Friday, February 24, 2006

People on ludes should not drive

I don't know how many of you have been following this story in LA over the past couple of days, but it seems some Swedish millionaire basically destroyed a Ferrari Enzo while trying to street race it against a Mercedes, which he also owned. The car is one of only 400 that were ever made, and probably goes for somewhere around a million bucks. There are some interesting elements to the story. The owner says he was not driving at the time, and the guy who driving was some German dude that he didn't know who then fled the scene of the accident. The owner escaped with virtually no injuries despite striking a pole while doing something like 120 MPH. Part of the reason, well, probably the main reason, is because the car is designed to more or less cut itself in half in the event of such an accident, with the passenger cabin detaching from the back, which contains the V-12 engine. Car enthusiasts are no doubt weeping over such a waste of what many call not a car, but rather art on wheels. Here are some pictures:

Certainly a sad story if you're a car enthusiast, and it should be interesting to see what develops with this mystery driver. But throughout this whole story, the same thought keeps racing through my head:
Relax, alright? My old man is a television repairman, he's got this ultimate set of tools. I can fix it.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Happy First Blogday to JenJen

Whether you know her as JenJen, VolcanoJen, or Tavern Wench, it really doesn't matter. She's celebrating her fist anniversary of blogging today, so congratulations. You really should check her site out if you ever spent time in a bar and wondered what the people serving the drinks truly thought of you. Also, it features lots of tips and tricks on how to be not so much of an ass to your bartender. And if that's not enough for you, even celebrity blogger Matt Welch enjoys her work.

One year is truly an accomplishment. Lord knows I started this thing three or four times before losing interest until I re-upped last year. My first full year is only a couple of months away, so you should really start planning what you're going to get me.

Another Expansion in the Halosphere

Or rather, not so much an expansion as a lateral move. This one is called Watching All Angels, and it appears to be pretty new. If you look up in the right hand corner, you'll find some info on the proprietors. I found this through a random sitemeter perusal, and they link to me, so I'm linking back. I'd venture to guess that Maya is the same Maya from Watching Jeff DaVanon, but I can't confirm that check that, I can confirm it. I just hadn't bothered to look a little further to the right the first time. This time husband Keith is along for the ride. Find out more about them here. Anyway, the link is over there on the right, so check 'em out. They appear to be in the beta testing stage, so you can get in on the ground floor and say you were a fan before they got all popular and sold out. Me? I'm not in it for the money. I do it all for you, my loyal readers, and random searchers for pictures of Sharin Foo and Sonya Aurora Madan.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Quick Exit - Finland 4; USA 3

Well, that wasn't altogether surprising. I kind of suspected that we'd put it together for a game, and that we'd catch Finland on an off-day, but the Americans were outworked and outplayed until the final six or seven minutes, but by then it was too late. Undisciplined play, untimely penalties, and an inability to cover for those mistakes were the difference. Give the Finns credit. They play a boring style, but it's effective, and they beat us with their third string goaltender.

USA Hockey is really in a bit of flux right now. The heroes of the '96 World Cup, and even most of the guys that took silver in 2002, are no longer in peak form, and it really showed in this tournament. Somewhere along the way, there was a gap in the development of American born players, and most of our best talent is either over 35 or under 25. It's gonna be a few years before that talent develops to the world class level needed to compete with the best. Zach Parise, Phil Kessel, Eric and Jack Johnson, these are guys who may be ready in 2010, maybe not. Don't forget that the US won the World Juniors last year, and were favored to win it this year. Kings fans can probably look forward to seeing Tim Gleason and Dustin Brown on the next Olympic team, and quite frankly, Joe Corvo would have looked a lot better than Darien Hatcher in this one, especially with goal scoring at a premium.

One of the biggest deficiencies compared to the past teams the US has put together is between the pipes. Nothing against Rick DiPietro, who played admirably (and he *was* a #1 pick overall). He didn't cost the Americans any games, but he didn't steal any either. They don't have a Mike Richter. And that fact becomes clearer when you look at the goalies for many of the teams in this tournament. The Russians, Czechs, Canadians, Finns, Swedes, and Swiss all have better goaltenders than we do. Hell, the Czech, Canadians, and Finns all have at least two goalies better than we do.

The good news is that the US won't have to face any heat from the hockey press, because the Canadians just choked even harder than we did.

A regular 'ol comment thread broke out on the last post, so I might as well add that I have one crappy US jersey (Leetch), a crappy Ukranian jersey (Zhitnik), and a crappy Russian jersey (Zhamnov). I also have a Dynamo Moscow jersey (Maxim Kuznetsov). And that does it for the international jerseys. I'd still love to get a Slovakian jersey with #26 - Stastny on it. As for the NHL stuff, I have:
  • Predators - blue (no name)
  • Panthers - red (no name)
  • Senators - original black (no name)
  • Kings - old purple (#16 Dionne)
  • Kings - old white (#71 Timonen - worn by him in training camp)
  • Kings - old black (#15 Stumpel)
  • Kings - new purple (#28 Deadmarsh)
  • Kings - new black (#20 Robitaille)
  • Kings - new white (#17 Visnovsky)
  • Whalers - blue (#94 Shanahan)
  • Nordiques - blue (#26 Stastny)
  • Flames - white (#6 Housley)
  • Capitals - old red (#4 Hatcher)
I'm pretty sure that's all the authentics. I also have a cool authentic throwback Illinois jersey that the hockey team busted a few times when I was there that's Orange with Illinois and a retro Chief on the front with a tie up neck and blue and white striped shoulder patches. Even though I'm a bleeding heart liberal, I'm too jingoisitic in international sports to be buying all kinds of internation jerseys.

And I agree, our jerseys suck. The ones from the '96 World Cup were good, but ever since Nike started making them, they're for shit. And these more form-fitting ones they've been wearing this year are awful. And don't get me started on the socks. They look like they're wearing their shin-guards on the outside.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Illinois 64; Michigan 72

For the second time this season, the Illini gave up over 70 points against Michigan. This time, however, the Illini scored 15 fewer points, and let a chance to gain ground in the conference with a road win get away. Defense has been their calling card this year, but they've had one problem. They tend to go through stretches where they completely forget about the defensive end of the floor. They did it tonight at the beginning of the second half, and they blew a 7 point lead as Michigan nailed five threes in a handful of posessions. That was the difference. It didn't help that Michigan refused to miss a free throw.

Daniel Horton was the obvious star, and quite frankly, it had to happen sometime. The guy is a good player, and he's been owned by Illinois his entire career to this point. And when he busts out, he really busts out. He went for 39 points, and while many of those came shooting free throws at the end, the 11 most important came in the first four minutes of the second half right after the Illini had stretched their lead to six. Included in the run were three pointers from Dion Harris and Ron Coleman, none of which were really contested. When the outburst was over, the Wolverines led by four, and although the Illini would tie the game one more time, they would never lead again.

Lost in the poor defensive performance were excellent offensive nights from James Augustine and Dee Brown, who added 23 and 20 respectively. Augie added 14 assists, while Dee pitched in 6 assists (albeit to five turnovers). Sean Pruitt also contributed nicely with 10 points on 5-7 shooting, including a fantastic drive from the perimeter that ended with a thunderous dunk. But the Illini got nothing from the bench. Literally. Zero bench points, two assists, and two rebounds. Jamar Smith was non-existent, almost moreso than the other night when he was benched by Bruce Weber. Speculation is that he has hit the freshman wall. Whatever it is, until he begins to contribute again, there's a big hole in the backcourt, especially with the recent spotty play of Rich McBride.

It's just one game, and it's not the end of the world, but the finish is tough. Iowa at home, then at MSU and at Minnesota. The good news is that this schedule presents a chance for the Illini to make a statement. As Bruce Weber has said a few times this season, it's up to the player to decide what kind of statement they want to make.

The Quarterfinals are set

I haven't watched the US game from today yet, but while the result stayed the same, we did manage to actually score 3 goals, which is more than we scored in the last two games combined. Anyway, the quarters are set, and here are my predictions:

USA over Finland
Canada over Russia
Slovakia over the Czech Republic
Sweden over Switzerland

Canada over USA
Slovakia over Sweden

Bronze Medal
USA over Sweden

Gold Medal
Slovakia over Canada

I think we'll see a lot of great hockey, but I think the Slovakian stars will rise to the occasion and frustrate the Canadians. It's pointless to say that I think the Slovaks have more talent, because they don't. But Canada has stuggled for much of the tournament, and the Slovaks have been playing great team hockey, and they have the best line in the tournament with Demitra, Hossa, and Gaborik. Their power play is excellent with Lubo along the blue line, and I think they're finally ready to show the world how good they are. They've been screwed by the format the last few years, forced to battle it out in the preliminary rounds with less than a full team, as most of those games would come before the NHL began it's break, and as a result, they inevitably failed to get into the secondary round robin. But they're loaded not only with NHL talent, but with NHL all-stars, and in some cases, superstars.

Of course, the man responsible for the whole thing is the greatest European player in the history of the NHL. Peter Stastny not only put this together as its general manager, but he's responsible for inspiring many on the Slovakian roster, as he was the country's first true NHL star, accumulating more points in the 1980s than anyone not named Wayne Gretzky. If they can continue their excellent play and take the gold, no one will be prouder than Stastny.

Monday, February 20, 2006

UCLA 68; USC 71

There have been a lot of bad performances by the Bruins this year, but until this game, they're only really poor loss was the Cal game. They looked worse against Drexel, Albany, Coppin State, and Wagner, but they found a way to win all of those games. Well, SC isn't great, but they're better than those teams, and they didn't give up when UCLA went on a 13-0 run to take the lead. They responded with a 13-0 run of their own, as the Bruins began to play as if they game was essentially over when they pulled ahead.

When you play this poorly, there's a lot of blame to go around. It was their first game in over a week, and it showed, although that's no excuse, and USC had that time off as well. The first four or five minutes was about as bad as it gets. The box score shows Farmar with only three turnovers, but that can't be right. I counted five in the first four minutes alone. There were at least two steals, a play where he stepped on the end line, and a play where he was unable to get the ball in on an out of bounds play.

Ryan Hollins took a step backward, as he had probably his worst game in the last month or so. He finished with no points, only four rebounds, and a turnover. He was really non-existent on the offensive end, and this came against a team with virtually no inside presence. USC only played seven guys and one of them only played 9 minutes, but they never looked tired.

Ryan Francis got into foul trouble, picking up his fourth foul with 16 minutes to go, but that didn't matter. His replacement, Duane Shackleford, lit up the Bruin backcourt, driving to the basket again and again. He ended the game with 12 points in only 21 minutes on 4-4 shooting and 4-5 from the free throw line. His line was indicative of the night the Bruin defense had. They were a step slow from the get go, and USC took advantage to the tune of 56% shooting from the field.

For the second straight game, one could argue that UCLA lost the game at the free throw line. They made only 10 of 18, with the normally reliable Darren Collison and Aaron Afflalo combining to go 4-9. They've shot only 62% from the line in their last two games, and when they're a fifth or sixth seed in the tournament instead of a third seed, they'll look back at those two games as reasons why. Although honestly, for the most part, this game wasn't as close as the score. USC led by 11 with about a minute and a half to go when the Bruins started making everything. Two three pointers by Roll, another by Farmar, and a couple of free throws by LRMAM (who had a repsectable 8 and 10, albeit on 3-8 shooting) helped pull UCLA to within the final margin before the poor decision making they showed early in the game returned. Michael Roll stole the inbounds pass with 4 seconds to go, and instead of taking the ball to the arc, he tried to hit Afflalo. The ball was knocked out of bounds, and the ensuing inbounds play never materialized, as Roll missed Afflalo again and threw the ball out of bounds. Game over.

There is time to atone for the last two games. They should get a little swagger back this week against the Oregon schools, but they missed a golden opportunity to take the lead in the conference after Cal lost to Arizona State at home. It's great to play such solid defense, but great teams get it done on both ends of the floor, and they aren't getting it done on offense. They can't outscore teams when the defense goes south. They're going to have to find a way to put the ball in basket more often, or their March run will be over very quickly.

Indiana 58; Illinois 70

Excellent efforts out of James Augustine and Brian Randle allowed the Illini to open up a big first half lead that they'd never really come close to relinquishing, despite some anxious moments in teh second half, mostly brought on by the collapse against Penn State. I've written all year about how the Illini, especially Brian Randle but it goes for Augie as well, need to attack the basket. Yesterday, they did just that, converting dunk after dunk (six according to ESPN's play by play). I counted at least four for Augustine, and while Randle only had one, it was thunderous and it was the signature moment of the game. He took his man off the dribble and flew to the hoop to throw down a monster jam, and completed the three point play at the line. Augie finished with 18 and 10 for his 25th career double double, while Randle added 12 points and five boards to go along with stifling defense that limited Robert Vaden to 9 points on 4-13 shooting.

The Illini have struggled with skilled big men this season, getting killed by Marco Killingsworth and Terrence Dials in earlier games this season. Part of the problem in those games was an inability to guard the perimiter while also limiting the inside game. Yesterday, they held Killingsworth to 15 points and 45% shooting. But they also held the Hoosiers down from the outside. Indiana hit just 4 of 22 three point attempts. That's less than 20%. Compare that with the 47% they allowed in their two games with Indiana and Ohio State earlier this year, and you can see what made the difference.

Illinois wasn't much better from beyond the arc (in fact, they were worse), hitting only 3 of 17 shots. But that didn't include any from Jamar Smith, who didn't play. According to Coach Weber, he "didn't take care of business". Let your imagination fill in the rest. Didn't matter. Illinois did their damage inside as their big men accounted for 51 of the their 70 points. That's the kind of scoring they're going to need from the front-line as the tournament approaches.

Four winnable games remain, but they're all losable as well. At Michigan tomorrow, followed by Iowa at home, and closing on the road with MSU and Minnesota, who has been terrific at home lately. Those four games will be the difference between a conference championship and a two seed, or a first round game in the Big Ten Tournament and a six seed. If this team is going to decide to be special, now is the time to do it.