And now, a message from God

>> Monday

Hey sports fans. God here.

Something I've been hearing a lot this spring from Chicago Cubs fans is, "We've been suffering for 100 years, waiting for this World Series drought to end. It must be our year."

Oh. My. Self. Let's get right to this.

First of all, Cubs fans, you have not been waiting for 100 years. While you may subscribe to the belief that the memories of your parents and grandparents are passed down to you in some form at birth--something I will neither confirm nor deny (even though I could, being God and all) because that's for you to figure out--the fact remains: None of you--with a few exceptions--have been alive these past 100 years. And many of you who cry the most have seen but a few decades of the 100-year lapse.

To prove my point, I'll share with you a headline from a 1910 evening edition of the Chicago Daily News: "Cubs end difficult fortnight with 1-0 loss to the Boston Rustlers--Will play the Brooklyn Superbas to-morrow."

Does that cause you heartache? Of course not. Their starter that day--back then known as "the pitcher unless he's struck down by tuberculosis"--couldn't even read. Their uniforms looked like this. Yet, you think that moment in time somehow relates to the distress you feel while you watch a game played by guys who look like this and who not only read but head up their own investment groups and employ a small team of legal experts?

Face it: At best, you're on the same plane as Indians fans (last World Series Win: 1948) and Giants fans (1954). At worst, you're no different from a Mets fan (1986).

You know who has been around and cognizant these last hundred years? That's right--Me. And it has not been fun. That isn't to say that I care about the fortunes of one particular baseball team over another. But--I'm not gonna lie--you Cubs fans get more obnoxious every year. So if anyone's been "suffering" over that time, it's me for having to put up with your bellyaching.

Which gets me to my next point: How dare, dare, dare you invoke the word "suffering" in the name of your favorite baseball franchise. You wanna know real suffering? Try living in west Africa. You wanna know a real drought? Again--west Africa.

In the 100 years since the Cubs last won the World Series, the following have happened:

-two World Wars
-the Holocaust
-the Great Depression
-Pol Pot
-Jim Crow
-lots of other really, really bad stuff

And you have the gall to speak of your favorite baseball team in the same terms as these tragedies?

Yeah, yeah, I know what you're gonna say (because I know everything, in case you forgot): "But of course those things are much worse. I would never think of putting a baseball game ahead of real-world issues."

Oh really? Save it for someone who can't read your every emotion. I know how you really feel, so just own up to it, ok?

And another thing: If I get one more prayer for the Cubs to win the World Series from anyone over the age of ten, I just might... well, okay, I won't even bother with some empty threat. Because contrary to popular opinion, I don't punish people for stuff that "upsets" me.

But I hope you at least get the hint: I'm tired of it. I mean, last week I heard from some 38 year-old guy praying that Prince Fielder will get injured. That's just fucked up. (What? I curse. Why does that surprise you?) I love you all unconditionally, don't get me wrong. But sometimes you Cubs fans have me wondering whether I should reconsider that policy.

And behavior like this:

...makes me wonder why I let my creation lead to human beings. Surely I miscalculated something.

Whoa, whoa... Settle down. Even I can be sarcastic when I want, right? God privilege.

Lest you think I'm bitter over this matter, let me close by saying this:

I want you to be happy. And I'm pleased that my creation has given you simple pleasures like the game of baseball. So if I can petition you just once, please promise me you'll go to the ballpark this year, and just enjoy it. Let go of your desires; let go of your expectations, and simply... enjoy.

Enjoy the talents, efforts, and exhuberance of young men whom you've asked to entertain you with a game. Cheer them on. Encourage them. Bring funny signs that make silly puns of their last names. Rest assured--they'll know when they've let themselves down without the spiteful din spewing from your mouths.

Let them enjoy their craft, perfect a gift, and make a better life for themselves without the suffocating interference of your frivilous wants. Remember that you enjoy the warm sun, crack of the bat, pop of the glove, and all that other cliched crap that George Will and Bob Costas talk about, whether or not "your" team wins.

And if you can't enjoy it without that win, go use your competetive agression for something other than passive observance.

Ok... sermon over. (Even I hate preachiness.)


Pat's Fearless 2008 Baseball Forecast

While it can be argued that some of you guys no more about football than myself (which is an absurdly ignorant notion), no one with the exception of VinnIE and maybe Bechtel (as long as we aren't talking about his crush on JJ Hardy) knows more about baseball than I. So here you go, here are my Fearless Baseball Predictions of 2008.

NL Central:
Chicago Cubs
Milwaukee Brewers
St. Louis Cardinals
Cincinnati Reds
Houston Astros
Pittsburgh Pirates

NL East:
Philadelphia Phillies
New York Mets
Atlanta Braves
Washington Nationals
Miami Marlins

NL West
Arizona Diamondbacks
LA Dodgers
Colorado Rockies
San Diego Padres
SF Giants (will lose 110 games)

NL Wild Card
Milwaukee Brewers (as long as Ben Sheets stays healthy and they're bullpen gets situated)

AL Central
Cleveland Indians
Detroit Tigers
Minnesota Twins
Chicago White Sox
Kansas City Royals

AL East
Boston Red Sox
Toronto Blue Jays
New York Yankees
Tampa Bay Rays
Baltimore Orioles

AL West
Seattle Mariners
Anaheim Angels
Texas Rangers
Oakland A's

AL Wild Card
Detroit Tigers

NL Playoffs
Chicago Cubs over Philadelphia Phillies (3-1)
Arizona Diamondbacks over Milwaukee Brewers (3-1)

Chicago Cubs over Arizona Diamondbacks (4-2)

AL Playoffs
Cleveland Indians over Seattle Mariners (3-0)
Detroit Tigers over Boston Red Sox (3-2)

Cleveland Indians over Detroit Tigers (4-3)

2008 World Series
Cleveland Indians over Chicago Cubs (4-3)...and the drought continues


Vinnie's long, unnecessary, half-assed MLB preview

...will not be appearing this year, I'm sad to say. (Either that, or I'll just post it mid-month when the season is a tenth over.) But I wouldn't think of leaving you empty-handed. So to make it up to you, here's an excerpt from the report I've been writing at work which has kept me from having time to do my MLB preview post this past week:

Groundwater levels in areas neighboring bodies of water relate directly to the surface elevation of the water. Changes in the surface stage induce a similar response in nearby groundwater levels, the extent of which depends—among other factors—on the magnitude and duration (or “flood pulse”) of the stage change, as well as distance from the water body. In general, the closer a location is to water, the more direct this response will be. The further the location, the more this response is dampened and delayed. However, the precise relationship between stage and groundwater elevation for a given body of water and flood pulse can only be determined through empirical data obtained over an extended period.
Pretty awesome stuff, huh? Way more interesting than baseball.

Alright... mood music time.


Indiana Coaching Search

>> Sunday

After the debacle following the reigns of their previous two coaches, there will be one thing I can guarantee has been mandated in this search: Indiana's next coach must be white.

Current leader in the clubhouse, Tony Bennett, had your prototypical white boy game, not to mention his extremely white father Dick Bennett. In fact, being the son of such a crusty older gentleman gives Bennett the boost his age (38) and NBA experiences would have hindered.

Now, should Bennett rebuff Indiana, the next options would most definitely be as white, if not whiter. Former Stanford coach Mike Montgomery, plenty white, what with his failure to reign in those NBA players being a major plus. Lon Kruger would be the slightly younger, but more well traveled version of Montgomery.

In fact, in preparing for this post, I may or may not have overheard the following conversation between the Blue Ribbon Committee and Indiana AD Rick Greenspan:

BRC: "We really like this Anthony Grant fellow, nice success at VCU and great pedigree at Florida, where he played a big part in recruiting the back-to-back national champions. Also, he should be relatively affordable."

Greenspan: "I don't know, I tried making a bold hire with Sampson and we all saw how that ended. Between you guys and I, I feel awfully lucky to still be employed. This Grant character, while likely successful and a good recruiter in all, would upset the old apple cart a bit. A young coach whose team averages more than 70 points a game, we do not want any of that at Indiana."

BRC: "All right, we understand your apprehension here, Grant is a bit inexperienced and all. Okay, we have always been impressed with this Tom Crean guy. An experienced coach, going on a decade at Marquette with a Final Four, recruited multiple NBA players and participated in 5 NCAA Tournaments."

Greenspan: "While this seems to be a good hire, you have to look beneath the surface here. His team plays a little fast for my taste and boy he seems focused on these damn quick players that like to run and dunk. While some fans wanted that James player, I applauded Mike Davis for passing on such a showman like, undisciplined kid that must be an Indiana transplant. He was definitely no Tom Coverdale or Kyle Hornsby, that I can tell you."

BRC: "All right, I guess you spoke with Bo Ryan for advice, so Crean's out. All right, we have one more candidate for you, John Calipari. You had to impressed with what they did the other night, beating your conference rivals like a drum"

Greenspan: All right, stop with this fucking charade. Who in the hell gave you these candidates, and don't they understand what Indiana basketball is supposed to be about. If we want to get back to winning national titles, we need to bring in a coach who recruits fundamentally sound, disciplined players who buy into the Indiana way. These guy have so been lacking in intangibles, it's not funny. Fuck it, you guys are clearly no help, I'm handling this shit on my own."

Personally, my recommendation for your next Indiana coach can be seen in the image on the upper right.



>> Saturday

"I'm joined by Clark Kellogg and Seth Davis...." ..."I think they need to neutralize... xxxxx/\/x/hh\/Xx... neutralize... ccccccshhhx\x\x\x\x..."
... ba-da-d-daa-daa-daaaaa-da-da-da...
"No one ever believed that an underdog could go all the way...
"... Strong to the hoop..."
x/x/x/x\x\x\x\xccccccrrrrhhhhh ...go all the way way way... ... Real Coke taste
...real Coke tase... ccccccccccrrrrrrrsshhhhh...
...Real Coke taste ..." ...
"... adjustments in the second half Seth?" XXXXshhhhhhccc ...Seth?................... "
"Enterprise salutes NCAA student athletes.... cccccchhh\/\XxXxX... athletes... ccshrrrrXxxx\x/x/cshhhhrr...
...for picking us all up...
...all up...
...all up...."
[De-fense!... De-fense... De-fense...]
[Let's go hwah-huh...
Let's go hwah-huh...
Let's go hwah-huh...
"... Need to control the tempo...."
..."Taste infringement"... "Immigration lawy..." [duh!-duh! d-da d-duh!]
"... Starting to pull away..."
"...CSI Miami..."
"...Final Four appearance... .... ...How does it feel...."
".... played hard all night... my teammtes... great defense... coach Xx/chhsh\Xx had us p-...
p-... had us prepared...."
"... late local news... xcxxcxcxhhhshshshshh\/\\/\/\/\.... late local news..."

Ok, junkies... Time to rest up. Gotta get ready to feed the addiction tomorrow night. (But be warned: the withdrawl is vicious.)


Good Riddance to the Most Homogenous, Most Confusing, and Most Frustratingly Entertaining Tennesse Vols

>> Friday

Well, I tried calling my brother last night to see what he thought of his beloved Tennessee Vols, but he didn't answer. Of course, I did call during Louisville's 18-1 run in the first half, so maybe he was just too bewildered and depressed.

Anyways, I for one am glad that Tennessee is out of the tournament. I know some people like the "organized chaos" (as Bilas and Endberg called it last night), but I find it often unbearable to watch. Moreover, I just can't get into this Tennessee team. Even after having watched them a handful of times this season, I still have no idea who the players are (except Lofton). And last night I figured out why I can't keep them straight at all.

1. Everyone is named Smith. The overabundance of Smiths is the most obvious problem with understanding this team. Even more confusingly, announcers like to call them "the Smith brothers." With the Hansborough brothers, the Lopez twins, and Bruce Pearl's son, and that other Korver kid in this tournament, people shouldn't toss around the word "brother" so flippantly. It's confusing me.

2. Everyone wears a headband, has the same haircut, and has no facial hair. Thanks to the Jailblazers of the late 90's, we now have teams of players that all wear the same headband. Unfortunately, this fashion trend is problematic for the casual fan especially because headbands really do obscure the players' faces. I guess you can't fault Chism though; you can't confuse his style with anyone else. I haven't seen a style that unique since Derek Fischer's over-the-ear look.

3. Everyone is black. I've heard that there is scientific evidence that people have a more difficult time distinguishing people of different ethnicities than of their own ethnicity -- also known as the George Constanza "Sugar Ray Leonard" syndrome. But seriously, except for Chris Lofton, these guys look a lot alike, and that's probably exacerbated by the reasons mentioned in #2.

4. Everyone plays the 2 or the 3.
I think I would have an easier time keeping these guys straight if they actually played real basketball positions. At least I could say, "Hey, OK, Tyrone Smith plays the 5, and Lamar Smith plays the 1. I can jive with that." But everyone plays the same style. There's no "defensive specialist" or "point guard" or "stiff who is just on the team to give 5 fouls". There are just 5 guys driving toward the hoop, popping off-balance threes, and pushing the break.

5. Everyone is the same height. Like #2, #3, and #4, the homogeneity of these players is made worse by the fact that they're all 6'4" to 6'8".

6. Everyone is wearing the same jersey. I guess this is a problem for all basketball teams, but maybe a couple of them could go with the t-shirt-under-the-jersey look or socks-up-to-the knees look to help me out a little bit.


Ahhh! Evacuate the Empire State Building!

>> Thursday

How could we have been so blind all this time? From the moment he came into the NBA, I just knew that face looked so... so familiar. But I could never place it. But the magazine cover... Oh, the magazine cover. It's opened all our eyes. The predatory glare, the brandished teeth, the thin, lighter-skinned woman in his overwhelming grasp...

"James strikes what some see as a gorilla-like pose, baring his teeth, with one hand dribbling a ball and the other around Bundchen’s tiny waist.”

Magazine analyst, Samir Husni believes the photo was deliberately provocative, adding that it “screams King Kong.”

"Screams" King Kong? No, you fool! He is King Kong. Look at the resemblence! Isn't it obvious? We've gone and made this "LeBron" an icon, put his face on TV, and paid him millions of dollars. He's only biding his time before he crushes us all!

“Everything my name is on is going to be criticized in a good way or bad way,” James told the paper, [using sign language taught to him by Jane Goodall]. “Who cares what anyone says?”

Of course that's what he'd say! Don't listen to him. This follows the premise of King Kong to a tee: King Kong is discovered in a remote part of the world--in this case, Cleveland--he joins the NBA, gets summoned for a photo shoot with a famous model, and then goes on a rampage of New York City. All that's left is the rampage! Isn't anyone else as concerned about this as I am?

“This cover is very hurtful to the white basketball players. It screams that only blacks can play basketball, be successful and that white women would choose a black man over successful white man. I am boycotting Vogue from now on.”

What are you talking about? You're worried about the feelings of white basketball players? How can you be concerned with that at a time like this? It's King freaking Kong!... on the loose... with millions of dollars!

Come on, kids... To the doomsday shelter!


Don't burn that bracket!

>> Wednesday

Hey there, YCS fans!

After two wild rounds of upsets and buzzer-beaters, does your NCAA Tournament bracket look something like this right now?

Well don't worry--you're not finished yet!

Enter to win the YCS Coke Zero Sweet Sixteen Second-Chance Win-a-Prize NCAA Tournament Bracket Contest brought to you by Sonic... today!

Here's how it works: You enter your picks for the remaining four rounds of the NCAA Tournament. Then, you picks will be scored by the following formula:

where,u(x, t) = total score
x = the number of correctly-picked Sweet Sixteen games

t = (the number of correctly-picked Elite Eight games)! + (Final Four games)! + National Champion

c = the speed of light

s = bouyancy

the squiggly backwards 3-like thingy = Schuenpfafer's coefficient

...And then, when you outscore everyone else, you win fabulous prizes!

Sound simple enough? You're right! It is!

"Now, Vinnie--What do I win?" Glad you asked!

First prize: A trip for two* to the 2011 Final Four in warm, sunny / cold, miserable TBD

Second prize: A chance to meet beloved CBS Sports broadcaster Billy Packer**

Third prize: All the Coke Zero you can drink until you go blind from aspartame poisoning

So don't hesitate... Submit your brackets today!

*Tickets, airfare, and other travel expenses not included in prize package.
**Prize can be redeemed by finding Billy Packer's house and crawling through his window. While you're there, punch him in the face for me once if you don't mind.


2008 YCS MLS Preview

It's time once again for my probably horribly inaccurate MLS Preview. In a league with as much parity as MLS, league previews are inherently inaccurate for all but a lucky few. Last year, I boldly predicted that David Beckham, Joe Cannon, and Nate Jaqua were the last pieces of the puzzle, and Los Angeles Galaxy would down DC United to win their third MLS Cup title in six seasons. DC crashed in the first round of the Playoffs. Los Angeles did not even make the playoffs, losing on the last day of the regular season.

As hard as it is to believe, it was only four months ago I was gleefully rejoicing over New England losing their fourth MLS Cup Final in 6 years; essentially making them MLS's version of the Buffalo Bills. But as Winter turns to Spring, so too does the offseason change into a new MLS campaign. The League's 13th season kicks off Saturday with 12 of the 14 clubs in action. The league makes its national TV premiere next Thursday with a doubleheader featuring two of the best rivalries in the league: Chicago vs. New England's unnamed, but ancient blood feud, followed by the return of the California Clasico, pitting San Jose against Los Angeles for the first time since '05.

Teams will once again play a 30-game League schedule; playing each team twice, and four league-office-designated "rivals" for a third extra game before the top eight teams make the playoffs, and the season ends in November at the Home Depot Center; the 27,000-capacity home of Los Angeles Galaxy and CD Chivas USA. Only one MLS team (1997 DC United) have won the title on their home field.

So now, onto the team previews
Eastern Conference 2007 Finish
DC United, New England, New York, Chicago, Kansas City, Columbus, Toronto

Mike's Certain-to-be-wrong Predicted 2008 Finish
DC United, New England, Chicago, Kansas City, New York, Toronto, Columbus

DC United undergoes a total overhaul from last season. Gone is 2006 league MVP Christian Gomez (to Colorado) and stalwart keeper Troy Perkins (to some Norwegian team). In are a slew of new faces (most from South America) most notably led by DC's "Beckham Rule" player Marcello Gallardo, an Argentinian World Cup veteran. Fred and 2007 leading scorer Luciano Emilio lead the way along with longtime veteran Jaime Moreno. While the turnover could prove instability, if DC's 5-0 dismantling of Caribbean Champions Harbour View this past week is any indication of their capabilities, I'd say DC is well on their way to being MLS Cup contenders again. My only concern with DC is their age. While a number of good players were brought in this offseason, many are definitely in the twilight of their careers, and if the injury bug strikes, United could be in deep trouble.

Note: No team has ever won the Supporter's Shield (best regular season record) three seasons in a row. DC won it in 2006 and 2007.

New England Revolution has to be wondering if there are any more ways they can lose an MLS Cup Final. They have lost on golden goal, in extra time, on penalty kicks, and in regulation. Welsh international Andy Dorman has pulled up his stakes and relocated to St. Mirren in the Scottish Premier League. However, Coach Steve Nicol has proven over the years that he can retain the core of his team, but New England doesn't seem to have a core of young players who can contribute aside from Michael Parkhurst. Matt Reis is still one of the best keepers in the league and is the keeper I'd want on my team in a penalty shootout. Taylor Twellman is always dangerous, but the Revs key pickup could be US World Cup veteran Chris Albright, who strengthens them in the back. Still, you gotta wonder how many more chances they're going to have to bring home a league title...

Note: New England has made it to the Conference Finals six straight seasons.

Chicago Fire have to find a way to not have their season end in Foxborough. Their loss to archnemesis New England last year in the playoffs marked the fourth year in a row where the Fire's last game saw them walking off the field in defeat at Foxborough. Team President John Guppy has brought on former Fire legend Frank Klopas as technical director (sort of like a GM, but with more development responsibility), and has stated that his goal is to win the Supporters' Shield this year. However, Guppy and Co. have given little evidence they are serious about it. For all the clearing of cap space the Fire did this offseason, they sure did a lot of standing pat. Three of their four highest players are no longer with the team. Captain Chris Armas retired, leaving CJ Brown and Diego Gutierrez as the only players left from the '98 Double-winning Fire team. Costa Rican waste of oxygen Paolo Wanchope has announced his retirement, and Honduran Ivan Guerrero was taken by San Jose in the expansion draft. New Coach Dennis Hamlett's Fire team will shift to a 3-5-2 formation this year from their more defensive minded 3-4-4. Chad Barrett and Polish international Tomas Frankowzski will be up top. Chris Rolfe will be moved back to the midfield with Cuauhtemoc Blanco. Questions remain on the backline as CJ Brown approaches the end of his career, and Wilman Conde is in a trade dispute. GK Matt Pickens has left the team for Queens' Park Rangers of the English Championship, leaving goalkeeping duties to Jon Busch. While Busch has been a capable backup, expect to see rookie draft pick Dominic Cervi by midseason.

Note: Chicago and New England have ended each other's seasons in 7 of the last 8 seasons.

Kansas City Wizards have made a few key pickups, but have also lost a good deal. Nick Garcia was traded away to San Jose for the top pick in the draft. Garcia was a key member of the Wiz the past few seasons, so Chance Myers will be expected to contribute immediately. The Argentine connection begun last season with Carlos Marinelli's arrival in KC is continued with KC's "Beckham Rule" acquisition Claudio Lopez; an Argentine World Cup veteran. Kansas City lost a scoring touch with Eddie Johnson (transfer to England's Fulham FC) but should be able to answer with Lopez. One has to worry about Lopez's age, but if he can give KC 13-16 goals, it shouldn't matter. KC is my wild card team in the East this year. They really can go either way.

Note: While Arrowhead Stadium is under renovation, KC will be playing in temporary digs in Kansas City, KS. This officially makes them the first team from a top-flight major American sports league to be based in Kansas.

Red Bull New York is a team that could win it all, but their history tells me they won't. Injuries and departures have taken their toll on last year's third-place in the East team. However, if the right elements come together, New York can be a dangerous team. While some commentators say coach Juan Carlos Osorio's arrival in the Big Apple makes them instant MLS Cup contenders after the Rescue job he performed on Chicago last year, I have to disagree. Chicago's resurgence was equally due to Cuauhtemoc Blanco's arrival. New York does not really have that injection of star power this season. While Juan Pablo Angel remains one of the best players in the league, New York's other DP, Claudio Reyna has been a colossal waste of money. With his salary, not only is Reyna failing to provide for RBNY on the pitch, but is also prohibiting the cash-rich Red Bull owners from making a splash on the international transfer market with a big signing. If American teenage phenom Jozy Altidore leaves for Real Madrid after the Olympics this summer as has been rumored, New York could really struggle to score goals aside from Angel, since last year, Angel was responsible for 19 of RBNY's 47 goals.

Note: New York is the only team in the league to boast two Beckham Rule players. They traded former league MVP Amado Guevara to Chivas USA for their DP slot. Chicago and DC are rumored to be debating acquiring second-DP slots.

Toronto FC exploded on the scene in MLS last year. Season tickets sold out again this year, and talk has already begun about possibly expanding their home ground of BMO Field on the shores of Lake Ontario. Sadly, the play on the pitch as been nothing short of an abomination. TFC finished last season with the worst goal differential in the league (-24), and the Reds have done little in the offseason to change that team. While injuries certainly played a role in TFC's poor inaugural campaign, the simple fact is they were just plain outclassed on a number of occasions. Maurice Edu and Danny Dichio lead the way for the Canadian side, but outside of perhaps winning the Canada Cup of Soccer (detailed below), it appears to be a trophy-less summer up north.

Note: In addition to their league campaign, Toronto FC will play a four-game, round-robin series against A-League sides Vancouver Whitecaps and Impacte de Montreal to determine Canada's representative in the new CONCACAF Champions League, set to kick off this fall.

Columbus Crew brings up the tail end of the Eastern Conference. Frankie Hejduk is one year older, and their failure to land Celtic striker Maciej Zurawski during the offseason speaks volumes. Losing Andy Herron to Chicago for a song did not help matters. Goal production will be a challenge. Will Hesmer is a solid player in goal, but there will not be much offense at Hunt Park. A healthy Columbus could have a say in who goes to the playoffs, but they will not be there themselves barring a spending schmorgesborg in the summer transfer window.

Note: Columbus has not won a playoff series since 2002.

Western Conference 2007 Finish
CD Chivas USA, Houston, FC Dallas, Colorado, Los Angeles, Salt Lake

Mike's Certain-to-be-wrong predicted 2008 Finish
Houston, CD Chivas USA, Los Angeles, Colorado, FC Dallas, Salt Lake, San Jose

Houston Dynamo looked every bit the champion as they took apart Guatemalan powerhouse CSD Municipal in the Champions' Cup last week. The return of a core group of players including Alejandro Moreno, Pat Onstad, Dwayne DeRosario and Brian Ching has the Dynamo primed for another MLS Cup title run. Bobby Boswell joins the back line from DC United. Defense is Houston's strength. Last year they surrendered a league-low 23 goals. Including the team's years as the San Jose Earthquakes before they were relocated Baltimore Ravens-style, these players have won four of the last seven MLS Cups. While Houston traditionally starts slow, they usually finish strong, and return most of their MLS Cup-winning team this season. My only concern with Houston is fixture congestion. Houston will be participating in four different competitions this season (MLS, CONCACAF Champions Cup, US Open Cup, and the new CONCACAF Champions League). MLS teams have shown that the talent from players 1-13 is good enough to compete with any team in the world. However, players 14-23 are a little shaky, and if fatigue or injuries pile up in the stretch run, it could derail Houston's chances.

Note: No team has ever won MLS Cup three years in a row. DC United came closest, winning titles in '96, '97, and '99, and losing the Final in '98 to Chicago Fire.

CD Chivas USA will once again be a major factor in the West, and if this were not an Olympic year, they might even be my pick to advance all the way to the MLS Cup Final. However, the Beijing Olympics and World Cup qualifiers may strip this team in August and September. Maykel Galindo (Cuba), Sacha Kliejstan (USA), Brad Guzan (USA), and Jonathan Bornstein (USA) will all be with their national teams for Olympic and WCQ duties. Guzan may not even be with the team come mid season as a $4 million transfer offer from the EPL's Aston Villa fell through on work permit grounds this past offseason. Villa have indicated they will try to buy the American keeper again in the summer. With El Guzano gone, Chivas looks shaky in the back. However, Swiss World Cup vet Rafael Wicky (VICK-ee) should provide some veteran leadership for this young team. Rumor also has it that a certain Mexican legend will be joining the team midseason, so Chivas should be in the hunt for MLS Cup once again. Chivas is the mainstream soccer media's trendy pick to win it all this year.

Note: Chivas USA is participating in this year's SuperLiga, and there is a pretty good possibility they could play their sister club, Chivas de Guadelajara.

Los Angeles Galaxy finally gets to play a normal schedule this year after last year's ill-fated David Beckham moneytrain. Becks returns, and from all appearances is healthy. After bending the MLS salary cap rules once again in order to land FC Dallas striker Carlos Ruiz, Beckham may finally have a strike partner who can finish those picture-perfect crosses he served up last year. I have a hunch Landon Donovan is just a couple good games away from going on a serious tear, possibly making a run at MVP. LA will miss Joe Cannon in net (gone to San Jose), as the keeper position falls to the capable but inexperienced Steve Cronin. LA returns most of a solid cast that went through the flames and the circus atmosphere of last season and is my dark horse pick for an MLS Cup finalist to emerge out of the West.

Note: David Beckham gave his name to the "Beckham Rule," but LA has three such players on their team. Landon Donovan and Carlos Ruiz were grandfathered in, and as such, do not count as designated players (DPs).

Colorado Rapids picked up Christian Gomez, finally landing the kind of dynamic player they haven't had since Marcello Balboa left the team years ago. Sadly for the Colorado faithful, it may not be enough. Coach Fernando Clavijo is on the hot seat, and reinforcements do not appear to be coming anytime soon. The cost for Gomez was the giving DC United the right to use Colorado's DP slot at any time in the next three years. Colorado should underwhelm again, and as usual, will be one of the most boring, vanilla teams in MLS.

Note: Colorado is one of two teams team in MLS from the 10 Survivors (The 9 remaining charter teams plus Chicago) that has NEVER won a trophy in any major domestic competition (New York is the other).

Real Salt Lake needs to turn it on this year. Dwindling attendance and even lower fan optimism had led to rumors of the club's relocation before funding for a new stadium was secured. That will come to fruition this fall when they open their new soccer-specific stadium. A playoff berth could lead to a successful renaissance on the Wasatch front. To get there, RSL will need to tighten up on defense and in the defensive midfield. No keeper in the league faced as many shots (183) as RSL keeper Nick Rimando did last season. If Kyle Beckerman (right) wants to work his way into Bob Bradley's camp when World Cup Qualifying begins this summer, he will need to put together a solid campaign.

Note: Salt Lake has never been to the Playoffs in their three year history. No MLS team has ever missed the playoffs four seasons in a row.

The San Jose Earthquakes team that takes the field this season is a far cry from the last incarnation of the team that won the Supporters' Shield in 2005. Returning Cleveland-Browns-style from a two-year hiatus, the Earthquakes will learn their expansion lessons the hard way, just as Toronto did last year and Chivas USA/RSL did before them. The last three expansion teams went a combined 15-59-18 in their first seasons. Joe Cannon provides a solid presence between the sticks, but he can only do so much as was proven last year in LA. Nick Garcia, Ronnie O'Brien and Ivan Guerrero will try to control things in the midfield, but it could be a long year for the Terremotos, due in part to their woeful lack of depth, and not too much strength in the attack.

Note: San Jose will play most of their games at Buck Shaw Stadium on the campus of Santa Clara University, but will play a handful of games at McAfee Coliseum against bigger draws (LA, Chicago, etc.)

League MVP: Juan Pablo Angel (RBNY)
Leading scorer: Juan Pablo Angel (RBNY)
Goalkeeper of the Year: Brad Guzan (CDC) if he stays the whole season, Pat Onstad (HOU) if Guzan leaves midsummer
Newcomer of the Year: Marcello Gallardo (DCU)
Rookie of the Year: Julius James (TFC)
Supporters Shield Winners: Houston Dynamo
US Open Cup Winners: Chicago Fire
SuperLiga Winners: Houston Dynamo
2009 CONCACAF Champions League Qualifiers: DC, Houston, New England, Chivas USA

MLS Cup Playoff Teams
East: DC, New England, Chicago, Kansas City, New York
West: Houston, Chivas USA, Los Angeles

DC over Kansas City
Chicago over New England
Houston over New York
Los Angeles over Chivas USA

Conference Finals
Houston over Los Angeles
DC over Chicago

MLS Cup Final
DC United over Houston


The Balance

>> Tuesday

And he felt the earth to his spine,
And he asked, and he saw the tree above him, and the stars,
And the veins in the leaf,
And the light, and the balance.

At long last, Sweet Lou has broken his silence. We now know the answer to that essential question:

Who will be in the Cubs' starting rotation?

And the answer: Zambrano, Lilly, Dempster, Hill, Marquis.

Behold... the balance, the symmetry, the club sandwich-like structure... the lack of Sean Marshall.


If only those letters were themselves symmetrical, the Cubs could have had the most balanced starting rotation in the history of the game.

Ah, but letters are letters. Throwing arms are something very different. Imagine the frustration of their opponents this year. One day, they step into the box, and the man on the mound is throwing from his right hand. The next day, he is throwing with his left. And then the next day... whoa! Righty again! They will be utterly blindsided, beffudled even.

And he saw magnificent perfection,
Whereon he thought of himself in balance,
And he knew he was.

Aristotle taught us that balance is essential to our growth, our happinness, and to life itself. The sciences teach us that all things in nature are drawn to a state of balance. And the great gymnast Mary Lou Retton had excellent balance.

Of course, there's one problem: None of this has shit to do with the sequence of starting pitchers on an MLB roster. Because--guess what--the strategy of "balancing" a starting rotation based on right-handedness and left-handedness is sheer quackery. I don't even need to research this to say so. I'm that confident. If I worked for SABR and were more proficient with Access, I'd glady do so. But I'm not, and I don't. So baseless assertion, it is.

But I think logic is very much on my side on this one. Maybe, maybe I could see this strategy having a tangible effect on a bad high school team. (Even then, wouldn't it be more the effect of general inexperience against lefties?) But someone please tell me how a major league hitter--twenty-one hours, an amphetamine crash, a night's sleep, and a BP session later--is at all affected by the starting pitcher the night before. The idea is absurd, but we see it influence teams all the time in free agency (Exhibit A: Zito) and roster decisions. It's like some ill-conceived affirmative action program, except in the Cubs' case, the majority is being shown preference.

Because, you know, a team simply can't win with a majority lefty rotation.

And becuase of their faith in the bogus and nonexistent, the Cubs are willing to stunt the growth of a pretty decent pitching prospect (Marshall) in deference to a mediocre verteran (Dempster) who hasn't pitched well as a starter since 2000, a guy with a shaky track record, which includes a poor second half in '07 and a horrible both-halves in '06 (Marquis), and 38 year-old who's been carved up twice in the last five years (Lieber) as the backup option.

Brilliant, just brilliant, player management. I understand that the Cubs are still shopping Marshall, but then wouldn't it make sense to get him innings and showcase his talent? Or do the Cubs realize that his ERA last year was a shade on the lucky side and want to hide him away in the bullpen, lest he diminish his trade stock by getting hit. If that's the case, the way the team is going about it seems a little transparent, no?

But now I'm straying from my original point, which is: I don't care in the least whether a pitcher is right-handed, left-handed, or a cyclops who shoots baseballs out of his eye (other than that might be illegal) as long as he gets guys out. I don't understand why some people don't get this.


"How about 'Loser' by Beck or 'I'm a Loser' by the Beatles or 'Even the Losers' by Tom Petty or--" "Hey man, get off the stage! You suck!"

>> Monday

Last March, I highlighted one Chicago radio, NCAA Tournament-themed polling gimmick. And now this year, I direct your attention to this--a 16-song "bracket" established by several Chicago radio stations to determine what will be played when the Cubs take the field opening day.

Let's--for a second--put aside the fact that these are possibly the most cliched choices that these radio stations could have chosen (with apologies, perhaps, to "Welcome to the Jungle"). But I'm more than a tad perplexed by Ron and Pat's offering. "Margaritaville"??? As a make-some-noise, on-your-feet, raise-the-roof, it's-game-time-woo! song? I can only imagine the conversation that led to this nomination.

Pat: Well, Ronny. What song should we enter into the "March to Opening Day" contest?
Ron: Aww, gee, Pat... Gosh... I don't know...
Pat: Boy, Ronny, there are so many good songs and artists to choose from.
Ron: You know it, Pat.
Pat: Perhaps "Start Me Up" by the Rolling Stones.... Or a Buddy Holly tune... maybe the Electric Light Orchestra... Of course, "Blitzkrieg Bop" is always a ballpark favorite.
Ron: Gee... I'm not sure I remember that one...
Pat: Well, it's a bit more recent, Ron. It's by a band called the Ramones.
Ron: The Ramones, you said?
Pat: That's right... Like the man's name "Ramon" but with an E-S at the end.
Ron: Huh... I don't recall them.
Pat: They wore leather jackets and tight blue jeans... white t-shirts typically... sunshades... long-ish hair--"shaggy," as it is often referred to nowadays...
Ron: What about the one... umm.... what is it, Pat... uh... Sinatra...
Pat: "Summer Wind"?
Ron: You got it! Boy... Nothing gets past you, Pat.
Pat: Well, Ronny... One of our listeners emailed me and suggested "Margaritaville" by Jimmy Buffett.
Ron: [intrigued] Ohhhh.... Well, I'll be... I didn't think of that one.
Pat: Of course, Jimmy was the first artist to perform live at Wrigley Field few summers ago.
Ron: Yep.
Pat: That's always a fun song.
Ron: You've got that right, Pat!
Pat: Well, how about it, Ronny? Should we go with the listener's suggestion?
Ron: [spills his glass of grape Crush] Oh, GEEZ!

And Len and Bob--the two broadcasters who performed at the House of Blues and talk more about music than about baseball on their telecasts--went with a Semisonic song. I do give them a thumbs up for being less predictable, but--beeeee-ewwwwuuuurrrrrr [rotating my wrist to thumbs-down position]--on song choice.

Most of these radio stations are shit, and I expected nothing better. But I must say, I'm very disappointed in WXRT, which--if you don't live in Chicago--is easily the best FM radio station in the city (at least under the umbrella "music of the common man"), if not the entire country. "Beautiful Day"? Come on Lin Bramer and co.--You coulda done way better than that.

I guess if I had to make a choice between a giant douche and a turd sandwich (and fourteen other options) in this bracket, I'd endorse "Stronger" even though it's in that awkward no-so-new, not-so-old limbo stage where it needs to be shelved for a few years to let it replenish its appeal. But at least it sorta has that stadium energy-generating quality that pretty much every other song in the bracket lacks.

You know what--forget that. Vote for "Margaritaville," if for nothing else than to see the look of disgust on Carlos Zambrano's face when that comes piping through the PA as he trots to the mound.


For those of you that come here for Marquette coverage

>> Sunday

Late last night I said to myself, "Vinnie, you know what I could go for right now? A huge annoyance. It's been a while since I intentionally levied a big pile of irritation on you. Why don't we click over to Cracked Sidewalks and check out some postgame reaction to the MU loss."

And of course, I listened to the manipulative bastard. What I read in the comments section of the postgame thread was exactly what I expected--boorish critics with a delusional sense of entitlement coming out of the woodwork to bash Crean, bash the players, and second-guess.

I decided to leave a comment, which I figured I'd repost here--partly because it turned out longer than a lot of our posts. And since we post so little as it is, I'd hate to have any of my precious few sports-related words not appear on this blog.

But mostly, I wanted to post it as a pre-emptive rebuttal to any of the Crean-bashers / player-bashers that might show up here. (The first part, actually, is a direct rebuttal to people who criticized Crean/Burke for letting Lopez get too easy of a shot on the last play.) And even if you're not a Marquette fan, I think the comment makes a point that's relevant to a lot of college basketball fanbases. So here it is:

Ummm... Since when is anyone's "favorite spot on the floor" falling out of bounds toward the baseline and shooting from behind the plane of the backboard? And apparently, some of you were too busy proofreading your list of Tom Crean grievances to catch Burke forcing Lopez into a couple wild fallaway jumpers late in the game. Going by the reactions here, I'd have guessed Lopez shot 90% from the field if I hadn't watched the game.

Was I baffled and frustrated by Jerel's threeball at the end of regulation? Of course. But he's also the biggest reason we had a chance to win there. Also consider a) it was a pretty good look, b) it eliminates the chance for a buzzer heave to beat us, and c) we'd been offensive rebounding very well, so a putback off a long rebound was a plausible outcome. And of course, if the shot drops, we're all running the streets kissing strangers and clicking our heels instead of criticizing the decision.

That's not to say I entirely condone the threeball, nor the fact that we chucked up 29 others, but I also like to think that they treated us to a phenomenal game and a tremendously entertaining and successful style of ball all year. (The Georgetown game was the best live game atmosphere I've ever been a part of, and if that counts for nothing in your mind, you should stop watching sports.) Honestly--Why can't it ever just be, "The circumstances didn't pan out as I hoped, and I'm sad over the outcome." Why does someone always have to be blamed? Not everything in life is someone's "fault." It's ok to admit you're sad over something you can't control. Go have a good cry or play with your dog or whatever it is you need to do. But don't get all hostile toward Tom Crean or toward whomever else on the team because it's unfair to them, and it's bad for your health.

And guess what--You know how many teams appear in the Final Four each year? That's right--four. But I don't know... Maybe the committee should be, like, "Hey, your school won a championship in the '70s. For that, you get a 1-seed and a free pass to the Final Four each year." In fact, they should do that for all teams with any history of success whatsoever. Especially UTEP. I mean, shit, they had a movie made about their championship team. Every year, we could have 57 teams in the Final Four, all coached by Rick Pitino. They'd play one huge game with 30 basketballs (plus 5 moneyballs) in a six-acre warehouse. There'd still only be two baskets, but you'd have "safety pods" at different spots on the floor, and the team who occupied the most pods when "Pop Goes the Weasel" ends would win. I think then, and only then, would every college fanbase get what they "expect" from their program.

My point being: We should totally fire Crean and bring in Coach K. I'm sure he'd leave Duke in a heartbeat. Plus, he's an awesome game coach. Just look at his last four tournament games. I mean, if we're willing to judge Crean that way, why not Coach K? Wait--he's 1-3 with that only win being a one-point win over Belmont? Well, shit. Fire him too then, and hire Belmont's coach.


Don't bother us right now. We don't wanna talk to you.

>> Saturday

It'll probably be days before any of us can post again, and we hate you, so go away. Especially if you're Brook or Robin Lopez, their white hippie mom, Mitch Johnson, Jim Harbaugh, the Honda Center south or east or whatever directional rim that let that fucking shot fall, Chelsea Clinton, or an asshole in a tree suit. The world would be better off without all of you.


Interpreting office pool banter

>> Friday

Being a big boy working stiff for almost two years now, I've known the simple joy of participating in the great American tradition that is the NCAA Tournament office pool these last two Marches.

What I've enjoyed the most so far about my first-hand office pool experience are the competitiveness the pool elicits from people who've never expressed any interest in sports whatsoever but will gamble on anything and, of course, the unabashed certainty with which people are willing to talk out of their ass in sizing up what are--essentially--hypothetical 50-50 propositions. It really brings me back to my days of listening to sports talk radio.

A few examples I've overheard (paraphrasing):

"I don't know... there's something I don't like about that team." (Translation: "I think their uniforms are ugly.")

"They've looked good from what I've seen of them." (Translation: "I think their uniforms are pretty!")

"I like North Carolina because of Hansbrough." (Translation: "Tyler Hansbrough is the only player I can name in this Tournament.")

"Kentucky always plays well in the Tournament." (Translation: "My logic for making this unlikely pick is that the players on this team, who have little or nothing to do with the past successes of that program--to say nothing of the fact they have a different coach--wear the same colors as the collegiate version of Antoine Walker... whoever that is.")

"I like Wisconsin because of the way they play defense." (Translation: "I like Wisconsin because of the way they play defense and not that unruly ghettoball you see most of these teams play.")

"You have Wisconsin in the final? What are you, an asshole?" (Actually, that was something I thought. No one said that unfortunately.)

"I just have a bad feeling about Memphis." (Translation: "They remind me of those blacks that I see riding the CTA that talk too loud, use poor grammar, and make me clutch my wallet and occasionally wet my chinos a little.")

Hey, speaking of wetting my chinos a little, I have Tennessee in the final, and right now they're clinging to a four-point lead over American.


"But onto the game..."

>> Thursday

...says Reece Davis.

As much as I like to rag on old coaches and their war stories and 1970s philosophies, I wish ESPN had given some airtime to let the Digger-General-DickieV 700 Club Roundable Hour hash out this topic. (And I'm not even ragging on ESPN.... because the sitation warranted the move-on. Hence, the tragedy of limited time.)

That topic being: the NBA rule that encourages one-and-done 6-credit-hour athletes to play NCAA ball for a year.

It's grotesque, ugly, shady, unseemly, and then some. And it undeniably undermines the modern college game--not to mention the way it undermines a libertarian philosophy of "elevate yourself and make some money doing it."

The three former coaches were in the midst of a meaningful discussion on this topic during Gameday a few minutes ago, in which they made some excellent points. But sadly, the producers gave Reece the "move on" signal. Yet this is the most important topic facing the NCAA (at least in terms of major-conference basketball) today.

The point being: let the kids take on the NBA if that's what they want. Don't make them feign school spirit and ameteur-game ideals for a year if their heart's not in it and if they never intend to join the blue-collar world.

Don't rob NBA fans of a rookie year like LeBron or Amare had for a stupid rule that--ostensibly--encourages superior athletes to give "higher" education a chance but--more accurately--intends to create a deeper 12-man NBA roster. (And I'll save the fact that LeBron strikes me as one of the short list of the most intelligent and amazing personalities in sports, despite his lack of a college education, for another post.)

Stern!: You greedy bitch: Don't turn the NCAA into a farm league even more than it is.

I love Dickie V's idea of creating a committee of NBA execs and NCAA officials to give an unbiased, non-agent-driven evaluation of gifted 18/19 year-olds to separate the corrupted from the Real Deals.

Sadly, this discussion was cut short. Which is not to say that the ESPN college hoops panel is the Mensa of the unpaid-paid sports issues dynamic, but I'm disappointed to see that this discussion couldn't get its fair due on a forum that more people will see than all the "alternative" sports media outlets combined.

Basically, Beasley, Mayo, and Rose should be millionares because it's within their abilities... and they'd be successful doing it. And college basketball--and its devotees like me--shouldn't pretend that they're one of "ours," when these studs forcibly held themselves back to set their footprint in this cult.


ESPN Radio Milwaukee: Partying Like It's 1999

One of the sponsors for Marquette Basketball on ESPN Radio in Milwaukee is Pepsi, and when reading the ads before the game the announcer said:

"Marquette basketball, brought to you by Pepsi. Pepsi - the Joy of cola!"

I'm no advertising guru, but I swear to god that Pepsi's slogan hasn't been 'the Joy of cola' for almost a decade.


NCAA Tournament Breakdown-West Region

>> Wednesday

While I would not disagree with UCLA being the strong favorite, it would be a mistake to write off Duke. Yes, Duke's major flaws (stopping penetration, interior play) would likely be exploited by Darren Collison and Kevin Love. However, they would also be one a few teams that rank in the top ten in both offensive and defensive efficiency. On a night where their shots would be falling, they could beat anyone and should be a solid favorite up until the Elite 8.

Sleeper Team: Drake

As a 5 seed, they would not be as under as the radar as my previous picks (Butler, Gonzaga, Mississippi State). However, this team had a strong argument for a 4 or even 3 seed and will be a very tough out. They feature the 6th best offense in the country, and along with their ability to knock down perimeter shots they also get a lot of offensive rebounds. Their defense has declined as the season went on, but they held a good Illinois State team to 49 points on just .87 points per possession in the MVC final. It would not surprise me if they knock out UConn in the second round, and they could challenge UCLA if their perimeter shots fall.

Best First Round Game: Purdue v. Baylor

This features a strong contrast in styles, as you have Purdue and their 13th best defense against the prolific offense of Baylor (also ranked 13th). Each team has to like the match-up, as their weaknesses inside will not be exposed, although Kevin Rogers of Baylor would be one of the better offensive rebounders in the country. This game also features a battle of two of the nation's best and most unheralded freshmen: the Boilers Robbie Hummel and the Bears LaceDarius Dunn. Dunn had a huge game in Baylor's NCAA clinching victory at Texas Tech, scoring 38 points on 10-16 from the field, 6-9 from three and 12-13 from the line. In Big Ten play, Hummel played every bit as well as the heavily hyped Eric Gordon of Indiana. That being said, the key to this game will likely be Baylor's two best upperclassmen guards, Curtis Jerrells and Aaron Bruce. I look for them to step up and lead the Bears in the mild upset.

Best Chance for an Upset: Baylor over Purdue

As previewed above, I like Baylor's upperclassmen to help lead the way against a very good, but very inexperienced Purdue squad.

Regional Final: UCLA v. Duke

Region Winner: UCLA

In the end, the Bruins make their third consecutive Final Four and this time they have the ability to take home the big trophy. UCLA fans, all you need is Love in the post to complement Darren Collison, giving the Bruins the balance they need. The emergence of sophomore guard Russell Westbrook puts things over the top for the team I predict will cut down the nets in San Antonio.


NCAA Tournament Breakdown-South Region

>> Tuesday

For those people looking for a potential sleeper Final Four team, you have found the region. In fact, the 4-5-6 seeds in the region (Pitt, Michigan State, the good guys) may have as good of a shot making it out of the region as your 1-2-3 seeds (Memphis, Texas, Stanford). Memphis has a strong allergy to playing a grind it out, half-court game (Which will inevitably happen a couple of times along the way), Texas can play matador defense at times, and Stanford lacks the playmaking guards that you need to create a tough shot at times. Meanwhile, you have solid, balanced teams in Michigan State and Pitt who have been here before and know what to expect and how to handle the NCAA Tournament stage. Marquette may be the toughest team to predict in the tournament, and benefit from a benign opening round game that may be all they need to get a run started.

Sleeper Team: Mississippi State

Out of conference, Rick Stansbury's bunch barely resembled a CBI team. However, once they entered the SEC, the Bulldogs really came together on their way to a 12-4 SEC record highlighted by one of the best defensive performances in major conference play. In a potential game against Memphis, shot blocker extraordinaire Jarvis Varnado could disrupt Memphis's dribble drive motion offense. Jamont Gordon has the strength and athleticism to bother Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts on both ends. If Phil Turner, Barry Stewart or Ben Hansbrough hit their perimeter jumpers, you could have your 8 over 1 upset in the second round.

Best First Round Game: Miami v. St Mary's

I am sure that many people, myself included, have St. Mary's winning in the 7-10 "upset". However, Miami has a nice group of guards led by Jack McClinton that could propel the Canes to tournament success. This will be the rare case of the smaller conference team having the edge in the frontcourt, with two of the WCC's best power players in Diamon Simpson and Omar Samhan. The Gaels hopes may rest on the shoulders of talented freshman point guard Patrick Mills, who has looked brilliant at times but also struggled in many of their high profile (ESPN) games (against Gonzaga, @Santa Clara, Kent State in the Bracket Busters). The winner of this game could give Texas a run in the second round, although the Horns did beat St. Mary's comfortably earlier this season.

Best Chance for an Upset: Oral Roberts over Pittsburgh

This would wreck my bracket, as I have Pitt making a run to the Elite 8. However, they have a tough first round game against an Oral Roberts team that has been to three straight NCAA Tournaments and would be experienced against top competition (wins over teams like Kansas and Oklahoma State the past few seasons). If Oral Roberts's explosive guard Robert Jarvis can get going, Pitt could be in trouble as Jarvis puts up points in bunches. Also, after playing four games in four days (three of them tough, physical affairs against upper echelon NCAA Tourney teams in Louisville, Marquette and Georgetown), Pitt may still be fatigued and face an uphill battle early if ORU starts off the game well. I expect Pitt to win in a close game, but an upset here would not surprise me and could be the roadblock towards a long tourney run for Panthers.

Regional Final: Stanford vs. Memphis

After taking a look at the stats, I have decided to with Memphis over Pitt in the Sweet 16, as the Tigers ability to get offensive rebounds will take out the Panthers.

Projected Winner: Stanford

All teams in this region have flaws, but I will go with the best player in this region (Brook Lopez) and the frontcourt depth of the Cardinal to advance. The Cardinal guards could easily succumb the pressure of Marquette in the second round and struggle to exploit their advantage with the Lopez twins. However, if they can get by that game, I like Stanford to come to San Antonio and beat Texas in their backyard and then knock off whoever comes from the other side of bracket (Memphis, Pitt, Texas or maybe even Mississippi State). Their key may be Lawrence Hill, who has regressed after an All Pac-10 season in 2007 but has the talent to score from anywhere on the court and complement the post play of Brook and Robin Lopez.


Larch Madness

>> Monday

That title has nothing to do with this post, other than the fact that it's the only "March"-rhyming English word that I don't think has been paired with "Madness." But if you run a botanical garden, you're welcome for the promotion idea.

(The irony: Larches are unable to survive a March climate in any geographic region of the world. Moreover I just made that up.)

Anyway, I just got done watching Black Magic (part 2), and I'm now, more than ever, convinced that a) Tennessee will win the national title because of their McLendon-Jobe up-tempo style that revolutionized the '70s, which will somehow will translate to a six-game win streak in 2008; and b) college basketball is a modern-day form of slavery. (If that wasn't the core message of the documentary, I apologize. Us white people are bad at picking up on this stuff.)

Ok, that tangent also has nothing to do with this post, which to this point has no topic.

(Focus, Vin!)

Although I succumbed to the vice of complaining about NCAA tourney seeds last night, I'll be the first to admit it's a silly thing to give much thought. And it's even sillier to bicker about it. Read any college hoops message board from the last day, and you'll realize that there are very few objections regarding the seeding and/or inclusion/exclusion of teams that even approach a consensus--and even those are soundly refuted by some intriguing arguments to the contrary.

And two things that will always be true of human beings: We're never satisfied, and we're addicted to complaint.

But in reality, if the committee tried to placate every fanbase in college hoops, we'd end up with a bracket looking something like this:

(Not worth enlarging, really)

I think there are nine Final Four slots and five national championship participants. That's no way to live. That's not basketball. Noses would be bloodied, for sure.

But finally to the point of this post: You can count me among those who'd like to see a deeper tourney, little guys be damned. Ideally, this would mean no conference tournaments--or at least, no automatic bids for their winners (so why have them? Ok, gone entirely).

Knowing that this will never happen, I'm a big proponent of the other solution--four play-in games.

Why pick on two peons when you can pick on eight? Consider them the former 15s and 16s--a crop of teams, who throughout the history of the 64-team format have proven they deserve no better. Every once and again, a 15 proves they can beat--or at least hang with--a 2. A 16 has only done that twice that I know of--Princeton in '89 or '9o (forget which) and Holy Cross in '02.

With the bogus automatic bid system, two (roughly) of the 16s each year are teams that were middle-of-the-pack in their little-guy conference. These teams have never, and will never, have a chance against a #1. But the one or two "strong" 16s and the 15s at least have hope, according to history.

Of course, the biggest benefits to the idea (which obviously many others have promoted) are a) more inclusion of at-large teams with the ability to go a few rounds deep, and b) the 12-15 lines would all be more competitive.

More benefits (bullet-pointed because I'm tired) to the NCAA:
-Recongnizable major-conference names with large fanbases on the 13 line
-Ostensibly more upsets, as all seeds 12 and below would win more games
-Upsets = intrigue = $ for NCAA
-A full slate of games on Tuesday = more TV money
-I would like it
-I think it's a good idea
-More money for the NCAA in ways I haven't considered

Anyway, I'm sure there are plenty of good objections to this idea that other people have articulated in forums where such ideas are frequently discussed, but I haven't bothered to find, read, or consider them because I'm egocentric, lazy, and illiterate. So please tell me all the ways I'm wrong.

In conclusion: Screw the little guys because I don't care about them, and give me more talent in the tourney.


NCAA Tournament Breakdown-Midwest Region

This region features four of the best defensive teams in the nation (Kansas, Georgetown, Wisconsin, USC) and everyone's favorite mid-major in Davidson. However, the one team who has not received much pub but could be really dangerous would be the Clemson Tigers. Clemson has played elite competition tough (beat Duke, had UNC on the ropes twice) and features a nice balance of perimeter and interior scoring.

Sleeper Team: Gonzaga

They will have an extremely difficult time with Davidson (that game would probably be a toss-up), but if they can advance from there another couple of wins would be entirely possible. The Zags have a more balanced roster this season, as their defense has finally caught up to their offense (D actually ranked 3 spots higher in the Pomeroys). Josh Heytvelt struggled in his return from a foot injury, but has slowly rounded into the form here and somewhat resembles the guy that looked a lottery pick at times last season (including his domination of Tyler Hansbrough in Preseason NIT). Gifted freshmen wing Austin Daye can play inside and out, and Jeremy Pargo would be your classic Chicago guard unafraid on contact and willing to take and hit the big shot. The Zags may be a year away, but a prelude to what should a phenomenal 2009 could come here.

Best First Round Game: USC v. Kansas State

While Zags-Davidson deserves equal bill, the Mayo-Beasley showdown will be one of the best in the opening weekend. Last year, Tim Floyd concocted a great game plan in shutting Kevin Durant, which led to a surprising easy Trojan victory over Texas. I would guess that Floyd attempts to shut off Beasley and makes his Wildcat teammates beat them. Mayo has the stronger supporting cast with Taj Gibson, Davon Jefferson, Dwight Lewis and Daniel Hackett. However, Beasley has the potential to pull off a superhuman effort and carry Kansas State to the second round.

Best Chance for an Upset: Siena over Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt would be terribly overseeded as a four, and any time they lose here would not surprise me. However, their ability to take care of the ball and hit the perimeter shot makes this a very good match-up for Commodores. That being said, an off night from SEC player of the year Shan Foster and Vanderbilt could be in major trouble. The Saints will likely a similar effort from Tay Fisher to the one he had in MAAC Tourney Final (went 6-10 from 3) in order to pull the upset. While I would to see it and believe Vandy to be vulnerable, the Dores probably got the type of match-up to prevent this happening. However, in what will likely be a relatively upset free region, this could be the One Shining Moment in the Midwest.

Regional Final: Kansas-Georgetown

Projected Winner: Kansas

While I still do not trust Bill Self, I think the Jayhawks have the perfect mix of talent and experience to finally make a long run. They can score with anyone, play very tight defense, and have the experience to deal with the inevitable tough stretches they will face. I look for Darrell Arthur to break out and become a major player on Kansas's run to the Final Four. Also, the complete play of Mario Chalmers will be on display, as he gets it done on both ends of the floor and quietly keeps everything together.


NCAA Tournament Breakdown-East Region

Yeah, I'm sure you will see something similar to this on all of the major sports websites. However, I guarantee they will be nowhere near as hokey and blatantly wrong as ours, plus I have no issue with throwing a few colorful words or phrases if need be. I will start my breakdown with the East Region, featuring the #1 seed in the tournament, the best 3 seed and that sweaty chest painter from Knoxville.

Sleeper Team: Butler

A veteran team with NCAA success last season, Tennessee could not have enjoyed seeing Butler on the 7 line (should have been a 5 seed) and their likely second round match-up could probably be classified as a toss-up. I think the Bulldogs have a great chance of repeating their Sweet 16 run last season, but anything further may be unlikely with an excellent Louisville team likely awaiting after a potential win over the Vols.

Best First Round Game: Indiana v. Arkansas

While Butler-South Alabama and Washington State-Winthrop should be hard fought opening games, this region's 8-9 game features two talented, yet inconsistent major programs that have both looked really good at times. Indiana has just about collapsed down the stretch after the resignation of Kelvin Sampson, and despite having two future NBA first round picks in Eric Gordon and D.J. White, probably deserved to dropped down the board (sorry Vinnie). Arkansas has nine wins over top 50 RPI teams, but has also lost to 4 teams outside the top 100 (and two more to #98 Georgia). The winner of this game could easily give Carolina a helluva game in the second round, especially if their Jekyll side comes out.

Best Chance for an Upset: St. Joe's over Oklahoma

In a game that could resemble a Big Ten affair (I know, a frightening thought), these teams will slug it in the half court and taking the under may be the best bet of all on this game. St. Joe's has the more experienced team (heavily rely on two seniors and two juniors), and has played well of late with two wins over Xavier and a run to the A-10 tournament final that likely got them into the field. Oklahoma's big man duo of Blake Griffin and Longar Longar have both admirably played through leg injuries, but this likely grind it out, physical match-up does not favor them. I look for St. Joe's tall wing Pat Calathes to make the difference, as his ability to play inside and also hit the perimeter shot presents a tough match-up for Oklahoma and helps put the Hawks in the second round.

Regional Final: Louisville vs. North Carolina

Projected Winner: Louisville

While I wish the Cards played a little more consistently on the offensive end, their strong defense will key them in the Elite 8 match-up against North Carolina. Also, their ability to throw many bodies at Tyler Hansbrough will somewhat keep him in check and I think Louisville will be able to control the pace of the game and force Carolina to beat them in the half court. Louisville will need Jerry Smith to hit shots to open things up and allow David Padgett and Derrick Caracter to control things in paint. Despite a couple of close losses late, I think Louisville has played great since Padgett returned from his knee injury in January and the Cards will give the Big East a Final Four representative.


More making fun of people

Quick conversation overheard at work between an older guy--let's call him Zebadiah--and, surprisingly, a young guy in his late-20s--let's call him Curly Joe.

Curly Joe: Did you see Tiger pull out that win yesterday?

Zebadiah: You know, I just did catch the end. My brother called me before the 18th hole. I turned it on just in time to see a war dance.

Curly Joe: Oh, yeah.

Zebadiah: You used to never see that in golf.

Curly Joe: Yeah, it used to be a gentleman's game.

Zebadiah: That's why I can't watch pro basketball.

Curly Joe: Oh yeah. That's all pro sports have become. Showboating. ...But that was pretty cool that Tiger's won--what--five in row?

Zebadiah: Yeah, that's Hogan's record, right?

Curly Joe: I think so.

Zebadiah: I remember seeing Hogan in a tournament down in Tuscaloosa when he was just starting out. Now there was a true gentleman. Never cracked as much as a smirk the entire round. And afterwards, he went around the gallery, shaking hands and kissing babies. He posed for a picture with me, and they ran it in the evening edition of The Post. Afterwards, me and my pals played marbles and danced the Charleston all night.

Curly Joe: I can't wait 'til I'm retired so I can work on my swing all day.

Ok, so maybe the last part is a little made-up and comedically lazy on my part. But come on--golf? Too showboaty?



Open thread for bitching about the Tourney seeding

According to Zuch, the committee actually did well this year, and I don't realy disagree. But there were a few teams that jumped out at me, and hey--who doesn't enjoy complaining?

Vandy. I know Zuch is on board with this one too. The idea that they're one of the 16 best teams in the country is pretty outrageous to me. I can go down to the 6 and 7 lines and find teams (USC and Butler) who I think are better.

West Virginia. This was a team that Doug Gotlieb, as of Thursday, was campaigning to leave out altogether. They didn't beat anyone out of conference (granted, they took Tennessee to the wire), and they didn't really have an impressive win in the Big East.

Indiana. An 8? Give me a break. I detest the Big Ten as much as anyone, and I know they had bad losses against Michigan St. and Penn St. late in the season. But no way are there 28 teams in the country better than Indiana.

And consider me among those who think Arizona St. got hosed. One embarassing loss to Illinois to open the season is the only glaring blemish they had. And they blew out a potential Final Four team in Xavier. Sorry, Villanova--no way you go 9-9 in the Pac 10.


Playing for seed

>> Sunday

For a crank like me, this championship week has been a nightmare--spoilers pilfering at-large spots (San Diego, Temple), a few injuries (Luc Richard M'bah a Moute's sprained ankle, Kevin Love's back spasms), a 20-loss team (Coppin St.) making the field, and a ridiculous situation that saw a team play a double-header.

And we're not out of danger yet. Illinois and Georgia each still have a chance to ruin the tourney even more this afternoon. Granted, I don't give either team much of a chance, but again, that's the problem when a team facing an all-or-nothing proposition goes against a team just playing for a better seed (and sometimes not even that). Tne disparity of motivation can alter the outcome tremendously.

If commissioners, coaches, and fans of the NCAA are willing to sacrifice the quality of the tournament field for the "magic" of these Georgia Bulldog-type conference tourney runs, it's not like I'm losing any sleep over it. (Though I have been losing sleep over the thought that Babe Winkelman is gonna walk in my room at night and start talking about Ontario. That guy creeps me out.) I just hope everyone realizes that for every conference tourney spoiler, the quality of the NCAA Tournament takes another hit.


Right Up Our Alley

>> Friday

Sorry to bump the NCAA Tournament stuff, but this is too good to not link to: an Onion article entitled, "Ask a 1920's Baseball Fan."



Bold Tournament Statement

Although it fits, this post does not pertain to our huge W over ND last night (or even the surprising West Virginia and Pitt wins). Rather, despite Wednesday's result in their head to head game, I think Syracuse belongs in the NCAA Tournament ahead of Villanova. They played a very nice non-conference schedule with 5 top 100 opponents (compared to 1 top 50 opponent for Villanova), have more impressive big conferences wins (Georgetown, Marquette>UConn, West Virginia). Objective data would also be on my side, as Syracuse would be 42nd in Pomeroy Ratings compared to 51st for Villanova. Now, I may not necessarily go to my grave to win this argument, but I really think an entire season of work should not be counteracted by one neutral court game.


Conference USA: Irony Lives Here

>> Thursday

On the Sportscenter highlights, does anyone else think it's weird that the C-USA Tournament has written on the court "C-USA: Competition lives here"?

On the home floor of Memphis.

Who has won their last 40 Conference USA games.

And who won the 2008 C-USA regular season title by four clear games over their nearest pursuer and won their conference games this year by an average of 20 points?

If Competition lives in C-USA, I can only assume it went out for a pack of cigarettes three months ago...


The Digger-General Comedy Hour: Old after 1.5 nights

Please get someone young and thinking to pair up with Bobby Knight. Otherwise, we're in for lots of:

Digger: You had a temper as a coach.


Knight: [old story]


Digger: You like defense and controlled offense.

Knight: Yes. [roundaboutly, includes another old story]


Digger: You used to argue with refs!

Everyone: Already made that point, Digger.

Knight: Yes, and here's a story because I'm trying my best to play with you. Where's Bilas and Gotlieb?


The asshole in the Brady Quinn jersey

As best I can, I always try to put on the veil of objectivity when it comes to sports allegiences. But I make no bones about it--Marquette basketball is where that self-control ends and emotion takes over.

....Which is why I always find a reason to try to hate our oppenents (because, unfortunately, hate is not in my blood). But when it comes to ND, it's so easy to put a face on "I hate your ass, and I want your team to lose."

And that asshole in the Brady Quinn jersey just won the prize tonight.

Asshole--You're obviously not a basketball fan. Your best piece of homerific team apparel is a Brady Quinn jersey, yet you have the gall to stand up clapping, all smug and NDasshole-like, before a TV timeout, to make yourself look good, when, in reality, your Quinn-jersey-wearing is just a defense mechanism so you can say (after hopefully a loss), "AT LEAST WE HAVE A FOOTBALL TEAM!"

Guess what, guy-I-don't-know-and-may-be-a-great-guy-if-I-gave-him-a-chance: You might pride yourself on making more money than our graduates (aggregately), but people like us (MU grads) way more than they like your pompous ass.

Go play/watch golf, and enjoy daddy's privilege, you shallow shit. Don't pretend you're a basketball fan because I know you're not.


That's why you've got to get real Cubans

7 players have defected from the Cuban Olympic Soccer Team in the United States for qualifying. I'm sure no one saw this one coming.

Cuba now only has 11 players left on their team. Gonna be a lonely bench.


Paul Maholm--Now officially the worst pitcher in baseball

That's the price you pay for falling behind 3-1 on Billy Crystal.

Ok, fine, so he rallied back to strike him out. Maybe it's too early to give up on the kid.

At least he didn't go to 3-1 on Jack Palance. There'd be no forgiving that. Especially since I think Jack Palance is dead.


YCS Shows Love for Trevor when ESPN won't

>> Wednesday

Trevor Mbakwe, we know you're the new kid in school. You don't know anyone. You're away from home. Maybe it's hard making friends and ESPN certainly isn't helping by ignoring your achievements.

After swatting away a Seton Hall shot tonight, the commentators referred to you as Lawrence Blackledge.

After grabbing a key offensive board, ESPN attributed your effort to Lazar Hayward.
Maybe it's because you're the new guy. Maybe it's because #33 kinda looks like #32. Maybe it's because your name is a bit short on vowels. But we know it was you, Trevor Mbakwe, so we're giving you the credit you deserve.

Beat the Irish.


YCS Barroom Discussion: Athletes of Yesteryear

>> Tuesday

One of the best things to come of Favre's retirement has been the resurgence in interest in Bart Starr for the purposes of debating who truly was the best Packers quarterback ever. In my own opinion it's Favre, and it's not even close. But, that's just my opinion. Others feel it's Starr in a landslide, and it's certainly an argument with plenty of merit.
The problem with my position is that I'm not coming from an informed position (like most people when they discuss politics). Since I never saw Bart Starr lead the Packers, I don't have anything to weigh against what I've seen from Brett Favre (and for what it's worth, my old man saw Starr and Favre and also thinks Brett was better). Sure, there are statistics to compare, but the NFL in 1965 wasn't the same NFL as in 2008, and that's a fact. This, of course, is partly a good thing, because since I never saw Bart Starr play, I don't have any particular memories to overvalue in my subjective recollections. Overall, though, it's a shame, because my opinion comes from evidence that is, by nature, incomplete.

Anyway, the whole debate got me thinking: what players that you never got to watch would you most want to see play? Criteria are open: you didn't see the player because you were too young to really understand sports, they were retired before you were born or, in some cases, you just didn't care at the time but now regret your indifference. My list is below, and I implore our anonymous commenters and lazy staff members to share theirs in the comments.
1. Roberto Clemente, OF Pittsburgh Pirates (1955-1972)
This one is a personal choice, as Clemente is one of my favorite athletes of all-time regardless of the fact that I never got to see him play. A legendary hitter, I would have loved to see him hit but moreover am disappointed that I never got a chance to see him uncork one of his trademark throws from Right Field, where most experts say he had the best outfield throwing arm of anyone, ever. More than seeing him on the field, I wish I had been around to see the coverage of him, as he was somewhat underrated during his playing days and had constant gripes with the media due to perceived slights (similar to one of my favorite current athletes, Allen Iverson). David Maraniss' biography of him is one of my favorite books, he's a member of my all-time "dream outfield" along with Barry Bonds and the Mick (see below) and is the best person to ever play the game.

2. Jim Brown, FB Cleveland Browns (1957-1965)

An obvious pick for the simple reason that he's the person you HAVE to mention in any debate over the best running back of all time. While our generation might say Payton (though we didn't get to see his prime) or Barry Sanders, the over-40 crowd will insist that Brown was the best, hands down. Sure, he may have been playing against (ridiculously) inferior athletes, but his 5.2 career yards per carry go beyond mere athletic superiority. His personality makes him an intriguing athlete to have followed closely and overall, it would be worth it to feel confident in your claim about who the best running back is of all time.

3. Mickey Mantle, OF New York Yankees (1951-1968)

Another personal pick, Mantle is intriguing as much for his personality and lifestyle as for his prowess on the field. A notorious partyer, it would be incredible to follow this guy in the era of Deadspin and camera phones. Imagine, you're sitting there looking at a picture from a guy who saw him with three women in a bar the night before while as you stare at the computer he's out hitting two homers in a game with a presumably massive hangover. Many say he ultimately wasted some of his ability due to his heavy drinking and self-destructive personality, but he still managed to be one of the best of all time and would have been a kickass guy to read about on a daily basis.

4. Wilt Chamberlain, C Multiple Teams (1959-1973)

This one is a no-brainer. Think about it - every time Kobe or LeBron put up a 50+ point night, you get the obligatory reference to the Stilt's 100 point game on SportsCenter. The problem is, nobody freaking saw it. There is no video of the game and the only picture you ever see is Wilt holding that hilarious napkin-thing with "100" written on it. This one is more wishing to have seen the game itself than the guy's whole career, but still - it would have been incredible to have happened to have been in Hershey, PA on March 2, 1962 to see history.

5. Dick "Night Train" Lane, DB Multiple Teams (1952-1965)

Some will tell you he's the biggest cheapshot artist in football history, others will tell you he's the biggest badass that ever played. Either way, it would have been awesome to see this guy flying in from the secondary to clothesline the everloving shit out of some poor, unsuspecting running back that happened to stumble into his area of the field. The reason the rules were changed, Lane was such a badass that lists him only as "Night Train" and not by his Christian name, Richard. That's fucking tough.

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