Monday, April 06, 2009

A condition unlike any other

Not a good time for my mental health: March Madness lends itself to Carolina blues. I suppose I should congratulate the Tar Heels, much as it pains me. None of their tournament opponents could put together 40 minutes of good play against them, and they all had bad nights when it came to outside shooting. That's more than a coincidence; that's good... defense? Apparently.

UNC didn't need to show greatness to win it all, which makes them a very frustrating kind of champion. But they were excellent in one facet: the ability to wear the other team down. (In this regard, they remind me of Wisconsin. Except Carolina uses a speedy pace and a variety of scoring options, while the Badgers suck the life out of the game with their awfulness. They're the Toby Flenderson of hoops.)

Sure, the Heels managed to avoid having to play Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Connecticut, and Louisville in the Year of the Big East, but their path still wasn't easy. Super athletic LSU? Gonzaga's pro-ready starters? Blake Griffin and Oklahoma? Villanova, faster, better at rebounding, and with a V for Vendetta? A rematch in Detroit against Michigan State, which was essentially a road game? They earned it.

After my prognostication skills peaked a year ago, I fell, and fell hard. For the 2009 Final Four, I predicted Michigan State correctly, but was off on Texas and UCLA, and was way off on champion Notre Dame (which made the NIT Final Four, but couldn't even win that). It's a somewhat pointless guessing game -- coaches may leave, recruits may go elsewhere, and you can't know for sure which players will declare for the draft, transfer, or get injured. But hey, it's my guessing game.

Even with Ed Davis saying he'll return, the Heels will leave the top tier and rebuild next year, which is good news for everyone else. Duke may top an even weaker ACC, but I still don't see them as Final Four caliber. So who will ascend to the NCAA's lame default city of Indianapolis in 2010? One year in advance, I'm calling it: Syracuse, Ohio State, Kansas, and Purdue.

Next year's champ is... the Syracuse Orange. The citrus industry rejoices. Jonny "Quest" Flynn makes headbands stylish again. Eric "Thug Life" Devendorf endears himself to a skeptical nation. And coach Jim "In the Zone" Boeheim proves he can win a title without Carmelo Anthony.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The All-NewsRadio team

Welcome to the NCAA tournament! The year's best 2 days of sports are today and tomorrow. Enjoy it if/while you can.

To celebrate, I'm following up 2007's All-Simpsons Team and 2008's All-Hogwarts Team with a new pop culture tribute: The All-NewsRadio Team.

I thought of it a few months ago while watching a Marquette game. Too bad one of my co-captains later had a season-ending injury, but he still deserves this honor.

Granted, it's kind of a small team this year. Then again, the TV show had a small cast, and Beth didn't even have a last name!

Jerel "Bill" McNeal, Marquette
Dominic "Jimmy" James, Marquette

Calvin "Matthew" Brock, Illinois
Joe Krabbenhoft "Garrelli," Wisconsin
Austin "Johnny" Johnson, Oklahoma
Dwight "Max" Lewis, USC
Mike "Dave" Nelson, North Dakota State

Sean "Lisa" Miller, Xavier

And don't forget Catherine Duke. That's a whole team right there.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The NCAA double dip (2009)

This is an annual post: see also 2006, 2007, 2008.

Which college is most likely to have both their men's and women's teams advance to the Final Four? There are 26 such candidates this year (compare to 20 in 2006, 23 in 2007, and 22 in 2008), but numbers don't quite tell the whole story. Of those 26, only two -- East Tennessee State and Virginia Commonwealth -- are mid-major programs. The rest are from BCS or BCS-adjacent conferences.

In my opinion, there is a tie for first place, because I picked two schools to make both Final Fours this year.

1. Louisville. Men are a #1 seed; women are a #3 seed. Both teams have been a bit overshadowed all season; I say it's their time. The men are certainly peaking when it counts the most, and their region's path is very navigable. The women may have to upset Baylor and Maryland if they want to match the feat.

1. Oklahoma. Men #2; women #1. Courtney Paris said she would forfeit her scholarship if the Sooners didn't win the title. Tall order, considering that Connecticut is undefeated and unchallenged. But anyone who supports the downfall of the Huskies is aces in my book. Speaking of...

3. Connecticut. Men #1; women #1. A pair of top seeds, and a prohibitive favorite on the women's side. But I'm not seeing the men winning the regional final against Memphis or Missouri. And I'm staying true to my year-in-advance pick of California, who would face the UConn women in the 3rd round.

4. Duke. Men #2; women #1. Put it this way: the women could face 8 seed Michigan State in East Lansing, and 2 seed Stanford in Berkeley. And maybe Tennessee in between. Hard to imagine, but the men may have the easier path. So why did I pick only the women to get there? Contrarian tendencies, I guess.

5. Pittsburgh. Men #1; women #4. In a season where the Big East reigned supreme in men's hoops, I wonder if the conference will make an equivalent dent in both tournaments when all is said and done. I don't know much about the women's team, but I'm expecting good things from the men.

The other 19 schools are Arizona State, California, Florida State, Gonzaga, LSU, Maryland, Michigan State, Minnesota, Mississippi State, North Carolina, Ohio State, Purdue, Temple, Tennessee, Texas, Texas A&M, Utah, Villanova, and Xavier.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Still kind of a Baldwin

I saw an advanced screening of I Love You, Man about a month ago. I probably should have written this review back then and saved it until now. But no, I gotta work off memory; the problem is that it's kind of cute, but forgettable. I remember thinking that its greatest strength is also its weakness: it coasts, perhaps too heavily, on the charm of actor Paul Rudd.

In the 1995 movie Clueless, his character was described as "kind of a Baldwin," back when the Baldwin acting brothers were still popular, thin, and attractive. Those days are gone, but in a way, Paul Rudd is a lot like the Alec Baldwin of today: a zany comic actor unafraid to make a buffoon of himself. Prime example: the recent Vanity Fair funnyman photo shoot, where he nails Tom Ford.

As for the movie, the premise is nice. Rudd plays a character who's recently engaged, and that creates an unusual problem: he needs a best man, and he has no male friends. For whatever reason, he's never made it a priority. So he follows the advice of his family and puts himself out there on the market for a hetero buddy. It's harder than he realizes, until he meets one guy (Jason Segel) for which the friendship forms organically. Complications arise as he ends up wanting to spend more time with his new guy friend than with his fiancée (Rashida Jones).

Rudd and Segel are asked to improvise a bit too much. At first, this is fine, but after a while it gets a little grating. For example, the guys bond in part over their love of the band Rush (a common symptom of men that age), having jam sessions that last all afternoon. When Rudd's character tries to explain it later, he says he was just "slapping the bass," referring to his guitar. He says it a few more times, gesturing like a goofy air musician, and you laugh a little. Then he repeats it in later scenes, maybe 60 times, and it becomes awkward, testy humor. How much more can we endure?

As the trailer suggests, the movie makes good use of Lou Ferrigno as himself, and has a stunning array of comedic supporting actors. You'll recognize almost everybody. And there are some interesting twists and turns. But you may come to the conclusion that it's a bit underwritten.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Sorry to burst your bubble

One of the consequences of focusing on the top 16 teams is my lessened interest in the so-called bubble; that is, the fine line between schools that make the tournament and schools that don't.

Truth be told, it's hard for me to care. Every year the bubble conversation is the same: with no magic number of wins or steady criteria to separate the haves from the have-nots, it's all just speculation. And while there's one George Mason -- a questionable at-large team in 2006 that proves everyone wrong by making the Final Four -- there are a dozen invitees each year whose appearance and eventual performance are equally blah.

I'd like to think that the NCAA Selection Committee composes a top-secret formula that combines and appropriately weighs all distinguishing factors (schedule strength, opponent strength, conference rank, offensive efficiency, defensive efficiency, etc.) and ranks all 344 teams. Then they take a marker and cross out the 31 teams that get automatic bids for winning their conference tournaments. Then they highlight the top 34 teams left. There's your field. The rest of the time can be spent bickering over how those 65 teams should be seeded.

But I think the process is a lot more abstract, with conference lobbying in play. So really, the Selection Committee opens itself up for the painful criticism from angry commentators who can't understand why their favorite 76 teams didn't all make the tournament. This is a waste of time, and my least favorite part of Selection Sunday. That time should be spent on criticizing the Committee's lousy seeding choices instead.

You can see why I like the 1-4 seeds. How I see it, for the last time this season. Within the hour, the Selection Committee will see it differently (and incorrectly).

Midwest Regional (Indianapolis)
01. Louisville: The Pitt/UConn show has a surprise ending.
08. Michigan State: They did win the Big Ten by 4 games.
09. Kansas: 2008's champion reserves are the starters now.
16. Florida St: Will their ACC breakthrough translate nationally?

East Regional (Boston)
02. North Carolina: Had the best loss of the weekend, I guess.
07. Oklahoma: Gets the edge over Kansas and Missouri.
10. Villanova: Would love some karmic payback against UNC.
15. Arizona State: Coach Herb Sendek knows the Heels well.

South Regional (Memphis)
03. Pittsburgh: Swept UConn before quarterfinal loss to WVU.
06. Duke: Did what had to be done to show they belong.
11. Missouri: Only 3 seed here with a winning streak.
14. Gonzaga: The 3rd conference tourney champ in this subset.

West Regional (Glendale, AZ)
04. Memphis: They dominated with the schedule they were given.
05. Connecticut: 6OT? Okay, this was the best loss of the weekend.
12. Washington: Won Pac-10 outright, decent exit to Sun Devils.
13. Syracuse: Almost 5-0 in five days. Hope there's no letdown.

UPDATE! The NCAA Selection Committee's top 16 teams...

Midwest: Louisville, Michigan State, Kansas, Wake Forest
East: Pittsburgh, Duke, Villanova, Xavier
South: North Carolina, Oklahoma, Syracuse, Gonzaga
West: Connecticut, Memphis, Missouri, Washington

I predicted 14 of 16, including Arizona State and Florida State rather than Xavier and Wake Forest. Just for fun, I also looked at my first prediction from last November; I called 9 of 16. (Though I shouldn't brag: I had Davidson as a 4 seed and Notre Dame winning it all, and neither made the field.)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


Some bad news: ABC is pulling the plug -- so to speak -- on its version of Life on Mars. It was a little too new to join my favorites of last year, but it's been a compelling bit of escapism these past few months. Pity that its central mystery will have to be wrapped up in the next, and last, three episodes.

Now I'll have to seek out the British version (and its sequel Ashes to Ashes) on BBC America, or maybe DVD. In the meantime, I can think of no better tribute to the show than...

For the record, that's not a Pic-Tac-Toe. Consider it a 9-panel salute to the awesome facial hair of actor Michael Imperioli. He's like the lost Beastie Boy.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Glorified G

I was bringing in groceries for my sister sometime last weekend, which included a six-pack of Propel lemon-flavored water, from the makers of Gatorade. I decided to make light of the purchase.

"You know how Gatorade changed their name on their bottle labels to G?"
"No, I didn't know that. I've seen the commercials, though."
"It's a good thing you bought some Propel before they did the same thing."