really laid a great foundation for them and anyways, I got to broadcast games on NBC when I left [big Isiah-smile].

--After NBC, you became owner of the CBA. Some people have said that you “killed the league”. Do you have any response to this?

I didn’t kill the league. I minimized my losses before a complete financial failure occurred, by selling after owning the league for 2 years. [big Isiah-smile].

--You then became coach of Indiana for 3 years and led the team to three 1st-round exits. What was that like?

It was a really young team, and I was really focused on building for the future [big Isiah-
smile].

--Larry Bird came in as president and quickly fired you. What was that all about?

Once I made some comments to him, and I think he’s just jealous of my 2 NBA Championships. [big Isiah-smile.]

--Wow, that’s bold. Wait a minute, I think Bird has 3 NBA championships.

Championship is a state of mind. I don’t think he has the state of mind that I have [big Isiah-smile].

--That’s for sure. Well, now that we got the past out of the way, tell me about your plans with the Knicks.

I’m in a real great situation, with owners who are really supportive of whatever I do. I actually have done some research and found that in sports like baseball, the more you spend, the greater the chances for success.

--But your team is in the NBA last time I checked.

Well, spending a lot in baseball gives you a high probability of success. Baseball is an AMERICAN sport, so I think it can work in basketball also. [big Isiah-smile].

--Well that’s a pretty novel theory. I think you’ve made some real gutsy personnel decisions so far with the Knicks. What are your theories for personnel?

First off, I don’t like real young people. I look for players with maturity. I only relate well with people who are older who can remember me succeeding or who have been around the league a while. That’s why I like to acquire great players like Stephon Marbury, and ‘Lil Penny Hardaway last year.

--But Hardaway hasn’t gone by ‘Lil Penny for at least 5 years, and 3 knee surgeries!

Well, he’s still ‘Lil Penny in my mind. [big Isiah-smile]

--Did you know that you are paying him $14 million to be a bench player?

$14 million? The owners of the Knicks specifically told me not to worry about the salaries of any of the players. I told you, they are very supportive. So I instructed my front-office to not include salary amounts for all players when I’m evaluating talent. It took real negotiating skills to get Phoenix to throw in ‘Lil Penny with Marbury. [big Isiah-smile].

--You do realize there’s a salary cap! Your baseball tactics may not work in basketball. You can keep spending, but you know you can only take on 15% in extra salaries on each trade?

Once again, as I already said, the owners of the Knicks are great people, and I am following their instructions and not worrying about it. We are building a championship team for New York City, the “Big Apple” as some people call it. [big Isiah-smile]

--I think we’re running out of time, but I really appreciate you taking the time for this interview. You truly are one of a kind Isiah.

Thanks! I also have a consulting business on the side, so let me know if you ever need anything.

-- Oh my. What kind of consulting is it?

We work with larger companies, on sustaining success. We’ve had some miscues lately, but I think things will turn around, just like everything else. Championship is a state of mind! [big Isiash-smile].

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

AL West Preview

The AL West might have experienced the most upheaval of any division in this past offseason. The biggest moves, of course, were the trades of Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder out of Oakland. Seattle welcomes big boppers Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson, the California Angels (don't get me started on their name) lose Troy Glaus and Jose Guillen, and Texas pretty much stands pat. Who knows what all of this means? I'll give it a shot:

4. Texas - sorry, I don't care how good the infield is - and it's the best, at least offensively, in baseball. There's no pitching here, still. Could someone explain that to Tom Hicks? I love the bats here: Teixeira, Michael Young, Soriano and Blalock are an awesome combination, and if Texas is smart, they'll keep them all for years and beat the crap out of the ball for a long, long time. Richard Hidalgo, Laynce Nix and Kevin Mench form a nice outfield to complement the infielders. It's a great lineup. But egads, they're still starting Chan Ho Park in Arlington! Kenny Rogers, Ryan Drese, Pedro Astacio - give me a break. Texas' continual failure to either sign or groom young throwers (Chris Young aside, who should begin the year in the rotation - but he's not a top prospect leaguewide) is one of the great crimes in baseball in the last decade. I like Francisco Cordero as closer, and don't know much about the rest of the bullpen. Texas will lose a lot of 11-10 games, they'll be fun to watch and yet they'll be excruciating - because one or two arms down there turns this sub-.500 team into a Series contender.

3. Oakland - Where in "Moneyball" does Billy Beane discuss the sensibilities of trading away two All-Star and possible Hall-of-Fame starters in the same offseason for unproven replacements? I don't remember that section either. Now the Big Three is down to the Big One (Barry Zito), the Big Maybe (Rich Harden), and the Big Gambles (Joe Blanton, Dan Meyer and Dan Haren). Harden was supposed to be the #4 to Zito-Hudson-Mulder, and now he's got to step it up if the A's will have a chance. Blanton is homegrown, but is he ready? His ERA at Triple-A last year was 4.19. Meyer comes from Atlanta in the Hudson deal, and Haren from St. Louis for Mulder, and both will get their chances in 2005. If Beane is right, Oakland may quickly rise again to the top with its rotation in 2006 and beyond - but not this year. Oh, they added Jason Kendall, and Eric Chavez, Erubiel Durazo, and Bobby Crosby are still here. But do you care? This team's sitting out in October, watching at least one of its former studs pitch on national TV.

2. Seattle - the more I thought about the M's, the more I convinced myself that they'll leapfrog Oakland in 2005. I think they overpaid for both Beltre and Sexson, but there's no denying the boost they'll provide in the middle of this lineup. Seattle needs it, too, as Bret Boone returns to his sober form as a more annoying, less likable version of his non-roided brother Aaron. With Ichiro and a solid Randy Winn in the outfield, plus CF Jeremy Reed and C Miguel Olivo (both stolen from the White Sox in the Freddy Garcia deal), and overrated but able Raul Ibanez, maybe this team can score a little, even in pitcher-friendly Safeco Field? Ryan Franklin, Bobby Madritsch and Joel Pineiro are the keys to this team - they're supposed to be good young pitchers, and they're waiting up in Seattle for these guys to break out. Jamie Moyer will have to retire one day, so if one or two of this group doesn't step up, Seattle won't challenge Anaheim for a long time. If enough goes right for the Mariners with their rotation, and Anaheim doesn't live up to its billing, maybe they can stay competitive into September. But don't bet on it.

1. Anaheim - they're still Anaheim to me, and they still should scare the shit out of you. This team is awfully good! Not many teams could lose two 30-homer hitters (Glaus and Guillen) and not bat an eye. But we've got Vlad Guerrero, Garret Anderson, Darin Erstad, and new arrivals Orlando Cabrera and Steve Finley here, and putative rookie superstud Dallas McPherson replacing Glaus at third. Chone Figgins sets the table, and these other guys start knocking the ball all over and out of the park, and you've got a lot of runs. As for the pitching staff, the numbers don't do this team justice: Bartolo Colon, Kelvim Escobar, Jarrod Washburn, Paul Byrd and John Lackey ought to make Manager Mike Scoscia very comfortable when he goes to sleep at night. Losing Troy Percival won't hurt much - Felix "K-Rod" Rodriguez should be able to close, and Scot Shields and Brendan Donnelly form an excellent set-up pair for him. Gotta love the Halos, and don't listen to all the hype out of the East - this team could very easily kick the crap out of anyone in a seven-game series. They're going to the postseason.

NL Central Preview

Ah, my home division. Gotta love the Central - Mikey was right in his earlier posting, it will be another of the competitive groupings in 2005. There's really only one dreadful team here, and the other five all have enough talent to make things interesting. Here we go, again in reverse predicted order of finish:

6. Pittsburgh - their most feared hitter was the vastly overrated Jason Kendall, and now he's gone, too. Quick: name two Pirates regulars not named Jason Bay. I can't do it either without ESPN's help. Bay's a budding superstar and a lot of fun to watch. So is Oliver Perez, the starter obtained in the Brian Giles trade who started to break out in 2004 and should be one of the NL's best in 2005. But that's it. Literally. The rest of this team is absolute garbage. I don't care what Craig and Jack Wilson did last season; they're not enough to fill in the other gaps. Benito Santiago is their opening day catcher. Benito Santiago! He passed away fifteen years ago! Jose Mesa is closing - Jose Mesa! Don't get me wrong, Pittsburgh won't lose 100 games; they're not Kansas City. But they just can't compete this season.

5. Milwaukee - I hate to pick the Brewers to finish 5th, because I like what they're doing up in Dairyland. The Carlos Lee deal was simply brilliant - he is a bonafide slugger, underappreciated in Chicago and sure to smack a lot of balls out of Miller Park. Milwaukee's problem is what's around him. Geoff Jenkins is good, but he's not that good; same goes for an improving Wes Helms and last year's breakout star, Lyle Overbay. There's not a whole lot else up there, at least not yet. As for pitching, we start with Olympic hero Ben Sheets, who finally showed signs of being the stud that everyone's been waiting for. Doug Davis was a nice surprise in 2004, and many think that wasn't an aberration. The rotation's decent - not great, but decent, and they should keep the team in a lot of games. The bullpen's another story. Danny Kolb went to Atlanta, and so the Brew Crew turns to Mike Adams to close. Luis Vizcaino left for the White Sox in the Lee/Podsednik trade, so there goes the team's best set-up man. In the end, questions in the bullpen (Ricky Bottalico surfaces here this year) and the lineup will keep Milwaukee from seriously contending. But keep an eye on some of the young arms here and on the farm system; I've read somewhere that the team has a great collection of prospects at AA and AAA, and we should see some of them coming up and making this team truly legitimate in the next few years.

4. Cincinnati - is there another team in baseball whose fortunes are as dependent on the injury-prone? If everyone's healthy, the outfield of Ken Griffey Jr., Austin Kearns, Adam Dunn and Wily Mo Pena could easily be the best (at the plate) in baseball. But these guys get injured brushing their teeth. If - and it's a big if - these guys (or whoever survives a possible trade; Kearns and Pena are subject of many rumors) can play most of the season, then you throw in Sean Casey and Joe Randa at the corners, and perennially underrated Jason LaRue, and you've got enough firepower in the lineup to outscore anyone. The rotation is anchored by new arrival Eric Milton, who's never impressed me as much as he seems to impress the nationally-syndicated pundits, but I suppose there's a chance someone knows more than me. Paul Wilson and Ramon Ortiz won't do that much, but keep an eye on Luke Hudson. Danny Graves closing, but the rest of the bullpen could be a big problem - Ben Weber? David Weathers? Kent Mercker? Cincy needs to spend a little cash and buy a few pitchers and another infield bat, I think. Not this year, and not in this division in the next few years, as the Big Three keep spending and as Milwaukee improves.

3. Houston - Mikey's right: no team has a slimmer margin of error, given both their losses and the competition in the division. In his time in Houston, Jeff Kent never came close to his MVP numbers with San Francisco, but he was still a force and a presence in the middle of that lineup. Beltran isn't worth $17 million, but he, too, is a big thumper that the 'Stros will miss. Berkman's gone until May 15 at the earliest. Unsung Wade Miller's off to Boston. Son what's left? Bagwell and Biggio, of course, in part because they remain solid and in part because they're contractually forbidden from retiring. Jason Lane gets a shot at starting every day, and he might be a nice addition. Morgan Ensberg showed signs of life in 2004, a year later than expected, and maybe he can put it together for a whole season this year. But without adding another bat, the lineup isn't good enough until Berkman returns, and maybe not even after he gets back. But if the Astros make it to October, it'll be with thanks to the pitching staff. Oswalt and Clemens return at the top, with Pettitte threatening to be the best #3 starter this side of Carlos Zambrano. Brad Lidge is just ridiculous. Not fair to be as lights-out as he is. I don't know enough about the rest of the 'pen, so I'll ask for a little help in that department. In the end, there's a lot of skill here, but everything needs to click for Houston to make an October run. This team may miss

2. Chicago - dammit, it's hard not to pick my Cubbies to take the Central. But they didn't do enough this off-season, unless you buy into the theory promoted locally that the Cubs added by subtracting the negative clubhouse influences of Kent Mercker, Moises Alou, and, of course, Sammy Sosa. Maybe. This team has enough talent to make the World Series, but it's going to take a coordinated awesome effort from Nomar, Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, and most importantly, Corey Patterson. The ability is there - but we also lost, what, 70+ homers? Burnitz can make back some of those, but at a much lower batting average. Of course, everyone likes to say that the Cubs don't need a lot of scoring, with the rotation of Prior, Wood, Zambrano, and Maddux. Even with the loss of Matt Clement to the BoSox, this is the best rotation, 1 through 5, in baseball, by far. But then there's the reliever situation. Can Ryan Dempster handle closing? Many think he can, but jury's out. I'd like to see them give the ball back to Joe Borowski when he's healthy, but I don't think Dusty's a big fan. LaTroy Hawkins can't close, but he and Mike Remlinger should do wonders in the 7th and 8th innings. If there's clubhouse harmony, if Corey Patterson steps it up and Burnitz doesn't stink too badly, if the Cubs find a halfway decent closer - this team should beat everybody in the NL. Will all of that happen? Oh, how I'd love to say yes.

1. St. Louis - these assholes had to go out and get Mark Mulder. Bastards! The Cards kicked everyone's tail (except Boston's, off course) with Matt Morris having a down year. Woody Williams is gone to San Diego, but Mulder takes his place, so to speak, and if Morris returns to form - these two plus Chris Carpenter should scare many teams. Isringhausen is consistently one of the most unfairly shat-upon closers in the game; I don't get it, the guy performs at a high level and yet nobody gives him credit. Oh, and then there's the lineup. Some guy named Pujols is the focus, surrounded by Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen, and don't forget Larry "I'm Still Here" Walker. I don't think the Cards will miss Renteria too much - his glove was better than his bat, and his .330 average in 2003 will never be seen again. The biggest loss might be Mike Matheny, who handled both the pitchers and the bat with comfort and reliability. He's underrated and will boost San Fran a lot - and, in turn, his absence from the Redbirds could drag St. Louis down into second. But if the Cubs don't get their ducks in a row...I hate to say it, but it'll be St. Louis back in the playoffs and the Cubs fighting for a wild card spot.