Monday, March 27, 2006

Racing, Hoops, "The Media" and "The Unit"

A lot of people piss and moan about racing. "Aw, it's just driving in circles" is the usual response. Fine; it's not everyone's cup of tea, but that's a pretty stupid line of reasoning. If you think about it, most sports sound inane at their most basic levels. Cases in point...

Football - run with a ball until hit. Get up and do it again.
Track - run in circles.
Baseball - hit ball with stick. Run.
Golf - hit ball with stick. Walk.
Hockey - chase rubber disk, on ice, with skates and try to put the rubber disk into a net.
Basketball - bounce a ball, try to put the ball into a net.
Women's basketball - bounce a ball, try to put the ball into a net, complain about how you don't get enough attention for doing this.

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This has been probably the best NCAA tournament I can remember. Of course, I enjoyed the 2003 tournament more than any other, for obvious reasons, but this tourney has probably had the best combination of excitement and well-played games. Just incredible. I mean, George Mason...GEORGE FREAKIN MASON, is in the Final Four.

Let's all give the selection committee some love, too. They took a TON of crap this year. Three of the most controversial selections for the field of 64 were George Mason, Bradley and Air Force. Air Force acquitted themselves well, but lost in round 1, Bradley made the Sweet 16, and Mason not only made the Final Four, but beat the last two champions (and 3 of the last 6) along the way. I'd like to think that entitles them to the benefit of the doubt in the future, but I'm sure we'll hear Billy Packer and others piss and moan once again in 2007 about how they blew it, yet never utter a word of apology, not even a single syllable of contrition, in response. As an aside, there's a reason we Republicans can't stand the media as an entity; its absolutely unrivaled ability to shirk responsibility for its actions is an envy to us all. And yet, I digress.

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There's another thing that drives me nuts about "The Media". Did you ever hear sportscasters, anchormen, commentators and other refer to "The Media" in the third person? Of course you have. On Sunday, I was watching the race, and heard one of the broadcasters say "the media just loves to get these guys riled up." Wait a minute, are we just talking about some gaggle of unidentified reporters from the Memphis Commercial Appeal and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram feverishly stirring the pot? Or are we, just maybe, talking about the talking heads in the TV booth who conduct these lengthy interviews on camera that are edited to produce the most controversial sound bite possible, to the point that your average athlete speaks entirely in cliches, while your average politician speaks entirely in vague platitudes?

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Anyway, back to basketball, if you haven't tuned out yet. I'd like to know if anyone's risen from "second round pick" to "top 5 pick" faster than Joakim Noah has. I mean, a month ago, no one outside Gainesville, FL had heard of this guy. Now, on a national stage, he's running the floor like a guard and throwing elbows and eating glass like a 7 foot, 300 pound monster, and doing all this at the highest level of college basketball.

On the flip side, has anyone gone from "top 5 pick" to "undrafted free agent" faster than Josh Boone? Anyone who's watched Connecticut all season saw Boone draw too many quick fouls and play too passively on the boards. Well, in the tourney, those flaws were exposed for all to see. The guy is L-A-Z-Y. At least Rudy Gay has an on-off switch; I'm not sure Boone will play hard without a cattle prod in his rear end.

I love Tyrus Thomas; I think he's the next Chris Bosh if he works hard on his outside shot. After watching LaMarcus Aldridge put on a dress and makeup and grab his ankles in that game, Thomas looks like the #1 pick in the draft to me. I don't love Thomas's teammate Glen Davis. The guy's got all the look of a monster college player who flops in the pros. Yeah, he's a wide body and yeah he works hard, I know. There's no flippin' way he's over 6'8. The guy's got Tractor Traylor written all over him.

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Anyone else enjoying "The Unit"? That's quality stuff; you've got President Palmer, the T-1000 and one of the Kids in the Hall headlining an action show. It's earned a spot on my season pass list. And it's on CBS, which means it's practically guaranteed at least a 5 year run. But I do think that as time goes on, the role of the women on the show will be scaled down. At least I hope so.

Right now, they're trying to package the show as an action show with lots of family drama. The problem is, the only people (I assume) who will watch the show regularly are men who like shows where stuff blows up and the bad guys get what's coming to them. And the women on the show are irritating; they get in the way. Apart from the blonde, none of them are all that attractive. None of them can act. The interplay between the always-in-control black chick and the ultra-whiny brunette fails terribly.

Only the blonde doesn't flunk Bill Simmons' "table test" miserably; she's hot and the inevitable storyline where the Colonel gets busted for sleeping with her by the borderline-abusive husband promises to be good. And then when it's resolved, she'll simply go back to being eye candy. So she brings something to the table. The other two are leaving with silverware, expensive china and my favorite wine glasses in their handbags.

But it's a good show. And it wouldn't be the first show to start well and then take some time to "find itself". If they dial back the family drama a bit, and maybe give the women some acting lessons, this could be a monster show. As it is, it's merely very good. And right now, given the never-ending river of crap Hollywood is churning out, "very good" is all you need to get my undivided attention.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Thoughts on the First Two Days of the Tourney

Northwestern State defeating Iowa provided us with the HMFS moment of the tournament so far (Holy Mother....you get the idea). What a finish that was. Also, big props to CBS, who has done a fine job of switching telecasts to show the closing moments of some exciting games.

Here's one thing I was wondering though: when NW St. hit that three pointer, they had some guys running onto the court. If Iowa had inbounded the ball right then, NW St would have been (or at least should have been) hit with a technical foul, and the Hawkeyes could have had 2 shots and the ball. I don't blame the Iowa player for not doing so; those are not the sort of things you usually think about, but that strikes me as one of those things a coach should tell his kids. It's sort of like knowing how to hotwire a car; you'll probably never need to, but if the need arises, you'll be glad you do.

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I think Connecticut's winning it all. I thought that anyway, and I'm more sure now. Before the tourney started, I told a Connecticut fan that my big concern over UConn was not that they'd lose to Duke or Villanova, but that they'd lose to someone in the first three rounds. Connecticut has a really bad habit of getting lazy against weaker teams, and Rudy Gay and Josh Boone are the primary culprits. As a result, they play down to the level of their opposition at times.

The scare Albany put into them was, I believe, just what the doctor ordered. They were down 12 with 10 to play when the light bulb came on. After that game, and after hearing about it non-stop for the next 24 hours from Jim Calhoun, they should have all the motivation they need to stomp Arizona and whoever their next opponent will be.

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In the Arkansas-Bucknell game, I saw an Arkansas player take a hard fall when he was fouled, and came out of the game for a minute or so because he was hurt. The Razorbacks had the opportunity to select a player off the bench to shoot the free throws for him. Here's what I wonder: why don't more teams do this sort of thing? And by "this sort of thing", I mean fake injury to get a better free throw shooter in the game. And before you get all sanctimonious on me, players get away with rules violations all the time; they take falls to draw cheap fouls, they get away with travelling and carrying on a constant basis, rough play in the paint is often done away from the officials' attention, etc. So what's a little more gamesmanship?

Obviously, it would have to be the right situation; you're not going to have a guy like, say, Ben Wallace fake an injury to put a better free throw shooter in. One, he's too valuable at the defensive end, and two, no one would believe it anyway. But if you've got your backup center in there late in the game, and need a couple points, why not take the dive and get a better shooter at the line?

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I don't like the fact that Chad Ford's down on Tyler Hansbrough. If Hansbrough is legitimately smaller than his advertised 6'9, 225# frame, then so be it. But the guy works his butt off on the glass, he's got a refined face-the-basket game AND a quality back-to-the-basket game, he's got excellent hands, a decent handle for a big, runs the floor well, plays quality defense on the perimeter and in the post...where's the problem? At worst, he's Corliss Williamson with better defense.

I like the kid, and I think he should consider jumping to the pros. And I'm not just saying that because I hate Carolina (as usual, Syracuse's exit brings out my inner Cobra Kai: Go Blue Devils!). Think about it: how many draft-eligible bigs would you DEFINITELY take over Hansbrough right now? LaMarcus Aldridge and Shelden Williams. If you want to throw the Euro, Andrea Bargianni in there, that's fine. That's three guys. Chad's got Tyrus Thomas ahead of him, and compared Thomas to (I kid you not) "a more energetic Stromile Swift". Isn't that like saying "a thinner David Wells" or "a less crazy Ron Artest"? Not exactly high praise there. I'll take a guy who will be, at worst, a quality sixth man, thanks.

In any event, this is a horrible draft for big men. Just abysmal. Hansbrough's game is already remarkably refined, and if the concern is that he's not tall enough...well, he's probably not going to grow more anyway. Why not strike while the iron is hot?

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Here's an interesting mental exercise: how many currently active head coaches have an NCAA championship to their credit (as head coaches, none of this "assistant to John Wooden" stuff)? I'm only counting guys still active at the college level; though the prospect of using Larry Brown as a trick answer was inviting. I count 11.

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I saw that Villanova was playing at the Wachovia Center in Philly yesterday. This bothers me, as the NCAA forbids teams from playing an NCAA tournament game on their home floor. While the Wachovia Center isn't the Wildcats' home court, they play about half a dozen games there every season, as their prime time games against teams like Syracuse and Connecticut tend to draw a lot more people than they can fit in their on-campus arena. This would seem, to me, to be a flagrant violation of the NCAA's rule against having home games in the NCAA tournament.

I'm assuming that this is allowed since each team has one "home court", and for 'Nova, it's not the Wachovia Center. Of course, a lot of teams have a "de facto" home court in the NCAA tournament. For example, Duke nearly always ends up playing their first two games in the Greensboro Coliseum. And last year, Illinois played the regional finals in Chicago. I understand the logistical nightmare that would be involved in trying to cut out de facto home games; how far is a team's "home territory"? What about a team like Kentucky that has a phenomenal travelling fan base such that any neutral court is almost always like a home game for them?

Of course, it would be hypocritical of me to decry the de facto home game in the NCAA tournament. After all, Syracuse played the 2003 East Regionals in Albany. The Cuse was the #3 seed, and played Oklahoma, the #1, for a spot in the Final Four. The Pepsi Arena in Albany seats 17,500 people. Of those, I'd guess about 17,400 were wearing orange that day. So though Oklahoma was presumably "rewarded" with a #1 seed for their good season, they were indisputably punished by having to play what amounted to a road game in the East Regional Final.

Nevertheless, playing games in your home city seems to be a step too far. Either get rid of the home team provision, or at least bar teams from playing in a bracket where their city is the host.

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Finally, 16 seeds are now 0-88 against #1s. It's going to happen some day. Personally, I think it will happen in the next 5 years, and I am nearly certain it will happen in the next 10. CBS showed a very interesting stat about the margin of victory by 1 seeds; it's decreased steadily over the last 5 years. Five years ago, I believe the average margin of victory was 37 points. Last year it was a bit over 15. This year it was 14.5, and with five minutes left, none of the games were decided. Thus, the gap appears to be narrowing. Why? I have a couple theories:

1. the NBA. The NBA has strip-mined college basketball over the last decade. The burden, of course, tends to fall more on better teams, since more NBA players get drafted from Duke, UNC, Kentucky, etc. So those top teams just aren't as deep anymore.

2. the decline of the JuCos. Junior colleges used to be training grounds for good players that maybe didn't have the grades, and would transfer to a really good D-I school after 2 years. Schools in the Big 12 and SEC were generally major beneficiaries. You don't see that much anymore. I think a lot of these kids are going right to lower-level D-I programs instead of going JuCo for 2 years.

So the top teams are less talented than they used to be, and the bottom teams are more talented. That, I believe, is why we're seeing a narrowing (if still huge) gap between the 1 and the 16 seeds. Upsets in the 2/15, 3/14 and 4/13 games are also far more common now. At least one 5 seed loses every year. Now, either a 3 or a 4 can almost always be counted on to lose. In fact, a 3 and a 4 have both lost in the first round this year and last year.

So, the #16 upset is coming. And I believe it's sooner than later.

Friday, March 17, 2006

An Open Letter to Gerry McNamara

Dear Gerry:
I've been watching sports since I was old enough to stand up and pee. I've seen hundreds, maybe thousands, of athletes talk badly about themselves after a poor performance. But, I've never seen one that I felt as bad for as you.

It's been a rough senior season for you; it looked like you guys were going to miss the tournament, and then you suffered one of the most embarassing losses in the history of the Syracuse program. And to top it off, your own student newspaper called you overrated. All this was after you had to endure double team after double team all season, as opposing defenses basically dared someone else to step up and score, and had to stop themselves from doubling over with laughter everytime your teammates ran a pick-and-collide 25 feet from the basket. All in all, not exactly the greatest sendoff for the most beloved player in Syracuse history.

Something happened in the Big East Tournament, though. You took us 'Cuse fans for one last ride, with huge shots galore, pinpoint passes on the run that made me swear that Steve Nash had put on your uniform and gotten a haircut, and all that despite a bad groin that got worse every day. This was Isiah Thomas in Game 6 of the '88 Finals, except for four straight days. For a week, you were The Story in college hoops.

Here's the problem, though: you can't play 4 straight do-or-die games in the toughest conference in the country and expect to be sharp coming into the tournament. I don't mean you personally; no one can. Jim Boeheim was absolutely right when he noted that Syracuse went a lot farther in the NCAA tournament when they were an early out in the Big East tourney. The Big East is the biggest, baddest conference in the country. The intensity isn't matched anywhere else except maybe the ACC. The physical level of play isn't matched anywhere else except maybe the Big Ten. John Thompson III, son of the Devil Himself, said that Georgetown's win over you guys was bigger than their win over Duke. When you're playing four straight do-or-die games against that sort of attitude, it takes a tremendous toll both physically and emotionally. In retrospect, you guys would have been better off in the NCAA tournament folding up the tent against Georgetown and taking a #10 seed.

And you certainly can't expect to play well, after all that, with an injured groin that was obviously a whole lot worse than you were letting on. You gutted it out, and hoped either the groin would get better, or that maybe Eric Devendorf and Josh Wright could carry the load and you could come off the bench and hit a couple big shots. Before you graduate, you need to talk to Eric and Josh about finishing on the break, by the way. If I had a buck for every transition layup those two botched, I'd be a rich man. And yet I digress.

Obviously, it didn't work out. I've watched you for four years, and it was clear to me that you couldn't move very well. Your groin failed you (yeah, I know, it does sound like something that would happen to Ron Jeremy in his 60's), but you didn't fail Syracuse.

Over 2000 points, the Syracuse career leader (and NCAA top 5) in three pointers and steals, a multiple-time All-Big East selection, and an NCAA Championship. We should all be so "overrated".

Thanks for four phenomenal years.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Ireland Declares War on France

Jacques Chirac, The French President, is sitting in his office when
His telephone rings.

"Hallo, Mr. Chirac!" a heavily accented voice said. "This is Paddy, down at the Harp Pub in County Clare, Ireland. I am ringing to inform you we are officially declaring war on you!"

"Well, Paddy," Chirac replied, "This is indeed important news! How big is your army?"

"Right now," says Paddy, after a moment's calculation, "there is myself, me Cousin Sean, me next door neighbor Seamus, and the entire darts team from the pub. That makes eight!"

Chirac paused. "I must tell you, Paddy, that I have 100,000 men in my army waiting to move on my command."

"Begorah!" says Paddy. "I'll have to ring you back."

Sure enough, the next day, Paddy calls again. "Mr. Chirac, the war is still on. We have managed to get us some infantry equipment!"

"And what equipment would that be Paddy?" Chirac asks.

"Well, we have two combines, a bulldozer, and Murphy's farm tractor."

Chirac sighs amused. "I must tell you, Paddy, that I have 6,000 tanks and 5,000 armored personnel carriers. Also, I have increased my army to 150,000 since we last spoke."

"Saints preserve us!" says Paddy. "I'll have to get back to you."

Sure enough, Paddy rings again the next day. "Mr. Chirac, the war is still on! We have managed to get ourselves airborne! We have modified Jackie McLaughlin's ultra-light with a couple of shotguns in the cockpit, and four boys from the Shamrock Bar have joined us as well!"

Chirac was silent for a minute and then cleared his throat. "I must tell you, Paddy, that I have 100 bombers and 200 fighter planes. My military bases are surrounded by laser-guided, surface-to-air missile sites. And since we last spoke, I have increased my army to 200,000."

"Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!" says Paddy, "I will have to ring you back."

Sure enough, Paddy calls again the next day. "Top o' the mornin', Mr. Chirac! I am sorry to inform you that we have had to call off the war."

"Really? I am sorry to hear that," says Chirac. "Why the sudden change of heart?"

"Well," says Paddy, "we had a long chat over a few pints of Guinness, and decided there is no way we can feed 200,000 prisoners."

An early Happy St. Patrick's Day, all!

(thanks, Alex)

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Thoughts on Daunte Culpepper

I was going to write a lengthy post about what a great pickup Daunte Culpepper is for the Dolphins, but instead, I'm just going to steal someone else's post on the Finheaven.com message board, because he dispelled any doubts about Culpepper better than I possibly could have. So, I'll just add a "Woo hoo!!" and do some lengthy cut-and-paste...

He’s ours. A lot of people on this board are very strongly anti-Culpepper. The following should allay your concerns and help get you excited about our new QB.
Culpepper has been the most productive QB in NFL history. When you account for his rushing numbers, his production has been absolutely phenomenal. Over his career, Culpepper has 164 total TDs in 81 games, an average of more than 2 TDs per game. Compare that to the greatest QBs (production-wise) in NFL history:

Marino (429 in 242 games, an average of 1.77)
Favre (408 in 225 games, an average of 1.81)
PManning (253 in 128 games, an average of 1.97)
KWarner (121 in 73 games, an average of 1.65)

In short, Culpepper is the most prolific TD scoring QB on a per game basis in NFL history.

Next, look at total yards (rushing and passing). Culpepper has 22,639 total yards in 81 games, an average of 279.5 yards per game. Compare that to the greatest QBs (production-wise) in NFL history:

Marino (61448 in 242 games, an average of 254 yards per game)
Favre (55360 in 225 games, an average of 246 yards per game)
PManning (33854 in 128 games, an average of 264.5 yards per game)
KWarner (19474 in 73 games, an average of 266.7 yards per game)

So Culpepper is also the most productive QB in terms of yards from scrimmage in NFL history on a per game basis.

Then compare his INTs to the aforementioned guys. Culpepper has 86 in 81 games, an average of 1.06 per game.

Marino (1.04 per game)
Favre (1.13 per game)
PManning (1.015 per game)
KWarner (1.07 per game)

So Daunte is the most productive QB (on a per game basis) in NFL history in terms of both yards and TDs. His interception rate is comparable to or better than any of the guys that are even close (and they're not that close).
His completion percentage of 64.4 is the second-best in NFL history. And that is not in a dink-and-dunk West Coast offense. It’s not terribly surprising, as he holds the single season NCAA record for completion percentage at 73.4%. That is with a vertical passing game. In 2004 he completed an incredible 17 of 34 passes thrown more than 31 yards from scrimmage in the air. And no, it was not because of jump balls to Moss -- Moss caught only 3 of them.
Physically, he has a lot more size and speed than any QB should be allowed to have. He's the size of a DE and runs like a fullback. His rushing numbers are second only to Michael Vick among QBs.
Below are my responses to the criticisms I hear from the Culpepper haters:

The Knee

It is legitimate to be concerned about the knee, but this is an area we all need to defer to the doctors on. They are saying he is well ahead of schedule and will play next year. The trade hinges on his passing a physical, so if it goes through, that means the Fins docs say he’s OK. The decision on a QB of the future should not hinge on whether he'll be at full strength at the beginning of this year (this goes for Brees too). I can't think of a single QB whose career was ended or derailed by a kneee injury. I’ve asked in several threads if anyone could think of a single on and nobody came forward with any. In recent years, there has been virtually 100% recovery from knee injuries, including RBs, WRs and CBs who are much more dependent on their speed and cutting ability than a QB (even a mobile one) is. For those positions, the difference between 4.4 speed and 4.6 speed may be difference between star and scrub. Any loss int he ability to plant and cut on a dime fundamentally changes who that player is. Nonetheless, guys like EJames, Jamal Lewis, McGahee, etc. have all come back as good as new. For a QB, even a mobile one, it is much less important. Even if Culpepper goes from a 4.7 40 guy to 4.8 or 4.9, it won't make a huge difference. When RBs are able to come back from hideous knee injuries, it seems like a stretch to say that Culpepper can't or won't.

There is a long list of QBs who have played at a HOF level for years with “bad knees” – Marino, Namath, Elway, Stabler, etc.

The Fumbles

Yes, he does fumble a lot. However, even if you treat the fumbles as interceptions, his numbers are still great. A rushing attempt is akin to a completed pass, albeit usually a short one. They usually come on passing downs and are positive yardage plays. If you look at combined rushing and passing numbers and treat each rushing attempt as a pass attempt and a completion, each rushing TD as a passing TD, and each fumble as an interception, Culpepper's adjusted rating comes out to 92.6, which is a little below Payton Manning's adjusted career rating of 94.3, but is above Carson Palmer (90.9). Gus's 2005 adjusted rating is 69.9. Marino’s career adjusted rating is 86.7.
People keep citing to the total fumbles numbers, as opposed to fumbles lost, which is really the relevant number. He's lost an average of about 5 fumbles per season, which is about 2-3 more than most other QBs. BTW, Gus fumbled 13 times last year and lost 4, but I have never heard anyone on this board bitching about that particular aspect of his game. Also, part of the reason Culpepper fumbles is that he runs with the ball, i.e., he actually gets tackled while holding the ball 100+ times per year. If the average RB had those carries instead of Culpepper, he'd fumble a few times too (Ronnie Brown had 4 fumbles in 239 touches and Ricky has 35 fumbles in approximately 2000 touches in his career).

The Boat

Give me a break. He is charged with getting a lap dance and touching the dancer's tushy. Are you such prudes that you find that to be outrageous conduct? Do you think no other NFL players get lap dances? Hell, Clinton Portis had a stripper pole and a bevy of strippers in his house. Do you really think the Fins players would be hesitant to follow his lead because he allegedly touched a stripper's tushy?

The Moss

Culpepper's great numbers are not because of Randy Moss -- any more than Montana/Young were products of Rice. Or any more than Manning is a product of Harrison. Almost every great QB has had some great WRs. In 2004, Mossed missed 3 games and was just a decoy in 2 others. In those 5 games, Culpepper completed 113 of 166 passes (68%) for 1179 yards, 9 TDs and 3 INTs, which comes out to a QB rating of 99. In other games, he was hurt and simply didn’t do much. For that season, if you exclude passes thrown to Moss, he completed 330 of 463 passes (71.3%), for 3950 yards and 26 TDs. Even if you assume that none of his INTs were on passes thrown to Moss, which is doubtful, his QB rating excluding Moss was 105.9. Moreover, Moss clearly didn't make Kerry Collins into the Pro Bowler this year, even though he was opposite other quality WRs.

The 2005 INTs

Culpepper had a very bad start to 2005. He had 8 picks in the first 2 games, but had 6 TDs and 4 INTs in the 4 games after that. He was playing for a new OC, with a new set of receivers and an OL that had lost its anchor, Pro Bowl center Matt Birk. The OL was really struggling -- he was sacked 31 times in just over 6 games. You can't disregard his career numbers based on 2 bad games at the start of the season. Even the best QBs will occasionally have a 3-4 INT game.

The Playoffs

True, Minnesota has not been a great team since he's been there, but they have consistently had one of the 5-6 worst defenses in the NFL. From 2000-04, the Vikes never had a defense that was better than 25th in the NFL. Even Marino had better defenses in the late 80s and early 90s. With a few exceptions, Minny had unremarkable running games during that time (especially if you exclude Culpepper's rushing numbers). Still, the Vikes were 39-41 during that time period, which is comparable to Marino's record from 1986-89 when the Fins defenses were bad (30-33). We all know that even a great QB cannot win with a bad defense.
When he’s been in the playoffs, he’s 2-2. His career playoff numbers are pretty respectable -- 73/134, 980 yds, 8 TDs and 5 INTs (82.3 rating). He had one terrible game against the Giants in 2001, a mediocre one against the Eagles in 2004, and two very good ones against the Saints in '01 and the Packers in '04 (total of 36/60, 618 yds, 7 TDs, 0 INTs).

The Money

Daunte is due to make $2 million this year, less than half of what Gus is due to be paid. Brees will undoubtedly cost several times that amount. The 3 years after this one, Culpepper is due to make around $6 million per year, which isn't much for an upper echelon QB. Brees would have cost more. Some are offended that he reportedly asked for more money, but it isn't clear that he did. His agent did, and then got fired for it. The Vikes owner had publicly said that he would re-evaluate Daunte's contract after this past season, so it wouldn't have been unusual for Daunte to expect him to do that.
The Backups

Some people argue that the fact that his backups have had success in Minny means he is a product of the system. When they make this argument, they usually selectively ignore the numbers of his backups who did not play well. Even so, the reality is that a lot of QBs will do well in a good offensive system, with a decent OL and some talent around him. The Viking backups success is hardly unique. Take a look at the QB ratings of the following backups, with the starter in parentheses:

Steve Young (Montana) 108.9
Steve Bono (Montana) 88.5
Jeff Kemp (Montana) 85.7
Scott Mitchell (Marino) 91.4
Craig Erickson (Marino) 86.3
Elvis Grbac (Young) 87.9
Jeff Garcia (Young) 89.9
Frank Reich (Kelly) 102.3
Jim Sorgi (Manning) 99.1
Matt Cassel (Brady) 89.4
Marc Bulger (Warner) 101.5
Trent Green (Warner) 101.8
Bernie Kosar (Aikman) 92.7
Rodney Peete (Aikman) 102.5
Jason Garrett (Aikman) 83.3
Billy Volek (McNair) 87.4

In addition to those, you have guys like Brooks, Brunell and Hasselbeck who looked good as backups to Favre and drew a lot in trades/FA. Same for Feeley behind McNabb.

None of this means that Culpepper (or any of the QBs listed in parentheses above) are not great QBs. They are. Culpepper has put up incredible numbers and is a proven commodity.

The Vikes improvement in the 2nd half of the season last year was not because Brad Johnson was better. It was because the OL, which was recovering from the loss of Matt Birk and a rookie at G, started to gel as the season went on. The OL gave up 29 sacks in the first 6 games. They gave up only 23 in the next 10 games. The other reason was that the defense improved dramatically in the second half of the season. In the first 7 games, the defense gave up 193 points, which is approximately 28 per game. In the next 9, they gave up 151 points, which comes out to an average of less than 17 per game. Gee, do you think a difference of 11 ppg allowed might make a difference in wins and losses?

Intelligence

First, and not that it is necessarily a true measure of intelligence, but Culpepper scored a 21 on the Wonderlic. This is better than Marino (14), McNabb (16), McNair (15), and a point less than Brett Favre (22). Obviously, the Wonderlic is not a foolproof indicator of the ability to understand NFL defenses.

What are good indicators of the ability to make decisions and read defenses is performance on 3rd downs, when blitzed, and in the red zone. On 3rd downs, NFL teams basically know you are passing and the defenses are at their most creative to stop the pass. Performance on blitzes shows the QBs ability to make decisions under pressure and find the open man in a very short time. Performance in the red zone shows what he can do with a short field in critical situations.

In 2004, Culpepper's performance on 3rd down and blitzes was phenomenal. On 3rd downs, he completed 93 of 134 (69.4%), for 1391 yards, 19 TDs and 3 INTs, which comes out to an absurd QB rating of 133.7. That year, on blitzes, he completed 101 of 159 (63.5%), for 1217, 15 TDs and 1 INT, which is a 115.7 rating. In the red zone, he completed 54 of 88 for 352 yards, 26 TDs and 2 INTs, for a rating of 158.2 (the maximum). These types of numbers simply are not possible if you can't read defenses and make good decisions. Do people think that every defense he faced was pure vanilla?

Yes, last year he struggled, especially in those first 2 games. But his 2003 numbers in these categories are comparable to his 2004 numbers.

3rd down -- 79/121, 1054, 12, 3 (Rating: 115.5)
Blitz -- 60/103, 785, 9, 4 (Rating: 95.3)
Red Zone -- 23/51, 147, 14, 2 (Rating: 126.8)

For comparison sake, Gus's numbers in these categories last year are:

3rd down -- 63/152, 813, 5, 5 (Rating: 56.2)
Blitz -- 73/162, 866, 5, 4 (Rating: 61.9)
Red Zone -- 28/65, 189, 12, 3 (Rating: 70.8)

Remember, these are in essentially the same Linehan offense (which we say we are keeping).

“Game Management”

A lot of people talk about certain QBs being good game managers. I hear that a lot about Brees and some Gusketeers also like to claim that he was a good game manager. I think that, in most cases, that is just someone's way of pumping up a guy they like on the basis of some intangible that cannot be verified or disproven. Let's face it, with the exception of occasional audibles, the coaches call the plays. Most of what people refer to as game management is really a reflection of the plays called by the coaches, not anything the QB has done.

That said, I think there is some QB "game management" in the way the guy plays on 3rd and 4th down. "Managing the game" basically boils down to how well the QB keeps the chains moving, which basically boils down to converting 3rd and 4th downs. Avoiding turnovers is another aspect of game management.

I was only able to find stats for this for the past 2 seasons. Culpepper’s conversion rate on 3rd and 4th downs has been excellent. Over the last 2 years, he has converted 98/196 (50%). This is the same as Payton Manning (119 of 238), but better than Brees (121/264 – 45.8%) and Brady (122/270 – 45.1%). Gus supporters claim he was a good game manager last year, but he converted only 50/160 third and 4th downs last year, which comes out to 31.25%. These numbers do not include plays in which the QB ran for a 1st down on 3rd or 4th down.

The Draft Pick

Giving up a 2nd rounder is a small price to pay (it's not clear to me now whether it is 2006 or 2007). Either way, there will be no one in the draft this year or next who is a proven commodity with Culpepper’s talent level. Certainly no one in the 2nd round. The price for high draft pick QBs is around $50 million over 6 years, with more than $20 million of that guaranteed. Culpepper’s contract is much more cap friendly. Clearly, the Fins decided that Brees’ price tag was simply too high.

Now stop crying about getting a 29-year old, physically dominant QB who has put up numbers over his 7 year career that compare favorably to the best who have ever played the position.

Monday, March 13, 2006

The Madness, and the Madness it Breeds

I woke up this morning and had a strange rash on my arm. Upon closer inspection, it was a series of interconnected rectangles, with the words "Atlanta", "Washington", "Minneapolis" and "Oakland" written at the sides.

I walked to the bathroom, saw my cat running at me, stood still and flopped to the ground when she hit me. I yelled to my wife, "that's a charge! Call it, ref!"

I've asked the University of Rochester about correspondence courses in Bracketology.

I've called a contractor to get an estimate on replacing my asphalt driveway with hardwood, and widening it to accommodate a three point line.

I saw my doctor and he said I had a case of March Madness. When asked for the cure, he simply said, "watch lots and lots of basketball." Unfortunately, he wouldn't give me an excuse from work through April 3.

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Unfortunately, one unfortunate side effect of March Madness is a particular kind of verbal diarrhea that's just not found elsewhere. So, without further ado, my "Just Shut Up" list:

Dick Vitale. I ordinarily like Dickie as an announcer (believe it or not), becomes absolutely insufferable this time of year. If it were up to "Dukie" V, the NCAA tournament would have roughly 73 teams. "Missouri State should be in! Hofstra should be in! Maryland should be in!" Et cetera, et cetera. Understand, I don't necessarily have a problem with expanding the field to make all the 16 seeds have play-in games. I think adding 3 more at-large bids could only make the tournament more interesting. But the field is what it is. If Dick wants to see Missouri State, Hofstra and Maryland in the field, that's great, but for crying out loud, at least say who they should beat out for a spot!

People who piss and moan about their brackets. "The #13 seed beat the #4 seed you had ticketed for the Final Four? Gosh, that never happens!" These are the same kind of people who will wail for three hours, to anyone who will listen, about how they had an unbeatable poker hand, went all-in, and how some lucky stiff caught a 6 on the river to beat them.

Coaches who complain about getting "snubbed" from the tournament. Look, Bubble Boys, take a cue from Jim Boeheim: go out, win your conference tournament and make the whole debate moot. If you can't do that, stop whining. And yes, I appreciate the irony of using Jim Boeheim as an example of someone who's not whining. Let's just move on.

The Committee. By far the most awkward moment of the CBS selection show was the interview with the Selection Committee Chairman, who was (I believe) the Athletic Director at U of Virginia. I've never seen a man associated with such a prestigious academic institution misuse so many words with more than 2 syllables. I think he used "essentially" 3 times in 10 seconds at one point, a skill I thought was limited only to my Poli Sci 275 professor and Dave Wannstedt. If he'd thrown the word "standpoint" in there, I'd have been convinced it was Wannstedt, but with digital retouching to make him look like a bald, black man. I had to change the station because I felt so awkward watching the guy. Next year, pick someone who actually has some command over the English language.

"Last Team In" Bashers. Okay, I'll admit it, I was SHOCKED that Air Force made the cut. I didn't think they should have, but whatever; they're in. Deal with it. Personally, I love the rare occasions when the "last team in" actually does something and makes all their bashers look silly. In 2003, Auburn was the last team in, and pretty much everyone agreed they should have been left out. Well, they proceeded to win two games and took Syracuse down to the wire. No shame in that; The Cuse went on to win the whole shebang.

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Personally, I've got an annual March Madness ritual. I take off the first Friday of the tournament, which is usually right around St. Patrick's Day. I use the leftover corned beef from our traditional St. Patrick's Day dinner and eat reubens until I look like the bass player from Bowling for Soup, while watching hoops and drinking beer from noon until my wife leaves me for dead on the couch. And yes, I know that's a violation of the whole "no meat on Lenten Fridays" thing.

But philosophically, I can only assume that God is a basketball fan. Why else would he make the sky Carolina blue? Or, for us here in Rochester, Georgetown gray?

(And if you think dropping the name of the two teams I hate the most is a way of trying to put some sort of reverse jinx on them, well, you know me far too well.)

Saturday, March 11, 2006

It Feels Good to Be Wrong

I thought they were too down on themselves to beat Cincinnati.
I thought they weren't good enough to beat Connecticut.
I thought they wouldn't be motivated enough to beat Georgetown.
I thought they were too tired to beat Pittsburgh.

Never have I enjoyed an 0-4 prediction run so thoroughly.

Even if Syracuse loses in the first round of the NCAA tournament, the 2005-6 season will be one of the most memorable ever. There's adversity, and then there's ADVERSITY. It bothers me when an announcer, say, one whose initials are D.V., talks about "what a tough year North Carolina has had, and how they persevered through all the adversity of losing all their top players to the NBA." Those are actual words I heard today, by the way. Yeah, it had to be real tough for Roy Williams to have to trot out just 4 McDonald's All-Americans a year after winning a title. Poor guy.

No, adversity is the student newspaper ripping one of the greatest players in team history, after an embarassing loss to a third-rate DePaul team that qualified as one of the lowest points in the program's history. Adversity is being legitimately written off for an NCAA tournament appearance and having the vast majority of the basketball world expecting the team to simply roll over and die after making only a compulsory defense of your Big East Championship.

Syracuse is, indisputably, one of the great programs in college basketball. But they're not Duke or North Carolina or Kentucky. They're not a school that has a birthright to success and can merely attract phenomenal recruiting classes simply on name value alone. Some years, they're less talented than others.

As I said before, I felt this was one of those years. The Class of 2007 (Watkins, Roberts, Nichols, McCroskey) never developed like Jim Boeheim hoped, Eric Devendorf was a year away, and so everything was put on the shoulders of Gerry McNamara. After the losses to DePaul and Villanova, the Cuse looked NIT-bound for sure. The Cuse came to New York with everything to gain and nothing to lose. They surely needed at least one win and probably two to secure an NCAA bid.

Somewhere on the trip to New York, apparently the collective light bulb came on. Roberts and Watkins worked harder than I've ever seen. McNamara did more to get his teammates involved and Boeheim encouraged him to do so. The question was: was it too little, too late? The win over Cincinnati was nice, but the win over Connecticut might have been the program's biggest since 2003. At that point, most people conceded that Syracuse was in the tournament. However, Jim Boeheim has, historically, been the cautious type. So, just to be on the safe side, he figured they'd better grab the Big East's automatic bid.

So they did.

For the first time ever, a team came to New York, and won 4 games in 4 days to take home the Big East Championship. And for the first time in 7 years, it was the same team as the year before. Suffice to say, one week ago, back to back Big East Championships seemed impossible to me. Obviously, I was wrong.

Right now, I don't know how equipped Syracuse is for a long tournament run. Though they'll surely be rested for the tournament, and they're certainly battle tested, I wonder if they can keep up this quality of play much longer. Assuming they come in around a 5 or 6 seed, I don't know that they can get much farther than the round of 16, if that.

But I've been wrong before.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Otto Never Dies

Bizarre and crazy day yesterday. I went home at lunch to set the TiVo to record the Syracuse-Connecticut game. I couldn't bring myself to watch the first half of the game because I knew that if I did, there was a good chance I'd get engrossed and not go back to work. So I set the TiVo to record, and hoped I could avoid any mention of the score. One of my co-workers, Katie, is a big Syracuse fan, and was advised of this. She was kind enough to not give me score updates.

Then the chaos started. Around 1:15, my buddy Kev, a noted Georgetown fan and Syracuse hater, called. "No way", I thought. "Can't risk him saying something like, 'Syracuse is up 11 at the break'", which is precisely what he said when I listened to the message some 9 hours later.

Around 2:15, I could have sworn I heard Katie talking about the game, in a low murmur, so I closed my office door.

At 2:45, I got an email from someone I know who's a UConn fan, with the header "Cuse". Didn't read it.

I left work about 4:15, because I couldn't take it anymore. I drove home, taking care to avoid listening to any radio station that might, theoretically, give the game score. I don't think I've ever hit so many red lights in my life, nor have they lasted so long. By the time I got home, I was a 6'3 monument to road rage. I plopped down on the couch in my basement and immediately began adding to the empty beer can and bottle collection that's stacked up down there.

Suffice to say, that was by far the best basketball game I've seen all season. It has earned the coveted "Save Until I Delete" tag on my TiVo. At this point, I'd be more surprised if Gerry McNamara MISSED a game winning/tying three pointer, despite his mere 32% accuracy from beyond the arc.

And everything that was wrong with Syracuse all season was fixed yesterday, at least for 45 minutes.

They DIDN'T rely excessively on Gerry McNamara to shoot. G-Mac controlled the game with his passing in the first half, and with big shots in the second. If you hadn't seen McNamara for the last four years, and saw him for the first time yesterday, you'd swear he was an NBA lottery pick. That was a performance straight out of the John Stockton/Steve Nash playbook; control the game with passing and hit the big shots when the team needs it.

The bigs WEREN'T lazy. Terrence Roberts was everywhere; easily playing the best game I've seen him play in his three years. Active, aggressive, working hard. Darryl Watkins worked hard on the glass and on D, too. Granted, he played like he had boxing gloves on (McNamara could have easily had 16 or 17 assists if Watkins didn't keep dropping entry passes), but he and Roberts won the battle in the paint against Connecticut's more heralded big men.

The bench WASN'T terrible. I still cringe whenever Louie McCroskey has the basketball, but he managed to give the Orange quality minutes. Josh Wright was solid as well.

The chemistry WAS solid. This is what happens when you have a point guard distributing the ball. When the ball gets spread around, everyone gets into it. Passing, like effort, is contagious. With McNamara getting everyone involved, everyone worked harder, the ball movement was more crisp, and shots were easier.

The coaching WAS sound. It took Jim Boeheim a full year to realize that Gerry McNamara needs to get everyone around him involved for this team to win. In the past, when it was the Mac and Hak show, they could play their games and let guys like Josh Pace pick up garbage points here and there. Not this year. McNamara had too much of the scoring load on his shoulders. Yesterday, Boeheim made G-Mac more of a ball distributor than a 2 guard, encouraged him to get out and run, and trusted that he could get everyone involved, which he did to a T.

A week ago, I said that Syracuse hoops was dead for the year. It would seem that the rumors of Otto's demise have been greatly exaggerated.

At this point, it's almost impossible to imagine that Syracuse won't be in the field of 65. Of course, with two more wins, they could remove all doubt whatsoever by winning their second straight Big East Championship. If that seems improbable, well, so did beating UConn.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Sportsman of the Month Voting

I'm going to try and post my Sportsman of the Month on a regular basis from here on out. Possibly even once per month. Anyway, here goes...

January - Steelers OG Alan Faneca, the REAL Super Bowl MVP.

Inner Voice: Wait a minute, the Super Bowl was played in February!
Phil: Quiet brain, or I'll stab you with a Q-tip.

February - Jason McElwain, Athena HS team manager/sharpshooter.

Who doesn't love J-Mac? He's an early favorite for my annual Man And A Half Award (previous winners: LaVar Arrington, Lance Armstrong, Magnus Ver Magnusson). As an added bonus, that led one of the best Sports Guy mailbag exchanges ever:

Q: What about Paul Shirley as the 12th man, just for the brooding, daily blog of the goings-on in the Olympic Village? Tremendous upside right there.
-- Spencer, Los Angeles

SG: You sold me. I'm bumping off Chris Bosh and adding Shirley.

Q: Suggestion for Team USA basketball: What about naming Jason McElwain to the USA basketball team's staff? Talk about energy. That kid has it in spades. Even the jaded NBA players would have difficulty not being inspired by him. Plus, if we're actually down in a game (ex: Puerto Rico hosing us by 20 points), we can put the kid in and let him rain down 3s for us. And he's a Token White Guy. That's a trifecta!
-- Andrew, Dallas

SG: That didn't take long -- Shirley's out, McElwain's in. That could lead to the greatest Olympic moment since the 1980 U.S.A.-U.S.S.R. hockey game.


March - Paul Tagliabue, NFL Czar/Peacemaker.

By all accounts, Tagliabue gave an Abraham Lincoln-level speech at the owner's meeting that probably saved the league from the dreaded uncapped year and a subsequent lockout.

The NFL is the runaway best sports league in America for a reason: parity. At the start of the season, every team believes it has a chance. Even fans of the Arizona Cardinals (both of them) believe they've got a shot at glory, because the financial system in the NFL is relatively balanced. No other sports league can promise that. If the league eliminated the salary cap, you'd have seen a dramatic disparity develop between the haves and have-nots, just like in baseball. If you can find a fan of the Kansas City Royals (believe it or not, a friend of mine is), ask them if the Royals have a shot at making the playoffs anytime in the next 5 years.

By upholding the league's commitment to revenue sharing and a salary cap, Tagliabue ensured that the NFL will remain King of North American Sports for many years to come. With another commissioner, does that happen? I'm sure David The Terrible could keep the NFL owners in line, but can you imagine how badly Bud Selig would mangle this? Or whatever putz is in charge of the league formerly known as the NHL? (Is it still Bettman? Do I even care?)

So, Paul Tagliabue, you win the award for Sportsman of the Month for March.

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By now, you've surely heard about Utah Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko's wife. If not, well, bang it here. Frankly, I don't have any idea what to say about that. Really, I'm dead serious.

---

My parents and sister came over Tuesday night for my stepdad's birthday dinner. After dinner, my sister commented that a friend of hers named his dog "Salma" after Salma Hayek. Well, apparently said friend's girlfriend didn't take well to that, and began to call the dog "Lola". Said Little Sister, "so everytime I see that dog, I start singing Cococabana! At the Coco, Cococabana! Ha ha ha!"

I looked at her quizzically and asked, "what did you call that song?"
"Cococabana."
"It's COPAcabana! C-O-P-A."
"Oh my God, I feel like such a dope! Well, it's still funny, because Lola was a transvestite in that song."

Blank stares filled the room.

"She was a transvestite, right?"
"No", I responded, "In Copacabana, her name was Lola, she was a showgirl. Lola was a tranvestite in the song 'Lola', by The Kinks."

Suffice to say, we don't go to my sister with many questions on music trivia. You know what the really sad part is? That song's been stuck in my head for two days.

Worse still, I was singing it in the shower this morning, and caught myself going "At the Coco, Cococabana..."

Sunday, March 05, 2006

A Season On The Bubble: SU Hoops 2006

This has been one of the most frustrating Syracuse teams I've ever watched.

The Orange have had recent years as bad as this (they missed the tourney in 2002 and 1997), but neither of those teams were as aggravating as this one. Both of those teams simply failed for lack of talent. At this point, Syracuse pretty much has to win two games in the Big East tournament to get in. No big deal, right? Well, if they win the first game (against a Cincinnati team that's coming on strong), the second one's against Connecticut, only the best team in the country.

At this point, barring a miracle, the Orange look NIT-bound, and the Syracuse basketball season, for all intents and purposes, is dead. Let's autopsy the body and examine the causes of death:

1. Excessive reliance on one player. Gerry McNamara will go down as one of my favorite players in Syracuse hoops history. Few players hit more big shots or wore the Orange uniform more proudly. McNamara always worked hard, and improved his game tremendously from his freshman year, going from a poor defender to a pretty solid one, particularly in transition defense.

Unfortunately, McNamara isn't nearly as good a shooter as he gets credit for being. His shooting percentage has declined four straight years, which defies description. His three point percentage was just .320 this year, which is terrible for a guy who takes that many shots beyond the arc. He's a good passer, but not a great one, and in any event, he usually looks for his own shot first. Much of that was out of necessity this year, but the last three years, he had Hakim Warrick around. How he failed to average at least 6 assists a game with the program's best low post scorer since Derrick Coleman also defies description.

Simply put, you can't be a top level team with a guy like Gerry McNamara as your first option unless the second and third options are just as good. We learned this sad lesson this year. And yet, the team relied too much on him, which had the disadvantage of retarding the development of some younger players (had Eric Devendorf called his own number more early in the season, he might have developed faster, for example), and costing The Cuse in the short run.

2. Lazy bigs. If I had a nickel for every time Darryl Watkins and Terrence Roberts stood around idly, I'd retire from my job. Watkins, in particular, had a lack of effort throughout probably 90% of the season that was just appalling. The guy is lazy. And I don't mean garden-variety, "I don't feel like mowing the lawn today" lazy, I'm talking about Stanley Roberts or Benoit Benjamin level lazy. This young man exhibits sloth at the highest levels, maybe even Jeff Lebowski level laziness.

Roberts is only slightly better. Somehow, he managed to grab 8 rebounds a game and be a marginally effective low post scorer. Even so, I could probably count the loose balls he grabbed this year on one hand. Like Watkins, he rebounds as though he's standing in a phone booth, and also like Watkins, he can't set a pick to save his life. And if you're going to rely heavily on one guy to carry the scoring load, then you'd better be able to get him open on some screens, because the other guys are going to double him constantly, which is what happened with McNamara.

Both Watkins and Roberts have talent, and will come back for one more year, but both need to be pushed, which brings me to the next problem...

3. No Bench. McNamara, Devendorf, Nichols, Watkins, Roberts and...what? Josh Wright had his moments, and Arinze Onuaku showed flashes late in the year of being a dominant big man. Matt Gorman wasn't a total embarassment. But the Cuse had their weakest bench in years, which says a lot because SU has seldom had a really strong bench. Nobody could come off the bench and take some scoring load off McNamara, Nichols and Devendorf. Louie McCroskey was supposed to be the second unit scorer, but he's a worse player now than he was as a freshman. At this point, I don't believe McCroskey has any basketball skills to speak of. He can't shoot, he can't rebound, he's got no handle, doesn't defend, and won't pass. The loss of Billy Edelin didn't help, either. In an ideal world, Edelin would have stayed on the straight and narrow, and Devendorf could have been the second unit scorer, ball distributor and energy guy.

Up front, Roberts and Watkins were both foul prone and needed a collective kick in the butt frequently. Without a big man to come in, steal minutes, block some shots, clean the glass and shame Watkins and Roberts into actually, you know, working hard, the Cuse suffered. Onuaku can probably fill that role just fine in 2006-7, but that's no help now.

4. Lack of Chemistry/Poor Coaching. These guys never blended together. In retrospect, that's a not uncommon result of putting a pair of shoot-first guards in the backcourt with a small forward who can't get his own shot and two lazy big men. Way too often, SU degenerated into playing one-on-one basketball and the other guys just let McNamara do his thing.

Coaching also plays a big role here. Nichols and Devendorf are both good outside shooters; why didn't Jim Boeheim call for G-Mac to do more drive-and-kickouts? He's a good passer, and though he's been conditioned to look for his own shot first, he's hardly a selfish player. Watkins and Roberts get lazy; why not try getting them the ball down low more often to see if it motivates them to do more than get garbage points? Why not just sit Watkins for the rest of the half when he shows late on a pick and roll for the 15th time? The lack of depth hurts, but you need to see the forest for the trees, and let it be known that you'll take some lumps to prove a point. Who knows, maybe Onuaku would have developed faster than he did if thrown into the fire? This was easily Jim Boeheim's worst coaching job in at least a decade.

At this point, Syracuse probably won't make the NCAA tourney, and frankly, they don't deserve to.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Problem With FOX

I was thinking the other day about the dearly departed Arrested Development and why it failed on FOX. "How", I wondered, "could a network so starved for a good sitcom give up on this show so quickly?" And then it hit me: FOX isn't even in the sitcom business.

Think about this: what's the most successful non-animated sitcom in FOX history? One has to specify non-animated, because The Simpsons single-handedly made the network viable and no other network has even come close to matching FOX's success with animated sitcoms, which are an entirely different medium than the average family sitcom. In terms of critical acclaim (a terrible measure for success, IMHO), it's probably Arrested Development. We know what happened to that show. In terms of longevity, it's Married With Children (a mind-boggling 11 seasons). If you're lumping Married With Children with the all-time greats, well, you've got problems far beyond my limited powers.

What else is there? Ally McBeal enjoyed a brief run of success, although that was halfway between drama and comedy. Bernie Mac, Malcolm in the Middle and That 70s Show all followed the same pattern: early success, then staleness set in, but they had enough of a following to justify additional seasons. I suppose they were successful enough. And apart from that? Uh, not much. Everything else has come and gone. FOX has had other successful shows, but none in that genre. Remember the intro to the Family Guy return to FOX, where Peter rattles off about 30 different shows that had to completely bomb before they could come back? That was just in the span of three years!

FOX has been around for about 20 years now, and you can count the number of successful non-animated sitcoms they've had on one hand. I think it's safe to say, at this point, that they don't know what they're doing. And that may not be a terrible thing. The sitcom, for better or worse, is a dying format. Innocent misunderstanding gives rise to major problem that's resolved with a few laughs in the span of 30 minutes? Frankly, I'm surprised it's had this much longevity to begin with.

And maybe the reason FOX sucks at coming up with (or hanging onto) a decent sitcom is the fact that they've tried hard to market themselves as a network for young people. Think about it: what are the most successful shows on FOX? American Idol, The Simpsons, 24, Prison Break, King of the Hill, The OC, and House. With the possible exceptions of House and 24, these shows all appeal disproportionately to a crowd under 35. Those are the people (actually, since I fit that bracket, I should say "we are the people"...nah, let's retain objectivity) that aren't watching sitcoms anyway.

Originally, I thought that Arrested Development failed on FOX because most of the humor went over the head of the average viewer. While that may be true, the bigger problem seems to be that FOX has set itself up as a network that doesn't cater to an audience that's disposed to sitcoms in the first place.

---

Good news, though. Arrested Development's been picked up by Showtime AND they've ordered a full 26 episodes.

Bad news is, I'll have to order Showtime next year. Is it worth an extra $12 a month to watch the Bluth clan, crummy new movies that HBO didn't want, B-level boxing and C-level soft-core porn? Eh, maybe I'll wait for the DVDs.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The Mousecutioner

My work day got off to a strange and unfortunate start this morning. I am usually one of the first two or three people into my office, and today was no exception. When I got in, one of the people in the office informed me that there was a mouse in the kitchen.

"Cool," I thought. The idea of a small, furry, harmless rodent scurrying around the office would be guaranteed to add some spice to the day. "Maybe I can train him to do tricks and reward him with tasty treats."

Alas, I got to the kitchen, and there was Mickey's poor little cousin, stuck in a sticky trap. I believe these are sometimes called "humane traps", which is the biggest contradiction in terms since "Central Intelligence Agency". (5 points for whoever can remember the movie from which I lifted that quote.)

I had hoped that I could take the mouse outside, pull it from the "humane trap" and send him on his way, where he would presumably be killed and eaten by a stray cat. And so it goes. Unfortunately, it became apparent that he (or she, I didn't really check the animal's gender, so I will hereinafter refer to the mouse as a "he" since I am a chauvinist) was so stuck that the amount of force necessary to pry him loose would dismember the mouse, kill the mouse, or (more likely) both. Thus, my options were as follows:

1. leave the mouse outside, on the "humane trap", to either be devoured by a stray cat (which might get stuck itself, which wouldn't be very humane, but would be funny as hell), or to dissuade potential tenants from renting real estate in the building.
2. throw it across the street and let the greasy diner over there deal with it (probably by using it in a stew).
3. take the mouse across the street and slip it in the briefcase of a particularly unpleasant attorney. I have to admit, this appealed to me.
4. put the poor thing out of its misery.

Now, I am, at the core, a compassionate person (despite what pretty much everyone I know thinks about me), so I opted for #4.

Since it is virtually impossible for a mouse to be detached from a "humane trap" intact, I fail to see how letting it get stuck and either starve to death or die of a heart attack because it's scared shitless is any more humane than the quick, final death of the good old steel traps that snap their necks as they nibble on cheese or peanut butter. In fact, it seems decidedly less humane.

I found an empty bag of cheez-its in the vending machine room, with (fortunately) a few crumbs left. If a more appropriate final resting place was possible, I haven't thought of it. I put the mouse and the trap to which it was hopelessly stuck in the bag and tossed the crumbs around a bit. After all, the condemned is entitled to one final meal. If I smoked, I'd have given him a cigarette. Maybe even put a teeny little blindfold over his eyes, but I suppose the darkness of the cheez-its bag was sufficient for that purpose.

Then I ran him over with my car, twice.