March 15, 2008

Who to Watch at Bristol

Dale Jarrett, way back when

The End of the Road:
#44 Dale Jarrett - One of the faces of NASCAR for the last 20 years, this is Jarrett's last race. While it's unlikely he'll compete for the victory, his farewell will be the big story this weekend.

The Usual Suspects:
#18 Kyle Busch - Busch won the first Car of Tomorrow race here one year ago. He's also still the hottest driver in NASCAR, and remains #1 in points. He's also #1 in points in the Craftsman Truck Series, and would lead the Nationwide points if he hadn't blown a tire last week.

#16 Greg Biffle - Somewhat quietly #2 in points, he has the best average finish at Bristol of the experienced drivers at 10th.

#99 Carl Edwards - Two straight wins a couple weeks ago, Carl was blowing the field away last week until the engine quit. He's won at Bristol before, but short tracks aren't where he's most dominant.

Under the Radar:
#2 Kurt Busch - The older brother is pretty good at Bristol, with 4 wins in the last 10 races. He's also #10 in points.

#24 Jeff Gordon - It's always a mistake to overlook Gordon, who has been quite good over his career at Bristol (5 wins and a bunch of poles, plus starting 2nd this time).

#88 Dale Jr. - In spite of his issues at DEI, Jr. finished in the top 11 in all of the last 9 races at Bristol, very impressive. That means he knows how to run fast, but also protect the car and stay out of trouble.

Victory Lap:
#83 Brian Vickers - Currently 9th in the points, Vickers is guaranteed to be in the top 35 after this race, meaning he won't have to qualify on time in Martinsville (and probably the rest of the year). A great run for a team that only made 23 of the 36 races last year. Don't expect great things this week, though; Vickers struggles at Bristol.

Desperate Times:
Everyone below 30th in the standings - The points used for automatic qualifying reset from last year's final standings to this year's current standings after Bristol. If you're not in the top 35, you have to qualify on time, and once you start missing races, it's even harder to get into the top 35. This is the last chance for Waltrip, Hornish, Blaney, etc. to get on the right side of their bubble.

March 14, 2008

Vick's State Dogfighting Trial Delayed

Michael Vick's trial on state dogfighting charges (his prior convictions were based only on violations of federal law) has been delayed. It was originally scheduled for April 2nd in Surry County, Virginia. No new date has been set, but one will be on March 25th.

This should not be seen as a sign of weakness in the state's case, or as a sign that they need more time to put their trial together. Transporting prisoners is the responsibility of the state. If they can delay until one or more members of the conspiracy are no longer in Federal prison, they can avoid that cost to the taxpayers of a rural county. I would assume that is the prosecutor's main goal, assuming he can still stay within the constitutional parameters of the defendants' right to a speedy trial.

Morgue Report: 2007-08 Maryland Men's Basketball

For yet another year, the Terps teased me, fooled me, deluded me into thinking we had a shot at greatness. After struggling early, Maryland mounted a 7-2 run in ACC play including a victory at fully healthy #1 UNC, the only team to beat a healthy UNC all year. The Terps were on track for a 3 seed in the ACC and a potential deep run in March Madness. But this year, we found new ways to lose.

"What were you thinking?!?" All year... (AP Photo)

Greivis Vasquez had moments of brilliance this year, including a Maryland record 15 assists in one game. He is probably the best player on the team. But he also had 8 games with 6 or more turnovers in the last 16 games. That's right, ignoring the early game throwaways, Vasquez averaged 5.1 turnovers/game in our last 16. Next year, we have to protect the ball better. I was practically sick last night listening to the radio announcers laugh about how many turnovers we had. I wasn't sick because they were laughing or because we had 21 turnovers, I was sick because I was so used to it that it didn't phase me. I actually expected it. The whole team for the season had a 1/1 assist to turnover ratio.

The result of the turnovers and at times poor rebounding was that we were outshot consistently. In the Wake game (our last win), the Deacons took 15 more shots from the field, and had more free throw attempts. Virginia took 21 more free throws than we did, and only five fewer FGs. We just did not muster enough productive possessions to overcome even a mediocre shooting performance.

Inside the numbers, I think we just got tired. After scoring in double figures for 10 of 11 games (9 pts in the other), Boom only hit double digits once in the last five games. Other than last night, Boom hasn't had more than 5 rebounds since the last Duke game. Milbourne struggled down the stretch, shooting poorly and spending extended periods in foul trouble. To close the regular season, Gist's shooting numbers were 3-8, 3-11, 7-16, and 3-13 in our last 4 losses.

I think we were tired because the bench contributed very little all year and didn't play much. Tucker and Bowie came on strong late in the year, but that's about it. Other than those two, no bench player other than Braxton Dupree (when was the last time he got serious minutes?) averaged 10 min/game. All five starters played more than 25 min/game.

And then there's my other gripe with Vasquez. The point guard took 193 3-pointers this year, compared to 225 by Hayes, Milbourne, Tucker, and Bowie combined, even though Vasquez has the worst percentage of the group. Essentially tied for the lowest overall shooting percentage on the team, Greivis took the most shots (437), outshooting everyone but Gist by 200 shots. What about distributing the ball? I understand there are times that the point guard just has to jack something up, but 200 more shots than anyone but Gist (74 more than Gist)? For comparison, let's look at the year after the championship, when it was basically just Blake, Drew, and Sleepy. Steve took 275 shots, less than both Sleepy (339) and Drew (414), and fewer 3's than Drew. The team also only averaged 14 turnovers that year.

So what about next year? The entire front line will be new and will probably struggle early. Will Vasquez play more under control? Maybe. We should have a lot of good guards next year (Vasquez, Hayes, Tucker, Bowie, Milbourne, Mosley). I expect a lot of three-guard offense, and I'm hoping Bowie plays the point. Unfortunately, I think the bubble is a likely result next year as well.

Games to Watch Friday 3/14

With bubble teams losing left and right Thursday, there are openings for the remaining teams. Can they take advantage? Here's your guide to tomorrow's bubble action.

FSU at UNC - FSU's shot at the tournament is here, and they took UNC to OT in Tallahassee. UNC's chance at the #1 seed through Charlotte depends on a couple more wins too.

2:30 pm:
Ohio St. vs. Michigan St. - A rematch of the Buckeyes' home victory less than a week ago, the Buckeyes need another win to clinch a berth.

3:15 pm:
Vanderbilt vs. Arkansas - The Hogs have the better seeding, but need the win to move off the bubble. They may have already done enough, but a win here would clinch it.

This scene would spell trouble for other A-10 teams. (AP Photo)

6:30 pm:
St. Joe's vs. Xavier - A huge game for the A-10. A St. Joe's victory would put them on the right side of the bubble, while at the same time giving the automatic bid to someone other than Xavier. A Xavier victory could easily lead to the A-10 being a one-bid league. The whole league is rooting for St. Joseph's.

9:00 pm:
Charlotte vs. Temple - With all the losses, the Owls are looking better and better. A win over beatable Charlotte would take the Owls to 13-5 against A-10 opposition, and you'd have to like their chances in the final. Just getting there puts them squarely in the bubble discussion.

12:05 am:
UNLV vs. New Mexico(??) - Would have been a good game, but the Lobos lost in OT last night to Utah.

March 13, 2008

Shaun Hill the 49ers Starting QB?

About ten days ago, the Mercury News had some quotes from Alex Smith indicating there will be a competition for the starting job, and today the 49ers released Trent Dilfer. J.T. O'Sullivan, the other QB on the roster, is a career backup who is familiar with Martz' system from their stints together on other teams. Hill also signed a three-year deal in February that could be worth up to about $2 Million/year, if he's the starter. There have been lots of rumors about how Hill will fit Martz' system better, but I'm just holding my breath. The odds of an undrafted QB taking over for the #1 overall pick are never particularly high, no matter how much talk there is about it before camp opens. We can hope...

Bubbles Bursting Nationwide

The Wildcats spent all day at the line, but couldn't top the Hoyas (AP: Frank Franklin II)

In the noon games, the #1 seeds held their own. G'Town weathered a strong early second half run to beat Villanova (soundly by the end), and Xavier held off Dayton. Villanova appears NIT-bound, while Dayton might be able to hang around a little because of strong computer numbers. Today's Bubble Watch on ESPN has a really good breakdown of the tiers of bubble teams, and compared Dayton's numbers to UK's.

Texas Tech and Wake Forest had slipped out of the conversation for the most part after finishing 7-9 in conference, but first round losses by both made their NIT berths official.

In C-USA, #2 seed UAB (a bubblicious RPI of 49) lost in OT to Tulsa, crushing the Blazers' hopes for an at-large. Note that this leaves the door wide open for Houston to make the finals and play Memphis, but C-USA is probably a one-bid league now.

UPDATE (5:30): Arizona State has joined the bubble losers. The Sun Devils' egregious non-conference SOS is their real problem with respect to the committee, and it may be their undoing. 9-9 in conference is impressive in the Pac-10, but an RPI of 74 before this loss is not. They're out if anyone else can make a move.

UPDATE (6:15): C-USA's other at-large hopeful Houston has also lost in the quarters. As long as Memphis holds serve against the C-USA minnows, C-USA is now a one-bid league.

Also, Baylor's first round loss to Colorado is a really bad loss, but I don't think it puts them back on the bubble since all the bubble teams are losing too.

UPDATE (11:30): The late games provided bubble destruction. Maryland, Florida, UMass, and Oregon all lost, the first three to teams that will not get at-large bids. Teams that were in before today have to feel great, even if they lost. Another sad day for the Terps. The A-10 might be a one-bid league. The defending champs will not get a chance to defend their title.

Not to be outdone, add Ole Miss to that list, losing to lowly Georgia in OT.

UPDATE (LATE): In the wee hours, Arizona and New Mexico both lost as well, finishing up a terrible day for bubble teams. I think the Lobos are definitely out, but Arizona has a pretty good shot still. Their strength of schedule should outweigh the 14 losses.

For those of you keeping track at home, that's 7 losses by teams right on the line, and two by teams on the outside edge. The five wins by bubble teams today: Texas A&M, UNLV, Florida St., Temple and St. Joseph's.

Tomorrow is sure to end more dreams.

Nats Fans put Music in New Ballpark to a Vote

Beginning today at:, Nationals fans (or anybody who wishes to prank the Nats and pick some really crappy music), have the ability to pick the songs that get played following a home run, during the 7th inning streth (after Take Me Out to the Ballgame), and after Chad Cordero shuts down the opposing team for a victory (which will happen more than you think this year). Choices are as follows:

Following Home Run:

Because We Can - Fatboy Slim
Bustin' Loose - Chuck Brown (D.C. legend)
Zombie Nation - Kerncraft 4000 (at every Terp football and basketball game)
Off We Go (Air Force Theme) - Robert Crawford
Song 2 - Blur

7th Inning Stretch:

Build Me Up Buttercup - The Foundations
The Gambler - Kenny Rogers (did somebody clear this option with Selig?)
Rock me Gently - Andy Kim
September - Earth Wind and Fire
Shout - Otis Day and the Knights
Twist and Shout - Beatles
YMCA - Village People
You Gotta Have Heart - Damn Yankees Soundtrack

Nothing like a Broadway showtune about an infamously futile Washington baseball team to make the 7th inning stretch feel happy and GAY.

Following Victory:

Beautiful Day - U2
Celebration - Kool and the Gang
Dancing in the Streets - Martha Reeves and the Vandelas
How do you Like Me Now - Toby Keith (a FUCKING FOOTBALL SONG)
Rock and Roll Part 2 - Gary Glitter (obviously oblivious to the child porn issue)

So let's see, if Zombie Nation, YMCA, You Gotta Have Heart, or Celebration are winners, I'll be hugely upset. Other than that, it'll be alright.

My selections were Bustin Loose because it's unique to DC and the chorus is pretty fun for a home run, September for 7th inning stretch because there is the distinct possibility for audience participation during the choruses, and Dancing in the Streets because I want a song that's going to widen the smile on my face as I'm leaving the ballpark following a win (given that I'll have a 30-minute wait for a Metro train ahead of me and a 45 minute ride on Metro home).

Not a bad way for the Nats to start getting fan involvement in the new park, but I wish there were some better selections. Some of them just don't work.

March 12, 2008

Games to Watch Thursday 3/13

With too many huge conference tournaments to preview, here's the condensed version, showcasing the most important games to watch tomorrow (or scores to track if they're not on TV in your area).

#1 G'Town vs. #8 Villanova - The Wildcats have one game to prove they belong. Win or go to the NIT.

#1 Xavier vs. #8 Dayton - Similarly, the Flyers really need this one to support their solid RPI and help the committee ignore that 8-8 finish in the A-10. The 1 point win over St Louis in OT wasn't very impressive.

3 pm
#5 Arizona St. vs. #4 USC - The Sun Devils really need a solid win to improve their RPI and finish on a good note. This should be a close, well-played game, starring two outstanding freshmen.

7 pm
#10 Virginia vs. #7 Georgia Tech - Possibly Sean Singletary's last game in college. Yeah, he's that good.

#2 Louisville vs. #7 Pittsburgh - Hard to find a better matchup than this in the quarterfinals of any conference. Two top 25 RPI teams, Pitt's great in the Big East tourney but has struggled lately, while the Cardinals closed quite well.

9 pm
#11 Boston College vs. #6 Maryland - Possibly Tyrese Rice's last game in college. He put up 34 on UNC in one half. Also, the hot-and-cold Terps are always entertaining.

#3 Washington St. vs. #6 Oregon - Win or NIT for the Ducks.

#3 Notre Dame vs. #6 Marquette - Can the Irish win away from home against a really good team?

#3 UMass vs. #6 Charlotte - The Minutemen are hanging onto their at-large by a thread. Charlotte is no walk-over, and a win by the 49ers opens up another at-large for everyone else.

Lance Mackey Repeats in Iditarod

The son of a former champion and a cancer survivor, Mackey won for the second time, holding off four-time winner Jeff King. It's the second straight year Mackey has won both of the 1,000+ mile dog sled races in Alaska, the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod. Apparently, the $69,000 in prize money plus a truck will be sufficient to keep Mackey from needing a "real job". It must be pretty awesome to live in Alaska and not need a real job. Hunting, fishing, hiking, rock climbing, kayaking, snowshoeing, skiing, dog sled racing... what's not to like?

The eventual winner gets a reward (AP: Al Grillo)

82 other people crazy enough to attempt the Iditarod are still on the trail along with their dogs.

A Norwegian musher and her team (AP: Al Grillo)

Great picture tour available on ESPN here.

March 11, 2008

Big East Tournament Preview

Starting tomorrow in the Big Apple, the Big East usually puts on an entertaining conference tournament. Unlike some previous years, the bubble picture is quite clear-cut, but a number of good teams could improve their NCAA seeding with a Big East Championship at Madison Square Garden.

Can G'Town win again?

The Contenders:
#1 Georgetown - The Hoyas will have to focus out of the gates, as their first round game will be against a hungry bubble team. After that, the Hoyas could win it all. With their slow style, the games won't be blowouts, but the Hoyas don't have any losses outside the RPI top 50 all year. Very solid.

#2 Louisville - Healthy and dangerous, you have to like the Cardinals at least into the semis, where they could face the Irish. The Cardinals are the clear favorites from the bottom of the bracket.

#3 Notre Dame - The big question is whether this team can win away from South Bend. Undefeated at home, the Irish have only beaten two RPI top 100 teams elsewhere this year, K State at MSG and Villanova in Philly. The quarters against Marquette will be a huge test, as the Irish were crushed by 26 when these two teams played in Wisconsin.

#4 Connecticut - The Huskies closed the season 13-2, but the team they don't want to face is Providence. The Friars gave UConn 2 of their last 3 losses, both by double figures, and are only a win over West Virginia away from a third meeting. The Huskies are capable of beating the Hoyas, and the showdown between Thabeet and Hibbert would be fascinating.

Can Scotty pull off two wins in a row?

Games to Watch:
#1 G'Town vs. #8 Syracuse or #9 Villanova - The 8/9 game is clearly a play-out game, and the winner will get a shot at the Hoyas. The Orange beat G'Town recently, and the Wildcats were a cheap late foul short of OT in DC. A win over the Hoyas would probably put either team in. Unfortunately, both the 8/9 game and this game will be at noon, and most of us will have to work.

Any game between two of the top 4 seeds - I know this is usually obvious, but it's especially true this year. All four top seeds feature dominant big men (Hibbert, Padgett, Harangody, Thabeet), and those matchups will probably determine the winner of each. For example, in the Irish's game at L'ville, Harangody went over 40 pts, while Padgett set a career high as well.

This is a tough call, because the top teams are much better than the bottom half of the conference. I'll take...

#6 Marquette - It's hard to consider a team that's been ranked all year a Cinderella, but they have a good shot at upsetting the Irish.

#12 Providence - This is a real long shot, but if the Friars can pull it out over the Mountaineers, they swept UConn in the regular season. Unfortunately, WVa really needs the win to seal their NCAA berth, and they beat Providence by 27 a couple weeks ago.

#2 Louisville over #4 UConn.

Idol Recap 3/11

So tonight's Idol demonstrates why this season is infinitely more talented than last season. For example, Chris Sligh would not have stood a chance of making the final 12 with this group. And he went deep into last season. Tonight, in addition to Kim Kardashian desperately trying to preserve her 15 minutes by being in the studio audience of Idol, we saw three people stand out, any of whom could win this season and any of whom are probably better than any previous champions aside from Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood. We also saw quite a few performers who had pretty rough weeks but who will glide into next week (and rightfully so) based upon their body of work up until this point and the fact that they've likely got a bloc of supporters behind them. And, of course, we have two who might not have been the weakest two tonight, but who have been weak for some time now and tonight will likely be what pushes them back to their lives of going to school at FIU or fighting in mixed martial arts. On to the recap:

The Three True Contenders:
Carly Smithson - Yes, we know she already has a record deal. But damn if I didn't think watching her tonight that I was watching somebody who was already a superstar performing a live concert. Her take on Come Together was vocally and musically brilliant. The tats are scary, but she's a charming girl and she's safe for quite some time to come.

Brooke White - The one thing all three of these top contenders have is genuineness, and none shined through as much as Brooke. Ramiele, David, and she all tried to take on Lennon ballads. Only she really shined with hers because when stripped down to nothing else, her voice carries on its own. She doesn't need to be overpowering or sing with runs, vibratto, or falsetto. She just sings and it is melodic and beautiful.

David Cook - This is my boy. Daughtry came in fourth in Idol and I think that he could beat Daughtry when all is said and done. I don't think he'll win simply because I don't think a true rocker can win this competition. But he was again, incredible. He's no bullshit on stage, he just brings it every week.

Improving by the week:
Eze - Hmm... so this week's Idol revelation... the next time the surly TSA guy is screaming at everyone to have their boarding passes ready and all liquids in the clear plastic bag in the bin, be nice to that guy... he could be an American Idol finalist. And Eze is getting better by the week. He's appearing more comfortable on stage, he's picking better and better songs, and his enthusiasm is going to grab him some votes.

Totally confused why screaming = judge's love:
Amanda Overmyer - She's safe. But holy crap, I swear her performance was two solid minutes of screaming and scatting. It's horrifying. I actually wanted to fast forward through her performance because I was watching with a headache. She's trying to rock some extensions and smile more. And fellas, tell me that you didn't imagine a totally insane catfight between Amanda and Carly when we found out they're Idol roommates.

Safe by virtue of past performances:
David Archuleta - Tonight was fun. It's like when the kid who is Mr. Perfect 4.0, valedictorian-to-be scores a 980 on the SATs. My sources tell me this would be even worse now that the exam is out of 2400. I'm getting old. But who didn't enjoy watching him, wondering if he was going to run off stage and burst into tears when he forgot his lyrics. Listen cherub wonder, you're going to try to cover Stevie Wonder? In the words of Seth Meyers, "really?" Listen, there's no way he's getting voted off. But if it was based on tonight's performance alone, he's gone.

Ramiele Malubay - My first thought was that she has a really pretty voice. My second thought was that it was like watching an above-average karaoke singer performing in Manila. She's a cute girl with a booming voice. She just needs to maintain liveliness in her performances because she can't survive on voice alone like Brooke White.

David Hernandez - Performance tonight reminded me of Sanjaya. And who among you didn't laugh when he talked about his prior job at the "pizza joint" when he showed us a picture of himself with another guy's arm draped across his shoulders, and who talked about how he really wanted to "take over the stage." It was truly a manic performance. But he'll survive because he's proven he belongs.

Jason Castro - Getting better in interviews but he's going to need to start getting better on stage. The stationary performances only work if you knock the song lyrically out of the ballpark. Didn't do it tonight. He too could be venturing into some dangerous territory.

Michael Johns - I agree with Simon... I'm totally frustrated by Michael. In this spot weeks ago I booked him a spot on the Idol Tour (and therefore in the top 10). Since then, he's done nothing to show he belongs there. I know the talent is there, we saw it in his performance of Queen during Hollywood week. But he's in really dangerous territory. Probably in the bottom 3.

Mediocre before, still mediocre tonight:
Syesha Mercado - I thought she deserved to get canned last week instead of the girl who did (how sad is this show that not even five days have passed and I don't even remember the girl besides Sugartits who got cut?) She brought nothing to the table tonight and will be in the bottom two.

Train wreck before, still a train wreck tonight:
Kristy Lee Cook - It was almost fun watching the judges tonight as soon as her performance ended to see how they could possibly put into non-profane words what the rest of America was thinking: "WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT????" Sorry dear, you're not going to make the Idol tour... no buying back your favorite barrel horse. And let this be a lesson to all Idol contestants. If Paula tells you that she didn't like it, you're done.

F1 Preview - Simpsons Style

The Formula1 season starts this weekend in Australia. Most American sports fans aren't familiar with F1, so ECB is providing a guide to F1 based on something familiar to almost every sports fan: The Simpsons.

Bernie EcclestoneMontgomery Burns

The most obvious comparison, Ecclestone is the CEO of Formula1 Management. Like Mr. Burns, he's a weird old man with way too much money and power.

Kimi Raikkonen Bumblebee Man

Raikkonen is last year's F1 Champion. Like Bumblebee man, he's a bit difficult to understand when he talks and is fond of dressing up in costumes. Raikkonen has a famously dry sense of humor, but I think he's hilarious. He doesn't say much in press conferences, but he has a reputation for being a wild partier.

Lewis HamiltonRod Flanders

Lewis Hamilton was the runner up in the drivers' championship last year, his rookie season. He seems to be a bit of a boring, clean cut guy whose dad hangs around him just a bit too much (a little like Rod Flanders).

Ralf SchumacherPoochie

Ralf (Michael's brother) is out of F1 this year. Just like Poochie, he's a short-lived, poor imitation of the real thing who will be forgotten quickly.

Flavio BriatoreDuffman

Flavio Briatore is the managing director of the Renault team. He's loud, over-the-top, and a fan favorite, just like Duffman.

Jarno TrulliWaylon Smithers

Trulli is a driver for Toyota. He's Italian and very - ummm - flamboyant. Kinda like Smithers, if you catch my drift.

Jaques VilleneuveDr. Marvin Monroe

Apparently each of these guys was something of a big deal a long time ago. They both have been gone for a few years now, but no one seems to miss them.

David CoulthardHans Moleman

Both strike me as a little old to still be doing what they're doing. Coulthard is too old to be racing F1 anymore, and Moleman is too old to still be alive.

David HobbsJebediah Springfield

Hobbs is the color announcer for Speed's coverage of F1 in the US. "A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man" sounds like something he'd say.

Jenson ButtonGil Gunderson

Both these guys just can't seem to catch a break. They seem to be born losers.

OK, so maybe this preview didn't make you any smarter about F1, but hopefully if you watch the race this weekend you'll have a little bit of a frame of reference. If you have any other comparisons, I'd love to hear them in the comments.

D.J. Hackett Visits with Skins

Jim Zorn might be advocating for a familiar face with the Redskins. Injury prone Seahawks WR D.J. Hackett is reportedly meeting with the Redskins. Hackett is a free agent. He rose to fantasy prominence due to injuries to Darrell Jackson in 2006 and his own role as a fantasy tease who couldn't stay on the field in 2007. Among Deion Branch, Bobby Engram, Nate Burleson, Ben Obomanu, and prior to that Darrell Jackson, Joe Jurevicius and Peter Warrick, D.J. has yet to really distinguish himself as anything more than an average second WR or above-average third WR.

Over his four-year career, Hackett has 105 receptions for 1394 yards and 9 TDs for an average of 3 receptions a game for 42 yards and 0.27 TDs. Remarkably, he has never fumbled in his career.

Atlantic 10 Tournament Preview

Home to some of the most violent ups and downs of the year, the A-10 tournament could be fascinating. 7 of the 14 (yes, there are 14 teams in the A-10) have RPI's in the top 100, and at least 3 have a legitimate shot at an at-large. Two are currently in according to Lunardi.

#1 Xavier - The Musketeers are clearly the best team and have locked up a bid with their #9 RPI. They're just playing for seeding and pride.

#2 Temple - The Owls had a very slow start, but have put together a solid campaign since. The bracket looks great for the Owls to make the semis or even the finals. They get the winner of La Salle vs. Duquesne in the quarters (both outside the top 100), and one of Charlotte, URI, and UMass in the semis. The Owls haven't lost to any of those 5 teams since their first conference game (Charlotte by 2 away). The Owls have already beaten Xavier once (soundly), and a run to the finals might be enough to squeak them in anyway.

#3 UMass - Lunardi currently has the Minutemen in as a 12 seed, but that's by the skin of their teeth. They have 0 wins against teams securely in the tournament, and Syracuse is the only bubble team they've beaten. Their quarterfinal game against URI or Charlotte will be critical for their tournament resume, and that one win might not be enough without a win in the semis.

Games to Watch:
#1 Xavier vs. #8 Dayton - Dayton has had great computer numbers all year, but stumbled to 8-8 in conference. The Flyers are capable, and a victory over a top 10 team would be huge in making their case that the RPI at #36 is legit.

#1 Xavier vs. #5 St. Joseph's - If RPI #55 St. Joes can get to this game and win, it will put them in. Otherwise, they're done. If Xavier has already lost to Dayton, St. Joe's might need two more wins to clinch a berth (finals).

#11 URI - The Rams were 19-3 with victories over UAB, Syracuse, and Dayton, before finishing 2-7. No one has said much about this team lately, but they are certainly capable of beating Charlotte, UMass, and Temple to make the finals.

Prediction (sure to go wrong):
#2 Temple over #1 Xavier.

C-USA Tournament Preview

Dorsey and the Tigers breezed through C-USA (AP)

#1 Memphis - The Tigers dominated C-USA this year, sweeping the conference schedule at 16-0. Losing before the finals would be a huge upset, and losing in the finals would still be pretty embarrassing. A strong showing could net the Tigers a #1 seed in the big dance.

Game to Watch:
#2 UAB vs. #3 Houston - Both teams have been in the vicinity of the bubble for quite some time, but with things tightening, this would be a play-out game. A couple recent losses by Houston probably mean they would need to beat Memphis as well, but UAB at #50 might be able to get in with a strong victory over Houston. The loser is definitely out. In the regular season, their only meeting was a tight shootout, finishing 101-99 for the Blazers at home. The UAB Blazers are 7-2 in their last 9, with both losses to Memphis. If either team does not make it this far, the other would have to beat Memphis to get in.

Cinderella? No chance.

Mid-Major Conference Tournaments Bad News for Bubble Teams

Drake and Davidson did their part, but almost all of the other conferences with a chance at multiple bids have seen the best team(s) lose, adding good teams to the group looking for at-large bids.

San Diego Toreros - The 3rd seed in the West Coast Conference beat the top two seeds, St. Mary's and Gonzaga, to get an automatic bid. It didn't hurt that the tourney was at USD. Both Gonzaga and St. Mary's are RPI top 40, but is the WCC really a 3 bid league? #97 San Diego would not have been in the bubble discussion.

George Mason Patriots - VCU's loss in the semis to William & Mary opened the door for the Patriots, but #52 VCU now sits squarely on the bubble, though probably out. Their two best wins are over Maryland and Houston, both of whom are probably also out.

South Alabama Jaguars - Tonight, the #1 seed and #24 RPI Jaguars fell in the semis of the Sun Belt tournament, opening the door for either #46 Western Kentucky or Middle Tennessee St. to take the automatic bid. Neither of the teams in the finals probably would have made the field otherwise, and USA appears to be a lock (#9 seed before the loss). The Sun Belt is not supposed to be a two-bid league, and USA's loss probably takes a spot off the board. It will be interesting to see if USA's resume gets scrutinized and they fall onto the bubble. Their only good nonconference win was over Mississippi St.

Next up, Butler plays tomorrow in the Horizon final vs. Cleveland St., and a loss by the Bulldogs would definitely take away an at-large spot.

March 10, 2008

The Wire Season Finale Recap - MAJOR SPOILERS

Jeremy gave you the first blush reaction to the series finale of The Wire along with the general theme of the finale, but here's a blow-by-blow as best as I can. I guarantee this is the best recap you'll find anywhere on the internet.

The show opens with Rawls, Daniels, the State's Attorney, Pearlman, and Carcetti plus cronies in the Mayor's office. He's obviously been just informed that there is no homeless serial killer. In addition, he learns that the evidence against Marlo is tainted. Not a good day, but what to do? Daniels wants McNulty and Freamon shit-canned ASAP. Rawls is seeing a power play to hold on to the Commissioner's position. Carcetti is seeing his shot at the governor's mansion flying out the window. The solution? Bury it with a promise that Rawls can head up the Maryland State Police once Carcetti wins.
Freamon confronts a heretofore unseen Clerk at the courthouse with evidence that he's the leak of sealed courthouse documents to all the drug kingpin defense attorneys. He confesses immediately, and throws in a taped phone call on Freamon's behalf. Freamon brings the news to Pearlman, who for some reason is not all that thrilled to see him. Freamon, unaware that the gig is up, explains to Pearlman how they can follow the money.

McNulty and Freamon realize that Daniels and the higher-ups know that they faked the homeless killer. What they can't figure out is why they aren't being paraded around in handcuffs yet. They realize that they can't look bad yet. McNulty is struggling to keep up appearances that he is working the case for Jay Landsman. As luck would have it, our favorite piece of shit reporter Scott Templeton is helping out. Seeing a homeless man in the shadow of The Sun's building between Calvert and Guilford Streets, Templeton decides to fabricate that he ran off someone dragging the man into the van. The homeless man isn't playing along, and unfortunately for Templeton, the undercover detective playing a homeless man is right there to tell McNulty that it's bullshit.

Over at the paper, Augustus tries to spike the story after the police state on the record that the "incident" is unrelated. Templeton's bosses go to bat for him. Augustus' friend has finished following up on all of Templeton's quotes, and he found that quite a few were wholly fabricated. Armed with evidence but facing management that doesn't want to hear it, Augustus sits on the information as long as he can. Templeton blows up at Augustus for even questioning his account of things, screaming about the notes all being on his pad, which he throws towards Alma. Alma notices there are no notes in the pad, and goes to Augustus. Long story short, Templeton eventually wins the Pulitzer, Augustus is demoted to the copy desk and Alma gets a cushy job in the Carroll County bureau. (for non-Marylanders, the county seat is Westminster. Yeah, it's po-dunk.)

Also not helping McNulty's attempt to let the homeless killings die, a legitimate murder actually turns up. The victim bears a ribbon, but it's white not red. The detectives know they're dealing with a copycat. Already nauseous over having to let McNulty stay on the force after his shenanigans, Rawls and Daniels demand that McNulty solve the murder. The killer, luckily, left a key piece of evidence, a business card. This ties into another legitimate homeless death, and leads McNulty to the homeless dude with the business card obsession. Bunk and McNulty bring him in, and the guy clearly killed those two and is clearly insane. They all realize that they can pin all the homeless murders on him, and Rawls in fact argues this. He points out that killing two and killing six is still getting him stuck in the mental institution, and it solves a lot of their problems. McNulty refuses, and Rawls announces only that he's being charged with the two, but that he is a suspect in the other four murders.

Ok, that's the first 30 minutes or so.

Back to Marlo. Only Cheese gets bail. Marlo orders him to kill Michael. Marlo and Maurice Levy meet and figure out that the police must have had an illegal wiretap to be able to crack the clock code and get arrest warrants on Marlo and Snoop so fast, since neither of them were actually anywhere near the drugs. Levy confidently approaches Pearlman to let her know what he knows, only to have her throw back that they found the source of his courthouse leaks. We're at a three way impasse now, with Levy knowing the wiretap is illegal, Pearlman being able to prove (via taped phone call from the Clerk) that Levy is illegally obtaining docs, and with Marlo hanging in the balance. Of course, two attorneys can't exchange personal favors to settle a defendant's matter, but that's exactly what they do. Pearlman's deal is that Marlo's case gets put on the "stet docket" (which is the backburner, only the State can pursue it if they want) so long as Marlo stays out of The Game. Think of it as attorney-granted pre-trial probation. Chris cops to all the murders. Snoop is already dead. And Monk and Cheese cop to possession with intent to distribute. (I might be wrong on Monk and Cheese. I can't remember their final disposition.) The deal is accepted, and Marlo is a free man out of the game.
Marlo is not so good at clean living. He attends a real estate function with Maurice Levy, looking at a beautiful view overlooking the harbor. He chats with Levy a bit and then asks where the bathroom is. Levy tells him, but Marlo, clearly uncomfortable, bolts instead. Later we see Marlo still in his suit approaching a corner. He feels disrespected by the pair in standard long white t-shirt dealer attire, and asks if they know who he is. Before he can tell them one pulls his iron and tries to shoot Marlo. Marlo deflects the gun and pulls some kung-fu shit on him, causing both to flee. As Marlo stands there with the pusher's piece at his feet he sees his arm is grazed. He smiles and tastes the blood. Of Avon and Stringer, Marlo is clearly Avon. He had the smarts to run the game, but never the desire to graduate to the next level.

So where are we now? Ah yes, one more shining Scott Templeton moment. After the homeless killer (sort of) is arrested, the paper sends Templeton over to pick the killer out of a photo lineup. You know, since he scared the guy off earlier. McNulty sits him down and tells him that he knows he's totally full of shit. He tells him that there was no first phone call and the second one was him. He tells them that he knows there is no grey van. He tells them that he sent the pictures to him. He explains his lie, and tells Templeton that they're both tied up in the same big lie together. Templeton is visibly shaken, and bolts from work. Unfortunately, he never suffers any repercussions.
What about Dookie? Glad you asked. He showed up at his old middle school wanting to talk to Pryzbylewski but looking a little ragged. He explained that he needed $200 to rent a place, and hopefully an extra $150 to get his GED over at the BCCC. Prez tells him he's too young to work, with or without a GED, but offers to go with him and write the checks if it turns out Prez is incorrect. Dookie hedges, and tries to get Prez to give him the cash then. Prez agrees, but tells Dookie that he is going to call BCCC in a few days to make sure he registered. If he did Prez said he could continue to count on him. If he didn't, Prez said he would never see him again. Later we see Dookie hand the money over to the a-rabber that has been training him. At the end we see Dookie and the a-rabber shooting up.

If Marlo is going to leave the game, he has to do something with his connect with the Greeks. It would be poor form to just hand it over, so instead he offers it to the other former co-op members for $10M. Any one of them can pay it, or they can pool it. They have to pool it since no one has the money up front. Getting together in a vacant lot, they realize that they're still $900K short. Cheese offers to pay the balance, on the logic that they'll all be making it back anyway. Big Man (don't know his name) balks a little, recognizing that the balance of power would be shifted. Cheese responds by putting his iron in Big Man's face, making a little speech. Once the speech is over and Cheese holsters, he is shot in the side of the head. Our boy Slim Charles didn't like Cheese's disrespect for his own uncle, Prop Joe. Cheese's speech was about his shifting allegiances. Slim Charles proved to be a loyal lieutenant to the end, even after Prop Joe was in the grave. The co-op was still $900K short thanks to Slim Charles, but we later see Slim Charles and another talking to Vondas. In my opinion, Slim Charles is still serving as escort in this scenario, and the new kingpin is negotiating the terms. Slim said he isn't cut out for leadership, and there's no reason to think that has changed.

Freamon and McNulty retire from the force. Freamon with pension, McNulty without. Rawls gets his Maryland State Police position. Daniels is briefly Commish, but he refuses to cook the books. His Western record resurfaces via Nareese, and he resigns rather than cook the books for Carcetti. Rawls is up and out, Daniels is in private law practice and we don't know any other colonels. Who is going to be Commish? Oh, I forgot Valchek. Good ole Stan has risen through the ranks and taken the reins. I'm sure that'll get the department cleaned up. In other news Carver made Lieutenant. Herc played both sides of the illegal wiretap so well he is loved by Levy (tipping him to the wiretap) even though he built the whole case himself by giving Marlo's cell number to the cops in the first place.
Only three characters left! Can you tell this was quite a 90 minutes? Lord only knows what I'm forgetting.
First Bubs. The reporter who has been befriending Bubs has completed his write-up. Augustus is all for it and gets it space on the Sunday front page. The only problem is that Bubs isn't comfortable with the article, especially since it covers Sherrod. Bubs consults his sponsor and decides to let it run as is. He didn't necessarily have that power, but the young reporter gave it to him as a courtesy. The article runs on the front page, and Bubs' sister finally trusts him enough to let him eat at the table upstairs.

I didn't forget Michael. Michael is on the run. People want him dead. What's a former enforcer to do? Well, there is a vacancy in our stick-up boy department. Michael's credentials are impressive. First, he has beef with the drug trade. Second, he knows how stuff works. Third, he's not afraid to shoot a guy in the kneecap with a sawed-off shotty if he gets any lip. Congrats Michael, the position is yours.
Also, we saw Sydnor chatting with McNulty's old friend Judge Phelan and giving him the low-down on what has transpired with Marlo. Sydnor leaves the judge's chambers with The Wire's famous last words "Leave my name out of it." Good luck with that Sydnor.

I'm leaving out a lot of the little things, but I defy you to find a better recap anywhere on the internet. Long live The Wire. Long live Baltimore. Martin O'Malley can go f--- himself.

I give the finale five WMDs, two red-tops, a lake trout, two Hamsterdams, and four Bunks.

March 9, 2008

Wire Series Finale (SPOILER ALERT)

So for the past five seasons, The Wire has consistently proven why it is the greatest show on television. As The Sopranos waned, The Wire brought out characters, grit, and plot unseen on any television show before.

Do not read below this picture if you don't want to see spoilers:

Tonight we saw the end of The Wire and we witnessed the following in the last 10 minutes of the show:

Judge Pearlman
Citizen Daniels, Esq.
Citizen McNulty
Citizen Freamon
Lieutenant Carver
Commissioner Valchek
Governor Carcetti
State Police Superintendent Rawls
Sydnor = young McNulty
Michael = young Omar
Duquan = young Bubbles
Bubbles = sober and accepted by family
Slim Charles = wearing the crown
Cheese = RIP
Chris= life w/o parole
Marlo = out of the game (or not?)
Herc = Levy's bitch
Templeton = Pulitzer prize winner
Gus = demoted to copy desk
Kenard = in bracelets for Omar's murder

An absolutely incredible finale that I'm still too busy processing. All we know is that the game keeps on getting played with new characters. Old characters move up, move down, or die. Characters stay in the game by making the right allies and everything is a morality play... how wrong is wrong? Pearlman is a judge because by obstructing justice, she was able to keep everybody's reputation in check. Levy fucked over his client to save his own ass, convincing Marlo that he got him a good deal when Levy only accepted the deal to prevent himself from going to prison.

So much to say, but cheers to a show that has given us such great commentary.

"A free born man in the U.S.A."

Weird Sounds

I was taking the trash out earlier when I heard this thundering roar come across the horizon. It sounded like a million large men bellowing "We know!" at the same time. I didn't know what to make of it. If I had heard "Yes we can!" or some other political slogan, it would have made sense. "We know!" seemed a baffling thing for a large group to yell simultaneously.

Then I logged on to the internet and checked out some sports sites. This one caught my eye:

Now I get it. Who knew sound could carry from Wisconsin like that?

Breaking Down the American Idol Odds

One aspect of American Idol that often gets overlooked in the wall-to-wall coverage of the show is the gambling angle. Bodog has the odds up for the final 12, and ECB has a full analysis.

David Archuleta
Michael Johns
Carly Smithson
Ramiele Malubay
Brooke White
Jason Castro
Kristy Lee Cook
David Hernandez
David Cook
Syesha Mercado
Amanda Overmyer
Chikezie Eze
Odds current at time of posting.

The first thing that jumps out from the odds is the favorite. It shouldn't surprise anyone that David Archuleta is favored to win, but I was shocked to see that he's worse than even money (bet $11 to win $8). Even if you think he's going to win, you're better off holding on to your money than putting it on him at those odds.

People should also keep in mind that there have been several years when the early favorite didn't end up winning. In season 1, Tamyra Gray was a favorite to win, and she didn't even make the top three. Kelly Clarkson came out of nowhere to win. Even last year, Jordin Sparks was not considered a favorite until very late in the competition.

So now that we've decided not to bet chalk, let's walk through the others who would be a waste of money. Chikezie doesn't have a prayer of winning, and the 100-1 odds are probably about right. David Hernandez isn't going to win no matter how well he sings, even though he may get a sizable percentage of the gay vote. I'm surprised his odds are as low as 28-1. Amanda Overmyer is tempting at 70-1, but that's a lottery ticket bet. She's not going to win. By the same token, David Cook isn't going to win either. The "rockers" can make it to about the top 5, but at that point the "traditional" vote isn't splintered anymore and they get voted out.

At this point we've eliminated 5 of the top 12, and it's time to go looking for value. Carly Smithson has a good chance to win, but 5/1 is far too low for her. There's probably a good portion of Idol voters who are xenophobic and tattoo-hating which will hurt her chances. The next-lowest odds are for Jason Castro at 8-1. He was good last week, and he's attractive enough to pull a few votes, but he's not going to win. Those odds are way too low for him. His total lack of charm in the interviews isn't going to help him much either.

We're left with 5 competitors with odds between 10-1 and 40-1: Michael Johns, Ramiele, Brook, Kristy Lee Cook, and Syesha. Ramiele was saved by the Filipino vote last week and Syesha falls into the "forgettable attractive black girl who can sing pretty well" category of contestant that never seems to make it to the top three or four. Let's look at the others one by one.

10-1 Michael Johns
I think there's great value here, even though he hasn't blown away the judges lately. He has a lot of appeal to older women, who make up a large portion of Idol voters. He's also not threatening to other men (like, say, David Hernandez would be), which can count for a lot. He'll also probably kill Beatles week, which will vault him into the Carly Smithson range. So this is your last chance to get him at these odds.

18-1 Brook White
Brook is very unique, which in American Idol isn't often a good thing. Even so, there's something about her that makes people like her. She also seems to be relatively religious (doesn't watch rated R movies) but doesn't make a big show of it. That's a tough balance to strike, and I think it will help her a lot.

40-1 Kristy Lee Cook
Kristy hasn't done all that great lately, and was in danger of being voted off last week. However, she has a country-ish voice that started to come out last week and could be a big advantage for her. If she stops talking about horses so much and starts mentioning her MMA training a bit more, she might win over some voters. That's a lot of "ifs" but you get some huge odds at that number. And like with Brook White, you should never underestimate the popularity of an attractive white girl.

I'd recommend betting on the three competitors above. If any of them win, you'll see quite a big payout. If David Archuleta wins, you can comfort yourself by knowing that you wouldn't have made much money betting on him anyway.

Bonus Bet
I've never seen this before, but Bodog has a "Will David Archuleta win American Idol?" bet available. You actually get even money betting on "No" (Yes is -130). That's a phenomenal bet. No matter how much of a favorite he is, given the opportunity to take the field at even money is well worth it.