Tuesday, March 28, 2006

let the playoffs begin

It's finally time for the Fantasy NBA playoffs! The Banshees had a strong season and finished third in the standings, missing a first-round bye by only two games. But, after being runner-up last season after an impressive run in the playoffs, it's time for a championship. So let the games begin!

First in the line of fire will be a Kniggits team that has been weakened by injuries all season but has Stoudemire and Boozer back in the lineup just in time for when it counts. A mere four weeks ago the Banshees routed that team, but they're inevitably going to put up much more of a fight this time around. If I can get by this week, I like my chances against the Professor and then the Fundies, provided the Fundies spank whoever they're up against. (A clash with the Professor in the semi's would be a rematch of last year's Gnostics semifinal upset of the then-defending-champion Schleiermacherers. It seems history could repeat itself, minus the defending champ part.) I can't start talking trash quite yet, but with a playoff win the smack will be flowing. Not to mention the rematch with one of the league's biggest mouths would surely lead to some barbs back and forth.

May the best franchise win.

Monday, March 27, 2006

still sinking...

Just read the latest BreakPoint. Colson lays down some much-needed smack on Republicrats for being total hypocrites when it comes to pork spending. It's amazing that such legalized bribery of the masses has survived in a supposedly democratic government for so long. Well, I guess it's not so amazing, really. It just proves there are enough stupid voters for that crap to actually work. It seems the eventual downfall of any representative government is the ability of hordes of idiots to elect a body of leaders that reflects their inability to lead themselves.

But this brings me to a topic that is both one of my greatest pet peeves and one of my favorite blogging/writing/talking points. In light of the recent blatant hypocrisy and repeated failures to deliver on promises or even stand on principles, you GOP types need to remind me again why you swear by the Republican Party and especially Dubya. Your supply of reasons was almost empty at the last presidential election and Republicrats have only been shooting themselves in the foot since, so you can't have much left to work with. The sinking ship is almost under...time to bail and start supporting a group with some backbone and respect for truth. As much as I'd like to stand by Bush, his many failures from budgets to immigration to affirmative action to Miers seem to reveal that he just really is that bad of a leader and that bankrupt in principles. That's mighty unfortunate but that's the reality from where I'm sitting. I mean, how many times can we assume his latest antics are just a vote-grabbing prelude to him showing his true colors? And a lot of the Republican Party is just as bad, as evidenced by the fact that some of his most atrocious liberal policies gain support from supposed conservatives.

It's a shame the prez won't just stand on what he believes. (Assuming, of course, that he actually believes what he claims to; that could be a stretch.) In times like these we desperately need more of the strong leadership he has shown on occasion. But, unfortunately, his penchant for basing policies on opinion polls leads him to foul up just about every domestic policy he get his hands into, and this has me more than a little concerned about his ability to lead a continued war effort that could bring lasting stability. We need to be over there for the purpose of cultivating some semblance of a just and orderly society, not to throw together another band-aid fix that will blow up in our face in a few years. This goes hand in hand with the conclusion of the first paragraph, that is, voters will elect a government that's consistent with their own views and intellect. If we turn over the reins to a representative democracy to a land full of radicals, making little or no attempt to reform the culture, what kind of government should we expect? Yet I'm afraid Bush is far more likely to pander for votes and give up if the going stays tough than stick to his guns and keep up the fight.

Tancredo '08, baby. One of the last vestiges of hope in a disgraced party. The guy is far from perfect but at least he's shown a willingness to match is walk to his talk on some issues.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

okay, they win

I'll guess I'll have to get on the LSU bandwagon after all, if there's any space left. Twice I've come down against that team and twice they've proven me wrong. But, I'll refuse to learn and yet again predict an LSU loss, this time in the Final Four to the Bruins. Looks like UCLA will be favored to go to the championship game. Somebody's bracket is gonna look all nice and pretty when UConn ends George Mason's fairy tale and routs whichever team between Florida and Nova volunteers to be the next sacrificial lamb for the Huskies. Which, of course, would lead to...a UConn victory over UCLA for the championship. Thank you very much.

However, things could get interesting if Florida squashes Nova to get to Indy, which the Gators ought to. That would set up a potential rematch of an SEC semifinal (Florida 81, LSU 65) from just two weeks ago and a cross-divisional showdown within the conference--only this time it'd be for all the marbles. Now that would be good stuff. That's the kind of thing one skips work to watch.

What would top it all off? Florida defeating George Mason to get to the championship game. Sure, that'd obliterate the remains of my bracket, but I'll sacrifice it to see the 11th-seeded Patriots in the national semifinals. I figure the greater D.C. area would go ballistic for the next week. And seeing only the second 11-seed ever (I think) make the Final Four would be great in itself. The catch with all of this is, their path to Indy goes through UConn. Not happenin'.

A final note to ruin what would otherwise be a great night of bracketology...I just realized my Final Four picks are the same for every region as Dick Vitale's. OUCH! I've never been more ashamed in my life...

Friday, March 24, 2006

reason vs. the unreasonable

Been catching up on my Vox Day reading lately...man do I miss his stuff. Like this short quote from a post on the impending decline of feminism:
...but then, if they were capable of thinking straight, they wouldn't be feminists in the first place.
Simple yet profound. This same line of reasoning works for adherents of many other ideologies and worldviews as well. When debating anyone, one must always keep in mind how the other person arrived at his or her viewpoint in the first place. Presenting a logical argument to someone who doesn't really understand and has little use for logic isn't going to get you very far.

For me, this brings to mind times in the past when I've argued various points with liberal friends. I would get dumbfounded at how they couldn't or refused to follow simple lines of reasoning, such as why we must deny some of our own wants and those based on the concept of personal responsibility, but I would eventually find myself thinking the same thing every time. If they did think through their decisions and take their own beliefs to their logical conclusions more often (or at all), they probably wouldn't be liberal.

As someone I know once put it so eloquently, you can't reason a person out of a position they didn't reason themselves into. So, so true.

Thursday, March 23, 2006


...As Daniel might say. I really should be asleep already, but Duke's early exit is worth its own post. I'll gladly trade my entire bracket going down the tubes for my favorite team to hate watching the rest of the tournament from home. That makes my weekend tourney-wise, regardless of what happens in the other games. My bracket is probably out of the running for the pool championship now--and that guy who picked Texas in the championship game doesn't look quite as stupid anymore--but as I said that's not an issue. I got the good end of that deal.

I'd love to say I saw it coming, and I guess I kinda did, but not enough to mark up my bracket accordingly. As I said in my predictions post...
I don't like the idea of taking Duke to Indianapolis--my gut tells me they're due for an upset--but I just don't see anyone in that bracket getting in the way. ...I've been hearing a lot about LSU, and maybe they're good but I just don't see it. I only have them in the Sweet 16 because 'Cuse is so overrated at the opposing five-seed.
Okay, so I vastly underestimated the Tigers. The talking heads were right for once. But in defense of what little pride I have left, note that I did half-heartedly call for an early out for the Devils and I did have Syracuse leaving in the first round. And I'm not quite ready to jump on the LSU bandwagon yet; for whatever reason I'm still not convinced they're all that. But hey, at least they're an SEC West team. Good to see somebody from that division brought their A-game to the tourney. You listening, Hogs?

Sunday, March 19, 2006

tourney update: and then there were 16

Should have entered some betting pools this year. After two rounds I'm in a four-way tie for first out of 16 entries in the only pool I'm in. Trouble is, two of us have the exact same bracket except the other guy has Memphis still gaining points for him and he has Texas (Texas? Ha!) losing to UConn in the final, so for me to win UConn has to beat UCLA--and nobody else--in the championship game. So if either of those teams lose before they face each other then my race for the championship is over. And, of course, if several of my teams lose than I'm probably sliding down the list a few spots.

But for now, my bracket is really sitting pretty. I'm almost perfect in the Midwest and South regions (I hate that horrible idea of using city names for regions so I'm continuing my quixotic crusade against it), my East bracket is suffering, and my West bracket is on life support and fading fast. But all four of my Final Four teams are still fighting. I'm not sure I've ever had that going for me after the first weekend.

On to some trends. So, Valley haters, how 'bout that MVC? Huh, four teams was too many? Tell that to Kansas, Pittsburgh, and Tennessee. The third was an upset in waiting, but those first two were highly touted before the tourney and yours truly had Pitt in the Elite Eight. And Bradley slays 'em both back to back, as if they think they belong here. Judging from the Valley's tourney performance, they do. Oh, and so does Mo State.

Hey, here's an idea: let's look at some numbers. The Big Ten was talked up toward the end of the year, so let's compare that power conference to the lowly MVC:

VALLEY: Four teams in (seeded 7, 10, 11, 13), 2-2 first round, 2-0 second round, 4-2 overall, 2 teams in Sweet 16.
BIG TEN: Six teams in (seeded 2, 3, 4, 6, 6, 9), 3-3 first round, 0-3 second round, 3-6 overall, 0 teams in Sweet 16.

Hmmn...now I'm not a smart man, but them numbers seem to indicate that the Valley should have had the six. Throw in the fact that the Mo Valley teams were seeded much lower across the board and thus had to play better competition and it looks even more obvious. Speaking of which, the Valley has three upsets so far to its credit and hasn't been dropped in one yet, while the Big Ten has been upset four times while pulling off zero against other conferences. Heck, half of the MVC teams are still playing and one will be favored this coming week. This isn't even close...the only reasonable conclusion is that the MVC is almost as underrated as the Big Ten is overrated, and that's saying a lot given the latter's awesomely underwhelming performance this March.

And CBS' two basketball guru wanna-be's, in their vast hardcourt wisdom, were whining and displaying their best childish tantrums for us in response to the selection committee's atrocity of letting in too many mid-major teams, especially from the Valley. How dare the selection committee risk hurting CBS's precious ratings by passing over bandwagon favorites like Maryland and Cincinnati for respectable teams that casual fans haven't heard of? Well, Jim Nantz and Big-Ten-lovin' Billy Packer can suck on those stats. To call either of those brainless fools anything resembling a respectable analyst would be to align oneself with the idiots of the idiots of the world.

One more thing. Allow me to quote myself from a previous post:
...the weakest top seed [is] having all the upset luck it could ask for...it's plenty possible the Tigers could emerge by virtue of being barely good enough to beat a few low-seeded teams.
And wouldn't ya freakin' know it...Memphis gets by Oral Roberts and then gets the rich brats and 13-seed Bradley. Geez, some real titans there. And to top it all off, watch Gonzaga--how the heck have they not lost yet?--barely last long enough to get by UCLA and thus pave the way to Indianapolis for the Tigers. That wouldn't suck at all.

Overall, still flying high but my work is cut out for me.

Friday, March 17, 2006

uhh, go hogs

Great game, Hogs. Way to lose the opener to a bunch of New England yuppie trash. Woo pig sooiee.

Other than that glaring hole, my bracket actually seems to be faring quite well. Some of the upsets caught me by surprise but I had all of those losers so far exiting in the second round anyway, so no ongoing damage has been dealt yet except for Arkansas. High seeds I have getting upset this weekend have either already bowed out (Iowa) or struggled tremendously against weak first-round opponents (Ohio State, Tennessee). I can also rest easier with UCLA, a team I have in the finals without knowing a lot about them, crushing Belmont in convincing fashion. However, as I write this UConn is only ahead by one at halftime. That won't last, but you gotta respect a no-name school like Albany hanging within a point of the top team in the nation for an entire half.

So far, not so bad...

P.S. And Albany opens the 2nd half with a 13-2 run and leads the Huskies by double digits. Who forgot to tell those guys they're a 16 seed? Holy crap...I'm going to bed before my bracket gets totally trashed.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

march madness

It's finally here! Among other things, that means it's time for the obligatory tourney predictions post. I'll keep things easy and stick with questions I can remember from an ESPN.com poll, then maybe throw in a few of my own. I haven't kept up with college ball as much as I usually do so my predictions could be kinda flaky this year, but then again this is more luck than anything so that shouldn't make a difference. My bracket this year is a break from my normal practice in that I didn't pick many first-round upsets and nothing lower than one 12-5 (Texas A&M over Syracuse) and one 11-6 (SD St. over Indiana). But I always lose points on those anyway so it should be an improvement. Those upsets always look so nice on paper, but missing them and having a high-seed team you had exiting in the first round go deep into the tourney hurts badly.

Worst Snub
This always seems to be the hottest topic for the day or two after Selection Sunday so let's start here. It also happens to be the easiest one I think. Missouri State has by far the biggest beef with the committee. They have the highest RPI (21) of any team ever left out of the tournament and they played very well in an unusually tough Missouri Valley this year, but I guess their weak nonconference schedule and bad loss in their conference tourney opener did them in. So the committee picks Air Force instead? Wow...I'd love to hear their justification for that. I don't know but I wouldn't be at all shocked if there was a Mountain West guy on the committee. But I think there was an MVC rep on the committee too so that argument doesn't work well. In the end I think it was decided that the Valley would get four teams and that left Mo State and Creighton out in the cold.

Cincinnati could also make a case here, as they seem to have been bitten by the same bug. The Big East had eight teams in and the committee wasn't willing to make Cincy the ninth. But this year's Big East was also the toughest conference in at least the last few years of NCAA basketball, so it seems that should have been taken into account. But as it is, Cincy and Mo State are the top two seeds in the Nobody's Interested Tournament.

Some teams that absolutely can't complain are major conference washouts like Maryland, Florida State, and Michigan. All had their chance to perform in the regular season and prove all year they deserved to get in, and they didn't do it. All had mediocre seasons and were relying on their big-conference status and schedule to get them in over mid-major teams with more impressive resumes. The way I see it, a school in a major conference faces good competition all year and has a whole season to make its case. If they don't do it, they shouldn't get a second chance to prove themselves at the expense of mid-major conference teams that haven't played the same level of competition but have proven themselves against their opponents and are waiting for their opportunity to show what they can do against big-name schools. If you have two teams, one of which has played so-so against tournament and well-known competition and one of which hasn't had an opportunity to play against that competition, which should be selected? One has failed to prove itself and one hasn't had a chance. If the second gets in and fails to prove itself, it's even with the first in that regard. If the first gets in, it's playing on bought time even if it does redeem itself by pulling off some upsets because it's there only by virtue of its major-conference label and not its own impressive merits. So major conference schools making noise, just shut up and play better next year. You had your time in the spotlight and it's time to step aside and let someone else have a chance. (Believe me, here in Maryland there's been a lot of complaining I don't care to pay attention to.)

This one looks easy. Duke seems to get all the hype, but they do every year. Connecticut dominated what was by far the toughest conference and was ranked #1 for a good bit of the year, and they should be fired up after an early exit from the Big East tourney. So I like the Huskies to win it all. (By the way, the last time I took UConn to the championship they came through for me, netting me $85 in the process. But I thought that was a cake pick and I was shocked more people didn't go with what looked like an obvious champion; this one I'm not as sure about.) I think UCLA could also be here, not because I know much at all about them but because they seem to be flying under the radar and could have something to say about being largely ignored all year by the talking heads--and are good enough to say a lot. And there's always Duke, but there aren't many things in this world I hate as deeply and passionately as Duke basketball so I can't in good conscience ever pick the Devils to win it all.

First One-Seed Eliminated
Memphis, not only because they're obviously the weakest one-seed but also because they're gonna tangle with the Hogs in the second round and that'll be ugly if you're a Memphis fan. For those of you who don't know, there's some history there. Memphis and Arkansas used to play each other annually back in the Nolan days, but a few years ago, shortly after Heath took over and Arkansas was struggling, Coach Calipari didn't renew that agreement because "the programs are going in different directions" or something to that effect--basically, Arkansas wasn't worth a schedule spot. Heath shot back with something to the effect that Arkansas has the most storied recent history of any program in the country and that Calipari wouldn't play a team that was better than the lack of respect showed because he didn't want to risk having a nonconference loss to a "rebuilding team" on his Tigers' tournament resume. So...after all that, the Tigers find themselves an inflated top seed taking on a dangerous eight-seed that's been tearing up top-ten opponents lately. Although no lasting hatred seems to have developed from what appeared to be a brewing rivalry, I'm sure plenty of fans--and both coaches--remember it well. If you're Memphis, do you want to face an dangerous underdog you publicly dissed not too long ago? Sucks to be you, Tigers. I have the Razorbacks pulling off the first big upset of the tournament.

Really, any one-seed except UConn could be dropped early. Duke got shafted with a matchup with George Washington (whose getting a #8 seed that's lower than their sixth overall ranking is by far the biggest slight in recent tournament history) in the second round, so one of two very good teams will be forced to watch the Sweet 16 from home. Villanova is also a little weak I think, but they did come out of the Big East so facing several tough competitors in a row should be nothing new to them. I don't see anyone preventing them from getting to Minneapolis for the regional semi's, but Boston College should end 'Nova's run there.

Also keep in mind that this has far more to do with how the brackets play out than how good the team is. Recall the 2004 tourmanent, in which Texas was widely agreed to be the weakest top seed and the one that stole UConn's rightful spot. (Also recall that the Huskies won it all and so proved the naysayers right to some degree.) And yet the Longhorns were the only top seed in the Final Four that year, not because they had to prove their worth as much as they had easy matchups. I don't remember who they played but I do remember being upset that the weakest top seed was having all the upset luck it could ask for while the others had to play some real games. So since the Oakland bracket is loaded with weak teams, it's plenty possible the Tigers could emerge by virtue of being barely good enough to beat a few low-seeded teams. That'd be far more frustrating than watching Texas crawl to the Final Four a couple years back.

Final Four
Duke, UCLA, UConn, BC. I don't like the idea of taking Duke to Indianapolis--my gut tells me they're due for an upset--but I just don't see anyone in that bracket getting in the way. It looks like GW could be their toughest matchup, except maybe an Elite Eight clash with revenge-minded Texas who they made the mistake of running up the score on early in the year. Well, surprise, now that team is good enough to even things up by snatching Duke's Final Four slot. I've been hearing a lot about LSU, and maybe they're good but I just don't see it. I only have them in the Sweet 16 because 'Cuse is so overrated at the opposing five-seed.

Connecticut is the best team in the field and I don't see any big threats hiding in their region. North Carolina and Illinois will be tough outs, as both have Final Four experience from last year, and although I'd be tempted to take them over any other top seed I don't see them beating the Huskies. I think UAB is a very good nine-seed that could also surprise any other one-seed, but they too have the unfortunate disadvantage of being stuck in UConn's corner of the bracket.

(It's worth throwing in here that the second round games for the #1's should be interesting. I've already mentioned Arkansas sending Memphis home early, but George Washington and Alabama-Birmingham are also good enough to cause trouble. And Arizona hasn't shown much all year, but they're Arizona and their opponent ('Nova) doesn't have much experience with being a high seed in March. I wouldn't be too surprised to see multiple upsets in these games.)

I don't think Villanova is winning their region, I'm just not sure where to have them going out. But Boston College is a good team that got slighted with a #4 seed, so I think they'll get past the Wildcats and then beat Florida to join the Final Four party in Indy. Interestingly, I don't have Florida playing a higher-seeded team in any of their four games. This was also mentioned by someone on ESPN.com and I didn't think much of it, but it turns out my bracket agrees. Considering I have Georgetown beating Ohio State and BC beating 'Nova, the Gators might as well not pack road uniforms for their trip to Minneapolis. I actually hate to take Florida all the way to the Elite Eight, as I don't think they're very good and they've crashed down the stretch, but I just don't see any of their opponents being good enough either. Combine that with some tough draws for higher seeds (OSU gets G'town and Boston College isn't losing until it sees UConn in Indy) and it turns out the Gators get lucky until they play the Golden Eagles.

On to Oakland...from where I'm sitting this is by far the weakest bracket. Pittsburgh, Kansas, and UCLA are the only high seeds that aren't overrated or at least the weakest of the four same-seeded teams, so naturally I have UCLA over Pitt for a trip to Indianapolis. I have barely more than zero confidence in Gonzaga's ability to not get upset, as Indiana just sucks too much to put up any resistance, but there's no way they're getting past the Bruins. Kansas has finished strong but they get the dishonor of playing Pitt in the second round and their March ends there. Arkansas will surprise some people by beating Memphis and playing Pitt close, but Pitt is just too good to lose even to the vastly underrated Hogs. I don't know much about UCLA but they seem good and they don't get a lot of press so I like them coming out of this region.

Dark Horse
I'm probably showing my bias here, but the Hogs are a definite dark horse team. They didn't lose a single SEC game by more than five points--their seven conference losses are by a combined 19 points--and they only have one double-digit loss all season (against then-#20 Maryland, very early). They've played very well lately, having put together a nice winning streak to close the regular season that included wins against Florida and at Tennessee. They have plenty of upper classmen and a go-to player in Brewer that could carry them in times of trouble. They got a tough draw with a one-seed in the second round, but that one-seed is Memphis, who might as well have "upset us please" stitched onto their uniforms.

I also like West Virginia as a dark horse, since they have Elite Eight experience from last year and they've been ranked in the top ten this year. They're good enough to put together a run if they play to their capability. And, of course, they have a guy named Pittsnoggle on their team. If that's not some kind of good luck charm then I don't know that there is one. Others worth mentioning are Pittsburgh (did well in the grueling Big East), UCLA (can a two-seed be a dark horse?), and Boston College (better yet, can a team that everyone agrees is underrated be a dark horse?).

The Finish
Connecticut over Boston College, UCLA over Duke, UConn over UCLA 70-58. Duke crashes and burns against UCLA if they haven't already by this point in the tourney. Boston College puts up a good fight but is just overmatched against the Huskies. The championship is almost always a low-scoring affair, so I'm actually taking a risk I think by giving the champ 70 points. But I think UConn is that good. The Bruins will refuse to go away throughout but will never really threaten to beat UConn.

So there you have it. Now that the prevailing voice of wisdom in all things NCAA basketball has spoken, you may fill out your brackets accordingly. Not...if there's one way to guarantee you won't win it's to follow my advice. I've actually generally done very well or very, very bad in every pool I've entered, so I should know early how my bracket will fare. If history repeats itself I'll either be at the top contending for the pool championship or at the bottom trying to stay off the cellar floor, but nothing in between. Hopefully it'll be the former. Actually, one trend in my bracketology career is that I seem to do better if there's money involved but I stink if there's no prize, and since I'm not in any money pools this year--not by choice but because I'm not aware of any around me I could jump into--it's probably best to offload everything you just read and carefully avoid letting it influence your bracket. And if my predictions match any of yours you still have two days to make the corrections on your end.

That's right, two days til the madness begins...woohoo!

P.S. At better than 2,500 words, I think this is the longest Sword of Enlightenment post of all time. Says something about my priorities, eh?