Saturday, March 17, 2007

Survive and Advance - First Impressions

It wasn't pretty, but in one fell swoop, the Bruins have moved on, and eliminated probably the most despicable human being in college basketball.

Darren Collison was the show tonight, and on an evening where he didn't get a lot of help, they really needed him to step up. Congrats to DC and the rest of the Bruins.

And for the record, Kelvin Sampson is the dictionary definition of a piece of shit. He's a scumbag, plain and simple, and the fact that Indiana hired him reflects very poorly on that institution. There's a colloquialism that says "I wouldn't piss on him if he were on fire", and for me, Kelvin Samscum is the person for whom that was written. Pure and simple, he's a grade A shitbag.

Illinois - It's Finally Over

Disappointing, to be sure. No offense over the final eight minutes. Horrible free throw shooting. Poor decision making. After 32 minutes of excellent basketball, the Illini played a pathetic final 8, and allowed Virginia Tech to erase a 13 point lead, and win by two, 54-52.

0. That's how many points the Illini scored over the final 4:20. No field goals. No free throws. No nothing. With roughly eight minutes to go, and trailing by double digits, Va Tech went to a full court press. The Illini actually handled it pretty well, but once they got the ball into the front court, they played they all had brain slugs attached to their heads, making poor decision after poor decision, bad pass after bad pass, turnover after turnover. It was painful to watch, but Illini basketball has been painful to watch most of the season.

So that's it. Numerous injuries, two DUIs, one major car accident, and 23 wins, all finally, mercifully, at an end. This was, without a doubt, the toughest season to live through since 1998-1999. The difference then was that everyone knew the Illini were going to be awful, and Frank Williams, Brian Cook, and Marcus Griffin were all set to join the team the next season.

Where do the Illini go from here? They have to hope the Demetri McCamey and Quinton Watkins (assuming he officially commits), are the real deal and can contribute to the offense next season. Sean Pruitt will be the main scoring threat, but the question has got to be 'where will the help come from'? They lose both Rich McBride and Warren Carter, who were their only reliable scorers, and I'm using a loose definition of reliable. Can Brian Carlwell recover and provide support in the post? Can Trent Meacham be a more reliable shooter? Will Jamar Smith even return to the team? And after a season of illness and injury, what can Richard Semrau bring to the team? And if healthy, will Brian Randle finally live up to the potential that so many see in him?

The upside is probably another mid to low seed in the NCAA tournament. I would imagine that they'll be projected as an NIT team next year, probably seventh in the conference. That's just a hunch based on little to no analysis, so take that with a gigantic grain of salt. There are a lot of question marks. But the off-season is a time for healing, and the Illini have a lot of healing to do.

Friday, March 16, 2007

One Down, Five To Go


It wasn't the 50 point win I was hoping for, but I'll settle for 28.

Another slow start. UCLA led by only one with eight minutes remaining in the first half. But Michael Roll, slumping lately, hit two consecutive three pointers that set off a 22-5 run to end the first half, and the game was essentially over at that point.

Apparently Darren Collison is feeling OK. His numbers were good, but not eye-popping. 14 points, 8 assists, 3 steals, 3 turnovers. But the number that should catch your eye, especially in a 28 point blowout, is 32, as in minutes. I've gotta think the ankle felt fine if Ben Howland was willing to leave him in that long. Josh Shipp's thumb appears to be OK as well. He finished with 12 points on 5-10 shooting (2-4 from long range). But if UCLA is going to make a deep run, their best player needs to be their best player, and last night Arron Afflalo was exactly that, finishing with 22 points in 32 minutes, to go along with 8 rebounds (though I'd like to see him cut down on the 3 turnovers). He struggled early, but found his stroke as the game winning, finishing 8-15 from the field, and 3-5 from beyond the arc.

In an apparent homage to Cade McNown, Lorenzo Mata recovered from a bit of an upset stomach (not that you would have known it if all you had was the TV broadcast), puking up his lunch before returning to the court and throwing down a couple of dunks on his way to 6 points and 7 rebounds.

Indiana awaits, after having taken care of Gonzaga, which means no rematch of last year's regional semi-final. I've watched Indiana a few times this year, and quite frankly, I'm not particularly impressed. DJ White is a very good player, and he's pretty polished offensively, but he's not particularly tall. I think the Bruins can cover him with one guy, at least when Mata is on the floor. Mata's strong lower body should be able to keep White from the rim. That's going to be important, because if they're forced to double team, it will leave the perimeter open for Indiana's good long range shooters. UCLA is a better team, but this is certainly a game they're capable of losing.


Virginia Tech awaits the Illini tonight. Haven't seen them play, but they seem to have a strange habit of beating very good teams (they took out UNC twice), and losing to mediocre teams (Florida State, NC State twice, Clemson). That's great news for Illinois, because the Illini are all kinds of mediocre.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Dear Stan,

I hear you're looking for a new head coach. Two words: Cameron Dollar.


Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Picks

I'll preface this by saying that I'm kind of doing this freestyle. In other words, the picks I make here may or may not be the picks I make in any particular pool. I just kind of look for teams that jump out at me, and it could be different every time. So here we go (upsets in red):

First Round

Midwest Region

Florida over Jackson State
Arizona over Purdue
Butler over Old Dominion
Maryland over Davidson
Notre Dame over Winthrop
Oregon over Miami (OH)
UNLV over Georgia Tech
Wisconsin over Texas A&M
Yup. No first round upsets on this side

West Region

Kansas over Niagra (barely)
Kentucky over Villanova
Illinois over Virginia Tech (C'mon, I have to)
Southern Illinois over Holy Cross
Duke over VCU
Pittsburgh over Wright State
Indiana over Gonzaga
UCLA over Weber State

East Region

UNC over Eastern Kentucky
MSU over Marquette
U$C over Arkansas
Texas over NMSU
Vanderbilt over George Washington
Washington State over Oral Roberts
Texas Tech over Boston College
Georgetown over Belmont

South Region

OSU over Central Connecticut State
BYU over Xavier
Tennessee over Long Beach State
Virginia over Albany
Stanford over Louiville
Texas A&M over Penn
Nevada over Creighton
Memphis over North Texas

Second Round

Midwest Region

Florida over Arizona
Maryland over Butler
Oregon over UND
UNLV over Wisconsin

West Region

Kansas over Kentucky
Illinois over SIU
Duke over Pitt
UCLA over Indiana

East Region

UNC over MSU
U$C over Texas
WSU over Vandy
Georgetown over Texas Tech

South Region

OSU over BYU
Tennessee over Virginia
Texas A&M over Stanford
Memphis over Nevada

Sweet Sixteen

Midwest Region

Florida over Maryland
Oregon over UNLV

West Region

Kansas over Illinois (that hurts)
UCLA over Duke

East Region

UNC over U$C
Georgetown over Wazzu

South Region

OSU over Tennessee
Texas A&M over Memphis

Elite Eight

Midwest Region

Florida over Oregon - Florida's size will be too much

West Region

UCLA over Kansas - A season of playing in a crappy conference, plus crappy coaching, catches up with Kansas

East Region

Georgetown over UNC - I haven't seen much of Georgetown, but I'm not all that impressed with UNC


Texas A&M over OSU - Acie Law IV's experience is too much for the Buckeye freshman

Final Four

UCLA over Florida in a rematch of last year's final
Georgetown over Texas A&M


UCLA over Georgetown.

Talk about a run. If this were to hold, UCLA would have knocked off Indiana, Duke, Kansas, Florida, and Georgetown. Other than Florida, that's a lot of tradition. But something just seems right about UCLA riding it's basketball team to it's 100th overall national championship. Besides, I overrate the teams I root for all the time, so it's hard to pick against them when they're actually good.

DirecTV Update

For those of you who haven't been following, MLB agreed to a deal with DirecTV that would make the Extra Innings package non-exclusive. In other words, cable companies still have a chance to carry the package. However, a pre-requisite to offering the package is an agreement to carry the baseball channel (when it launches) on the basic tier. As has been noted by Maury Brown, this is a poison pill. It's a provision that baseball knows no cable companies are going to go for, so it's still a de facto exclusive deal.

Personally, I may have been 50/50 about switching to DirecTV a few weeks ago. Now I'd say there's probably no more than a 10% chance I'll make the switch. And with MLB using this as an opportunity to jack up the cost of MLBTV, chances are I'm not getting that either. So it's looking more and more like I'll be a casual baseball fan this season at best. That means about 99% less baseball content here, and during baseball season, that means about 99% less content period.

There may be a last ditch effort to save the package for cable companies, though. Senator Kerry has scheduled a hearing for March 27th:
"The senator all along has wanted to know more about this, so he's going to be asking a number of questions," said Vincent Morris, Kerry's spokesperson. "We're going to be looking to hear from all interested parties: baseball, satellite carriers, probably the cable operators, possibly ordinary fans. We're still putting it all together."

Well, Senator, I've got some vacation time available and some frequent flyer miles saved up. I could probably clear some time on the 27th. The email address is up in the right corner. I'll be waiting.

Monday, March 12, 2007

NCAA Tournament - First Impressions


The Bruins ought to send the committee some flowers and chocolate. They lost their number one seed, but got the next best (maybe better) thing with a 2 seed in the West. They'll play in Sacramento, then (God willing) San Jose on their way to another final four. As thousands of others have probably mentioned at this point, this is the Ben Howland invitational bracket, as the Bruins will match up with Howland's alma mater, Weber State, in the first round, then face a potential regional semi-final against Pitt. Too bad NAU couldn't find its way into this year's field.


The other side of the bracket is the Bruce Weber invitational. Illinois, if it can get past Virginia Tech (it's the most obvious 12-5 upset on the board in my opinion), faces a potential second round matchup with Weber's old school, Southern Illinois. Get past them, and former Illinois coach Bill Self looms on the horizon. That is, of course, assuming that Self can get past the first and second rounds, a tall order given his recent tournament performances.


Speaking of Illinois, there has been a lot of howling about Illinois not deserving its place in the field, despite a superior tournament resume compared to #9 seed Purdue, who finished with a worse record, with a worse strength of schedule, and finished 15 spots behind Illinois in the final RPI. Their lone argument over Illinois was win head to head at Mackey Arena.

But here's a little thought experiment. Over the last 20 years or so (give or take), the argument that mid-majors are treated unfairly at the expense of the power conferences has grown. This year, you're likely to hear that Drexel should have been in the field over Arkansas or Illinois, despite finishing fourth in their conference. Already there are howls that UNLV and Nevada were unfairly seeded. How could the country's #10 team be a 7 seed?

Let's assume this argument has merit. Wouldn't the likely result be a slew of very good, yet underrated, mid major teams playing in the NIT? And wouldn't they be playing against a bunch of overrated and mediocre power conference teams in the NIT? And if we accept those premises, then would you expect the mid-majors to be relatively successful in the NIT? I'm not talking about dominant, I'm talking about holding their own.

You know how many mid-major teams have won the NIT in the last 20 years? 1. Uno. Note that I'm considering Conference USA to be something other than a mid-major, as Memphis won the championship before all of the good teams left for the Big East. Now, this is somewhat tempered by the fact that most early round games are played at the home courts of power conference teams. On the flip side, how much home court advantage is there in the loser tournament at power conference schools?

So Drexel, go out and show you're the best of the losers, and maybe in the future you and your mid-major brethren will start to get some respect.

The Walkmen w/ the Broken West @ Schubas - 3/11/07

Fanboy alert.

There are bands who get on stage and lack the ability to re-create the magic of the recording studio. There are bands who get on stage and sound exactly like they do on their records, which is good, but not exactly what you want from the live experience. There are bands who, on stage, transcend what they're able to do on a record.

Then there are the Walkmen. From the opening note to the final farewell, it's pure, nonstop energy. Their albums are fantastic, but they were made for the stage. It's not so much a collection of instruments as it a cacophony of sound. It so loud, and so dense that it just hits you like a blast of wind. But amazingly, you're still able to pick out every distinctive sound present in their studio tracks. I saw these guys at Pitchfork last summer. A big open space isn't what they're best suited to. But get them in a tiny room packed with 160 people, like Schuba's, and they're really in their element.

First things first, the Broken West led the night off with a half hour of music from their new LP "I Can't Go On, I'll Go On." I'd listened to it about 8-10 times in the last week, and I was looking forward to their set. Pretty straightforward powery-pop type stuff. Pretty accessible and easy to listen to. They played (if I remember correctly):
  • Down in the Valley (see below)
  • So it Goes
  • On the Bubble
  • Shiftee
  • Big City
  • Slow
  • Brass Ring
It was a solid half hour of music.

Then the Walkmen came out, and I'm gonna be honest, they played a bunch of stuff I haven't heard before. And quite frankly, that would usually piss me off, but the way the night flowed, it didn't really bother me. It just cranked up the anticipation for the next song. In 2006, they released a song for song remake of Harry Nilsson's "Pussy Cats", so I'm guessing they played some stuff off of that. And let's get the negatives out of the way early: no We've Been Had; no Little House of Savages; no Emma, Get Me a Lemon. That did kind of suck, I'm not gonna lie. But what they did play was pretty amazing. Among the songs in the setlistsetlist:
  • Louisiana (assisted on horns by one of the guys from the Broken West, and some other guy) (see below)
  • All Hands and the Cook
  • Another One Goes By (still not as good as the Mazarin version)
  • They may have played Don't Get Me Down (Come on Over Here), but my memory is a little fuzzy
  • Wake Up
  • Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me is Gone
  • The Rat
  • They're Winning
  • Blizzard of '96
  • They also may have played the North Pole
Louisiana was clearly the highlight...until they played Wake Up, which was off the charts. And just when you think they couldn't get any better, they dusted off The Rat, which, well, I'll be honest. I have never stood through a better four minutes of live music than the version of the Rat that they played tonight. It's simply a song that was meant to be played live, to a small audience, with an incredibly loud mix. If I could bottle that four minutes...

On the downside, they skipped the tracks mentioned above, and they only played for about an hour. In their defense, it was 11:00 on a Sunday night, and it was their second show of the evening, and sitting through an hour, you'd wonder how they had the energy to go through that twice in one night.

The moral of the story is that if you get a chance to see a band this polished and this impressive in such a small venue, you need to do it. You won't be disappointed. Sample tracks below.

And I know they didn't play it, but I still love this song: