Friday, March 28, 2008

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Thursday's Starting Five

1. New Orleans Hornets. No one can stop Lebron from getting to the rim with time winding down. Last night he had the ball on the right elbow with about ten seconds left and his team down by a point to the visiting Hornets. He lowered his shoulder dribbled towards the hoop and then rose above the defenders for a layup. He didn't stuff the ball this time but he didn't need to. The Lebronaliers were winning 99-98 with 7.7 left. Ballgame. Right? Nope. Because there was a player just as unstoppable as Lebron named Chris Paul in Cleveland last night. Paul received the ball and drove far into the paint, the defense collapsed on him thinking he was going for his own Lebron-esque layup. But he wasn't. Once the D was on him he spun and passed the ball back out of the paint to a wide-open David West, who canned the game-winner at the buzzer. Ballgame. It was Paul's 20th assist of the game. Again, he is the MVP. While Kobe was getting himself ejected from the late-stages of a must-win game against Charlotte, which his team then lost, Paul was orchestrating a victory over Lebron. He is the MVP.

2. Miami Heat. They lost to the Knicks last night at the Garden. In overtime. But they are right where they want to be. With just 13 wins to their credit they have a 4-game lead over the nearest team in the race for the most ping pong balls in the draft lottery. Wade is resting. Marion is resting and saying he wants to resign and they're poised to add Michael Beasley or Derrick Rose in the offseason. The fall of this team was dramatic and their turnaround could be too. Everything for them depends on Wade. Can he get himself healthy before the start of next season? If so, they could go into next season with a starting lineup of PG Jason Williams/Marcus Banks, SG Dwyane Wade, SF Shawn Marion, PF Michael Beasley, C Someone other than Old Shaq. That's pretty darn good.

3. Davidson College. Not only have they given the world Stephen Curry but they are giving their students a free trip to Detroit to go see the team play in the Sweet Sixteen. The school's Board of Trustees is offering free bus rides to the Sweet 16 site along with hotel rooms and game tickets. What? The best thing I ever saw my school give away was free coffee during finals. And, I'm pretty sure it was secretly decaf.

4. Vegas. First off, I don't think that these guys and gals out there ever really lose money during any big sporting event. But, I will say that those first four days of the tournament have got to be rough on the handicappers. Both in terms of sheer numbers and in terms of the uncertainty surrounding so many of the seeds from 3 through 13. If you looked last week you could find bets that were very winnable each day. Somehow #3 Louisville got about the same number of points (7 or 8) versus both their first round opponents, Boise State and Oklahoma. How does that make any sense? Especially considering that Oklahoma had only been getting 1 point in their first round game. There were other easy bets to make to but I feel like the 'Ville is the best example. Anyway, I chalk such things up to the fact that there are just too many games in too short a period of time. And, that's why I think all the sports books must love this weekend. There are fewer games. They all garner a lot of attention and the spreads will be really rough on bettors who are already sucked in by the Madness in general and whatever small-time success they may have had last weekend.

5. Chris Webber. After a well-documented but unfulfilled (at least from a fan's perspective) career C-Webb hung up his high-tops yesterday. His balky left knee is keeping him from suiting up for Warriors so he had decided that he's done. He made two Final Fours and a few deep runs in the NBA playoffs with the Kings but he never won it all. I mean, I don't know if he picked up a state championship in high school, but that would've been it for this guy. His numbers are still exceptional and his talent undeniable but I don't think that he'll be remembered as one of the best of his generation. Even if he may have been. He'll be remembered for calling that time out and for taking that money.

Benched. Them damn, long-hairs. In his infinite wisdom NFL Commish Roger Goodell may ban long-hair from the NFL. And, AARP readers rejoice. He may also destroy Troy Palamalu's locks just to be sure that the evidence of his long-hairedness doesn't fall in to the wrong hands.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

"Xavier McDaniel, I Presume..."

(Since the Knicks continue to surrender second half leads and lose games I figured that we're going to need to do something else with this space on occasion. With that in mind I've trekked through the wilds of the Internets to find the latest news on some of our long-lost Knicks from happier times.)

Though only a Knickerbocker for a short time (2003-2004), Dikembe Mutombo is someone that all of us know very well. The image of him laying beneath that hoop in Seattle, arms extended, clutching that basketball after his Nuggets upended the top-seeded Sonics is one of the iconic images for an entire generation of hoops fans. And, so is his finger-wag. I think the fact that he has moved around to so many teams (Nuggets, Hawks, Sixers, Nets, Knicks, Rockets) keeps him from being as beloved as he deserves. He is a 4-time Defensive Player of the Year, 8-time All Star and owner of the best Cookie Monster impression this side of Sesame Street. He is Hall of Famer on the court and perhaps the greatest humanitarian off the court that the NBA has ever seen. And, four years ago Isiah Thomas, that great evaluator of talent, told him that he was washed up and should hit the beach.

Fran Blinebury of the Houston Chronicle was talking with Dikembe about the fact that he is being honored by the NBA and the Rockets for his impressive career and the conversation veered towards the manner in which then-General Manager (but not yet coach) Isiah dismissed the veteran center's ability to contribute and traded him unceremoniously to the Chicago Bulls, for whom he would never play a minute. Mutombo explains to Blinebury in the Chronicle that it was Isiah's insulting words that drive him to excel still and that have made him able to step into the starting lineup the past two seasons when Yao has gone down with injury.

"It's still a wound... My wife and I still talk about it. It's still a bit sad to see the commissioner coming and all those people coming to celebrate the 17 years of my career and accomplishments and you look back and say that about (four) years ago, I had a guy tell me that I couldn't play basketball no more, to go to the beach and onto vacation. That's the same guy who's losing his job tomorrow. ... I never said nothing (to Thomas),' Mutombo said. 'The last time we played at the Garden (Jan. 9), my wife asked me to go shake his hand, to just forgive him. I went and shook his hand and I told him, 'On behalf of my wife, I want to shake your hand and I forgive you for everything you've done to me."

Dikembe is a deservedly proud man and he pulls no punches when he talks about Isiah. And, I love it. I'm glad that the only guy in the NBA that Isiah Thomas has successully motivated during his (soon to be over?!?!) tenure in New York is playing in Houston. I'm glad that Isiah shipped out the guy who led the league in blocked shots four times while his teams ranks last in that category by a country mile.

Wednesday's Starting Five

1. David West. The Teaneck, NJ native scored 35 points last night, grabbed 16 rebounds, snagged three steals, blocked two shots and notched one assist as the Hornets beat the Pacers in Indiana to go percentage points ahead of the Lakers for first place in the Western Conference. He scored 37 on the Celtics last weekend when the Hornets defeated them and 23 against the Rockets in another W for his club. He is as dominant and dependable big as you're going to find this side of Garnett and Stoudamire right now.

2. Chris Paul. Remember all that great stuff that David West has been doing lately? Well, this guy deserves some of the credit. His play at the point has helped West realize all that potential that he had coming out of Xavier in 2003 as the winner of the Oscar Robertson Trophy and the Adolph Rupp Trophy as the nation's best player. Chris Paul didn't do too poorly himself last night - 31 points, 14 assists and 3 steals - and deserves to win the MVP award this season and will only lose because Kobe is awarded for his body of work over several seasons. Paul makes his teammates better. Like All-Star better. Both Chandler and West are vastly improved due to his playmaking ability. He has made them every bit as formidable as Gasol and Bynum. In fact, he may make them better.

3. Manu Ginobli. He's so good at basketball that no one even mentions his eerie resemblance to Balki Bartokomos. The Argentinian wonder had 28 points last night to lead the Spurs in scoring as they topped the Magic. There are better basketball players in this league but I don't know if any of them are having better seasons. Well, except for Chris Paul.

4. Highlights. What a big night for every manner of Top-Ten highlights list. With real honest-to-goodness baseball back in our lives every highlight package on every sports program is infinitely better. Just slotting Jacoby Ellsbury's great catch between some hoops and hockey highlights made everything better.


5. Rich Harden. The A's pitcher tossed a gem this morning that few in Oakland saw. After all, these games start at 3 a.m. on the left coast. He struck out nine Red Sox over six innings and earned the win as the two teams split the series in Japan.

Benched. Alex Rodriguez. There is nothing as awkward as someone who wants to be liked so badly that they become altogether unlikeable. Except for A-Rod. Somehow he makes you feel even more uncomfortable than those people. He brings some calculating shininess with him that ups the evil quotient to match the desperation levels. It's almost sad how much he wants to be beloved and how often he is his own worst enemy. It's almost sad, but not quite. Not only has he been linked by truth-telling Jose Canseco to a steroids dealer but he also gave an interview to the Daily News the other day when he admitted that he wishes he would have signed with the Mets when had the chance. All in all, he heads into the 2008 season as much the lightening-Rod as he ever was.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Tuesday's Starting Five

1. Knicks fans. Late yesterday afternoon Donnie Walsh announced that he was leaving the Pacers after the season ends. The press conference portrayed the departure as amicable and inevitable. Walsh spoke candidly about the fact that he isn't ready to retire and about the other opportunities open to him. A few hours later ESPN started announcing that Walsh was coming to the Knicks in the offseason and that a three-year contract had already been worked out. Though I won't believe anything pertaining to the sordid world of MSG until it happens, I felt hopeful when I heard this news. It was the first thing about this team that has made me feel good in some time. Even the hope that Walsh is actually coming and relieving Isiah of some (if not all) of his duties is a godsend for Knicks fans at this point. For now, I'll take hope. Once the season ends I'll want a bit more.

2. The Houston Rockets. How do they get in the Starting Five? Especially when LA and Golden State just had back-to-back barn-burners on the left coast? Well, they got here because they are still only a game out of first place. A week ago tonight the Celtics broke their streak but the Rockets didn't let that loss break them (well except the very next night when Chris Paul and New Orleans really undressed them). Houston managed to go a respectable 2-3 during that murderous week (LA, BOS, @NO, @GS, @PHO). They beat the Kings last night to stay on track and are still in the hunt for the #1 seed in the West. After taking on the eminently beatable T-Wolves tomorrow the Rockets have a few days off to prepare for a Texas Two-Step with Los Spurs on Sunday (on ABC at 1). And, if they can take that game from the suddenly shaky defending champs then 6 of their 9 April contests are against teams without a chance at the playoffs. Though even making the playoffs in the West this year is an accomplishment this team could still nab the top spot. It's still an amazing story even if everyone has stopped paying attention.

3. The Philadelphia 76ers. The beat the Celtics last night to go one game over .500 for the season. They have won 8 of their last 10 games and are slotted into the sixth spot in the (L)East. This team should be worse than the Knicks. I honestly believe that. They should be in the Beasley/Rose sweepstakes. But, they're not. They're everything the Knicks are not. They've got a solid, point guard meshing with his coach. From top (they actually made a crucial in-season management move) to bottom (they've got ten guys playing 14+ minutes) they seem to understand that effort and not talent is the way to win games. And they're heading to the playoffs because of that understanding. If they can maintain their spot they will have a first round date with Orlando, who although better than they get credit for are still the most vulnerable team in the top 4. Combining this with the great Iverson-return not too long ago it has been a feel-good season in one of the most notoriously-feel-bad sports towns. And, I'm jealous. I would love to be watching an out-of-the-blue success story instead of this debacle.

4. Rasheed Wallace and the Detroit Pistons. In the past two weeks the Pistons have beaten Phoenix, New Orleans, San Antonio and Denver. Not too shabby. Last night was the Suns turn to take a depressing trip to Motown (is there really any other kind?). The competitive and impossible to match up against version of Rasheed showed up last night and nailed 5 three-pointers en route to 23 points. He hit the shot to put Detroit ahead with about a minute and half left in OT and then blocked an Amare Stoudamire shot with 35 ticks left to hold off the Suns. When he actually shows up there are few people who are as difficult to deal with. He posts up and shoots threes with equal aplomb.

5. Baseball. While you were sleeping or commuting or drinking that first cup of coffee while pretending to be hard at work the 2008 Major League Baseball season got under way. In Japan. The A's and the Red Sox took the field around 6 a.m. EST and the game was televised, I think. It sure doesn't feel like Opening Day just yet. Though it's coming up soon and Pedro is slated to be on the mound at Shea for the home opener. The moral of the story is that you (me) and all your (my ) friends probably should have had that fantasy draft already. Someone missed out on Manny's big morning in Japan. He went 2-5 with 4 RBI. And, the Yankees are already a game back in the AL East standings.

6 of 1 or a Half Dozen of the Other

Is Donnie Walsh really ready to trade in Larry for Zeke?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Post-Brunch Games


Alright, I'm back from the family brunch. Fueled by Jack and Gingers, made-to-order omlettes, several deviled eggs, some chilled shrimp and two single-serving creme-brulees. In other words, I'm ready for the couch and some basketball. And a nap.

#2 Texas vs. #7 Miami
Sunday at 2:10 PM EST in
Vegas: Texas (-6.5)
Storming the Floor: Texas (over St. Mary's)
Joe Lunardi: Texas (over St. Mary's)
WWOD?: Texas has beaten UCLA, Kansas and Tennessee. Meanwhile everyone was sort of surprised that Miami beat St. Mary's. It's got to be the Horns here, even though this very well could be the year that Texas Coach Barnes enters his Roy Williams at Kansas phase. Meaning he can't seem to ever advance as far as he should.

#2 Tennessee vs. #7 Butler
Sunday at 2:30 PM EST in Birmingham, AL
Vegas: Tennessee (-5)
Storming the Floor: Butler
Joe Lunardi; South Alabama (over Tennessee)
WWOD?: I liked South Alabama to pull the upset because in that fantasy they were raised to another level by the home crowd. I have no interesting and idiotic story to go along with Butler so I think I just take the Volunteers here. To build upon the Memphis/Vandy series (big win/pot-hole loss) from earlier in the season I would think that they win a big game before bowing out. Beating American doesn't count as their big win. Louisville, might qualify though...

#2 Georgetown vs. #10 Davidson
Sunday at 2:50 PM in Raleigh, NC
Vegas: Georgetown (-5)
Storming the Floor: Georgetown
Joe Lunardi: Georgetown
WWOD?: I keep seeing that 5-point spread and itch to take Georgetown to cover, but I just can't. The way they slow down the game and the way they limit possessions, which is exactly what makes them so very dominant, makes them vulnerable to a few big shots at the end of a game (that will either blow the spread or the game itself). So, in some epic Shakespearian way, their greatest strength is also the source of their vulnerability. And, Stephen Curry is just the sort of guy (he dropped 40 the other day) to steal that close game from the Hoyas. Still, over 40 minutes I think that Hibbert will be too much inside and Wallace will be too much outside.


#12 Western Kentucky vs. #13 San Diego
Sunday at 2:40 in Tampa, FL
Vegas: Western Kentucky (-5)
Storming the Floor: Drake (over UConn)
Joe Lunardi: UConn (over Western Kentucky)
WWOD?: This WKU team and the WVU team are the two things I've got going my way bracket-wise this year. I had them topping UConn in this game and I was nervous that was a stretch but I don't doubt that Courtney Lee and the rest of the Hilltoppers can take this one. Drake was the best team in this 4-team pod and UConn had the highest upside athletes. And, they're already at home. The door to next weekend is wide open for WKU.

#1 Memphis vs. #8 Mississippi State
Sunday at 4:45 PM EST in Little Rock, AR
Vegas: Memphis (-8)
Storming the Floor: Memphis
Joe Lunardi: Memphis
WWOD?: Since Memphis has yet to prove that the C-USA schedule gets them ready for the tourney I don't know anyone who is really sold on them. Mississippi State is a tenacious group with a bunch end-to-end players led by Varnado and if they can win the battle of the boards (which is how Tennessee got by them) then I could see the Tigers going down. That being said, I think Derrick Rose watched Kevin Love last night and wants to make his own mark in his only Dance. And, I want Rose to do well so that he is ready to take over the Knicks next season. So, that's really why I've got Memphis advancing on most of my brackets. Because the Knicks need a point guard.

#3 Louisvillle vs. #6 Oklahoma
Sunday at 5:00 PM EST in Birmingham, AL
Vegas: ( -7.5)
Storming the Floor: Louisville (over St. Joe's)
Joe Lunardi:Louisville (over St. Joe's)
WWOD?: Like Mr. Lunardi at the World Wide Leader and the guys at STF, I had Louisville over St. Joe's on my brackets in this slot. I'm going to stick with that still because I can't go against Pitino here. I think people forget that had the conference tournaments played out differently that L'Ville would have been a #2 seed at the worst. But they went out early in the Big East tournament and dropped to a #3. I rate them better than that. Partially because they made me a few nickels by covering on Friday and partially because I have a baseless skepticism about Sooner hoops. I guess I really don't trust football schools on the hardwood. That can get added to the list of bracket-biases next year, I guess.

#1 UNC vs. #9 Arkansas
Sunday at 5:20 PM EST in Raleigh, NC
Vegas: UNC (-12)
Storming the Floor: UNC (over Indiana)
Joe Lunardi: UNC
WWOD?: I'm going to hold out hope that Louisville can get to UNC down the road. I think that, barring serious foul problems, that Hansbrough is too much of a load for the Arkansas frontcourt. And, I didn't think Arkansas would even survive Indy so I'm not going to find confidence in them against the Heels. That wouldn't make any sense and if you've been paying attention you must know how much logic is important to me.

Hanging With My Peeps


The Game You'll (I'll) Miss While Hunting For Easter Eggs at Your (My) Parents House:

#12 Villanova vs. #13 Siena
Sunday at 12:10 PM EST in Tampa, FL

Vegas: Villanova (-5.5)
Storming the Floor: Clemson (who lost to 'Nova) over Siena
Joe Lunardi: Clemson (who lost to 'Nova) over Siena
WWOD?: Siena is from the MAAC conference. They test their mettle during the season against the likes of Rider and Marist and Niagra. And, though their win over Vandy was impressive (and they did beat Stanford early in the season) I just got to go with the Big East school. Even though Jay Wright is a jerk-face and his technical foul against Clemson should have cost his team the game.

PS: I don't like Villanova's coach.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

And, Now We Only Have To See Him In Commercials

What a way to start the day! West Viriginia comes tearing back in the second half and eases itself into the dominant role in the game, holding a flailing Duke off down the stretch. Oh, I love the fact that I don't have to come home and know that the Duke game will be on no matter much better the other matchups are. What a great way to start the day!

After a slow start, Joe Alexander was indeed the best player in this game and his team did grab boards and hit big threes in the second half. Alexander led the game in points (22) and rebound (11). And, while this wasn't as exciting a win as VCU triumph last year it is still pretty damn awesome, provided you have an irrational dislike for Coach K's teams and a completely justified dislike of Greg Paulus.
Eric Maynor's buzzer beater sinks Duke in 2007

And, all aspiring Cinderllas should take note. If you take the floor against the Blue Devils and you're wearing blue and gold. You will win. So, to all you Athletic Directors (who are obviously reading this) out there, you better get to work on some rationale for changing your school's color scheme.
Joe Alexander Powering WVU Past Duke in 2008

And, On the Third Day...

There Was Blaspheming and More Basketball:
The NCAA whirlwind continues today, though the floor in Tampa will get the day off. Daytime drinking and take-out are acceptable and encouraged. I'm sitting here getting ready for Duke and West Virginia with a can of Pabst and a cup of a coffee. Not in the same cup, though. That would be gross. It definitely looks awfully sunny out, but I'll just have to take the window's word for it today.

Here's what's on tap (other than the PBRs) and here are the experts' (and my) quick decisions about them:
#2 Duke vs. #7 West Virginia
Saturday at 2:10 PM EST in Washington, DC
Vegas: Duke (-4)
Storming the Floor: Duke (over Arizona)
Joe Lunardi: Arizona (who he had beating WVU)
WWOD?: This game seems like the pressure point for most brackets out in the world since there are two sorts of people who fill out brackets. Those who build there bracket around finding the team who can beat Duke and those who are smarter than us. After the Belmont game it is clear that Duke can be had and that without a dependable inside force they are not the teams of March-past. The fact that they are a two-seed is a testament to how good Coach K really is. Even if I hate his commercials. If Joe Alexander can be the best player in this game and his teammates can get on the defensive glass and hit a couple of big threes then the Mountaineers can win this game. Will that happen? Probably not. But it very well could and that's why I picked WVU.

#3 Wisconsin vs. #11 Kansas State
Saturday at 4:20 PM EST in Omaha, NE
Vegas: Wisconsin (-5)
Storming the Floor: Wisconsin
Joe Lunardi: Wisconsin (over USC)
WWOD?: Well, I mostly picked Mayo over Beasley in Round One. I was wrong about that. If K-State wins this game then this becomes the Beasley Tournament. I would love to see it. I was down on Wisconsin in last year's tournament, but for no reason whatsoever I'm less skeptical this year. They beat Texas in Texas, which impresses me and they won the Big Ten tournament, which impresses me less. I'll probably bet Wisconsin (a 30-win team only getting 5...) and root for K-State in this one. It's a win, win.

#3 Xavier vs. #6 Purdue
Saturday at 4:40 PM EST in Washington, DC
Vegas: Xavier (-3)
Storming the Floor: Xavier (over Purdue)
Joe Lunardi: Xavier
WWOD?: Xavier (over Baylor) was how this one went on my brackets. How do I think it will go in real life? I still got Xavier (and like that they're only getting 3 points). This might be where I roll over some of the pennies I picked up on Louisville last night. Purdue has my Big Ten bias going against them. And, they're young too. Which is why I picked against them in the game with Baylor. Clearly they got me on that one. My mouth was open. But, I've got to stick to my guns. In addition to the two strikes I have against Purdue (Big Ten and Youth), I've also got to factor in that Xavier is led by senior point guard Drew Lavender. Senior Point Guard? Check, check and check. Not from the Big Ten? Check. Xavier is the pick.

#4 Washington State vs. #5 Notre Dame
Saturday at 6:40 PM EST in Denver, CO*
Vegas: Washington State (-2.5)
Storming the Floor: Notre Dame
Joe Lunardi: Washington State
WWOD?: Any day of the week I would want to pick against both of these teams, but here I like them both. I guess it is all going to depend on the tempo of the game. I don't think that Notre Dame has the defensive chops to stick in there on a slow half-court game and I don't think that WSU has the scorers for a three-point shooting contest. So, I'm going to go with the team with the better story line (emergent and goofy Harangody who people like to upset UNC) from the Big East here. Though, I just hope this one looks like a 4/5 and gives Gus Johnson a chance to go wild after a boring opening day in Denver.

#3 Stanford vs. #6 Marquette
Saturday at 6:45 PM EST in Anaheim, CA
Vegas: Stanford (-3)
Storming the Floor: Stanford
Joe Lunardi: Stanford
WWOD?: Big East underdog? You know I want to take them. But, I don't think I can. Especially because of those uniforms. The fact that the game is in California and the Cardinal has the twin towers inside doesn't hurt their chances either.

#1 Kansas vs. #8 UNLV
Saturday at 6:50 PM EST in Omaha, NE
Vegas: Kansas (-13.5)
Storming the Floor: Kansas
Joe Lunardi: Kansas (over Kent State)
WWOD?: What's the Matter with Kansas? In March? With a team having such a checkered history in games like this I could understand why you might roll the dice with the Rebs. But, I'm hoping to watch Kansas matchup against Georgetown down the line so I'm pulling for the Jayhawks. Because sometimes I pick games based on what I want to see happen rather than what is likely to happen.

#4 Pittsburgh vs. #5 Michigan State
Saturday at 9:10 PM EST in Denver, CO*
Vegas: Pittsburgh (-2.5)
Storming the Floor: Pittsburgh (over Temple)
Joe Lunardi: Pittsburgh
WWOD?: It seems like Pitt is the dark horse d'jour for a lot of people, which means that there are a lot of people expecting them to win this one. I'm in that number. I still think the Pantheres fit all of those "peaking at the right time" cliches. And, like I said about Tom Izzo the other day (and incorrectly about Jim Calhoun), he is good enough to get you one win every year regardless of what sort of team he brings with him. He already got that win. I picked them to pull the second-game upset last year (over UNC). I'm not going to do the same this year.

#1 UCLA vs. #9 Texas A&M
Saturday at 9:15 PM EST in Anaheim, CA
Vegas: UCLA (-10.5)
Storming the Floor: UCLA (over BYU)
Joe Lunardi: UCLA
WWOD?: UCLA in Anaheim. I can't go against it. Of all the games today this is the only one that would really surprise me if it went to the underdog. The 4/5 games are pick 'ems. Kansas is notoriously dicey this time of year. Xavier is a high-seed from a mid-major playing a lower-seed from a major conference. Michael Beasley gives K-State a chance to beat anyone. Even the Knicks. And, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if Marquette took down Stanford as the Pac-10 hasn't fared so hot (3-3) so far this year. No other result would surprise me, except if Texas A&M beat UCLA. So, you know what that means...

*Gus Johnson is in Denver and he has the best two paper-games. If they can play-out as good as they write-out then we're all in for a good night with Gus. He deserves this after sitting through so many bad Knicks games.

"Nothing Is Really Real Unless It Happens On Television."-Daniel J. Boorstin



So, the Knicks did not lose to the Grizzlies last night, 106-120

As you can see from the picture. The Knicks game was not on television last night. There was hockey. And, hockey. On the MSG channels. And, the Nets were on YES. And none of the local stations were going to "join the game in progress" NCAA tournament style. Nope. They were going to go straight into their regular post-game coverage. So, according to a Pulitzer Prize-winning social historian like Daniel Bootrstin this game didn't "really" happen for those of us who weren't there.

What did really, really happen though for Knicks fans and viewers was the pseudo-real version of the game presented as Knicks in 60. This aired at 1:30 AM this morning. By the time that I was watching this version of the Knicks game I already knew the score. I had seen that the Knicks were down 19 at the half and that they had lost by 14. I knew that Randolph Morris had started and that Zach Randolph got a DNP for no particular reason. So, I thought I had a pretty good handle on the game. I thought it was another lackluster performance in which the team came out flat and then cruised to defeat from there. Done and done.

What I didn't know, though, was that the Knicks actually won 49 to 48. I had no idea that had happened until I saw it on television. Until I watched it on Knicks in 60. The game that I was shown saw the Knicks score 49 points while the Grizzlies only scored 48. The editors at Knicks in 60 broke the game down into many pieces. There were Knicks runs. There were Grizzlies runs. There were periods of even play. There were timeouts. And, there were plenty of clips of Mike Miller hitting three pointers. If every single one of these pieces were put together then you got a game with a final score of 120-106 in the favor of Memphis.

But, if you selected and televised only the segments featuring Knicks runs, timeouts (yeah, they showed at least two timeouts) and periods of even, back-and-forth action THEN you could end up with a game that the Knicks won 49-48. And, that game was what the apparatchiks at MSG chose to broadcast. They sliced and diced this game until it looks like the Knicks actually won.

I can't imagine that they didn't do this on purpose. I can't imagine that they put this Frankenstein broadcast together and it just so happened that the Knicks won by 1 point in their version.

For all the ineptitude of this organization they sure are good at being evil.

Four Other Things to Know

1. The most popular guy in the gym last night was Juan Carlos Navarro. He is a 27-year old rookie from Spain and his countrymen and countrywomen where out in force at the Garden last night, which was surprisingly sold-out. The young Spaniard got a great ovation when he came out at the end of the game and teammate Mike Miller even raised his hand up for a bit of a curtain call.

2. Zach Randolph was described by Mike Breen as "a healthy scratch" last night. He is also going to miss at least the next game too. The reason given is that his absence opens up some PT for Randolph Morris. Now, I'm not quite sure why the two of them can't be active on the same day, but whatever. The Knicks are clearly going hard after a top-draft pick as this move coincides with the trip to MSG by the Grizzlies and a trip to Minny. We want to be at our very worst when we play those two. This move also absolves Isiah of additional losses. If he makes it clear to even the most casual observer that he isn't trying to win then he can't be faulted when he loses. Still, the most interesting thing about Zach last night wasn't his spot on the bench. It was his watch. This thing looked heavier than Eddy Curry. It had enough diamonds on it to clean out your local Zales. I guess when you've got a watch like that already it doesn't much matter whether you get in the game or not.

3. David Lee is growing some sort of mustache and goatee combo that is pretty funny. It's worth keeping tabs on.

4. Mike Breen is not afraid of his bosses. He speaks the truth about this team even while sitting in the same seat that Marv Albert sat in until he was fired for speaking the truth about this team. It is good to hear.
"This is the Memphis Grizzlies team that's lost 18 in a row on the road, they're the worst road team in the league and they're embarrassing the Knicks. Whether or not you play your young players and giving them a chance this just shouldn't happen."-Mike Breen

Friday, March 21, 2008

If It Can Get Late Early…

…Then It Must be OK To Be An Early Late Game

#1 UNC vs. #16 Mount St. Mary’s
Friday at 7:10 PM EST in Raleigh, NC
Vegas: UNC (-25.5)
Storming the Floor: UNC
Joe Lunardi: UNC
WWOD?: This is a de-facto home game for UNC. And, they are the No. 1 seed of the whole deal. Mount St. Mary’s, on the other hand, is not those things. But, right now they have more 2008 tourney wins than UNC does.

#6 Oklahoma vs. #11 Saint Joseph’s
Friday at 7:10 PM EST in Birmingham, AL
Vegas: Oklahoma (-1)
Storming the Floor: Saint Joseph’s
Joe Lunardi: Saint Joseph’s
WWOD?: Can you go against a Catholic school on Good Friday? That’s even worse than eating meat. Right? I think so. Better go with St. Joe’s just to be safe. I’ve committed enough hell-worthy trespasses (like that South Alabama pick) this week without tacking on another.

*Gambling Alert: All our panelists are going with Coach Martelli's Philly squad but they’re still getting a point in Vegas. Definitely worth five bucks. I just wish I had that kind of money.

#4 Vanderbilt vs. #13 Siena
Friday at 7:20 PM EST in Tampa, FL
Vegas: Vanderbilt (-7)
Storming the Floor: Siena
Joe Lunardi: Siena
WWOD?: The is the other over-hyped 4/13 upset of the first two days. And, I’m not talking about the one that actually came through: San Diego over UConn, which wasn’t a “smart” pick. The other trendy 4/13 tango was the Winthrop/Washington State came that went chalk. I went against the grain on this one too, for the most part. I watched Vanderbilt beat Tennessee just a few days after I watched Tennessee beat undefeated Memphis. Ipso Facto: I went with Vandy even though they’re not playing on their weird home-court with the end-court benches.

#8 Mississippi State vs. #9 Orgeon
Friday at 7:25 PM EST in Little Rock, AR
Vegas: Mississippi State (-2.5)
Storming the Floor: Mississippi State
Joe Lunardi: Mississippi State
WWOD?: I don’t trust West Coast teams coming East to play tournament games. And I like them even less heading deep into the South. It must be a different planet for someone living in Nike-land with glittery space-age uniforms. And, I’ve actually seen Mississippi State and remembered that Varnado character for weeks and weeks just for this very occasion.

That Western Kentucky Game-Winner

And, a sad Corver.

(courtesy of Awful Announcing by way of Deadspin)

It's On!



Belmont almost started this thing off last night, but they whiffed on that inbounds play. Thankfully, the students and coaches of Western Kentucky University are far more poised. Thank you.

I was just in a crowded office where you heard a series of spontaneous "Ohs" and "Ahs." And somewhere, down the hall someone else yelled out something much worse. I think he picked Drake to win it all.

Thankfully, I picked WKU in most of the innumerable brackets that I picked out. Now, let's go South Alabama!

That charge was bogus. I'm just sayin'...

“If There is a Brunch, Why Isn’t There a Linner?”

Here is the Rundown on Today’s Lupper-Time Games

#7 Butler vs. #10 South Alabama
Friday at 2:45 PM EST in Birmingham, AL
Vegas: Butler (-4.5)
Storming the Floor: Butler
Joe Lunardi: South Alabama
WWOD?: Location. Location. Location. This game is in Birmingham, Alabama. And, I’m hoping that USA fans will be out in force because I’m picking them to upset Butler, who everyone thinks deserved a higher seed. So, in other words I’m picking this game based on where it is being played rather than based on who is actually playing. Smart. Also, I bet on Butler in their home loss to Drake earlier in the year. They shrank from that moment, which was the biggest game that they had played yet. So, I’d like to think (not for their sakes though) that they could possibly shrink from this moment too? It’s all sort of plausible. Or, at least if it’s not plausible then it has a certain overwrought logic to it.

*Reality Check: If I wasn’t part real estate agent (not actually true) I would probably take Butler to cover this spread. They did go 29-3 this year while USA lost to Middle Tennessee State not too long ago.

#2 Georgetown vs. #15 Maryland, Balitmore County
Friday at 2:55 PM EST in Raleigh, NC
Vegas: Georgetown (-17.5)
Storming the Floor: Georgetown
Joe Lunardi: Georgetown
WWOD?: The Hoyas were the first college team I ever liked. Thank you Patrick Ewing. And, they're from the Big East, which gets my pen moving (on my bracket). While I love the local angle of this game (little known fact: DC and Baltimore are close to each other) I just don’t see how UMBC, who I know zero about, could possibly hang with 7 feet and 2 inches of Roy Hibbert. And, even if they manage to get the big guy in foul trouble I think Patrick Ewing, Jr. would probably just take the game over. Well, probably not that last part, but I think the Hoyas just have too much for most teams to handle over forty minutes.

#2 Texas vs. #15 Austin Peay
Friday at 3:00 PM EST in Little Rock, AR
Vegas: Texas (-15)
Storming the Floor: Texas
Joe Lunardi: Texas
WWOD?: Sometimes you just gotta go Peay. But I didn’t do it. I couldn’t go Peay. Too many people were looking at my bracket. I got stage fright.*

#4 UConn vs. #13 San Diego
Friday at 3:00 PM EST in Tampa, FL
Vegas: UConn (-12)
Storming the Floor: UConn
Joe Lunardi: UConn
WWOD?: I may disklike Jim Calhoun strongly. I may dislike UConn and become slightly irritated whenever I’m driving North on 84 and pass by Storrs, CT. Those things may all be true, but I can’t go against a solid coach like this on Day One. Calhoun is like Tom Izzo for me. They both will get a Day One win on my bracket whether the have the players for it or not.

*I had to get one pee joke in there. I feel pretty good about it.

It's Not Quiet Breakfast and It's Not Quite Lunch

But it Comes with Today's Early Tournament Games

Since I’m actually super busy at my real job and just because Washington DC is a subregion in the West Regional, I’m going to be doling out today’s capsules slightly differently than yesterday. I’m going to hand out the wisdom of others and my own ramblings according to time slot rather than bracket-quadrant. Because even if the NCAA can warp geography I still think that the fabric of time has yet to fall under their purview.

#2 Tennessee vs. #15 American
Friday at 12:15 PM EST in Birmingham, AL
Vegas: Tennessee (-20)
Storming the Floor: Tennessee
Joe Lunardi: Tennessee
WWOD?: Yes, Belmont gave American all the ammunition they need to think that they can pull this off today, but I just don’t see how it’s possible. Tennessee can score too many points to be had here. And, though I still don’t totally trust The Vols it’s too early to pick against the school that gave us Allan Houston, Bernard King and Ernie Grunfield.

#7 Miami vs. #10 St. Mary’s
Friday at 12:30 PM EST in Little Rock, AR
Vegas: Even
Storming the Floor: St. Mary’s
Joe Lunardi: St. Mary’s
WWOD?: Last time I checked the U was a football school. I just don’t like this Miami basketball team. I have no good reasons other than that I think the ACC was down this year and their win total is deceiving. And, I’d like to think that St. Mary’s has replaced Gonzaga as the WCC team to watch in the tournament.

#7 Gonzaga vs. #10 Davidson
Friday at 12:25 PM EST in Raleigh, NC
Vegas: Davidson (-1.5)
Storming the Floor: Davidson
Joe Lunardi: Gonzaga
WWOD?: Gonzaga is the reason that I can’t pick Gonzaga. I’ve decided that I will consistently pick against Gonzaga as a higher seed because of everything that Mark Few’s teams have taught me about picking against talented and rolling teams (Davidson has won 22 straight games!) from smaller conferences. And, aside from not wanting to take the Zags I actually do like the Wildcats. Stephen Curry can shoot the lights out and this location and time slot suit them much better than a team coming in from the West. Davidson has also already taken (losing) trips to UCLA, Duke and UNC. So, they won’t be awed by the setting. And, that would be the only thing that I would maybe have held against a team with their profile.

#5 Drake vs. #12 Western Kentucky
Friday at 12:30 PM EST PM in Tampa, FL
Vegas: Drake (-4)
Storming the Floor: Drake
Joe Lunardi: Western Kentucky
WWOD?: Here it is. This is the 5/12 special that I liked the most. I’ve picked WKU to win this game in most of my brackets and have even picked them to survive the weekend in a few of them. I've only seen them play one time (in the Final of the conference tourney) and all I could think was that the gym where the game was being played and the quality of the video feed made it all seem like a high school game. So, you can see that I've totally thought this one through. Still, WKU starts seniors and this guy Courtney Lee is supposed to be one of the best in the country. I always want to pick small school teams with solid senior contributors. It's one of my favorite things. Like brown-paper packages tied up with strings. This pick is literally my senior moment. That being said, I like whomever survives this game to keep dancing. I was impressed when Drake knocked Butler earlier in the year, even though I had bet on Butler. So, yeah, other than my seniors-rule this game also brings my don’t-place-make-up-bets rule into the equation. Part of me feels like I would be taking Drake just to win a bet I already lost. Or, maybe, it wouldn’t be that. Maybe it would be learning from my mistakes…

Thursday, March 20, 2008

"They f#%k you with coverage areas. That's what it is..."

"...They're f@%kin' you with the coverage areas. They love it when you get the game you don't want to watch. Y'know why, huh? You know why? 'Cause when you get mad -which they know you're gonna do. -they charge you for that pay-per-view package at that high rate or drive you to their website where they can sell even more ad space."

After a long, conflicting day at work, I finally get home. Ready to watch basketball. And relax. I go to the fridge. The thirty-pack is empty, but there a few stray bottles rolling around. We're OK. The early late games are just about to tip. The recliner is free. It's all gonna be just fine.

And, then we turn on CBS. And, things aren't fine. The game that all of America has been salivating over since the field was announced is seemingly not televised in the New York metropolitan area. In the biggest media market in the country the biggest game in the country was not on? That's not true! That's impossible. But soon, my Skywalker-in-Empire disbelief turned to Pesci-in-Lethal-Weapon-4 rage at the situation.

I mean you've got to be kidding. We're stuck watching a down-ish Duke team in a 2/15 that hasn't even been talked up too much? I'm stuck watching this instead of the game that has drawn the NBA fan to the tourney and forced the college ball fan to think about the NBA? We're stuck listening to a D-League announcing team and two teams with nary a true star between them instead of watching the one single shining game that EVERYONE WAS ANTICIPATING? Really?

Yes. And you know why? Because they f&$k you with the coverage areas.

Washington, DC is East of Most Places, Yet...

The WWOD? Preview of Tonight’s Games in the "West" Regional

Since I've embraced the madness and made a self-diagnosis of my condition I figured that I need not be shy about the symptoms of my dementia. And, what shows off the mannerisms of my madness better than to add another tournament preview to the bonfire of unasked and unfounded prognostications? To put my late night ramblings into some context I’ve also included the pick from Vegas, the pick from noted college basketball blog Storming the Floor as well as the teams tapped by noted ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi.

#2 Duke vs. #15 Belmont
Thursday at 7:10 PM EST in Washington, DC
Vegas: Duke (-21)
Storming the Floor: Duke
Joe Lunardi: Duke
WWOD?: Most everyone's favorite part of the tournament is watching Duke get upset by a mid-major. That VCU game last year and that shot by Eric Maynor with less than two seconds left was the most irrepressibly exciting moment for lots and lots of folks. I can only hope to feel such feelings again this year. And, I think I will. I just don't think it will be tonight.

#7 West Virginia vs. #10 Arizona
Thursday at 9:40 PM EST in Washington, DC
Vegas: West Virginia (-2)
Storming the Floor: Arizona
Joe Lunardi: Arizona
WWOD?: Jeez, these two (along with Louisville and any team coached by Ben Howland) have been my tournament horses in most years. I've blindly picked both at various times with no good reason to do so yet been rewarded all the same. I won my office pool in 2005 based largely on WVU's run to the Regional Final. I've barely seen this Alexander kid (though he was very, very good when I did see him in the Big East tourney) from West Virginia play, and if Lute Olsen were on the sideline I would have picked him and Bayless in a heart beat. It would have been a lock. But, without Olsen and with the location favoring the Mountaineers so much I won't do more than take a flyer in an upset-themed bracket on the Hoopcats. The Big East bias beats out my Lute Olsen predilection. That sounds icky.

East Side Story

The WWOD? Preview of Tonight’s Games in the East Regional

Since I've embraced the madness and made a self-diagnosis of my condition I figured that I need not be shy about the symptoms of my dementia. And, what shows off the mannerisms of my madness better than to add another tournament preview to the bonfire of unasked and unfounded prognostications? To put my late night ramblings into some context I’ve also included the pick from Vegas, the pick from noted college basketball blog Storming the Floor as well as the teams tapped by noted ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi.

#4 Washington State vs. #13 Winthrop
Thursday at 7:20 PM EST in Denver, CO
Vegas: Washington State (-9.5)
Storming the Floor: Washington State
Joe Lunardi: Washington State
WWOD?: This seems to be one of the trendy upset picks. And, I do love the trendiness. To the detriment of my bracket, mostly. I bet against Washington State once this season and they rocked USC in January. So, I'm afraid to bet against them again even though they are like the PAC-10 version of Big Ten team in my mind and I suspect them for this weird association I've conjured. Still, I'm going to pick them more often than not in this game. Though, I could see them going the way of last year's Wisconsin team. Because to me it is the same exact team. In which case, I'll feel like a jerk who tried to out-think the smarter people who made Winthrop the trendy pick in the first place. And, further down the rabbit hole...

#5 Notre Dame vs. #12 George Mason
Thursday at 9:50 PM EST in Denver, CO
Vegas: Notre Dame (-6.5)
Storming the Floor: Notre Dame
Joe Lunardi: Notre Dame
WWOD?: The thing is, I hate Notre Dame. I think they are consistently the most overrated school in every possible regard. In sports. In academics. In importance in the national consciousness. Only eighty year olds and BCS selection committees care about this school anymore. It's a nostalgia act. In this day and age this is a school for midwesterners and legacies that puts on one heck of a party a few Saturdays in the fall. And, that's it. BUT, somehow I've talked myself into thinking that they can make a run in this tournament. It's that Big East bias I mentioned earlier. I've somehow talked myself into trusting Harangody even though I think he is soft and goofy and one my best buddies (who is a ND grad and as much a homer for them as I'm a hater) told me himself that 'Gody is garbage. Maybe the real reason that I am tapping ND here is that I don't want to live another day hearing someone ask if "this year's George Mason is this year's George Mason." I would rather tear out my eyes and take a trip to South Bend during the Spring Semester than hear that again.

Remember when....

The Games have Started and it's Time to Play America's Favorite Game:

Remember when I said...that the Purdue/Baylor game "feels like the one that busts my bracket. I want to pick Baylor all over the place (and practically have) in spite of the fact that they are the team that just snuck in to the field by the hairs on their chinny-chin-chins."

Remember when I said that? And, then still went and wrote Baylor into most of my brackets? Remember When?

Purdue leads 47-27 at the half.

UPDATE: Purdue lost a point while in the locker room. The score is 47-26. And, the comeback is on.

"...Untouchable Like Elliot Ness"

The WWOD? Preview of Today’s Game in the West Regional

Since I've embraced the madness and made a self-diagnosis of my condition I figured that I need not be shy about the symptoms of my dementia. And, what shows off the mannerisms of my madness better than to add another tournament preview to the bonfire of unasked and unfounded prognostications? To put my late night ramblings into some context I’ve also included the pick from Vegas, the pick from noted college basketball blog Storming the Floor as well as the teams tapped by noted ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi.

#3 Xavier vs. #14 Georgia
Thursday at 12:20 PM EST in Washington, DC
Vegas: Xavier (-8.5)
Storming the Floor: Xavier
Joe Lunardi: Xavier
WWOD?: Georgia was the darling of early March. It's a great story but they picked the wrong week to use up their magic and voodoo dolls and freak-weather-altering powers. Even if the Bulldogs are playing better than they have all year (not hard) that just means that they're playing better than a team that was second-to-last in the SEC. And, I'm pretty sure that marginally better than that isn't good enough to beat the team that should-have and almost-did knock Ohio State (with Oden and Conley) out of the Dance last year.

#6 Purdue vs. #11 Baylor
Thursday at 2:50 PM EST in Washington, DC
Vegas: Purdue (-3)
Storming the Floor: Baylor
Joe Lunardi: Purdue
WWOD?: Oh, this game. This feels like the one that busts my bracket. I want to pick Baylor all over the place (and practically have) in spite of the fact that they are the team that just snuck in to the field by the hairs on their chinny-chin-chins. But, I don't see this team and this program (which is coming back from that whole players killing one another thing) just being happy to be here. George Mason wasn't just happy to be there in 2006 when they were the last team to sneak in. Hmm... Either way I'm mostly (but not everywhere) going with Baylor because the Bears start juniors while the Boilermakers play freshman. And, Purdue is in the Big Ten, which I do not rate very highly. Ever. And generally without evidence in hand to support my decision.

#8 BYU vs. #9 Texas A&M
Thursday at 7:25 PM EST in Anaheim, CA
Vegas: Texas A&M (-1)
Storming the Floor: BYU
Joe Lunardi: Texas A&M
WWOD?: Another classic 8/9 of teams I've heard of but really don't know anything about. I feel the same way as Vegas since this is a toss-up for me. BYU has a dominant conference season (in a mostly lousy conference) on their side of the ledger while A&M has a tougher schedule behind them. I usually go with the grit one should earn from the tougher schedule but then you can't write off those Mormons because they are sometimes older than Chris Weinke and married with kids and stuff and come at these games with a level of focus and grown-up-ness that compensates somewhat for the talent gap. Like I said, a toss-up.

#1 UCLA vs. #16 Mississippi Valley State
Thursday at 9:55 PM EST in Anaheim, CA (which is where the Los Angeles Angels play...)
Vegas: UCLA (-32)
Storming the Floor: UCLA
Joe Lunardi: UCLA
WWOD?: UCLA. Boatloads of people have this team winning it all. I'm one of them (on most of my brackets). So, thanks for coming out MVS but I'm not even going to take you to cover a 32 point spread. Well, actually I might, depending on how the early games work out and what the feel is on that court in Anaheim when BYU and A&M play.

The Flight Plan For Fly-Over Country

The WWOD? Preview of Today’s Game in the Midwest Regional

Since I've embraced the madness and made a self-diagnosis of my condition I figured that I need not be shy about the symptoms of my dementia. And, what shows off the mannerisms of my madness better than to add another tournament preview to the bonfire of unasked and unfounded prognostications? To put my late night ramblings into some context I’ve also included the pick from Vegas, the pick from noted college basketball blog Storming the Floor as well as the teams tapped by noted ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi.

#1 Kansas vs. #16 Portland State
Thursday at 12:25 PM EST in Omaha, NE
Vegas Kansas (-22.5)
Storming the Floor: Kansas
Joe Lunardi: Kansas
WWOD?: Bradley. Bucknell. Portland State? I don’t think so. Let’s say it all together now, “No 16 seed has ever beat a 1 seed in the history of the Tournament.” And, though Kansas has a history of flame-outs this time of year they also have history on their side. And, though I’m not entirely sold on this supremely talented but sometimes casual looking team to make it to San Antonio I do not think they could possibly go this early. In their own way, and it’s probably helped by the color scheme, they remind me of the Pistons. They can be so very, very good, perhaps even the very best when they are pressuring you and playing aggressively on offense, but sometimes you get the impression that they just don’t show up mentally.

#8 UNLV vs. # 9 Kent State
Thursday at 2:55 PM EST in Omaha, NE
Vegas: Kent State (-2)
Storming the Floor: UNLV
Joe Lunardi: Kent State
WWOD?: Talk about your classic 8/9 game! Both teams won their conference tournaments. Both teams have been recent tournament experience. Both teams play defense so it’s not contrast in styles. And the higher seed is giving points. I successfully picked UNLV to win two games last year beating Georgia Tech and then upsetting Wisconsin, but I feel like I shouldn’t push my luck with them this year. And though this is one where I will probably go both ways on from bracket to bracket, I feel like the location probably puts Kent State over the top in real life.

#6 USC vs. #11 Kansas State
Thursday at 7:10 PM EST in Omaha, NE
Vegas: USC (-3.5)
Storming the Floor:
Joe Lunardi: USC
WWOD?: And, here is grand-daddy of them all. This is the first round game that everyone is hyped about. It pits two of the best one-and-done freshman from one of the best one-and-done freshmen classes against each other. Mayo vs. Beasley. All the paper-prowess of this game means that it will probably be boring. Right? Since it is March and the unexpected is to be expected. And, if it were boring that means that USC would probably win because for K-State to win Beasley would likely have to go for 30 and 15, which wouldn’t, by definition, be boring to watch. I also saw USC play in person last year at the Meadowlands. They lost to UNC but they were so much better than their opponent. They dominated the first half and played the best team basketball that maybe I’ve ever seen. And, then they came out in the second half and it seemed like someone had slapped a cover over their rim. They missed every shot and then whiffed on every rebound. It was surreal and UNC seized the opportunity to take the game. Still, I remember how good USC looked and I think that swapping out Mayo for Nick Young (now a Wizard) means that they can’t be much worse. If anything, they may be even better this year. And, as much as I loved watching Beasley a month ago and think he is reason enough to take a flyer on K-State, I have a feeling that maybe Mayo uses this game and this tournament to rewrite the story of his one college season, where he was overshadowed by kids who he had overshadowed coming out of high school.

#3 Wisconsin vs. #14 Cal State, Fullerton
Thursday at 9:40 PM EST in Omaha, NE
Vegas: Wisconsin (-11.5)
Storming the Floor: Wisconsin
Joe Lunardi: Wisconsin
WWOD?: The Badgers are another team that I traditionally steer clear of (see last year’s correct pick of UNLV), but this isn’t the time or the place for such behavior. If they were playing baseball in sunny southern California then I would surely take Fullerton. However, they are playing basketball indoors and in the Midwest. Advantage Wisconsin.

The Southern Strategy

The WWOD? Preview of Today’s Game in the South Regional

Since I've embraced the madness and made a self-diagnosis of my condition I figured that I need not be shy about the symptoms of my dementia. And, what shows off the mannerisms of my madness better than to add another tournament preview to the bonfire of unasked and unfounded prognostications? To put my late night ramblings into some context I’ve also included the pick from Vegas, the pick from noted college basketball blog Storming the Floor as well as the teams tapped by noted ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi.

#3 Stanford vs. #14 Cornell
Thursday at 5:00 PM EST in Anaheim, CA (which is, like, way closer to Stanford than Cornell)
Vegas: Stanford (-14.5)
Storming the Floor: Stanford
Joe Lunardi: Stanford
WWOD?: This one really pits some of my baseless bracket biases against one another. In one corner is my overriding skepticism of The Cardinal. And, across the squared circle is my feeling that dominant BIGS (of which Stanford has two. And, they are related. And, shared a womb. That's gross. Because they're both HUGE.) are always worth at least one tournament win. You notice that Cornell doesn't actually factor into this debate. The game will likely be the same (although Cornell did go undefeated in the Ivy League, for what it's worth). Maybe I'll reconcile my concerns by picking Stanford on the bracket while hoping that Cornell can cover the point spread. Either way, Ithaca is gorges and the Cornell team will be back there in no time.

#4 Pittsburgh vs. #13 Oral Roberts
Thursday at 3:00 PM EST in Denver, CO
Vegas: Pittsburgh (-8.5)
Storming the Floor: Pittsburgh
Joe Lunardi: Pittsburgh
WWOD?: One of my roommates (err…housemates) fills out his bracket like a PAC-10 coach whereas I traditionally lean toward the Big East on such matters. That’s why I just knew the Panthers were going to beat Duke way back when they played at the Garden and why many of my wild theories for this tournament involve Pitt making some noise. Still, all biases aside, Pitt did beat Duke way back when and they are healthier than they’ve been in a while (Fields is back) and seem to be peaking (they just won the Big East Tournament) at the right time. And, I'm also pretty sure that the only reason any wants to pick Oral Roberts in the first place is because of their name: Oral Roberts. Yeah, I guess "oral" is pretty funny but I'm not going to be swayed by their name until they just go all the way (pun not intended but then kept upon realization) and change it to Blowjob Richards. Then, they get their name in pen on my bracket. And, scribbled on the walls of bathroom stalls across this great nation.

Gamblers: The Big East Champ should probably beat Oral Roberts by 9 points!!!!!

#5 Michigan State vs. #12 Temple
Thursday at 12:30 EST in Denver, CO
Vegas: Michigan State (-7.5)
Storming the Floor: Temple
Joe Lunardi: Michigan State
WWOD?: Yeah, this is a tough one. It will vary from bracket to bracket for me. Normally, I would take Tom Izzo in a heartbeat as another of “my” criteria for this stuff is coaching. And, Izzo knows how to coach ‘em up. However, Izzo screwed me by losing to UNC last year. And, I’ve found myself developing some sort of school-boy crush on Philly hoops in the past month or so. I think those teams are gritty and poised down there. The Big 5 schools look like what NYC hoops are supposed to look like. Maybe it’s Mardy Collins making me unable to write off Temple. Maybe not. Yeah, thinking of Mardy makes me realize that if I had but one bracket (which thankfully I don’t) I would probably go with the Spartans (even though that is pick based on rep rather than reality) and pin my Philly hopes on St. Joes.

#6 Marquette vs. #11 Kentucky
Thursday at 2:30 EST in Anaheim, CA
Vegas: Marquette (-6)
Storming the Floor: Marquette
Joe Lunardi: Marquette
WWOD?: I've yet to fully accept Marquette into my Big East Coast Bias since they're reasonably new here and I don’t like their new-fangled recruiting friendly uniforms so I am not totally confident in picking them. They're getting the nod from me but I'll take a flyer on the Wildcats in some bracket. To us their brutal start seems like it was yesterday whereas to them it probably seems several seasons ago. I would take them over a mid-major here as they're an easy-to-back, blue-blood ‘dog. I wouldn't be shocked if they won this game and even if they beat Stanford (because I'm so skeptical of the Cardinal) in the next round. After all, they are Kentucky.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

mad*ness: (noun)

1. the quality of being rash
2. craziness, foolishness, folly;
3. stupidity, especially a poor ability to understand or to profit from experience
4. unrestrained excitement or enthusiasm;

It's the night before the greatest four-day sporting stretch in North America, which only leads into the best long-form sporting event this side of the World Cup. All the 6-7 tweeners are tucked tightly in their beds with visions of Erin Andrews dancing in their heads. All the grizzled newspaper men are still clean shaven and have barely started creeping out the cocktail waitresses at the many downtown chain hotels to which they are dispatched. Assistant coaches are checking taped hotel room doors and head coaches are scribbling defensive sets on yellow legal pads while ignoring goodnight-text-messages from their wives.

And, then there is us. All of us budding bracketologists and amateur armchair analysts with our crumbled paper brackets and ink-stained finger tips and paper cuts in places that there shouldn't be paper cuts. We've all watched so much television and thought so hard and then flippantly filled out online brackets (speaking of those, get on it http://whatwouldoakleydo.blogspot.com/2008/03/first-ever-best-ever-wwod-pool.html) in a matter of seconds with a click here and a click there. Here a click. There an upset. Everywhere a hunch, hunch.

It is in these actions that the madness of March is really exhibited. After all, even the lowliest play-in game loser is still just a basketball team going about it's business the way it always does. They play ball. They make bounce passes and set screens. They rotate too late from time to time and watch some shots that felt pure rim out. Win or lose there is nothing particularly "mad" about what they do. They win some. And they lose some. Even the close games are just games. Buzzer are beaten every night in some gym, some where. Such shots are reserved for this time of year. Just the way that we react to them is.

We scream and holler loud enough to make Gus Johnson nervous and make wagers upon our wagers and fill out brackets for office pools that contradict the brackets we filled out in the big money pool at the local watering hole. We bet against ourselves so many times over that it's hard to know how to feel about scores as they scroll across the bottom of the television screen or as they refresh on our computers at work. Yes! Vermont beat Syracuse!!! Oh, NO!!!! Vermont beat Syracuse??? It is us, the frenzied fans and degenerate undedicated college basketball fans who are the mad ones.

Looking at those definitions of madness I know for certain that all pertain to my own behavior during this bestest of months. I have made rash and foolish decisions while filling out my bracket. I've been shown repeated folly in the amount of bets that I make on these games (even though, I swear, I actually do pretty well). And, perhaps most important of all, I am so often overcome with enthusiasm that forces me to jump out of my chair and hand out high-fives to strangers and also leaves me incapable of learning from the experience of busted brackets and the memories of March-past. So, according, to the dictionaries of the world I am indeed mad. And, so are you. But that's OK with me as I've always liked the mad ones.

Like Jack Kerouac said, “The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes "Awww!”

For the mad-sports fan (and don't let any literary types cover up the fact that Kerouac was a two-sport star coming out of high school in Massachusetts and went to Columbia on a football scholarship) there is no better time to "be saved, desirous of everything at the same time" then during the first four days of the NCAA Men's hoops tournament. And, there is no one who I would rather watch these games with than the mad ones. The ones piling 2 buck drafts on 25 cent wings on Thursday nights and telling me for the fifth time in the first-half how crazy it would be if that walk-on from Drake could lead his team to the Elite Eight and how Hansbrough can be had Harangody if UNC doesn't get the calls.

This tournament is for the mad ones. It is for us. Enjoy.

Wednesday's Starting Five

"What, Is This Guy From Boston?" Edition

1. The Boston Celtics. I got the impression late in the third quarter of last night's win over the Rockets that the Celtics would prefer to only play teams on 22-game winning streaks. That's how strong their desire to impose their will is. It was clear last night that there was no team that they would rather have been playing against, and beating, than the Rockets. And that late anger-filled, slicing through the paint, tomahawk jam by Garnett showed that they want to be beat every good team by as large a margin as is possible. They are intense and they play team defense. And, they are, I guess, the best team in the NBA on any given night for the length of 48 minutes. But what about over a seven-game series? I'm still not sure.

2. The Boston Red Sox. A big brouhaha has developed in Florida as the Sox players have boycotted a Spring Training game and have stated that they will refuse to board plans for Japan (set to take off later today) for their season opening set against the Oakland A's. The reason for the insubordination is that the team's coaches are being shorted a stipend that had been promised to them as part of the conditions for agreeing to take this trip to start the season. Commendably the players have chosen to stand up for their well compensated but far less-compensated-than-themselves-coaches in this dispute. And, yes, the dollar figures are ridiculous. $40,000 is a stipend? For a coach? For a short-ish business trip? Really? I don't see that much in a year. Seriously. That being said, I totally agree with the underlying principles for all of this.

UPDATE: Everything is "resolved." The Spring Training game will start late and the team will head to Japan.

3. Former Boston College QB Matt Ryan. After eschewing the Senior Bowl and some of the Combine activities at the insistence of his agent, Matty Ice finally had his chance to shine yesterday at his Pro Day up at Chestnut Hill. According to all the accounts I've read, he was undeniably solid if not entirely spectacular. Although I'm not sure how any QB can generate that much excitement for a room full of scouts by simply throwing passes to uncovered receivers. I did read (in many places, but Don Banks at SI.com has a good recap) that he completed 48 of the 52 passes he threw. Three of the four incompletions were drops of good balls and one was an over throw. That ain't too shabby.

4. Mount Saint Mary's. The first game of the 2008 NCAA Men's Tournament has been played. And, nobody noticed. And, nobody's bracket was busted. Or even touched. The play-in game, largely ignored by automated brackets and most office pools, was last night in Dayton and Mount St. Mary's toppled Coppin State for the right to play UNC on Friday. So, they've got about 60 hours to enjoy being winners...

5. Ohio State Football. Since I'm in full on basketball mode right now I couldn't really care less about this college football news but here it is anyway: the most sought after high-schooler declared today that he'll be attending Ohio State next year. His name is Terrelle Pryor. He is a 6 foot, 6 inch quarterback from near Pittsburgh. He'll likely sit next season behind returning senior signal caller Todd Boeckman and he has high hopes of being absolutely boondoggled by an SEC team in the 2010 BCS National Championship game. Good luck with that.

Benched. The streak. It's over. The Rockets just didn't have it last night. And they were playing against a team far too good to be able to grind one out an off night. With three very tough road games (NOH, GS, PHX) in the next few days it is possible that we can all resume ignoring the Rockets again very soon. Well, it was really fun while it lasted. I hope that they can snag two of the next three in order to keep themselves in the mix for the #1 seed in the West.

REMINDER: SIGN UP FOR THE WWOD? TOURNEY POOL!

Ladies, gentlemen, women of questionable moral fiber and scoundrels of less than honorable professions: you are cordially invited to participate in the inaugural March Madness pool hosted by What Would Oakley Do?

The 2008 WWOD? NCAA Tournament Pool is based over at the Yahoo Fantasy Sports site. Head over there and click on the "Join a Group" option. After selecting that option (I think you have to do that twice), you will then be prompted to enter a League ID number and a password. Do exactly that.

League ID #:107981
Password: kennyskywalker

And, since this is an above-ground pool, there will be no entrance fee required for admission. There will be no gambling and squandered money that could be better squandered on $10 Knicks tickets, scratch-offs, late-night trips to the diner for cheese-fries with gravy or mid-afternoon visits by the Ice Cream Man. But fear not those hungry for prizes and validation, this is no pointless endeavor on your part as the winner will still be receiving the bestest and the coolest prize offered anywhere in the wider world!

Is it money? No.
Is it courside seats? Nope.
Is it a date with one of the Knicks City Dancers? Not even close.

The first-prize for winning this year's pool isn't any of those things. It's even better. It's something harder to come by. It's something so special and unique that you didn't even know you wanted it until now. The first prize for winning the 2008 WWOD? NCAA Tournament Pool is your very own, limited-edition, commemorative What Would Oakley Do? t-shirt.

This high-quality item features orange screened printing on both sides of a heavy duty blue t-shirt. The shirt is available in large, extra large and also in large. The front features the name of your very favoritest website and eight images depicting some of the many things that Oakley may actually be doing at any given time. The back features a large number 34 and the web address of the site printed just above it. This shirt is fresh off the runways of Milan and Paris and could be something that is embarrassing your wife or girlfriend in just a matter of weeks. Don't miss out!

So, hurry up and join the Pool. The water is terrific. And, so is the shirt.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Tuesday's Starting Five

1. Chris Paul. He's got the Hornets a game back of the Rockets (and tied with the Lakers) for first place in the West with a chance to prove it on the floor when the two teams meet up this week. I know that he a little guy and that he is young and that he isn't on television every single day and that you might not even know what shoes he wears or what soft drink he promotes but HE IS THE MOST VALUABLE PLAYER in the NBA right now. He may not be the most physically awe-inspiring (Lebron) or the most likely to commit a heinous sex crime or score 100 points (Kobe), but he is without a shadow of a doubt the player in the league who is most valuable to his team on a nightly basis.

2. The Orlando Magic. Led by Rashard Lewis and Dwight Howard the Magic toppled the Lebronaliers last night. The team that no one gives much credit to just became the third team to clinch a playoff spot. And the beat the Cavs, a team that everyone can't stop talking about, to do it. They've now taken 2 of 3 from Cleveland thus far this season and they've built a 10.5 game lead between the two teams. It wasn't too long ago that Stan Van Gundy had the Miami Heat to Game 7 of the 2005 Eastern Conference Finals. This guy knows how to coach 'em up and this team is going to be dangerous in the playoffs if Lewis and Turkoglu can hit from deep like they were last night. If they do than the Lebronaliers just don't have the firepower to keep up.

3. The Atlanta Hawks. They are not an exceedingly good basketball team. In fact, they are nine games below .500 for the season and have only won four out of their last ten. However, three of those four wins have come in their last three games. They are seemingly staking a claim to the last playoff spot in the East by beating the teams that they are supposed to beat. Teams like the Knicks. And, the Heat. And the Clippers. Ever since Mike Bibby has shown up in the ATL this team has seemed to gain a better sense of where it was and what it was doing. They know that if they can win the winnable games on their schedule that they can make the playoffs. And, in a town that is suffering through the league's longest playoff drought (9 years) that is something.

4. The First-Time Dancers. American University. University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Portland State. This is their week. They'll likely be back on campus by Saturday morning at the very latest after bowing out in their Thursday/Friday games. And that game will likely seem to go from opening tip to final whistle in the burst of a single flashbulb. So, right now is there time. Now is the time they walk around campus and are heroes. These are their shining moments as well-wishers lineup in dining halls and in the dorms.

5. The Boston Celtics. Though I suspect that Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are not actually Irish they played with some luck and some pluck last night in erasing a twenty-point deficit to steal a win off the Spurs in San Antonio. In a game pitting the two favorites to reach the Finals (though the Spurs seem intent on surrendering that status in the West) it was worth noting that new acquistion Sam Cassell came off the bench for the C's to score 17 and hit the shot that gave them their first lead of the game down stretch.

Benched: Dodgertown. After sixty years, the purest and most idyllic Spring Training experience has shuttered its doors. Located in Vero Beach, Florida, Dodgertown was the home of the Brooklyn and then Los Angeles Dodgers from 1948 until yesterday. The Dodgers are finally moving their Spring Training to the West Coast so that they can be closer to their year-round home. During World War II the space had been a naval air station for the US Navy and after the war the Dodgers set up their spring training facilities on the site. The strange beginnings make it a place like no other in existence. The fields have no dugouts and the players, fans and media all could mingle in a way that gave a unique intimacy to the place. Players and coaches could often be seen getting around the facility on bicycles and were traditionally caught up in the time warp that was Dodgertown. Unfortunately, I never got down there even though I first heard what a great trip it was a few years ago. The word on the street is that the Orioles will move in to the space, so maybe we can all head down to Angelos town next Spring?

The First-Ever, Best-Ever WWOD? Pool!

Ladies, gentlemen, women of questionable moral fiber and scoundrels of less than honorable professions: you are cordially invited to participate in the inaugural March Madness pool hosted by What Would Oakley Do?

The 2008 WWOD? NCAA Tournament Pool is based over at the Yahoo Fantasy Sports site. Head over there and click on the "Join a Group" option. After selecting that option (I think you have to do that twice), you will then be prompted to enter a League ID number and a password. Do exactly that.

League ID #:107981
Password: kennyskywalker

Joining this league is the best decision you can make today. There will be excitement. There will be drama. There will be daily coverage of the tournament and the fate of the swimmers in the pool each and every day in this space. There will be camaraderie amongst those whose brackets quickly fade to nothing like the frost on a mid-March morning. There will be ample opportunity for gloating and obnoxious showboating by those with the foresight to know that former walk-on turned superstar Adam Emmenecker is going to lead Drake to an upset over UCLA, which will open up the door to Xaxier in the West Regional which will, in turn, clear the way for Texas to descend on San Antonio and survive to that last Monday night of the season.

And, since this is an above-ground pool, there will be no entrance fee required for admission. There will be no gambling and squandered money that could be better squandered on $10 Knicks tickets, scratch-offs, late-night trips to the diner for cheese-fries with gravy or mid-afternoon visits by the Ice Cream Man. But fear not those hungry for prizes and validation, this is no pointless endeavor on your part as the winner will still be receiving the bestest and the coolest prize offered anywhere in the wider world!

Is it money? No.
Is it courside seats? Nope.
Is it a date with one of the Knicks City Dancers? Not even close.

The first-prize for winning this year's pool isn't any of those things. It's even better. It's something harder to come by. It's something so special and unique that you didn't even know you wanted it until now. The first prize for winning the 2008 WWOD? NCAA Tournament Pool is your very own, limited-edition, commemorative What Would Oakley Do? t-shirt.

This high-quality item features orange screened printing on both sides of a heavy duty blue t-shirt. The shirt is available in large, extra large and also in large. The front features the name of your very favoritest website and eight images depicting some of the many things that Oakley may actually be doing at any given time. The back features a large number 34 and the web address of the site printed just above it. This shirt is fresh off the runways of Milan and Paris and could be something that is embarrassing your wife or girlfriend in just a matter of weeks. Don't miss out!

So, hurry up and join the Pool. The water is terrific. And, so is the shirt.

Monday, March 17, 2008

"Many an opportunity is lost because a man is out looking for four-leaf clovers."-Anonymous

Knicks lose St. Pat's tilt to Pacers
Nothing lets me know it's finally Saint Patrick's Day quite like walking by an obviously intoxicated group of teenage girls from Westchester, who took their fake IDs and the Metro North down to Manhattan, while they're standing outside of an Irish bar in Midtown around noon flirting with three slightly overweight and verging on middle-aged unskilled laborers wearing green and white Yankees caps. Well, nothing else except for the Knicks wearing their green uniforms.The Knicks were resplendent tonight in their green garb as they took on the Pacers in Indiana before several groups of ten and twelve people at Canseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Seriously, the place was empty.

The Knicks are officially and unequivocally just playing out the string at this point. The towel was finally thrown in last week in Dallas when Wilson Chandler went out to take the opening tip in a game in which the Knicks were entirely unprepared to compete and disinterested in the result. Perhaps they've got the mind on four-leaf clovers? Or perhaps it's the four-figures that they earn for every quarter of basketball they play, regardless of the result?

The game was close even though the team gave up an embarrassing 38 points in the first quarter. In fact, the Knicks would hang tight with the Pacers, who are still alive in the chase (or actually, it's more like a scramble than a chase, which implies forward progress) for the last playoff spot in the East. The Knicks hung tight as they usually do in spite of the fact that Mike Dunleavy again terrorized the famously dysfunctional group from the World's Most Famous Arena. He tied his career-high of 36 points, which he set earlier this year at the Garden. He shot over 50% from the field, made 4 threes, 8 of 9 from the stripe and filled out the rest of the scorecard as well. He moves with a purpose and on angles that nobody on our roster can seem to defend. He can split any two people that we throw at him and seems to be so many mental steps ahead of our defenders that they can rarely even foul him in time to keep him from releasing his shot.

In spite of Dunleavy's repeat performance, the Knicks were still in the game. Zach got his numbers. Jamal did the same and Wilson Chandler did rack up 15 points on 15 shots (with two free throws included). With 6 minutes to go in the fourth quarter Nate Robinson hit a three-pointer to pull the Knicks with 89-93. This game was up for grabs down the stretch. No doubt it. At least for the next 15 seconds. Indiana called a timeout less than a half minute after Nate's shot, Isiah pulled the guard and inserted Wilson Chandler into the lineup, the same substitution that gave away that game against the Hornets at the Garden. Chandler would miss three shots and commit two fouls as the Pacers pulled away for in the final minutes of the game while Nate, Jamal and Zach all sat on the bench.

The lack of effort by the team and the lack of effort by the coach, especially relating to the way that minutes were being doled out led MSG announcer Bob Wischusen to wonder what the team what taking from the nights like this if "to a certain extent, [they] forgo trying to win the game."

The only thing that I think I can say with any certainty that they take from nights like this is a paycheck. And, at this point it seems like for some of them that is enough. Otherwise, how could a player like Jamal Crawford who was having a break-out season and was near the top of the NBA in fourth-quarter scoring as of last month not force his way into tight games down the stretch? And, if these games are going to be turned into glorified summer league games then how come Randolph Morris still can barely get on the floor? With no satisfactory answers to questions like these I don't really know how to answer Wischusen's question other than to say that they most definitely are taking away paychecks. And, little else.

Well, unless they're allowed to keep those green jersey.