March 1, 2008

On Bubble = Loser

"I'm so nervous on the bubble, I have to pee!!"

Usually, the bubble is littered with pretty good teams, making runs at the tournament with late surges. Big wins in late February always lead to hot debates in March, but this year, no one on the bubble appears to be capable of making a decent case. Here are a few examples:

Syracuse (17-12, RPI: 49, SOS: 11) - The Orange should be locks for the tournament, but an injury-plagued season is starting to get away from them. A bad loss to USF was countered by a home victory over the Hoyas. But today, we all witnessed an epic, shocking collapse. Every member of the committee will remember the Orange turning it over twice under their own basket in the last two minutes, en route to a shocking 5 point loss to Pitt when the Orange had the lead and the ball with 10 seconds to play.

Rhode Island (20-9, RPI: 66) - The Rams were 20-4, and seemed assured of a place in the big dance until they lost five straight in the A-10. Now, they need some serious help.

Ole Miss (18-9, RPI: 47, SOS: 61) - The Rebels are 4-9 in the SEC after an undefeated non-conference schedule. You'd think 5-3 against the RPI top 50 would be enough, but 4-9 in the SEC West is how you undo that success. They're not even on the bubble any more.

Ohio State (17-11, RPI: 48, SOS: 30) - The Buckeyes are a victim of the total lack of parity in the Big 10. Unable to beat the top dogs in the conference, the bottom of the conference is too weak to help. They have 4 wins over the top 100 (Florida, Syracuse, Cleveland St., UMBC), none in conference. Ouch. If Florida loses today and slips out of the top 50, OSU will be 0-9 against the RPI top 50.

Other teams that just haven't gotten it done yet: Oregon, Cal, Arizona St., Virginia Tech, St. Joe's, Dayton, West Virginia, Texas A&M, Arkansas, NC State, ... I can't remember a year when so many teams have been in a mediocre state, just unable to stay above the bubble.

This bodes well for Maryland and other teams that have won at least a little bit lately (Pitt, Oklahoma, Miss St., UAB, Houston). The next two weeks will be very interesting.

Who to Watch in the Las Vegas UAW 400

The Obvious:
Kyle Busch (18 - M&M's): No one is hotter than the younger Busch brother, and he has the pole at his home track in Vegas. You have to say that he looks pretty good with Gibbs Racing and Toyota. He could lead the points in all three NASCAR series after this weekend.

Jimmie Johnson (48 - Lowe's): An obvious choice any time, Jimmie has won three straight in Vegas, and a number of analysts are saying the Hendricks cars are due.

Greg Biffle (16 - 3M): In a funk after 2005, Biffle's in the top 10 in points and qualified in the top 10 in spite of being one of the first ones out (track gets faster as it gets later).

Denny Hamlin (11 - FedEx): Struggling to 31st in points after a crash last week, Hamlin looked great last year and averages a 6th place finish in this race.

Winning Isn't Everything:
Brian Vickers (83 - Red Bull): After finishing outside the magical top 35 last year, Vickers is having a great 2008. Not only has he made all three races on time, but he's in the top 12 after the first two. A solid finish in Sin City will put him in great shape to be in the top 35 after 5 races, meaning he will be in good shape to make a lot more races this year.

Michael Waltrip (55 - NAPA): After starting only 14 races last year, Waltrip has run in the first three and really needs to capitalize on this opportunity. Only 29th and with some good teams behind him (Hamlin, Mears), Waltrip needs to try to move up the standings in case he doesn't qualify the next couple weeks.

Casey Mears (5 - Frosted Flakes): Even Tony the Tiger doesn't have anything good to say about two accidents in the first two races. Casey needs a good result to move out of 42nd. It's pretty unthinkable to envision a Hendricks car needing to make it on time.

Sam Hornish, Jr. (77 - Mobil): The recipient of Penske teammate Kurt Busch's points to allow him to qualify for the first five races, he hasn't done much with it. Currently in 33rd, he really needs to move up in the next three, or he will be in trouble when he has to qualify on his own.

Patrick Carpentier (10 - Valvoline): Without such help, this is the first race Carpentier has been able to make on time. He's been slow in practice, but it'll be interesting to see what he can do.

February 27, 2008

Idol Recap - Top 10 Girls - Feb. 27, 2008

Well, we knocked off two of my predicted bottom three from last week, so this show should be that much better...and yet still ninety minutes. Sigh...

Here we go. Onto 70's Week - Ladies Edition.

1) Carly Smithson - Crazy on You - Heart - This was all over the place. The first two thirds were on par with the original or even slightly better. As she got into the screaming part of the song, she cracked a bit and mistimed her breaths in places. Randy of course thought the beginning was rough and the end was good just to contradict me. Unfortunately, she breathed like she was dying after the song and couldn't say quickly enough that Crazy on You is her favorite song ever. Paula said something. Simon said it was better than last week, but she has yet to pick the right song. Her tats are going to handicap her as we get down to fewer contestants and Middle America starts to matter.

2) Syesha Mercado - Me and [Mr.] Jones - Billy Paul - This started off really bad and boring. She reversed the gender on the song, which half destroys the premise. It's "Me and Mrs. Jones" because Mrs. Jones is a fucking MARRIED WOMAN. That kind of screws the whole thing up. It sucked. I've already forgotten it. Randy didn't like the song choice. Paula noted that she drifted during the softer notes. Simon said that the song wasn't written for a girl and it was silly to have performed it.

3) Brooke White - You're So Vain - Carly Simon - Brooke brought her guitar with her (a rule change I still hate). I may be the only person who finds Brooke hot, but I still like her, despite her Joker Brand smile. It sounded like a Sheryl Crow/Jewel cover of the song. Since Sheryl Crow and Jewel can't sing, that's not good. It was very karaoke plus a guitar, which she mysteriously stopped strumming halfway through without the song sounding any different. She struggles a bit with pulling away from the mike while sitting down. Randy said it was a good song choice, but she didn't bring anything different to it. Paula thought the song choice was perfect. Now for the truth. Simon said he absolutely loved it.

4) Ramiele Malubay - Don't Leave Me This Way - Thelma Houston - Apparently she's Polynesian/Filipino, at least in part. I commented on her ethnic ambiguity last week. You'd know this song if you heard it. It's a faster-paced disco song. She sang the song well and looked comfortable from the waist up. From the waist down she was flat-footed and looked awkward. She also looked like she had a tenuous grasp of the lyrics towards the middle. Of course, she bailed herself out by hitting the big notes at the end. I think I caught a fist pump at the end. Randy said it was rough and just okay. Paula agreed with Randy, but noted that there isn't much range in the song. Simon agreed with Paula and Randy, noting that he had heard it in many weddings.

5) Kristy Lee Cook - You're No Good - Linda Ronstadt - Kristy claims to be a tomboy. A tomboy who claimed last week to sell her horse to raise money TO AUDITION. I can't forgive her. It helps that her performance sucked. The girl doesn't know what to do with her ratty hair or head while she sings. She often took a Robert Plant stance, while singing a Linda Ronstadt song. Randy wasn't too impressed, calling it "pretty in tune". Paula thought it was a good song choice. Both seemed to find it pleasant. Simon thought it was a huge improvement over last week, though he worries that he doesn't know how to label him.

6) Amanda Overmyer - Carry on my Wayward Son - Kansas - This is the Harley girl with the bleach blonde bangs. She's very good, and she has NO chance. She's going to stick to the rock theme. The beginning was very rough, and she seemed to overcorrect, missing notes high and then low. The look on her face told the whole story. She had a shot at the last note, but I'm pretty sure she was flat. Here comes the hurt. Randy said it was the wrong song, with too much melody and too many instrumental breaks. Paula complimented her moves, which even made Amanda roll her eyes. Simon said her intro was natural but her performance and terrible outfit and hair looked contrived.

7) Alaina Whitaker - Hopelessly Devoted - (Grease) - I hate this girl. My girlfriend doesn't hate her. She actually is quite talented, but she comes off as dumb as a post in her little vignettes. Of course, to my disappointment, she sang the song nearly perfectly, even holding out a strong note where I don't remember one in the original. The way tonight has meandered along, she's in good shape. Randy found it pitchy and restrained. Paula thought she did a good job, but then said something about Alaina's age. Simon said he likes her but it seems like her grandmother dresses her and picks her songs.

8) Alexandrea Lushington - If You Leave Me Now - Isley Brothers - Alexandrea explained that her father is a firefighter in Atlanta. Since I took Fourteenth Amendment, I know that there was a very nasty lawsuit between African-American firefighters and the Atlanta FD. This is another song you'd know if you heard it. You'd know it because you'd have to pause for a second and try to remember which sitcom used it as the theme. None did. She missed beaucoup notes, there aren't any big notes in the song, and she's in the shit this week. Randy asked "What'd you think?", which is a death knell. He called the song safe. To me, that sounds like not getting into your safety school. Paula noted that she'd never heard a woman do the song. Simon said she was inconsistent and in and out of tune.

9) Kady Malloy - Magic Man - Heart - Kady has a killer Britney impression. And she's hot. And she scares me to death. I'm scared that I'll be seeing this c-word for weeks after the good people are booted off. It sucked. I am SURE Simon will use the word karaoke. It wasn't "wedding" because she tried to scream some notes since there aren't any big notes in the song. I can't wait to see her for the next six weeks while talented people go. Randy asked her a question first, before trashing her properly. He said she never found the pitch the entire song. Paula said she sounded great when she powered, but she lost the low notes. Simon said he is frustrated with her because she is great in her vignettes and then crappy on stage. He said the same thing last week.

10) Asia'h Epperson - All By Myself - Eric Carmen (later Celine Dion) - Oh, this was a trainwreck. She missed an early note, and then cracked on the word "by" later. Midway through the guys were standing to lend support, because she was drowning. She did end the song well. Apparently she has been sick, and Randy totally wrote off her problems to her illness. Paula said they were rooting for her and she brought it home. Simon said it would take a heck of a singer to pull it off, but she is not good enough to try that song.

Oh God. There is no way to accurately predict who is going home. Let me try to break them down the best I can into three categories.

Safe fo' Sho'
[Not applicable]

Muddled Middle
Brooke White
Carly Smithson
Ramiele Malubay
Alaina Whitaker
Kady Malloy
Asia'h Epperson

Pack the Bags
Syesha Mercado
Kristy Lee Cook
Amanda Overmyer
Alexandrea Lushington

Officially I'm going to predict the departure of Syesha Mercado and Alexandrea Lushington. Amanda Overmyer sucked and looked horrendous, but she's the only rocker chick. The last rocker chick seems to hold on for a few weeks longer than they should each season. Syesha is totally forgettable, and she went early in the episode. Alexandrea went late in the show, but the song was so sitcom that I can't imagine anyone picking up the phone and voting for her. She's the last unambiguous African-American chick left, but I don't think she'll get bailed out by that distinction any more than the plus-sized model was last week.

Idol Recap 2/26

Alright, so a day late, but thanks to the miracles of DVR, it was new to me. The remaining ten guys performed tonight. Since this is a sports blog, I'll classify the performances like the UEFA Champions League (soccer for those of you who don't like your sports with a side of tea, cucumber sandwiches, and hooliganism):

Group A:
David Archuleta - hands down the best performance I have ever seen on Idol. He's the odds on favorite at this point. It's amazing because when he sings he sounds ten years older than his goofy, awkward, nerdy self. But he will be a superstar. If Paula doesn't squeeze his head off first (what the FUCK was that about???).

David Hernandez - I felt a little dumb after last week's performance because I had rated him so high previously. But he took Papa Was a Rolling Stone out of the ballpark. Plus he has mad charisma and is a great performer.

Group B:
David Cook - Simon was right... he will need to bring more charisma for him to develop a fanbase and stick out amongst this group of guys. But his performance tonight was pretty killer. He's a tremendous musician.

Danny Noriega - I really didn't want to like this song. I really didn't want to like this performance. But bottom line is he can sing. The nice thing for the hair stylists is they just replicate his hair style on Ramiele the next night and they're done.

Group C:
Michael Johns - Maybe I was a little premature putting him on the Idol Tour last week because he struggled a little bit tonight. I'm a fan of that Fleetwood Mac song and he just didn't do it much justice. Plus he looked really old tonight... he was a little Hugh Grant in Music and Lyrics-esque. Not that I've seen any more of that movie than previews. I swear. I promise.

Eze - He definitely bailed himself out. Dressed better, sang better, he may make the top-10 yet. He's a soul singer for sure. He's clearly one bad song choice away from seeing his goodbye montage.

Group D:
Jason Castro - Dude... I think the Idol producers may rig voting so that we're never subjected to another interview that painful again. Seriously... you only like singing... you hate taking pictures and acting and talking? Have you ever WATCHED American Idol? Hell, by the final five weeks, the performance is secondary to all the dance numbers and interviews and Ford commercials. Not a good performance tonight and once he's stripped of the guitar he'll go back to banging Cheyenne. Not such a bad fall back plan.

Robbie Carrico - Son, you got exposed tonight by David Cook. There are different kinds of rock but so far you don't live up to the type of rock you try to play. Maybe you're more of a Skynryd guy or a rock/soul mix. But you are not a hard rocker. You're just not. And your range is going to be shot soon. I think next week is your last.

(rarely have two singers made it so easy to see who the bottom two will be)
Jason Yeager - I literally finished watching seven minutes ago, you were towards the end of the telecast, and already I've forgotten about you except for the fact that you're a natural musician and self-taught on the drums, piano, and guitar.

Luke Menard - Wow. There are some bands that you need to be really, really, really sure you can tackle before you try. Queen is one of them. Son, you fell on your face tonight. Plus you do look like Dawson.

University of Maryland Athletics Contributions to Black History

In honor of Black History Month, ECB takes a look back at the contributions that University of Maryland Athletics have made to black history. I never realized that Terps sports were so groundbreaking in tearing down racial boundaries, but my eyes have been opened in the last two days. Honestly, I'm a bit embarrassed at how ignorant I was of the role Maryland played in integrating sports.

Yesterday, Comcast Sports Net aired a documentary (airing again tomorrow at 9:30) on Darryl Hill, the first black football player in the ACC in 1963. Maryland assistant coach Lee Corso lured Hill away from the Naval Academy and integrated ACC football. In the documentary, Darryl talks about how he was treated by opposing (and sometimes home) fans. His mother was even barred from entering a game at Clemson. He now works in the Maryland Athletic Department as a development officer.

The same documentary features interviews with Billy Jones, the first black basketball player in the ACC. He talks about a time when coach Bud Millikan moved the entire team to a different hotel when they refused to allow Jones to stay there.
Probably the most famous groundbreaking black Terp is Dominique Dawes, the first black woman to win an individual gymnastics event medal. ESPN's Mary Buckheit has a great article on Dominique, who remains a favorite of Terps fans everywhere. Now she's a motivational speaker and mentor to young girls in the D.C. area.

I'm sure that I've missed some major contributions, but those three Terps have done a lot to cement Maryland's place in Black Sports History. I think I can speak for all Terps fans when I say "thank you."

Spain - Not Quite as PC as the U.S.

In case you're among the 99% of Americans who don't follow Formula One racing, there has been an on-going rift between Lewis Hamilton, last year's phenom rookie Brit, who happens to be F1's first black racer, and his former McLaren teammate Fernando Alonso, a Spaniard. Spaniards blame Hamilton for being McLaren's golden boy last year, which they say cost Alonso a third straight driver's championship.

When Hamilton was testing in Spain last month he should have expected to receive taunts from the Spanish fans, according to Alonso. After all, when Alonso did his "lap of glory" after winning at the Italian Grand Prix at Monsa last year, he was subjected to the horrors of obscene gestures. I don't think Alonso quite has a grasp on the issue.

The obscene gestures Alonso endured were an impromptu show of disgust at the victory of an unpopular driver. The Spanish fans who attended Hamilton's practice wore blackface and afro wigs and carried signs reading "Hamilton's Family". They planned a racist attack in advance, for a practice, and carried it out. That's not quite the same thing. Judging by the shoddy quality of the t-shirts and wigs, I'd have to assume that these four could never afford to attend an actual race.
blahblahblahblah Hey F1 - I just investigated the incident

F1 is investigating the incident. Sanctions could include removing the two Spanish events from the schedule (Barcelona Apr. 27 and Valencia Aug. 24).
For the record, I don't even find the outfits offensive because they are so poorly done. It's one thing to be unambiguously racist, as European fans have proven themselves time after time. It's another to be totally unfunny and unoriginal about it. I'm pretty sure the second from the left is actually wearing Dave Chappelle's white-guy news anchor wig. If you are going to potentially cost your nation two huge revenue events, at least execute an original concept.

February 26, 2008

Soccer Players Practicing Flopping and Faking

Watch grown men practice acting injured or fouled. It's short, entertaining, and safe for work. Apparently this was a promotional commercial for Euro 2006.

Then watch some hockey or football and gently stroke your American-grown chest hair, knowing that we and our sports choices are vastly superior.

February 25, 2008

Which is Tougher: Undefeated in College BBall or the NFL?

With Memphis losing to Tennessee on Saturday, we're sure to go another season without an undefeated D1 men's college basketball team. The last team to accomplish that feat was the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers.

Quinn Buckner and the Hoosiers were the last to achieve perfection.

Of course, this season also saw a close call on a more famous perfect record, with the Patriots nearly missing the first perfect season in the NFL since the 1972 Dolphins.

This is how to go undefeated and piss people off.

So which accomplishment is more difficult?

There hasn't been a perfect season in either the NFL or college basketball in over 30 years, though there have been close calls in both sports. The Patriots this year made it to the Super Bowl with a perfect record, and the 1985 Bears won the Super Bowl and only had 1 regular season loss. In NCAA basketball, the closest call was the 1991 UNLV Running Rebels who were huge favorites over Duke in the finals but lost. Larry Bird's 1979 Indiana State team was undefeated until they lost to Magic Johnson and Michigan State in the finals.

The 1972 Dolphins were the only team in the Super Bowl era to post a perfect record, and just the fourth perfect NFL team overall. The '76 Hoosiers were the sixth team since the inception of the NCAA tournament to go undefeated (following the incredible back-to-back '72 and '73 UCLA seasons). Before I wrote this post, I would have guessed that there were far more undefeated college basketball teams, but when you go beyond the Super Bowl era, things even out a bit. If you leave out the supernatural UCLA run, the two sports have remarkably similar histories of unbeaten teams.

The NFL unbeaten record only seems to be more difficult because of the insufferable '72 Dolphins. If we had to endure Quinn Buckner popping champagne and appearing on sports radio every season like Mercury Morris, the Hoosiers record might loom larger. The hype shouldn't matter when deciding which accomplishment is more difficult.

To go undefeated in the NFL today, a team needs to go 19-0. To go undefeated in college basketball, a team would have to go 40-0 (plus or minus a few games). Many of the basketball games would likely be against bad teams, including the first round of the NCAA tournament. In the NFL, there are some easy games, but none as easy as a big-time school's non-conference schedule. Still, 40 games without a loss is impressive even if you're playing the Washington Generals.

The NFL season ends with the playoffs, which for the top seeds involves three tough games in four weeks. The college basketball season ends with a 65 team tournament where the winner will have played six games in three weeks. Football is a more physical sport, but keeping up a level of play through the NCAA tournament is impressive under any circumstances.

In the end, going undefeated in either sport is an incredible achievement, especially with the level of play in this day and age. But for a team of college kids to maintain perfection over a 40 game season, with the distractions of class, finals, and college girls is even more impressive than a perfect NFL season.

Rams to Get Super Bowl XXXVI Overturned Due to Spygate?

Peter King hinted that the St. Louis Rams might try to have the result of the Patriots' first Super Bowl win, Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002, overturned due to Spygate. The Boston Globe has reported that the Patriots taped the Rams final walkthrough before the big game. According to Mike Martz, that walkthrough consisted of half-speed rehearsal of red zone plays.

I went ahead and reviewed the play-by-play of Super Bowl XXXVI. The Rams did not run a play in the Patriots' red zone until there was 11:21 remaining in the fourth quarter, down to New England 17-3. They scored on that possession. The game-tying touchdown to Ricky Proehl came from the Patriots' 26-yard-line. The Rams had ONE red zone possession and they scored seven points on that drive. What basis do they have for having the outcome overturned?

blahblahblahblahblahblah This cannot be undone

Look, I'm all for a full investigation of Spygate to determine the exact advantage it gave the Pats. I also want to know if this was a one-team operation, or wink-wink-nudge-nudge activity done by most of the league that Belichick just had to sacrifice himself over. I think it's ridiculous to talk about overturning the outcome of years-old athletic contests based on slight advantages.

The most we can get out of Spygate is an idea of how much or how little value we should place on the Patriots' championships. We already know that all Lombardis are not created equal. Who would consider the Bucs' SB XXXVII win on par with any of the Cowboys' wins in the 90s? No one I hope.