Friday, March 20, 2009

So Far, March Madness Not Very Mad

Quite docile, actually. So far, we've seen few upsets and few exciting games. Of the 16 games played Thursday, a grand total of 4 had a lower seed win. Three of those four can't even be called upsets because one was a 9 seed over an 8 (A&M beating BYU), and two were 10 over 7 seeds (Maryland thumping Cal and Michigan squeezing by Clemson). Since the tournament went to the current 64 team format in 1985, an 8 has beaten a 9 only 46% of the time and a 7 has beaten a 10 just 62%. The lower seed winning in those two matchups aren't upsets, they're coin flips. And my coin wasn't working very well, as I missed on all three of those (the Maryland one I can't believe. Not that they won, but that I didn't pick it. How could I miss that one?!?) as well as LSU over Butler (another 8 vs 9), and UCLA escaping with their lives 65-64 over 11 seed VCU. If you had UCLA going any further than Saturday, I'd be worried. They looked awful, and their worst best player, Darren Collison, looked awful for the fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament, yet they let him hog the ball and take all the shots. Brilliant.

The games so far today were at least more exciting, especially the Kansas/NDSU matchup in Minneapolis, yet it's resulted in a grand total of zero upsets. My Utah St over Marquette upset special of the day missed by one measly point, and NDSU gave Kansas a scare, but the Jayhawks held on to win. At least that's what I heard since the fine folks at CBS moved us to Oklahoma St/Tennessee for almost the entire second half!?!?!? I don't pretend to be the smartest person in the world, but how the hell does that make any sense? Yep, the Bison were down a few possessions for most of that second half, but they weren't getting blown out and were in it until the end, yet instead of getting that one, we got a close game between an 8 and 9 seeds. In the first round, does ANYBODY really care about the 8/9 games, except for the fans of the teams involved? I'd much rather watch a close game where an actual upset is possible (NDSU over Kansas definitely counts) instead of a close game between 8/9's in which, as I stated earlier, the 9 seed actually wins more of. Just a bad, bad effort by CBS on that one.

Other thoughts as the day rolls along...
...As bad as I've done so far in my bracket, I still have all of my sweet 16 teams alive. Famous last words...

...I have Memphis playing in the National Final, and they could not have looked worse yesterday. I really hope they were just playing down to the level of their competition...

...My two favorite teams- and I know I'm only supposed to have one- Washington and Gonzaga both looked really solid yesterday. I thought the Huskies, who won the Pac 10 regular season, received a really unfair matchup by drawing SEC tournament champ Mississippi State. Turned out to be nothing to worry about, as the Dawgs thumped the Bulldogs 71-58 in a game that was never really in doubt. Good thing I picked Purdue to beat Washington tomorrow. Dang it! Gonzaga struggled in the first half against Akron (Hey did you know these teams are called the Zips and Zags? The Zips and Zags! Isn't that great? Isn't that funny? Isn't that hilarious? I was mildly amused the first time I heard it and just got more and more annoyed the next 9000 times it was pointed out this week) and then just abused Akron in the second half. It was impressive to watch as they did anything they wanted. My heart wanted Gonzaga over UNC in the sweet 16, but my head went with the Heels. I just hope we get that matchup next weekend.

...They run the same six commercials for the tournament, and hey, the nice folks at Exxon oil (you know, the same Exxon Oil who last year had the largest profits of any company in the history of our planet) want you to know today's gas has 95% less emmissions than it did in 1970. Great. It's still gas, which ruins the ozone, and it still makes us dependent on foreign oil. Let us know when you develop something to run our cars that's not, you know, made of gasoline.

...Jer had the line of the night: "Watching Gopher basketball is like watching Gopher football. The defense isn't as good as advertised, and the offense can't score." I laughed until I realized I was crying. They could not buy a bucket in the second half, and really couldn't stop Texas from scoring. Other than that they looked pretty good.

...As my buddy Kyle pointed out today, while watching the NDSU/Kansas game (at least the parts CBS actually let us watch) it was hard not to think the Gophers really could have used native Minnesotans Cole Aldrich of Kansas or Ben Woodside of NDSU (or most of the guys on NDSU's roster for that matter. 8 of them are from Minnesota). It's not Tubby's fault, but still.

...Other exciting things from yesterday how about today's games? NDSU/Kansas, Marquette/Utah St, and Tennessee/Oklahoma St all went down to the wire, and so far the second games are all close, so we'll see how the 2nd halves go.

...If you're wondering whether beer or iced tea went better with my lunch-breakfast today of bacon, eggs, and hashbrowns, the answer is a resounding yes!

...For the record, I have Wake, Michigan State, UConn, Memphis, UNC, Oklahoma, Pitt, and Nova in the Elite 8, Memphis over Wake and Pitt over UNC in the Final Four, and Pitt beating Memphis for the National Title. Sorry I didn't get that out sooner so you'd know who not to pick. Enjoy the March Mildness everybody.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Why College Hoops Is Superior to the NBA

On the latest BS Report Bill Simmons and Chuck Klosterman (Jer’s been on the Klosterman bandwagon for awhile. Front row seats, popcorn, and a cup holder for his Miller Lite on the Klosterman bandwagon. Me? Just getting on board in the back with the bench seating. Getting pretty crowded. Need to read a couple of his books so I can move up. Wait, while we’re on the subject of Klosterman, his landmark/trademark book that made him semi-famous was Fargo Rock City, which from what Jer says is about 80’s hair metal. I just never got into 80’s hair metal. Honestly, I didn’t really find my own musical identity until the early 90’s when I hit high school and discovered “Grunge” –first cd I ever owned was STP’s Core, which, let’s be honest, is pretty awesome. My first tape? Yeah don’t ask- so I was reliant on my older sister for music since back in those days we listened to things called “cassette tapes” on “walkmans” while riding in the car. Why didn’t we each have a Walkman? I have no idea, but we didn’t. Anyway, my parents wouldn’t let me listen to Bon Jovi or Motley Crue or G’N’R when they were big anyway. Does the music your kids listen to REALLY make that big of a difference? If it does I think there’s a lot more than just bad music going on. Where was I going with this? Oh yeah so the wife-to-be and I were watching TV Wednesday night, distraught that Lost was a rerun- honest to goodness there’s only like 13 or 14 episodes in a season now: HOW IN THE HELL CAN THEY JUSTIFY RERUNS?!?!?!?- and stumbled upon VH1’s Top 100 songs of the 80’s. Three hours later we found out Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer” was voted the #1 song of the decade. Top 5 song, sure, but how is Billie Jean by Michael Jackson not #1? Granted, Jackson is a total raving complete nutjob now, and when I tell my future kids about how famous he used to be they’re going to think me weird, but doesn’t Michael Jackson and Billie Jean define 80’s music much more than Bon Jovi? Maybe not. All of this is to say I now do appreciate some hair metal like Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, AC/DC and G’N’R’- at their apex during the Appetite for Destruction days, was there even 5 bands better all-time? Honestly, was there?- I still feel the 90’s were a much better decade for music, or at least the first six or seven years of the 90’s) were discussing whether college or pro hoops is better, with Klosterman falling on the correct side that college hoops IS not just superior, but FAR superior to the NBA. I don’t even see how this is an argument.

Simmons’ had two major points, the first of which I agree with: with so many guys in college being one-and-done, it’s difficult to follow the sport from season to season because there’s SO much turnover. Yep, there’s really no defense for that one, and it’s the reason I don’t watch more college hoops, because it’s difficult to get attached to anyone. However, when the NBA has another lockout in 2011, IF the sport returns intact, you’d better believe it will return with at least a 20 year old age minimum, meaning guys will have to stay at least two years. I would even say to go the extra mile and make it like the NFL, where players have to be out of high school for three years before they’re draft eligible. It would just be better for everyone involved. And please don’t whine about guys like Lebron, Kobe, KG and others who you think didn’t need college. Other than Lebron and Moses Malone, they did. No really, they did. I’ve been over this at length before, but the others, even Kobe, didn’t dominate until they had at least two years in the league. This makes college basketball more fun to follow because the stars stick around, and it makes the NBA better because the college kids are better prepared to come in make an impact right away.

Simmons’ other point was that the level of talent is so much less in college that it’s hard to watch, to which I would say- really Bill? When exactly? For the last eight minutes of the game when guys in the NBA actually try? Because for the first 40 minutes of an NBA game, players are just out there d***ing around because there’s 81 other games in the season and they’re guaranteed their bloated salaries, so who really cares? Not the players. Read Simmon’s column about the Clippers blowing a 19 point lead with 11 minutes left to the Cavs, and he defeats his own argument. For the first three quarters Lebron James, who is unquestionably the best player in the league right now, jacks up threes and takes bad shots, and not until the fourth does he start playing smart, intense basketball. This is true of 99.9% of games not involving Steve Nash, Chris Paul, Deron Williams and on some nights, still Jason Kidd (while Paul and Williams are better players, Nash is still the best at running an uptempo offense and getting his teammates not just involved, but in position to take smart shots right from the opening tip). It’s sloppy, poorly played basketball by guys who are infinitely talented, yet are so coddled and getting paid so much, the vast majority of them can’t be bothered to try the entire game simply because they don’t have to (for me, this goes back to a much larger problem that is AAU basketball. It’s here that the idea that the super talented kids should be coddled and treated differently and not forced to learn the fundamentals starts, and it hurts everyone. If the NBA really wants to improve its product and level of fan interest, start at its roots by taking over the AAU and forcing teams and players to practice much more than they play. Force them to learn the fundamentals, and maybe we wouldn’t be stuck with a professional league where like four guys- literally four- are capable of hitting a mid-range jump shot).

College hoops, on the other hand, has passion, intensity and energy, and while the talent level is certainly less than the NBA, it’s still far better basketball to watch because the guy’s give a crap. Winning means EVERYTHING for these kids, and the fans, and it shows. In the NBA? Not so much. It’s also much better structured basketball to watch because teams run an offense AND will even run a defense and press. Crazy ideas, I know.

Klosterman was also right in shooting down Simmon’s argument about college hoops and minor league baseball being the same. Wrong. The sole purpose of minor league baseball is to develop the good players for the major leagues. That’s it. Winning really, truly is secondary down there. Sure, they like to fill the seats, but the major league team is paying the bills, so it’s all about developing the players with the most potential regardless of win/loss record. I’m not saying that’s bad, I’m just saying that’s how it is. In college sports, it’s all about winning- oh, um and of course, um, going to class and being good student athletes. Right, sure it is. But seriously it’s all about winning.

So if you’ve got a better argument on why the NBA is a better basketball product than college hoops, I’d love to hear it, but I can’t fathom what it would be. Yes, the star players only sticking around a year definitely hurts the interest in college basketball, and I’ve watched a lot less than I used to because of it, but I’ve still watched far more college hoops than pro this year. And as general rule, if you stick to the Big East, ACC, Big 12, Pac 10, and any game involving Gonzaga, you’re guaranteed to see the best the college game has to offer (sorry Big 10 fans- that conference is just gawd-awful to watch. Truly, stab my eyes out with a pen awful. Unless you like 54-52 games with shooting percentages in the 30’s. In which case, you almost might enjoy women’s basketball). If you want to watch the best the NBA has to offer, better wait until the playoffs- and that’s only IF you get a game where terrible refing doesn’t ruin/decide the outcome. Good luck with that.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Why Doesn't America Care?

Baseball is the Great American Past Time, and a game it may be more passionate about than any other (as is evidenced by all of the over reaction to the steroids and HGH stuff and yet no reaction about the exact same thing happening in football). So you'd think the good folks of the U-S-of-A would be fired up for the World Baseball Classic, pitting most of America's best against most of the rest of the world's best, right?

Nope. The PBA gets more attention from the American people, and media for that matter, than the WBC gets. In the Latin American countries participating, they're basically taking a national holiday for every game so everyone can watch. In Japan, they got 30,000 people out just to watch their team PRACTICE! In Canada, major league all-stars like Justin Morneau, Jason Bay, and Russell Martin have the country infected with baseball fever!!! Ok just kidding, Canadians still only care about hockey (because you don't know, I thought I'd fill you in: it's Trade Deadline Day in the NHL, which means in Canada, all three crappy sports networks are running non-stop TDD coverage from 8am EST till the deadline at 2pm. Seriously. All day.), but this actually leads me to a larger point: every country seems to have a sport that they're insane about when it comes to international competition-except the USA. My question is why?

Canada, as I've told you many times before, takes their interest in Canada competiting in international hockey events far beyond rabid, insane or intense. The identity of our entire country is tied into how we do at the Olympics, World Cup of Hockey, and the annual World Juniors (where we've won five straight gold). There's already an internet frenzy on who will be on Canada's Olympic team in Vancouver- which is still 11 MONTHS AWAY!!! ANd I am not immune to this, as I can't wait either, and will be watching every single Canada game-and every hockey game I can- of the Olympic tournament (I basically got fired from a job during the 2000 Olympics because I skipped work twice to watch Canada's games- and then a third time because somebody sprung tickets to the LAkers/Wolves game on me at the last minute. Literally, I'm grabbing my keys and about to head out the door to work, and a buddy calls and says "hey I have an extra ticket to see Shaq and Kobe. Game starts in two hours. Wanna go?" I thought about this for maybe 1.2 seconds-this was during the height of the Shaq/Kobe dynasty- before agreeing, then hung up, phoned into work sick for the 3rd time in two weeks, and went to the game. In truth, that was the first job I'd ever called in sick to when I wasn't, I hadn't signed up for shifts as I was planning to quit anyway, so really, what could they do?).

Ok so I guess that proves I hated that job and it didn't take much to for me to skip it once I started to, as much as I would have done ANYTHING to watch those Canada games!! The World Junior Tournament runs from Boxing Day (Dec 26th) till early January, and I watched the first couple of games while I was at home, then watched the rest on the interweb on I'm beyond passionate about Canadian hockey, yet I could only be bothered to watch one period of the Canucks/Wild game last night. The international sport I just HAVE to watch is hockey, and it's the same for virtually every Canadian. As mentioned, in Japan and parts of Latin America like the Dominican Republic and Venezuala, it's baseball. Russia loves hockey, in Austrailia it's one of the long Olympic swimming races (I think it's the men's 1600 but I can't remember exactly. I just remember for one of the super long Olympic swimming races, the announcers said "this is bigger than the Super Bowl in Austrailia." Well there you go), in Norway it's cross country skiing (or maybe the one where you cross country ski THEN shoot something), in Austria it's downhill skiing, for India it's cricket, and in most of the rest of the world it's football, or as we'd say, soccer.

So why on earth is there not a sport that Americans get all fired up about internationally? I really would have thought baseball would be that sport, and you'd hear people debating things like whether Joe Mauer or Brian McCann should be catching or Jimmy Rollins or Derek Jeter should play short, or SOME big level of interest. Instead? Bubkis. I'll admit the WBC still has it's share of issues to work out, but I thought the idea of an international baseball competition would excite more people here in the US, yet it seems like folks could care less. Basketball is the third largest sport in America, and while people were upset when the once dominant Team USA started losing to Greece and Argentina and the Euro nations with 1/16th the talent, it wasn't the level of national crisis and epidemic like when Canada didn't medal in the 1998 Olympics for hockey, or when England doesn't qualify for the World Cup.

Maybe people here think it's pathetic or sad when a country puts that much of itself into how they fare in a sport in an international competition, but I happen to think it's healthy and great that we care that much. So for a country like America, whose citizens love their country and take pride in it as much or more than any other, and who love sports as much or more than any other, WHY don't they care about competiting in international events?

I just don't get it.