Monday, March 30, 2009

A Giant Task

The Spokane Chiefs, in impressive fashion after suffering a Game 2 loss, won the final three meetings of their opening round series versus the Seattle Thunderbirds to advance in the WHL playoffs. Next for the reigning Memorial Cup Champions is the team they beat in the second round of the postseason a year ago: the Vancouver Giants.

Unlike last season though, Spokane hasn't defeated Vancouver, getting shelled by 4-0 and 5-2 scores. The only two players who have scored against the Giants, Brendan Kichton and Steve Kuhn, weren't Chiefs last season. Jared Cowen played all eight games, playoffs included, against Vancouver last season, but unless he recovers from torn ligaments in his knee in four days instead of four months, will not see action versus the Western Conference's best team in 2008-09.

Spokane does have momentum heading into this matchup, however. The offense has begun to click, scoring 13 goals in the final three games with Seattle. The defense has been just as good, allowing six goals in that same span. Their special teams unit has been solid, with their penalty kill scoring just as many goals as the T-Birds power play in 22 chances (twice) and their power play converting at 20 percent (four for 20). And Dustin Tokarski, Spokane's make-or-break player in the upcoming series, played very well, yielding nine goals in the five games, while being named one of the game's stars in all four of the Chiefs' wins.

Tokarski, along with the rest of the boys, will have their hands full with a team which scored 23 goals in their four-game sweep of the Prince George Cougars. In two games at home, the Giants scored 17 of those goals, a testament to their explosive offense, which lit the lamp 319 times, second-most in the league. The Giants have four lines which can score in the blink of an eye and have 13 skaters who scored at least 30 points on the season. By comparison, Spokane has eight. League-leading scorer Casey Pierro-Zabotel had 115 points, including 79 assists. Spokane's leading scorer, Drayson Bowman, had 83 points total.

So it comes as no surprise that the key to the series hinges on the style of play exhibited by each team. If Spokane's defense steps up and can keep the contests low-scoring, they have a chance to drag the series out and possibly advance. But if the Giants continue to score at will, like they have much of the season, a new team will be dropping WHL and Memorial Cup Champion banners next year.

Prediction: Vancouver in six. The Giants were rock solid at home against Prince George, but won their only two games away from home by 3-2 margins, one coming in overtime. Road efforts like that won't get it done in Spokane. Conversely, the Chiefs played very well in the Emerald City (well...Kent) and if they can steal one north of the border, could make it a very interesting series.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Casual Friday

Shooting the breeze with Just South of North's Brandon Hansen, he dropped a desire to have a Manny Ramirez jersey sent to him, wear it to work and refuse to do anything. For anyone around the office who was sports-savvy enough to catch on, Brandon could blame his not wanting to work on a bum knee, carpal tunnel or writer's block. When tests for the former two came back negative and the latter not really being a part of his job description, he would then be transferred to another firm, immediately start performing and then demand way more than he's worth, ultimately getting it.

Being unemployed, I figured I could spend a day as Stephon Marbury, convincing everyone I gave a resume to that I was way better at everything than I actually was, get hired, and immediately perform like a low-tier janitor, copy editor or office assistant. Then I would claim I was unhappy with the way the company treated me, sit out until I was transferred, come back and really do nothing for my new firm. Awesome. "Oh, I told you I could type 120 WPM and knew Microsoft Excel like it was the pick and roll? I'm really a 55 WPM employee who can't open a Word document. You're still giving me full-time work or I'm quitting on you."

Since this sounds like the perfect preface to a Top 10 List of Athletes You Could Spend the Day at Work as, here are eight more athletes to show up to work as, complete with how to pull it off.

Lance Armstrong. You think work is an uphill battle for you? Make it even more so and get yourself a yellow biker's jersey and be the best at what you do as long as you're in the building. Sure, people may accuse you of fudging your work to enhance your performance, but as long as they can't prove it, who cares? To really rile people up in the office, retire for a year or two, then come back. People will loathe you, knowing that they immediately just lost any chance they had of retaining their Employee of the Month status and they'll try to have you banned from the premises forever. For those of you who are really dedicated, part with either James Westphal or Dr. Kenneth Noisewater. That's not really necessary, but it shows a lot of ... uh ... character?

Alex Rodriguez. Isn't there an office pariah at all large companies? By wearing a pinstriped #13 jersey to work, you'll be admitting that nobody likes you and you'll pretend like you don't care. Like Armstrong, you'll be one of the best at what you do and, like Armstrong, you may or may not take a little out of the cashier's till when nobody's looking. Unlike Lance, however, you'll lie about it until it's proven in black and white, thanks to a newly-installed security camera, that you did screw the company over. Then you'll offer fake apologies, with zero regret, hoping to brush the incident under the rug. You insist that you haven't done that for years, but your co-workers and supervisors know better. Bonus points to anyone who runs into work and slaps the coffee out of someone's hand.

Kurt Warner. You've been at your current job for a couple of years, but you just took some hot-shot's position and now you make the big decisions. Nobody around you has more than a couple years of experience in your field, but under the guidance of you and Jesus Christ, you can become Scranton to everyone else's Ithaca. Go into work and become a vocal leader, make choices that nobody else can make (deliver mail by air instead of on the ground, maybe buy new office chairs, especially for guys named Matt) and lead by example. If you're scoring some of the biggest clients of the year, eventually you'll make the people around you better and your company will exceed all expectations.

Jean Van de Velde. Get to work and set up an appointment. Try to reel in one of the top four clients in the world. Smooth talkin' and not missing with anything you say or do, you surprise everyone and are in position to seal the deal. After verbally getting the OK and needing just a signature to sign a huge contract, start doing everything in your power to sabotage what you worked so hard for. Insult his tacky tie. Look at a family picture with his 14-year-old daughter in it and tell him you think she's hot. Force his hand to the paper and try to make him sign the contract yourself. Get a hold of yourself and calm down, while another employee comes in to steal it from you. Even though you're both in the room with him, you're screwed and you know it. Just give up and find another profession.

Pete Rose. You need to establish yourself within your company by spending about 15 years at the same place. During the dog days of August, suggest breaking up the monotony of a work week by having an inter-office softball game. As if it's not spiced up enough, find someone who's willing to show you the color of their money to make it more interesting. Never mind that you're one of the highest-paid employees at your firm ... gambling makes everything more fun, even if it is unethical and illegal. Those Employee of the Month awards look good in hindsight, but being immortalized and recognized as one of the most influential people in the history of the industry would be nice too. Don't hold your breath waiting on that phone call though.

Kevin Garnett. That high school diploma is really paying off, until you're stuck as the boss of Minneapolis' best McDonald's for 12 years. However, despite your fierce loyalty to the home of the Big Mac, White Castle comes along and tells you that they just recruited Seattle's best burger boy to go along with their own and the three of you could work together to make the greatest burgers in America (and Toronto). Be like KG and make the jump. It could be the best thing to ever happen to your career. Hey, don't laugh. ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!!

Any NASCAR driver. (Note: I'm not even going to try to poke fun at one of them. I don't like any of them. If, for some reason, you own a Cheerios-sponsored jumpsuit, don't forget it when you leave your trailer on the way to work. If not, go get one. It's worth it. Almost.) Show up to work at 1 in the afternoon. Sit down on your wheelie chair and make circles around cubicles, always turning left, for about four hours, or 200 laps, whichever comes first. Be sure to have spare screws and wheels on hand for when you have to fix the inevitable loose wheel after taking a turn too wide and ending up in a wall. Once you achieve your goal, awkwardly stand up from your chair, do a backflip from it if you feel inclined, then immediately pour a gallon of milk all over yourself, yelling the entire time. For good measure, on your way back to your desk, spin around a few times before coming to a stop.

John Rocker. Come on ... you weren't hired to make friends with co-workers, rivals, mailmen or supervisors. You were hired to get the job done and that's it. Get to work and get down to business. If anyone talks to you or suggests that you could improve your work, immediately call them a fag or poke fun at their race. As they walk out scarred for the day, flip them off and maybe spit at them. Maintain from that point on that you did nothing wrong and refuse to apologize. After spending a couple years with the company, disappear without a trace. If you're cross-eyed, this works perfectly. If you're a hockey fan, buy a Sean Avery jersey wait another nine months, then re-read this section.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Reason Number 4,336 why I don't ride a motorcycle

Jay Williams was one of the greatest college basketball players of this decade. Sure, he went to Duke and sure, he had to change his name because of the other Jayson Williams (you know, the one who shot and killed a limousine driver), but his potential could have made people forget about his mistake and misfortune.

Unfortunately for him, and anyone who watches ESPN when he's on, Williams was in a motorcycle accident which nearly ended his life, but did end his basketball playing career.

The accident did allow Williams to pursue a broadcasting career as an analyst for ESPN. He reminds me of me in front of a camera. And that's not a compliment.

Williams is awful on TV while proving the point that any professional athlete will be hired by ESPN in some capacity should they apply. He's a wreck with words, even basketball terms which should be second nature to him (transit defense has to do with buses, I'm guessing). His awkward jokes make him even more flustered and he stumbles over his words like he spent the entire afternoon with Johnny Walker.

The fact that he's on the air is a hit to ESPN's credibility. I learned nothing from watching a half hour of him say nothing that hasn't been said by every other media outlet in America regarding the Sweet 16. As someone who has been in March Madness for a big school, I was hoping for a little insight from him that I can't get watching Digger Phelps or Andy Katz. Instead, I heard that Ty Lawson is an integral part of North Carolina's offense. Again.

The moral of the story? Don't become a broadcaster or an analyst with a sociology degree. And don't drive motorcycles into telephone poles.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The weekend in review

Well that was fun.

For 96 hours, I sat around, either at home, my parent's house, or the Arena and watched college basketball and hockey. Of the four games that I truly cared about, my team won three of them. And in all of them, there was no shortage of drama.

On Thursday, as I watched my bracket go down in flames, Gonzaga took on the Akron Zips in what was supposed to be a tune-up for their Saturday game. Well, not so much.

The Zags fell behind at halftime and were clearly the lazier team on the court. Akron played like they wanted it and after the first 20 minutes, they had no reason to believe they couldn't win it.

But, true to first-round form, Gonzaga established dominance in the second half. After falling behind 49-43, the Bulldogs ripped off a 31-6 run and advanced to face Western Kentucky.

Now, I watched the Hilltoppers play Gonzaga close last season and I saw them defeat Illinois. If there is one thing that team is capable of, it's hitting the three ball. I'm just a fan and saw this. Surely, HEAD COACH Mark Few knew the same thing. Right?

Well, 94 seconds in, WKU had made two 3's. At the 10:49 mark, the Hilltoppers had made seven shots. Six were from long distance. In all, they nailed 12 to stay close, but it was a tip in with about seven seconds left that tied it at 81.

With senior Jeremy Pargo calling for the ball after the inbound, freshman Demetri Goodson ran the floor, drove the lane and went Tyus Edny on Western Kentucky, hitting a layin with 0.9 on the clock to send the Zags to the Sweet 16 for the first time in three years, 83-81.

On deck for Gonzaga is just the North Carolina Tar Heels, no big deal. Apparently they're pretty good. However, they met two years ago at Madison Square Garden. UNC raced out to a double-digit lead before Gonzaga scored. But in the end, it was the Bulldogs who prevailed 82-74. Sure, the Zags don't have Derek Raivio, who led them in scoring that day, but the Heels don't have Brandan Wright, who did the same for his team. And in the big matchup, Josh Heytvelt dominated Tyler Hansbrough, outscoring him by 10.

It has the potential to be the game's best tournament. If Lawson is 100%, Carolina has the edge. If not, the Zags should prevail.

On the ice, the Spokane Chiefs split their first two playoff games, winning and losing by 2-1 scores. Only the greater one, Drayson Bowman, has scored for the Chiefs, tallying in the second and third on Friday to defeat the Seattle Thunderbirds. On Saturday, he cut the T'Birds lead in half before Spokane ultimately fell.

If Spokane can't get scoring from any of their other skaters, Seattle will advance in five games. Bowman is one of the best players in the league, but he can't win a series on his own. Anytime Ondrej Roman or Brady Calla or Tyler Johnson or Levko Koper or anyone else wants to tally in the playoffs would be great. Thanks, guys!

Game 3, tomorrow in Kent. Go Chiefs Go!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Streak (3/19)

I haven't put my picks on here for 10 days because I haven't had a streak I needed to jinx. But after going 3-0 today, I'm sitting at a W3 with the tourney on deck.

I'm upset though, because I had a W1 and picked Kentucky over UNLV in NIT action last night, thinking the game was straight up. The Wildcats withstood a rally by the Runnin' Rebels to win, but I failed to notice that the game was "make more 3's" and I lost. Awesome.

So with a W3 instead of a W5, I'm picking Ryuji Imada to have a lower front nine than Sean O'Hair. I know very little to nothing about professional golf at all, but am somehow 6-1-1 in eight games, so hopefully I can pick up the cheap win before the Dance starts.

Once it does, I'm picking Butler to beat LSU. I wanted to pick the Bulldogs to beat UNC in the second round, but am going to have to settle for them defeating the Tigers. Wherever the perception that the SEC and Big Eleven was good came from, I have no idea. But over the first weekend of the tourney, those people are gonna find out that those conferences are awful. It starts with Butler beating LSU.

From there, I'm taking Notre Dame to beat New Mexico. I can't stand the Irish, but they don't lose very often at home, so I like them winning again in South Bend.

Finally, I'm going with the Phoenix Coyotes to defeat the Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks won at home in OT tonight against the Nashville Predators, but going on the road, Giguere might be sitting and Phoenix had tonight off. I think they get it done in the desert.

NCAA Upset Watch and a note to the WHL Awards Committee

Actually, let's do this in reverse order, because I'm about to throw some chairs around the room like Bobby Knight if I don't get this off my chest.

The Western Hockey League named their award recipients for the 2008-09 season. Drayson Bowman was a second team selection, which is understandable considering the firepower the Western Conference had this season.

But Dustin Tokarski joining him on that team because Chet Pickard was a first-team selection, is absolutely awful.

You don't have to be a genius to figure out who was the better netminder. Just take a look at the stats.

Save percentage: Tokarski 93.7% (led WHL), Pickard 92.1% (2nd)
Goals Against Average: Tokarski 1.97 (led WHL), Pickard 2.28 (5th)
Shutouts: Tokarski 7 (T-1st WHL), Pickard 6 (T-3rd, WHL)
Shootout Stats: Tokarski 4-2 (T-1st WHL, wins) 19 saves on 22 shots (1st among goalies facing at least 10 shots), Pickard 3-3 (T-5th WHL, wins) 16 saves on 21 shots (5th among goalies facing at least 10 shots)
Record: Tokarski 34-18 (5th in WHL), Pickard 35-12 (4th in WHL)
Record when team scores at least three goals: Tokarski 32-0, Pickard 30-3-2
Goaltender of the Week Nominations: Tokarski 4, Pickard 1

Oh, and Pickard played Tokarski's backup in the World Junior Tournament, when Canada won the Gold Medal. So what am I missing? Seriously, something is wrong there.

Now, on a much more pleasant note, the NCAA Tournament is less than 24 hours away. And in case you haven't filled out your bracket, I've got a few potential upsets for you to keep an eye on as the Dance plays out.

#13 Cleveland State over #4 Wake Forest

Of every first round game not involving the Akron Zips, this is the one I'm most looking forward to. Wake Forest stormed out of the gate before losing five of their last 12 games to close the season, including a loss to Maryland in the ACC Tournament. Meanwhile, Cleveland State won the Horizon League with a victory over Butler and have already defeated the Syracuse Orange this year. If any 13 is going to beat a 4 (yes, this includes Mississippi State) it's going to be the Vikings.

#13 Portland State over #4 Xavier

That cute transition sentence could be referring to this game as well, as the Portland State Vikings are another 13-seed facing an overrated 4-seed. Xavier has some quality wins this season, but also some bad losses (Duquesne, Charlotte). Portland State defeated Gonzaga (the third four seed in the tourney) and lost to the last remaining 4, Washington, by one point.

#14 North Dakota State over #3 Kansas

I couldn't pull the trigger on this game, but it was one of the last two on my board before I took the Jayhawks. I loved Kansas during the season, and was itching to choose the Bison unless they drew the Zags, but then they matched NDSU up with Kansas and I was lost. I'd have rather them drawn Michigan State and there would have been no hesitation. My concern with NDSU is their lack of defense. But Ben Woodside is a player and if he gets hot, this game could go either way.

#11 VCU over #6 UCLA

The way everybody is talking about this matchup, it shouldn't be an upset if the Rams win, but it's still an 11-6. The Bruins have to travel cross country and take on VCU in the City of Brotherly Love. VCU will have the fans in their corner, UCLA isn't that good, and Eric Maynor has a chance to be this season's Stephen Curry.

#11 Utah State over #6 Marquette

I actually have USU in the Sweet 16 because I hate Missouri and the first two rounds are in Boise. Marquette is scary, but missing Dominic James hurts and since the Aggies are each about 33 years old thanks to their Mormon missions, that veteran leadership should carry them through at least one round and possibly two. Are they this year's George Mason?

No. But only because they got stuck with Memphis instead of Michigan State.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

If Seattle Seahawks fans really want referees to whine about

This opening-round NIT game between Davidson and South Carolina is being atrociously officiated by the stripes. You would hope for a season-ending tournament (albeit the inferior one), you could find a few competent referees. Instead, the trio on the floor are awful and, from the looks of it, Gamecock alumni.

South Carolina's players are flopping around so much, European soccer players would blush. Yet, time and again, the black and white are falling for it and whistling fouls for routine game actions, such as boxing out on a shot. Davidson's top two players, Andrew Lovedale and some guy named Stephen Curry, have combined for five fouls with most of the second half remaining. Maybe one or two of the whistles were warranted, but that's it. And as for the rest of the team?

Brendan McKillop- 3. Steve Rossiter- 4. Max Paulhus Gosselin- 4. With 16 minutes left, the Wildcats have committed 21 fouls, to 15 for USC. Four Davidson players have at least three, while one Gamecock is in foul trouble. Davidson has shot nine free throws, South Carolina has made 16 of 22.

Amazingly, Davidson still has a seven-point lead, thanks to Curry's 16.

Yeah, I'm really pulling for Davidson, since a win for them would mean they face the St. Mary's-Washington State winner. But I'm not exaggerating by much on the foul situation. Let them play and the best team will win.

Amazingly, Davidson

Playoff Time...

...well, close enough. The Spokane Chiefs still have one virtually meaningless game remaining on the schedule when they travel to Kennewick to face the Tri-City Americans in the regular season finale. By now, I'm sure you've heard that two Chiefs games were postponed over the weekend due to a team-wide case of food poisoning.

It showed tonight, as the Chiefs came out on the wrong end of a 1-0 game versus the Kelowna Rockets; a contest which locked in Kelowna as the Western Conference's third seed, while the Chiefs settle for fourth.

Because of the loss, Spokane will open up the postseason at home on Friday night when they host the Seattle Thunderbirds. The matchup isn't exactly the most ideal for your Memorial Cup Champion Spokane Chiefs (copyright: Brad Moon) (copyright for the joke: Bill Simmons), as of the four lower seeds in the west, Spokane's record against the T'Birds is the worst, though still decent at 5-3-1.

Seattle boasts a potentially-explosive offense, led by Greg Scott (32g, 44a) and Prab Rai (25g, 40a) and one of the league's best defensemen in team captain Thomas Hickey (+37 rating; +21 better than the Birds second highest +/- man, Jim O'Brien). Both aspects of their game were on display in their season finale, as Seattle destroyed the Everett Silvertips 10-0.

In net is Calvin Pickard, brother of Tri-City's top goaltender Chet. Pickard has been inconsistent this year, but can be great, as evidenced by a 36-save shutout of the Chiefs less than a month ago. Two days prior to that start, however, he was torched for seven goals in the first two periods, three apiece by Drayson Bowman and Tyler Johnson, in a 7-3 defeat in Spokane.

Also inconsistent in the series has been Bowman, Spokane's top scoring threat. In eight games against the Thunderbirds on the season, Bowman has nine goals and one assist. All 10 of those points have come in four contests, while he's been shut out in the other four. If he's on, it could be a short series.

The key to victory for Spokane is capitalizing on special teams. The power play unit is operating at a 33.3% clip (9 for 27) on the season against Seattle, while the Thunderbirds have two shorthanded goals versus the Chiefs. When Spokane has been in the sin bin, they have actually outscored Seattle on 31 power play chances (Chiefs have three shorthanded goals, Birds have two power play goals).

The Chiefs enter the playoffs with a perfect 40-0 record when they score at least three goals (not including whatever happens Tuesday vs. Tri-City). If they can rattle Pickard, the Chiefs should make quick work of Seattle and advance.

Playoff Predictions

Vancouver over Prince George 4-0
Tri-City over Everett 4-1
Kelowna over Kamloops 4-0
Spokane over Seattle 4-2

Calgary over (insert winner of Prince Albert vs. Edmonton one-game playoff here) 4-0
Saskatoon over Lethbridge 4-2
Brandon over Kootenay 4-1
Medicine Hat over Swift Current 4-3

Vancouver over Spokane 4-2
Kelowna over Tri-City 4-2

Calgary over Medicine Hat 4-0
Brandon over Saskatoon 4-3

Kelowna over Vancouver 4-3
Calgary over Brandon 4-1

Calgary over Kelowna 4-2

Monday, March 16, 2009

And to think this is what I wanted to do as a kid...

I just spent the last six hours researching the top 63 teams in the NCAA Tournament this season (I don't want to waste any time on the riveting Alabama State-Morehead St. contest). The reasoning for this is because I know less than I thought I did and, going with my gut on my Facebook bracket, ended up picking Villanova to win it all. I love Nova, but I'm not entirely sure they are championship material ... at least not yet.

I just broke down the teams in the following categories: road/neutral court record, leading scorer and the position they play, teams in the tournament they defeated, teams not in the tournament they lost to and tournament teams in the top 30 or bottom 80 of 341 Division 1 teams in steals, field goal percentage defense, 3-point defense, blocks, free-throw percentage, scoring, points allowed, rebounds, field goal percentage offense, 3-point offense, personal fouls and turnover margin.

This information helped me figure out why I hate Michigan State so much. They are in the top 30 in none of the aforementioned categories, but are also not in the bottom 80 in any. So I guess I figured out that I can't figure them out.

The only other two teams in the tournament that pull a Michigan State and aren't top 30 or bottom 80 material are Boston College and USC and, of course, they play each other in the first round. Coin flip, anyone?

So let's play a fun game. Hopefully, more than zero people read this. Here are the stats for six NCAA tournament teams. Decide which profile looks most impressive to you, and don't cheat. Answers at the end of the blog.

Team A: Scoring (#27), steals (#16), personal fouls (#4), turnover margin (#16) --- free throw percentage (#252)

Team B: Scoring (#15), three-point offense (#20), field goal offense (#7), field goal defense (#2), blocks (#25), turnover margin (#14) --- not bottom 80 in any category

Team C: Steals (#8), field goal defense (#19), three-point defense (#16), blocks (#5) --- free throw percentage (#298)

Team D: Rebounds (#1), field-goal defense (#4), personal fouls (#1), three-point defense (#29), blocks (#1) --- steals (#254)

Team E: Scoring (#5), rebounds (#6), field goal offense (#4), steals (#29), field goal defense (#21), three-point defense (#11), blocks (#14) --- three-point offense (#267)

Team F: Scoring (#2), free throw percentage (#11), rebounds (#2), field goal offense (#19), steals (#28), personal fouls (#25), blocks (#15) --- points allowed (#287)

Anyway, tomorrow, I get a chance to actually analyze this information, look up common opponents, figure out which games my gut still likes and maybe fill out a couple of real brackets. Thursday can't get here fast enough - I've never enjoyed waking up at 9 in the morning more than I do on the first Thursday and Friday of the tournament.

Tuesday will be awesome, as well, though. St. Mary's, whose snubbing just about caused Dick Vitale to yell obscenities about Jay Bilas' mother, gets rewarded with a hot Washington St. team in the first round of the NIT. The game is in Moraga, starting at 8 p.m. on ESPN2. If you want to see one of the best NIT games of the tournament, tune in. The Gaels have something to prove to the committee and shellacking a team who defeated Arizona once in two meetings might send a message. Both teams played the Zags, with neither team pulling out a win. Wazzu failed miserably on their own home court, while St. Mary's was a broken hand away from upsetting Gonzaga in the Kennel before dropping a nailbiter in California and being blown out in Vegas in the WCC Championship Game.

On Wednesday, I'll be back with first-round upsets to keep an eye out for. Yes, UCLA, you'll be front and center for that piece. Go Rams!

Trivia Answers:

Team A: Siena Saints
Team B: Gonzaga Bulldogs
Team C: Louisville Cardinals
Team D: Connecticut Huskies
Team E: Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Team F: North Carolina Tar Heels

Friday, March 13, 2009

What Madness!

I said earlier in the week that the Madness had officially started thanks to Illinois State and Northern Iowa. And while I'm not taking that back, all I have to say about last night's Syracuse-UCONN game is wow.

I turned ESPN on about 10 minutes before the scheduled start of the Washington State-UCLA matchup, fully intending to switch over to FSN at 8:30. The Orange and the Huskies were battling back and forth and had the game gone to OT any other way, I would have been watching the Bruins race out to a 23-5 lead and missed one of the historic games of all time.

Fortunately, Eric Devendorf had different ideas.

As you had better have seen by now (and if you haven't, I'm sorry), Connecticut tied the game up with just 1.1 seconds left. The Orange inbounded the ball three quarters down the court, which was tipped by a UCONN player right to Devendorf. He quickly gathered himself and, virtually simultaneously with the clock, drilled a 3-pointer to give the game to the Orange...or so he and the rest of the 'Cuse bench thought.

Initially ruled good, the stripes reviewed the shot and came to the conclusion that the ball was still in his hands when the clock struck 0.0. Jay Bilas would say later that had Devendorf cut his fingernails that morning, the shot would have counted. Normally, I would roll my eyes at his hyperbole. This time, I thought it was a definite possibility. Yes, it was that close.

So at that moment, I was hooked. Six overtimes later, only the last of which the 'Cuse had a lead (which they never relinquished), I had not just witnessed one of the most epic games of all time, but also had time to flip over to FSN and catch the last 50 seconds of the Coug-Bruin game.

And that game could have been a barnburner in itself, which it wasn't, as the Cougs Dance shoes were tossed to the back of the closet, not to be worn this March, but I wasn't flipping the channel after the regulation review.

Syracuse and Connecticut have officially set the bar for the 64 games to be played, beginning Tuesday.

Let March Madness continue.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Sports Guy and Jack-O

I just finished a podcast that The Sports Guy (Bill Simmons/die-hard BoSox fan) had with his friend Jack-O (die-hard Yankees fan) about the Yankees and Red Sox, and I have five questions about the upcoming season, complete with my own answers:

1) How is it possible for a true Red Sox fan to be friends with a true Yankees fan?

Answer: Embodied perfectly in the relationship Simmons has with Jack-O, the only real reason to be friends with a Yankees fan is to make fun of that person every opportunity you get. The media has called Alex Rodriguez "A-Roid" "A-Fraud" "Pay-Rod" and plenty of other names over the past year or so, but Simmons' nickname for him is better, and more accurate, than the other two: Mr. May. The Yankees have also won as many World Series since the new millenium as the Milwaukee Brewers. And the Pittsburgh Pirates. And the Spokane Indians. It's great.

2) Are the Yankees primed for a Ewing Theory season with A-Rod already shelved?

Answer: No. Not only, according to Simmons and Jack-O, does the Rodriguez injury even qualify for the Ewing Theory, since nobody is writing off the Yanks because their best player is hurt, but the Ewing Theory can't be applied as much in baseball as it can basketball or football. Players in basketball and football all (or for the most part) have the same goal...score. So when their star goes down, they step up their play. But in baseball, A-Rod going down can only have a Ewing Theory impact on offense. Don't count on Edwar Ramirez and A.J. Burnett filling the void left by #13.

3) Jason Bay: Yea or Nay?

Answer: Yea. I love Jason Bay, no secret there. Simmons is not buying him, partly based on his performance late in the ALCS against Tampa and partly based on the odds of him hitting 20 fewer home runs than the guy he replaced, Manny something. It was said last season and it will be said again this season. Jason Bay is not Manny Ramirez. We get it. But Bay is definitely capable of a .310-25-100 season and from the 5 or 6 slot in the lineup, that's definitely not bad. Hopefully, he's learned to lay off the's his prime weakness at the plate, especially against righties.

4) Whose rotation is better, Sox or Yanks?

Answer: Slight edge to the Sox. Jack-O is as stoked as I am about C.C. Sabathia, but for much different reasons. He thinks C.C. will be awesome. I think his ERA will be more inflated than his belt line. Our ace is...uh...well, I don't know. For the purposes of the discussion, I'll say Daisuke Matsuzaka. Dice-K is good for six, tops. Sure, his ERA was great, but he walks just about everybody. And I don't trust him against the Evil Empire. Chien-Ming Wang and Jon Lester is a push, since both are realistically, each team's best pitcher. When the stats come out at the end of the season, both will have close to 20 wins and a low 3 ERA...that's just the way it is. A.J. Burnett and Josh Beckett are kinda the same way, except instead of 20, it will be 15 for J.B. and 10 for A.J.B. (he's DL-bound by June) and both will have ERAs around 4. Since Beckett should be on the DL two or three fewer times than Burnett, the edge goes to him. In the 4 slot, Andy Pettitte and Tim Wakefield is a push as well, but obviously, the stats continue to get worse. Ten-ish wins for each and ERAs just over 5. Finally, Joba Chamberlain has an edge over (insert Brad Penny, John Smoltz, Justin Masterson, Clay Buchholz or Michael Bowden here). I loathe this guy, but he's good. How he holds up as a starter for an entire season remains to be seen, but the grab bag in the five slot is a question mark already in Boston. I'm pulling for Masterson, who would be solid more often than not, but he's the only one of that group I'm confident in saying that about. Simmons is ogling over Daniel Bard, who has been lights out in spring training, and says Bard will make an appearance for the Sox by the end of the 2009 season. He could turn out to be this season's Masterson, but with the plethora of talent in the bullpen, 2010 seems like a more realistic time for Bard to make an impact with the big club.

5) Who are the team's sleepers?

Answer: Simmons loves Rocco Baldelli because of his concern about Jacoby Ellsbury's progression and J.D. Drew's A.J. Burnett impression. Personally, I'm hopping back on the Julio Lugo bandwagon. The guy found out he was lactose intolerant during last season (no, that's not a joke) and has had a great spring thus far. I'm a huge Jed Lowrie fan, but I'm excited to see Lugo get another shot...remember, he was a .300 hitter with the Rays a few seasons ago. Unless he's got the same problem with knowing his own age as Danny Almonte, Lugo should be a quality player for a few more seasons.

The best baseball prospect ever

Stephen Strasburg has been called the best baseball prospect ever by one general manager. He's got a 93-94 mph slider and his fastball tops out around 102 to go with an above-average changeup. This is a video of a 23-strikeout game he had with San Diego State in which he throws the ball with more movement than I can put on a wiffle ball (pay close attention to the slider he throws at the 2:05 mark). He's expected to be the first overall draft pick of the Washington Nationals, though if they pass, the Seattle Mariners are waiting in the wings with the number two pick (the best thing Carlos Silva has ever done for the M's).

The only drawback is that he's represented by the Anti-Christ, Mr. Scott Boras, which means he will be receiving a 6-year, $130 million contract before he throws his first MLB pitch.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Streak (3/9) and the WCC Championship Game

My overall record is 76-63-2. You'd think by now that I would have reached a W5 more than one time, especially since I've lost three straight five times.

Self-pity aside, I have to bounce back from my L1 and hopefully AGF Aarhus defeats Vejle outright to get the ball rolling.

Later on, I like Charlotte to defeat Richmond in the A10 Conference Women's Championship. The game is in Charlotte, so all other things considered equal, I like the home-court advantage.

For my one other pick on the day, I'm going with Siena to defeat Niagara. The Purple Eagles fought hard to defeat an inferior Rider team in double overtime last night. With the game in Siena's backyard and Siena actually being a better team, it seems like the easy choice.

Unfortunately, the Gonzaga-St. Mary's game isn't on the board. I find that strange for so many reasons (among them that Patty Mills is a complete wild card after his first game back and that Gonzaga played better last night than they had in weeks).

The Zags were ridiculous last night. The game was within five or six late in the first half, but there was still the sense that Santa Clara was way behind. And by halftime, they were.

Everyone was on their game, except for maybe Heytvelt, who didn't have too many opportunities. However, he, along with Will Foster, completely shut down the WCC Player of the Year, John Bryant, who torched San Diego for 27 rebounds the night before.

Downs, Bouldin and even Pargo were lights out shooting the ball. And they didn't even compare to Austin Daye, who went for 28 in his first good game in months.

A couple hours later, Mills made his return for St. Mary's and helped the Gaels to a 71-61 victory over the Portland Pilots. Mills definitely wasn't himself in his first game back, shooting the ball especially poorly, but his presence on both ends of the court clearly made a difference. Now, with one game under his belt, he looks to give St. Mary's an automatic berth into the Dance.

I see it unfolding much like the Zags don't want it to. I think the Gaels are going to come right out and punch Gonzaga in the mouth early. I can see them up something like 18-8 or whatever. The Bulldogs will rally and perhaps tie or take a lead late in the first half, but St. Mary's will go into the break with a four or five point lead. The second half will be a lot of back-and-forth action, but Gonzaga won't be able to get over the hump and St. Mary's wins 74-68.

Make no mistake, I'll be rooting for Gonzaga just as much as always, but I think the third time is the charm with this game. And I'm convinced St. Marys will want it more, because they definitely need it more.

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Streak (3/6) and a couple other things...

It seems like every time I publish picks on here, I'm wrong. In fact, with me publishing streak games today, I should go back and switch the game I already picked and should go against my gut on the other two games I like in order to keep my win streak going. If I'm you, I'm reading these picks and immediately going to pick the losers in this column.

I did get back to a W2 this morning, thanks to Justin Rose being terrible at golf. For some reason, I'm 6-1-1 in picking golf contests and zero of those have had Tiger Woods beating someone like Justin Rose. Lucky? Oh, absolutely.

So this afternoon, I'm in MVC territory and am going with Bradley to defeat Southern Illinois (sorry mom).

The teams split during the regular season, with each team blowing out the other at home. The Salukis' overall schedule is more impressive, at least with how losses go. They fell to St. Mary's and Nevada, among others, but kept it close.

Lately, however, Southern Illinois has struggled, squeaking by Drake and Wichita State, and losing four in a row before that, two of which were by more than 20 points.

Bradley has won four of five, dropping only a game at Evansville by seven.

The key to the SIU-Bradley game will be the first half, as the Braves have a tendency to fall behind early. If it's close at the half, Bradley should pull it out.

If I can get that win, I'm confident I can be at a W5 by day's end, because of...

Calgary Flames over Carolina Hurricanes. I used to loathe picking the Flames, but with their recent acquisition of Olli Jokinen and Jordan Leopold, this team is way good. They took two periods off after jumping out to a 4-0 lead against the Flyers last night and might do it again tonight in Carolina.

Dallas Stars over Anaheim Ducks. Anaheim is in a free fall, while Dallas is tied for eighth in the Western Conference with Anaheim and Edmonton. The Ducks are just 14-13-3 at home, including a 5-2 loss to the Stars. They've been outshot 129-94 in four meetings with Dallas this season in splitting four contests. Sure, Dallas has lost six of their last seven games and have won only twice in the second half of back-to-back nights all season. But I'm sticking with 'em.

Now, I need to talk about Terrell Owens and storming the court in college hoops.

I wasn't planning on talking about TO until he latched on to a team, then was prepared to lambaste that team for signing Owens. But SportsCenter just said that two teams who could be interested are the Oakland Raiders and the ... sigh ... San Francisco 49ers.

Now, I'm pretty sure the ownership and fans remember the last time TO was in the Bay Area. For those of you who don't know, Owens said his quarterback, Jeff Garcia, was a homosexual. Who knows what he would think of Shaun Hill.

And that's exactly the thing. Owens can't go to a place without a well-established quarterback. He'll lose his mind. He will be serving a team-levied suspension by November. So, excluding Dallas, obviously, here's a list of places of shouldn't end up:

Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, New York Jets, Oakland Raiders, Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns, Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars (screw you David Garrard, you joined Carson Palmer on the "I will never have you on a fantasy football team" team), Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins, San Francisco 49ers, Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

That leaves 15 teams.

Now, here's a list of teams who don't need Owens (I hope you're not sitting in front of this saying "Oh, anyone could use a WR of Owens' caliber." If you are, you're wrong.):

New England Patriots, Denver Broncos, Pittsburgh Steelers, Indianapolis Colts, Arizona Cardinals, Seattle Seahawks, Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints.

That leaves 7 teams.

Here's a list of remaining teams who won't bring back Owens because of burned bridges:

Philadelphia Eagles.

That leaves 6 teams.

Cincinnati won't bring him in because between him and Ocho Cinco, Palmer would fake his next injury to get off the field.

Owens won't go to St. Louis because they won't contend for another few decades and he would have nothing to bring to the ground.

So that leaves the Kansas City Chiefs, San Diego Chargers, New York Giants and Atlanta Falcons.

My cousin Ryan maintains that Atlanta wouldn't be interested after just ridding themselves of one media circus in Michael Vick. Sounds good to me, they're out.

It would be too good to be true if Owens went to the Giants. With Plaxico Burress seemingly on his way out, the G-Men could use another solid WR, but TO would have Eli Manning crying and Tom Coughlin more red than Plax's pant leg by the season opener. I want it to happen, but I'm not getting my hopes up.

I also don't think that Owens will go to Kansas City. Sure, the Chiefs will be better with Matt Cassel, but they're still a year or two away from being serious contenders, even in the AFC West.

That leaves the San Diego Chargers. A solid QB on a contending team, a similar situation to that in Dallas, with one of the game's best tight ends, but no real wide receiving threat and a coach that he can walk all over at any time. The Chargers will be a playoff team and have the talent to win it all, something Owens hasn't been able to do in his career. Signing with San Diego would motivate him and Rivers actually has the backbone to put Owens in his place. It's perfect. If TO ends up a Charger, they're my Super Bowl favorites.

I've got one more thing on my mind: storming the court in college basketball.

Penn State defeated Illinois at home last night on a layin with less than a second left - a win which may secure their spot in the NCAA Tournament.

First of all, the Nittany Lions already defeated the Illini once this season. Secondly, Illinois is the 20th-ranked team in the nation. Thirdly, Penn State, with another Big Eleven win, will be tied with the Illini in the conference standings at 11-7. Finally, overall, Illinois is 23-8, Penn State is 21-9.

Despite all of this, the Penn State fans stormed the court, celebrating their "huge" win.

It used to be that the court got stormed if a top-5 team went down against an unranked opponent, or if the team who won was like 2-18 and defeated a top-25 team. Now, if you get a home win against a ranked opponent and you're unranked (or if you defeat the #1 team at home as the #4 team), you're entitled to celebrate on the floor.

Stop it.

If you're storming the court, it means that you didn't think your team stood a chance to win, yet the players shocked the world and pulled out a very improbable win. This didn't happen at University Park last night, yet you wouldn't know it by the video.

It used to be special to see students going crazy with the players after picking up the biggest win of the season, and perhaps, the biggest win in years. Now, it's commonplace, even when your team was ONE-POINT UNDERDOGS!

It's only a matter of time before somebody gets hurt and storming the court becomes a thing of the past. And it's likelier to happen sooner than later because of kids abusing the privilege.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Sucks to be hitters facing Paps ... again

As if Jonathan Papelbon wasn't the best closer in the American League already (shut up, Yankees fans), this season, Paps has added a slider to his filthy splitter and his deadly fastball.

Now, when the Sox are up 1 in the ninth, right-handed hitters are gonna see Paps throwing at them and bail right before he catches the inside corner. Then he'll hit them while they're two seconds behind his fastball. It's going to be great.

Oh, and see ya at the end of May, A-Rod!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Streak (3/4)

I promise that on days I don't make picks, I do well. I come back here and you're probably thinking "The guy is 1 for his last 15 with his advice on here ... there's no way he can win two in a row, much less three."

But yesterday, thanks to Arsenal, MSU and Indiana hitting the under and the Stars and Sharks doing the same, I'm sitting pretty with a W3.

I'm hoping to pick up a cheap win in soccer this morning by taking Inter Milan to defeat Sampdoria. It seems like the game on the board which is too obvious, since 97% of the votes went to Inter Milan. Please, don't let it come back to bite me, because later tonight, I really like...

UNC and Va. Tech over 156. Yes, I realize that is a ton of points for a college basketball game, but I can see a couple of things working in my favor here.

First, these two teams can score. Especially UNC ... a lot. It wouldn't surprise me if UNC reached 100, leaving just 56 points on the shoulders of the Hokies.

Also working in my favor is that the game is at VT. The Hokies could really use a win here to boost their resume, so there is a slim chance that the game goes into OT, which would make it a virtual lock at that point to reach the over.

If the game is quick, I also really, really like Oklahoma to defeat Missouri.

Listen: Missouri might be the most overrated team in the nation that isn't named "Michigan State Spartans." Blake Griffin is back and showing no signs of being concussed a couple of weeks ago. This game probably won't even be a single-digit contest ... it's gonna be all Sooners.

Those are the games I like. Could this be the first time I ever see W6 next to my name? Probably not, but I'm gonna hope anyway.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

WinCo = Crazy. Spokane = Crazy. Spokane WinCo= ?

The following story isn't the strangest or most bizarre. It's just a perfect example of what happens when you mix WinCo and the people of Spokane.

I decided to lose my Spokane WinCo virginity today because I needed deodorant and toilet paper, but more importantly, wanted some peanut butter pretzels. I forgo the maps at the entrance, instead letting myself explore the store.

I see aisle 2 and the word "deodorant" and head straight for what I need.

As I'm pondering my choice (usually, I'm a Degree guy, but wanted to see what else was out there), some guy comes up to me and starts talking about what he uses and likes. This is no employee, mind you ... this is just some extraordinary shopper.

As he's pointing out a few of his preferences (some of which work well all day, some of which smell really good, all of which say exactly that on the product), he warns me "Don't buy a powder. They don't work well at all."

He points out a couple more and then says "Gels are no good either. They go on cold in the morning." Awesome.

After recommending a couple more, he points to another and tells me "This one is really good too."

It's a powder. And women's deodorant.

All in all, the man showed me about seven or eight different deodorants before I had to excuse myself from the conversation.

Fortunately, he did not follow me to the toilet paper section.

Monday, March 2, 2009

What a day in the NFC West

Breaking news on ESPN reports that T.J. Houshmandzadeh is on his way to the Emerald City. The T.J. on Hawks fans' minds stands for "Thank Jesus" though I'd wager that fewer than 1 percent of Seattle fans know what those initials actually stand for. For years, I've made jokes about the receivers that caught the ball like it had a lit fuse. Housh definitely won't be that way, so for Seattle, it's a great pickup. But it won't make them the team to beat in the NFC West.

That team will be the one where Kurt Warner ends up. The guy who led the Arizona Cardinals to a Super Bowl berth this season met with the San Francisco 49ers today regarding a potential signing. If the Niners nabbed Warner, not only would it drastically improve their team, but could also lure other free agents to the Bay Area (Jason Taylor?).

Both San Francisco and Arizona have decent defenses (though I would give the edge to Frisco with Patrick Willis and Nate Clements turning the team D around by season's end, whereas the Cards got hot late in the season, but not often beyond that). Arizona's run game is inferior to the Niners, but their receiving corps gives them a clear advantage over San Fran in overall offense. But if Warner donned the red and gold, he and Isaac Bruce (former teammates in St. Louis) can help young studs Jason Hill and Vernon Davis, among others, progress into better players. And it would make the 49ers the team to beat in the NFC West.

Meanwhile, St. Louis is doing nothing and remains accepting of their role as NFC West doormat.

The Streak (3/2) and trying not to play "not favorites"

(Note: The Streak should be used for entertainment purposes only.)

I actually had a dream I ran my streak to 12 and was really excited about it. Having played for about five months and never breaking a W5, it may be the closest I get to 12 straight. But the disclaimer is so you don't end up like me and let it consume your life. I'll get to this after the picks.

Soccer: Guimaraes win or draw versus Braga. No, I don't know why. My team is down 1-0 eight minutes in.

I'll only have the opportunity to pick one game on the board after the soccer game thanks to my Monday Night Bowling League (where I look to improve on my 228-225-279, 732 series from last week, beep beep). And I'm going with the 76ers to defeat the Hornets at home.

New Orleans is not the same team they were a year ago. Tyson Chandler is not playing at the level he was. David West's numbers are down from last season. And the team struggles on the road. Plus, NO barely beat the New Jersey Nets last night and might be fatigued.

Moving on...

With the NCAA Tournament on the horizon, I usually try to refrain from falling in love with the home teams (Gonzaga, Washington St.). It works pretty well ... usually I have Gonzaga going out fairly early and, to date, I haven't paid for it.

However, the opposite is now true, thanks to the streak game. There are certain teams I hate because they have ruined me on certain occasions (Notre Dame, Providence, the Big 11). And I have to put those feelings aside when Notre Dame inevitably sneaks in to the Dance as a 9 seed (yes, they're beating Villanova at home tonight).

And when they do, I gotta have faith in them, as much as I hate them, to knock off two teams and reach the Sweet 16. Just can't play not favorites...


God Bless how times have changed.

It's no secret how bad I am at talking and interacting with anyone who has two X chromosomes. Maybe it's because I say things like "It's no secret how bad I am at talking and interacting with anyone who has two X chromosomes." But that's beside the point.

Welcome to 2009. Among the great things it has to offer are DirecTV, the Fine Living Network and one of my new favorite TV shows, Wingman.

I'm 20 minutes into my first episode. The host (a professional Wingman) is dealing with a 22-year-old Yale student who has confidence in some areas of his life, but not when it comes to dealing with girls. He's shy, awkward and a horrible conversationalist. Sound familiar?

(Note: This is the part where Nick Fairfax would make the "See Kitzan? There's someone out there for you right there!" joke. Fortunately, he doesn't subscribe to this.)

Anyway, he introduced the concept of RIFF (Recreation, Industry, Family, Fun) to this guy, who ended up meeting someone. It's a simple enough conversation piece and gets the ball rolling. Looks like half the battle is complete.

The solution to most of my problems aside, this is a great idea for a show. Of course there are tons of people who have problems meeting, talking to or being themselves around the opposite sex. The fact that someone was genius enough to take an everyday role like this and make it a TV show is incredible in so many ways. What else could you, theoretically, make a show out of?

I don't usually get excited about shows like this, I promise. It's cool that it helps people like me (even though it's not cool I have to resort to this ... better than online connections though, eh?) but the concept is even better.

Will I put RIFF into action? I know you're on the edge of your seat ... stay tuned.