Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Orson's Five Questions

Parenting and husbanding duties caused me to miss most of Orson's initial foray into the seedy world of sports talk radio. I had been all ready to play the role of cliched sports talk caller, from the "first-time caller, long-time listener" introduction to the "I'll hang up and listen" conclusion with 17 irrational demands for firings and a bevy of "if you're not first, you're last" pronouncements in the middle, but sadly, it was not to be. That said, I did find the designated topics interesting:

1. Make one prediction about next season pulled straight from the deepest recesses of your ass.

Lloyd Carr announces his retirement in the bowels of Michigan Stadium after a win over Ohio State.

2. Who’s your shameshag? Someone keeps telling us that, for example, Christiane Amanpour is not hot. They are wrong, of course, but this would for a normal person constitute a “shameshag,” the celebrity only you find irresistable.

Jennifer Capriati. There's little doubt that she would be a fun drinking buddy, and the non-stop headlights she showed during matches seem to be a positive sign of fun.

3. Tweak one thing about college football. Prohibiting the wearing of pants on Erin Andrews does not count. Okay, it might.

Centralized scheduling of out-of-conference scheduling. The problem right now in college football is that major powers are too afraid to schedule challenging non-conference games because they need the revenue from 7-8 home games to keep up in the facilities arms race and because there is more to be lost than to be gained from playing a tough game, since voters have very short memories and tend to look at nothing more than a team's record. There is also a problem that the voters are presented with a very difficult task in comparing teams when many teams never leave their regions and thus comparisons are very difficult. So, from now on, here are the rules:

a. Each team will have one protected non-conference rival.

b. The remaining three non-conference games will be selected at random in February. I-A college football teams will be divided into three pools. Each team will play a game against a team in one of the three pools.

c. The protected rivalry games will be synchronized with the remaining non-conference schedules so each team will play two home games and two road games outside of the conference.

4. Hire one coach, fire one coach. Simple enough.

Jim Tressel, you're fired. You're boring, you dress like an accountant, you look the other way on everything bad that happens surrounding your program, and you beat Michigan too much for my tastes. Bobby Knight, you're the new head football coach at your alma mater. You always were a big fan of Woody Hayes, so now you get a chance to emulate him. Bring the red sweaters back.

5. Sweaters with ties: yes or no?

No no no, unless you're English.

Forget the Head, Look at the Feet

According to Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada, the authors of Game of Shadows, Barry Bonds went from size 10 1/2 to size 13 cleats in his years with the Giants. Moreover, they state that "medical experts said overuse of human growth hormone could cause an adult's extremities to begin growing, aping the symptoms of the glandular disorder acromegaly." I don't have much to add to that, other than the fact that we've all been making jokes about Bonds's expanding head, but we were paying attention to the wrong end of his body.

The evidence that Bonds used a variety of steroids is, at this point, absolutely overwhelming. The fact that he hasn't challenged the factual statements set forth in Game of Shadows, despite the fact that he has more than enough cash for a spirited libel claim, is telling. This would be a good summer to be hiking the Hindu Kush to escape the media's saturation coverage of Bonds's grim pursuit of 755 home runs. With no major soccer tournament in the summer, we're going to have nothing to divert our attention from Bonds. It's going to get to the point where I'll be looking forward to coverage of the Red Sox and Yankees on SportsCenter.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Don Waddell Saw the Same Game that We All Did

I made my first Thrashers game of the year on Saturday night and here are my observations:

1. I've said it before and I'll say it again: the gulf between watching hockey on TV and seeing it in person cannot be overstated. Watching the pattern of play is totally mesmerizing, regardless of whether your seats are close. The speed and motion of hockey is unlike any other sport, which makes sense since it's on ice and all.

2. The Thrashers were a little like Barcelona against Liverpool last night: they had a great ten-minute spell early in the game and then they couldn't get out of their own way for long stretches. The second half of the first period highlighted a whole lot of flaws with the team, starting with the fact that the defensemen just aren't very good. The Hurricanes scored twice, once on a wrap-around that Lehtonen stopped and the defense couldn't clear the rebound or the player, and the second on a tap-in from an uncovered player on the weakside doorstep. Later in the period, the Hurricanes spent whole minutes in the Thrashers' zone because Atlanta's defensemen could not control the puck and get it out.

The second period was a system-wide meltdown. The Thrashers couldn't string passes together properly, so they spent the whole period seeing their attacks broken up easily. In a must-win game, down by two goals, they got a whopping three shots in the second period. The period also highlighted the little things that Lehtonen hasn't mastered yet, namely rebound control (the gulf between him and John Grahame in that area was obvious) and puck-handling (there were several near-disasters when Kari handled the puck outside the crease).

The Thrashers, to their credit, played better in the third, drawing to within 2-1 on a nice shorthanded shot from Garnet Exelby (who is mostly exempt from the criticism of the defensemen) and creating a couple good chances to tie, but their flaccid powerplay not only flubbed a chance to tie, but also allowed the Canes to salt the game away when a Kovalchuk shot from the point deflected right to a Carolina player coming out of the box. Overall, the game highlighted all of the Thrashers' weaknesses: below-average blue-liners, a mystifyingly bad powerplay, and minimal scoring depth behind Kovalchuk, Hossa, and Kozlov.

3. Don Waddell, who surely knows that a failure to make the post-season in year eight will make his post rather uncomfortable, has rolled the dice by acquiring Keith Tkachuk and Alexei Zhitnik.'s take is here and the AJC's take is here. Tkachuk will certainly improve the team's scoring depth, although he's not exactly the smallish, passing center that I had in mind for an acquisition. Zhitnik gives the Thrashers a quarterback for the powerplay, which they desperately need. The problem is that these trades are only necessary in the first place because the Thrashers haven't developed the depth necessary to complement their stars. I don't claim to be an expert on the NHL, but if it's like the NFL or MLB, then the key to success when working within economic restraints is to have 3-4 stars who are worth what you pay them and then a bunch of good, young, cheap players to surround them. Depth cannot come from free agency or trades unless you constantly find diamonds in the rough that are undervalued by the rest of the market. The Thrashers have several excellent players, but they had to mortgage their future because Waddell's drafts haven't produced good complementary pieces to play with Ilya, Marian, and Slava. That's an indictment of Waddell, but it's also a sign that the steep price that the Thrashers paid in terms of draft picks is not the end of the world.

Friday, February 23, 2007

We're #1...

At sitting through endless commercials on CBS while waiting for SEC games to re-start. Fancy graph-looking things can be found here.

CBS had the fewest players per broadcast minute of any television by a fairly substantial margin. I've always liked CBS's presentations of games (or at least I did until December 2, 2006, but I'm now recalling from the vast recesses of my memory hurling various ill-tempered insults during my days going to Georgia games at the "a** hole in the red hat" who stands on the 30-yard line during TV timeouts and signals the refs when CBS's universe of advertisers are done hawking trucks and pimple creams. Interestingly, everybody's favorite broadcast entity - Lincoln Financial - came in second in terms of fewest plays per broadcast minute.

What's the cause of these stats? In the words of our friends in political science, intensity of preference. SEC fans love college football. (Naw!) We'd probably watch games if there were commercial breaks after every play. CBS and Lincoln Financial almost certainly know this and have recognized that they can compress an inordinate number of commercials into their telecasts without ill-effects in the ratings. In fact, I wouldn't be shocked if CBS sells to its advertisers the notion that it is selling an audience that will keep watching no matter how many commercials bombard it.

What's uncomfortable for me is that I like to mock NFL fans as mindless sheep for watching NFL games that are completely saturated with commercials, but when SEC fans apparently let themselves be subjected to the same mistreatment, I take it as evidence of our great fan intensity. "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines." This concludes the first time I've ever quoted Emerson in this space.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Since We're on the Topic of Fan Angst Today...

HT: MGoBlog

Take away the video camera, the alcohol, the women, the shirtlessness (pretty much a summary of my high school years), and add a megaphone stolen from my high school, a pair of Auburn boxers that had been on my head for good luck, a dresser that was begging to be cleared with one wipe of my hand, and bemused brother probably hoping against hope that we're not really from the same gene pool and you have yours truly at the end of the 1988 Auburn-LSU game.

"Maybe, just once, someone will call me 'Sir' without adding, 'You're making a scene.'"

It's at times like this - Barca look terrible, the Hawks have lost two in a row, the Thrashers are eyeing another late collapse (although they had a huge third period on Tuesday night that might have saved them), Michigan failed to sign any of the top eight players in-state, and Virginia blew a chance at the ACC title last night with a loss at lowly Miami - that I turn for inspiration to Homer Simpson.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Forget Paris

Barca 1 Liverpool 2

Valdes was terrible, gifting Liverpool their first goal (although leaving Craig Bellamy unmarked at the back post was not his fault). Marquez showed why he had previously been yanked from central defense, especially with a mystifying attempted clearance for Liverpool's second that forced Seamus Malin to dig deep into his Harvard-educated mind to find the right words. (He ended up using "shambolic," which was pretty appropriate. The next time you hear "shambolic" during an NFL game, let me know.) The marking on set pieces, always questionable, is now downright indifferent. The midfield was able to create precious little. Barcelona look like a team that have never played together, which is unfortunate after their teamwork has been a hallmark of their run over the past several years. I wanted to get angry at Liverpool for playing everyone behind the ball and there was a certain element of that, but they created more chances. The old Barca would have cut ribbons through the Liverpool defense and midfield with passing and movement, but the current Barca doesn't move properly without the ball and they don't find one another on the rare occasions that they do pass properly. Leo Messi's inability to see an unmarked Ludovic Giuly at the backpost on Barca's one good attack in the second half was emblematic of the team's inability to link up with one another.

It's quite clear that Eto'ogat'e (maybe a better title would be "L'Affaire d'Eto'o?" French scholars, is that acceptable?) and the rumors of Frank Rijkaard's departure have damaged this team, although those issues might be symptoms more than causes. Maybe the team will be better with Thuram in central defense, Messi back on form, and Eto'o striking instead of Saviola, but those players won't cause the midfield to glue the team together again. Johan Cruyff recently remarked that Barca appeared to be reaching the end of a four-year cycle and the team would need to be shaken up. I had hoped that he was wrong, but it's looking like he has a point.

Rob Smyth, take it away.

Monday, February 19, 2007

On my High Horse for the Red Army

I normally like to confine my criticism of Peter King to football-related topics like racial stereotyping, missing the boat on Michael Vick, and Northeastern provinciality, but today, we're going to dust off the ol' history degree and get after Peter on a new front: American-o-centric views of World War Two:

Until Sunday, this place, for me, was a Tom Brokaw book, a History Channel show. But as we talked with Nicholas on the hour trip back to Caen, we wondered what would have happened if the Germans hadn't been repelled from France. Would England have been next? And would the emboldened Germans then have crossed the Atlantic and tried to take America? Would our way of life, our football and our baseball, our corner bars and big universities, have been forever changed? The Super Bowl just monopolized the lives of so many in North America. It was one of the highest rated TV programs of all time. Imagine a world without it.

Peter is apparently unaware of the fact that the Americans, Canadians, and British faced roughly 20% of the Wehrmacht because the remaining 80% was almost entirely committed in the East. Moreover, by June 1944, the Red Army had essentially won in the East, as they were rolling towards Poland and had achieved massive superiority in terms of troops and tanks by this period. So, to answer Peter's questions:

1. The Germans were going to be repelled from France; it was just a question of whether the Soviets or the Western Allies were going to march under the Arc du Triomphe.

2. If the Germans couldn't attempt an invasion of England in the summer and fall of 1940, when they were not at war with the USSR or the US, they sure as hell weren't going to do so by 1944. And if they weren't coming across the English Channel, they sure as hell weren't coming across the Atlantic. So no, we wouldn't be the Western division of the Bundesliga if not for D-Day.

This is not to say that the US didn't do a good deed by forcing the Axis into a war. The US did do some good by degrading the Germans' industrial capacity and deflecting a few divisions away from the East. We also did some serious good in defeating the Japanese in the East and ending their genocidal activities in Manchuria (although they were ultimately replaced by Mao, so be careful what you wish for). However, my pet peeve is lionizing the D-Day invasions and ignoring the fact that the Soviets were the ones who really beat the Germans. The Soviets sustained 10,700,000 combat deaths as compared to the US's 407,000. It's cool that Peter King showed enough interest to go to the Normandy beaches and pay homage to our war dead. Most Americans probably couldn't find France on a map, let alone find their way to Normandy. That said, I get bothered that few in this country recognize the role that the Soviets played in defeating the Nazis (and I'm primarily talking about Soviet citizens, as their leadership was criminally inept for much of the war and doesn't deserve plaudits). Either that or I just like playing the role of history snob. It dovetails nicely with European football snob.

A Note on the Soccer-Heavy Coverage

The period after the Super Bowl is the worst period in American sports, especially for someone like me who thinks that NASCAR and golf are dumb. There's not that much to say about sports on these shores right now, other than the occasional update on the Hawks, who are improving, and the Thrashers, who are collapsing because their defensemen are and have always been substandard and Lehtonen's worrying trend of allowing rebounds has made that more obvious. I'll get into college hoops a little more in March, but my obsession with college football has dampened my interest in college hoops, especially because it has caused me to decide that the college hoops regular season is borderline meaningless. Thus, I'll be a little heavy on The Other Football for a little while, especially with the Champions League starting again. My apologies if this isn't your cup of tea.


Phil Ball hits all the right notes on Samuel Eto'o's most interesting week. A swap of Eto'o for Cristiano Ronaldo would be interesting and if Eto'o's relationship with the club is truly not salvageable, then it would make sense to get something for him other than selling him at a cut rate, but that would still leave Barca with three star wingers (as well as Giuly, who's close) and no star strikers. I'd like to see everything get resolved with Eto'o and I suspect that playing time would be the solution to much that ails him emotionally, but I might be hoping against hope.

Ball doesn't discuss the Valencia match yesterday, which I didn't see because GolTV, in their infinite wisdom, have sublicensed the rights to first-choice Primera games (other than Barca-Real) to something called WorldSport HD that no one gets, but following it online, it sounded as if Barca had the lionshare of the play, but didn't do enough to threaten the Valencia goal. The write-up of the first goal sounded eerily like both of Espanyol's goals in Barca's last loss, which were the result of dreadful marking in the box. Barca's defense remains a little shaky. The one additional note I'd make, though, is that Barca have a terrible record at the Mestalla. They lost there last year in a season in which they won the Primera and European titles. They got clobbered there in the 2000 Champions League semifinals. Plus, Valencia is playing as well as anyone in Europe not named Inter right now, so there's no shame in losing 2-1 to Valencia. Sid Lowe has a good write-up of the match and also manages to sing Valencia's praises, thus illustrating that club harmony isn't necessarily critical for success. He also is dead-on when he points out that Valencia is very dangerous to a team like Barca because Los Che can sit back and wait for the Blaugrana to over-extend themselves, but that style doesn't work against lesser clubs that are themselves playing on the counter.

One other exculpatory note for Barca: they aren't the same team when Gudjohnsen is playing. He simply doesn't finish the chances that are created for him. The team will be better against Liverpool with Saviola and they'll be much better if Eto'o comes back. It goes without saying that a home win against Liverpool is absolutely critical. Barca's road form has been poor this year, but they've been unbeatable at the Nou Camp (nine wins and two draws in the Primera; two wins and one draw in the Champions League) and if that falls by the wayside, then they're in real trouble. Fortunately, Liverpool's discord make Barca's look tame by comparison. Eto'o might be attacking Ronaldinho in print, but at least he hasn't been described in this way:

At one point, the police seemed to be slapping him around the face, trying to bring him round and sober him up because he was so drunk. He kept apologising over and over again but the police did not want to know.

This article is even better:

The dispute involving Bellamy and Riise seemingly started with a karaoke competition in the early hours of Friday morning, when Bellamy took offence at the Norwegian left-back's refusal to sing.

Increasingly irritated by the Welshman's jibes, Riise reportedly became incandescent and, surrounded by fellow players, the pair squared up to each other, trading expletives. Although things calmed down as the group dispersed and headed for their rooms, Bellamy apparently felt he had lost face in front of his team-mates and, having armed himself with a golf club, tracked down Riise before allegedly swinging it at his legs.

If there isn't a saying about Welshmen and their karaoke, then that's a damn shame.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Cristiano Ronaldo Rumors

The rumor du jour (or rumour du jour if you're into mixing the Queen's English and French or you're an Oklahoma fan) is that Cristiano Ronaldo is headed from Old Trafford to the Nou Camp over the summer. Big Phil Scolari has supported the move, as has Portuguese teammate Hugo Viana. I have a few thoughts on this one:

1. I'm against the move from Barca's perspective. Cristiano Ronaldo (hereinafter, "CR") has had an excellent season with Manchester United, but I still think that he's somewhat overrated. He's got good moves, he's hard to knock off of the ball, and he can score when he gets into the box, but he's still fundamentally a selfish player. He's Arjen Robben with a little more scoring ability. That works at Manchester United, which sometimes needs CR to generate offense by himself, but that style will not work at Barcelona, where the team's short passing game would be damaged by a player that holds onto the ball for too long and is generally looking to do his own thing. What makes the Barca system work and cause Ray Hudson to wax poetic like James Lipton on Charles Nelson Reilly is that the players all set one another up. Deco, Xavi, and Iniesta get the ball forward and then Ronaldinho, Messi, and Eto'o circulate the ball in the attacking third, using one another to create chances. What'll happen too often if CR is at Barca is that he'll get the ball on the right wing, put his head down, and then take on two defenders until he gets into the box. This will likely drive the rest of the team crazy and exacerbate whatever tensions there are between a collection of highly-compensated, highly-successful, highly-egotistical players. Maybe there's an unselfish player beneath the surface, but I wouldn't bet 40M Euros on that point, especially when Leo Messi can fill the right wing position better than CR can. Barca passed on CR this summer because they were going after Henry, who would be a much better fit with Barca's style of play; I hope that they stick with their original judgment.

2. CR would be a better fit at Real Madrid. For one thing, they're desperate for a major star right now, as Robinho hasn't panned out like they had hoped and they are desperate for someone who can generate offense. For another thing, they have no concept of team anyway, so CR will be in a perfect environment. And speaking of which, I can't express how hilarious it is that people at Real are identifying Eto'oGat'e as an opportunity to catch the Catalans. If there's anyone who should know about discontent, it's the folks at the Bernabeu. Off the top of my head, the club president (who may not be the club president for long, as there is litigation contesting his election and he might lose out to a guy currently under indictment) ripped into the players in front of a group of law students and one reporter, the coach can't get along with Guti, the coach can't get along with Robinho, the coach can't get along with Cassano, their star centerback Cannavaro has played the worst football of his life this season, Roberto Carlos has complained because Capello has forced him to play defense, and Beckham has been dropped because he signed with MLS, leading to a he-said, she-said debate as to why he didn't re-sign with Real. There is such a massive case of projection going on with those comments that I don't know if words can describe it. Five points just doesn't do justice to the gulf between Barca and Real this year. The Blaugrana might not win La Liga, but if they lose it, it'll be Valencia or possibly Sevilla beating them.

[Update: Iker Casillas, the Madridista I respect, agrees: "If Barcelona are in crisis, then we have really fallen off the edge. Their crisis makes me laugh."

3. I've also been amused by the reaction in England to the move. You would think that a nation that saw its two biggest stars - David Beckham and Michael Owen - move to Real Madrid would not be surprised if CR wanted to make a move to Spain, especially since he's Portuguese. You would think that he wouldn't be begrudged wanting to get passes from Iniesta, Deco, Messi, and Ronaldinho as opposed to John O'Shea and Darren Fletcher. You would think that fans would understand that CR might enjoy Spain more than England, seeing as how the English blame him for getting mild-mannered Wayne Rooney sent off, as opposed to this:

But no, Ronaldo would be a mercenary for making the move. Because all those players in the Premiership are playing for peanuts, a hearty well done from her Majesty the Queen, and a pittance of a pension.

Picture Me Rollin'

Hawks 96 Clippers 93

There's been a strong element of luck to the Hawks' West Coast swing. They played the Suns without Nash and the Clippers without Brand. They've won all three close games on the trip, aided by Stephen Jackson missing the winner in the Golden State game, and were otherwise pummelled by Utah. That said, for a young team learning to win, the past week has been outstanding for Atlanta. Joe Johnson and Josh Smith are firmly establishing themselves as a formidable 1-2 punch and they've gotten help from Zaza and Childress as their glue guys on the trip.

I thought that a reasonable goal for the Hawks this year would be 35 wins or more and that looks quite attainable now, as the team would need to go a modest 14-16 the rest of the way to achieve that mark. I'd like to dream higher and imagine the Hawks putting pressure on the Magic for the #8 spot in the East (the Magic are #7 right now, one-half game ahead of the Heat, but the Heat are very likely to pass them), but the Hawks' home form will probably prevent that. They aren't the sort of team that holds serve at home and against bad teams such that they can turn a great road trip like this one into a huge run, but maybe they'll surprise us some more.

A few more random numbers:

1. The Hawks have more road wins than any other team in the Eastern Conference.

2. Salim Stoudamire played four minutes last night at didn't attempt a single shot from the field. That must be some sort of record.

3. Shelden Williams is firmly in the dog house right now, as evidenced by the one minute he got last night. Shelden and Marvin have been the two disappointments of the season for the Hawks (injuries have certainly played a role), so maybe it's more important to see some development from the two of them in the final 30 games of the season than it is for the Hawks to make a run at a playoff spot, although the two possibilities certainly aren't inconsistent.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

My Life as a Michigan Basketball Fan, in Haiku

Went to Final Four
Glen Rice es caliente
Fisher unbeaten

Big Dance at Omni
Mister Jennings no match for
Tall Angry Webber

April '93
Ivies say no to Michael
I am set: Go Blue!

(U. of Chicago?
Sure, great econ department
But social life? Nyet!)

Webber walks, then chokes
Brother mocks me; I fling shoe
"See you in Charlotte!"

Freshman year, Fab...Four?
Froze outside Crisler for good seats
Call me Jalen, friends

Blew Big Ten at home
"Everybody hurts" playing
Go to hell, Big Dog

One game from last four
Stopped short by runaway hogs
Dillard's shorts, too long

Sophomore year, Fab...Two?
Good defense, but no offense
F***in' Hilltoppers

Junior Year: TRACTOR!
Plus Albert White with demons
Straight outta Inkster!

One trip to Detroit
Mo Taylor ruined everything
Bye bye Mateen Cleaves

Senior Year: Beat Duke,
Then Arizona, but wait!
Foldo, NIT

Ed Martin paid well
But for Bullock and Taylor?
You got fleeced, my friend

Law school: hoops just suck
Ellerbe, what a great hire!
Can it get much worse?

It's six years later
No Big Dance since '98
Dukie not so good

Spent last night at home
Saw The Departed with wife
Forgot basketball

Checked this web this morning
State pounds us; shut out post-half
Ennui keeps me sane

Only one thing to do
Root hard against Kentucky
Tubby, please come north!

Eto'oGat'e: Nothing to See Here

Be my valentine!

It's all a big misunderstanding. Samuel loves Frank. Samuel loves Ronnie. Txiki loves Samuel. Txiki has an unpronounceable name. Everyone hates Marca. A hat trick at the Mestalla beckons.

Update: the peacemaker isn't Laporta or Rijkaard, but midfield destroyer Thiago Motta?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

I've Got a Bad Feeling about This

Don't leave me here!

It's never a good thing when your star striker, the guy whose return is supposed to propel your team back to great from merely good, describes his coach as "bad person" and then defends himself against the team's star player. Samuel Eto'o has a history of being a moody, squeaky wheel, so it's important not to overreact to a comment like that, but he's so good and great strikers are such a commodity that he just needs to say the word and a number of rich clubs around the world are going to swoop in to further unsettle him. Eto'o's frustration might simply be the result of not having played for a while and once he's back on the pitch and scoring goals, everything will be fine. But then again, it might not and Barca might be left with the inconsistent Saviola and the miscast Gudjohnsen at the tip of its spear.

Incidentally, I watched the game on Saturday and there didn't appear to be anything out of the ordinary going on. Eto'o warmed up for much of the second half and then when it looked like he was going to come on for Ronaldinho, Belletti hurt himself tumbling in the box and Rijkaard had to use his third sub to bring on Oleguer. Eto'o was probably upset that he didn't come on much earlier for a misfiring Saviola. In a perfect world, Eto'o gets the start at the Mestalla this weekend, scores six goals, and Barca marches through the rest of their schedule. After last year, though, I don't really feel entitled to demand a perfect world.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Your Footie Highlights from the Weekend

This is disturbing for future Inter opponents. Not only have the nerazzuri won 15 games in a row in Serie A and are unbeaten since September, but if this cracker of a goal is any indication, Adriano is emerging from his year-long slump to give Inter a third attacking option to go with Hernan Crespo and an in-form Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The game was played in front of an empty stadium in Verona, which has to be galling for Chievo fans that they missed the game against the best team in Serie A, despite their flawless record as non-hooligans, because of violence in Sicily. Grant Wahl has a typically strong article about the experience. It was odd to watch the game on TV and hear the players talking to one another. I could hear a little chanting off in the distance; thanks to wahl, I now know that it was Chievo and Inter fans singing outside the stadium.

And here is Ronaldinho showing how it's done. Ronnie has run hot and cold this year, but yesterday, he showed why he's the best player in the world. He was conducting lethal attacks, one after the other. He scored both goals, hit a post on a third occasion, and set up Giuly for a header from two meters that the diminutive Frenchman knocked over the bar. That was all in the second half, by the way. Barca got off to a slow start and then rocked into gear after Victor Vandes denied a Santander penalty in the 27th minute. (The penalty was the result of a foolish effort by Belletti that gave the ref no choice.) For the last hour, Barca made Santander look like the Washington Generals. Racing were props for Barca's attacks, one after the other. The passing and movement that have marked Barca's run to the top of Spain in the past three years were on full display. Ronaldinho, Deco, Iniesta, and Xavi were all on top form. The only thing that was missing was good play from the striker spot, as Saviola had a relatively poor game, most likely because he knows he's about to head to the bench with Samuel Eto'o coming back into the lineup. Barca's defense was also very solid as a platform for the attacks with Puyol and Edmilson in central defense and Marquez relegated to the defensive midfield role that he plays for Mexico. The game was extremely encouraging coming on the precipice of a stretch that will see the Blaugrana travel to Valencia and Sevilla, host Real Madrid, and meet Liverpool twice in the Champions League.

If that would have been the only goal in the Real Madrid-Real Sociedad match, it would have been a perfect weekend for Barca. Casillas is one of the few Madrid players I like, so I didn't revel too much in his howler, but it was fun to see Capello's reaction to this goal, as well as Beckham's equalizer.

Welcome your New Hawk Overlords

Hawks 106 Warriors 105

The Hawks have won five in a row on the road for the first time since the 1993-94 season in which they finished as the #1 seed in the East (and traded Dominique). They botched a bunch of free throws, which has been an intermittent problem this year. Speedy Claxton was the prime offender, going 0-5 from the line in a game in which he played very well, otherwise. As is usually the case in a Hawks win, the team was led by big nights from Joe Johnson (21 points and 11 assists) and Josh Smith (29 points and ten rebounds). This season is starting to get exciting, although the team is weirdly better on the road, especially coming on the heels of several season in which the team could not win on the road.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

This is not a Misprint

Hawks 120 Suns 111

OK, Steve Nash not playing is an obvious qualifying factor, but the Hawks still beat the best team in the NBA on the road. Joe Johnson went off in the fourth quarter, Marvin Williams shot double-digit free throws for the second straight game, Josh Smith had 25 points, and Josh Childress added 19 on nine shots. Oh, and Boris Diaw turned in a four-point, three-rebound, three-assist performance, i.e. his typical numbers in Atlanta when he didn't have Steve Nash feeding him over and over again. Let's see if Steak Shapiro will mention that little nugget after he foamed at the mouth to attack Billy Knight on Tuesday morning after the Hawks lost to the Lakers.

That brings me to a point that I've been wanting to make for a while. If the Hawks win at Golden State on Sunday, they'll be 20-30, a .400 winning percentage. The Falcons just finished a season in which they had a .437 winning percentage. Why is it that Shapiro and the rest of the Mayhem collective following his lead are so obsequious towards the Falcons and kill the Hawks' management team? It couldn't be because Arthur Blank and Rich McKay are nice to Steak by stroking his ego, but Billy Knight is dismissive?

Friday, February 09, 2007

Who Kidnapped Bill Simmons?

First he acknowledges that the NFL doesn't hold a candle to college football in terms of excitement in attending a game. Now, he's acknowledged that the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry isn't really a rivalry and pales in comparison to Duke-UNC:

I like the UNC-Duke rivalry because everyone picks a side and digs in, and that's the way it is until you die whether you're a fan, player, coach, professor or whomever else. With the Yankees and Sox, they pretend it's a rivalry -- and for the fans, it definitely is -- but how much bad blood can there be when someone like Johnny Damon switches teams with no real repercussions? Imagine Coach K resigning from Duke to take over the UNC job, or Brandan Wright deciding that he hated UNC and wanted to transfer to Duke ... I mean, would that EVER happen? Duke and UNC are like the Crips and Bloods, only if everyone was driving Land Rovers and wearing hoodies.

Simmons is definitely coming around. Moving from Boston has clearly opened his eyes to sports other than the big three American professional sports. Well, that and the fact that the Celtics suck and the Red Sox have been mismanaged, so he's had to look for alternative outlets.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Tony Blair Woke up this Morning and Realized that Great Britain No Longer has an Empire

Based on my limited sample of Michigan fans and some casual persual of Signing Day articles, there seems to be a customary rending of garments going on among Midwestern college football fans. The combination of Notre Dame, Michigan, and Ohio State's pummelings in the bowl games, along with a bumper recruiting crop for the SEC, USC, and Texas and average recruiting classes in the Upper Midwest (SEC teams held seven of the top ten spots in Rivals' Rankings, while USC and Texas were in the top five) have led to the conclusion that the South and West are leaving the Midwest behind. I don't think that's right, but only because the verb is present tense instead of past tense. College football dominance shifted South once air conditioning and desegregation took effect and jobs migrated south.

There are a lot of ways to measure that conclusion, but the easiest way would probably be with national championships. In the past 20 years, Michigan, Ohio State, and Notre Dame, the three marquee programs in the Midwest, each have one national title. In that same period, no team from the Northeast has won a national title. Moreover, Michigan won its title without playing anyone from the South and Notre Dame and Ohio State both benefited from bad calls against Miami. ND beat Miami in '88 in part because of a dreadful fumble call against Miami at the one-yard line; Ohio State had the dodgy interference call in overtime, although OSU was also screwed at the end of regulation on a pass that would have ended the game, so I'm more sympathetic to them. Just about any national champion can be marginalized by pointing to luck factors, but the point is that Notre Dame and Ohio State had no margin for error in their games against Miami. The Midwest hasn't produced a truly dominant champion in recent memory. '88 Notre Dame, '97 Michigan, and '02 Ohio State aren't going to be part of the "what was the best team in the past 20 years?" conversation.

In contrast to the three national titles for the Midwest and Northeast in the past 20 years, here are the totals for the South, West, and Plains:

South: 13

Miami - four
Florida State - two
Florida - two
Alabama - one
LSU - one
Georgia Tech - one
Tennessee - one
Texas - one

West: three

USC - two
Washington - one

Great Plains: five

Nebraska - three
Colorado - one
Oklahoma - one

There is inevitably some imprecision involved in making determinations as to what region a given program falls. One argument could be that Nebraska is really in the Midwest and that doubles the region's totals. However, even if that's true, Nebraska illustrates the point that Southern teams typically have significantly more talent than teams from the Midwest and therefore, that teams with less talent can only win with an unconventional style. Nebraska was one of the few teams that truly scared SEC fans, as they had an impeccable record against the SEC during their option era. Nebraska realized long ago that they couldn't compete with other programs on a talent-for-talent basis, so they had an innovative option offense to compensate. (They forgot this when they hired Bill Callahan, which is why they'll never be anything more than a decent program from now on.) Michigan and Ohio State might take heed of that example. They'll always have more talent than the Iowas and Wisconsins of the world and if they're satisfied with winning the conference and losing their bowl games, that's cool. To beat USC or Florida (or whatever team from the SEC vanquishes Florida), they can't be conventional. I am at a loss in terms of figuring out how they should be unconventional. Ohio State's shotgun offense seems all racy (especially to Michigan fans), but it's not unconventional in the modern college football world. And Michigan and Notre Dame's pro style offenses are certainly not unconventional in any respects.

Even if you drop the eight national titles from the three Florida programs out and exclude Texas from the South, the South still beats the Midwest in national titles in the past 20 years. The overall conclusion, to me at least, is that Michigan and Notre Dame fans overrate the value of their schools' profile and tradition. (I exempt Ohio State from that discussion because Ohio State, unlike Michigan and Notre Dame, can simply recruit their state and have a very good team. It won't be as good as Florida or USC because Ohioans probably overrate their high school football talent as compared to that in Florida and California, but it will be very good.) TV appearances and cool fight songs are nice factors when trying to pull in recruits and there's no doubt that those are the reasons why Ryan Mallett and Donovan Warren are coming to Ann Arbor and Jimmy Clausen and Armando Allen are headed to South Bend. However, those guys are the exception, not the rule. The most important factor in recruiting is proximity to talent and teams in the Midwest and Northeast face a significant disadvantage in that respect.

I'd also draw a distinction between the South and the West at this stage. Michigan fans throw up their hands and say "we can't compete with Florida's and USC's talent" and then that leads to "there's more talent in the South and West," but that's not accurate. Florida did pull in an epic recruiting class, but their regional rivals also did well. Thus, it's unfair to expect Florida to replicate USC's dominance in the Pac Ten. Florida will have more talent than the teams that it plays, but the margin won't be huge, so the Auburns, Tennessees, LSUs, South Carolinas, and Georgias of the world will jump up and bite them from time to time. (And that leaves out Florida State and Miami, which could have renaissances at some point.)

In contrast to the South, I'd attribute USC's success, in no small part, to the fact that they have no significant regional rival and have been able to pick and choose the best talent out West. The talent pool in the West isn't on the same level as that of the South, but when one program gets all of the talent in any region, that team will be tough to compete with. Want evidence? How about this gem from Steve Megarjee's Signing Day wrap:

The addition of [Joe] McKnight gives USC six five-star prospects this season and an astounding 23 five-star signees over the last four years. The rest of the Pac-10 schools have combined to sign only six five-star prospects (Oregon wide receiver Cameron Colvin, Arizona defensive end Louis Holmes, California wide receiver DeSean Jackson, UCLA quarterback Ben Olson, Oregon running back Jonathan Stewart and Washington quarterback Matthew Tuiasosopo) during that same time frame.

Pac Ten programs not named USC took two of the top ten players in California this year. They took one of the top ten in 2006. They took three of the top ten in 2005. They took four of the top ten in 2004. Thus, in a four-year period, USC has signed 25 of the players on the California top ten list and the rest of the conference has signed ten. The argument that SEC fans should be making to belittle USC's success is not that USC would go 8-3 in the SEC, a totally unsupportable claim given the ridiculous amounts of talent that USC deploys. Instead, the argument should be that USC benefits from the fact that no one else on the West Coast can recruit worth a damn. Anyway, to get back to my original point, it's not correct to say that college football is currently ruled by the South and West. Rather, the statement should be that college football is ruled by the South and USC.

Monday, February 05, 2007


11:40 - Josh Smith with a jumper, answered by Vujacic, answered by Zaza. Where's Zaza been this year, by the way? He's had the sharpest drop-off of any Hawk. He promptly makes a jumper.

9:44 - We're struggling to get a defensive rebound right now, mainly because the Lakers are getting to the hoop and breaking the Hawks' defensive shape.

9:13 - A classic Zaza play from last year. He grabs an offensive rebound is a totally ungainbly fashion and gets to the line. All effort and limbs flying everywhere.

8:10 - Childress gets back to the line. This is becoming a pattern for him. If he hits the free throws, he'll have 11 points on three shots from the field. Pareto optimal result! Of course, he missed both.

7:00 - Make fun of Kobe all you want, but he makes about five shots every game where you just look at him and mutter. There's no defending him much of the time. And as soon as I say some nice things, he flops to draw a call on Joe.

5:23 - This is like the Florida-Georgia game. Kobe buries a deep three and half the crowd goes nuts. Joe buries a three and the other half goes nuts. Kobe then hits a ridiculous shot falling into the right corner with two defenders on him. Mike Woodson breaks the momentum with a timeout. Phooey.

5:02 - Kobe seems to do this on each trip to Atlanta. He put on a show here in '02 or '03 when he buried three or four threes in Ira Newble's mug, with each one more difficult than the last. The Florida fans were chanting "MVP!" by the end of the streak. Camaro-driving motherf***ers.

4:21 - Kobe gives the ball up and Smush f***ing Parker hits the dagger. His first basket of the game. 80-72. Bollocks!

Goldfinger, doo doo doo (Liveblog)

10:13 - Joe is coming alive. Two long jumpers and then an assist to Josh for his fourth oopie dunk. We're back to within three. Cue Tony Dungy on the first five minutes of the third quarter.

8:50 - Marvin shoots an airball with his heels on the three point line. Cue Rick Pitino on the worst shot in basketball. Now he gave Vlad Radmanovic great position for an easy basket. Childress in for Marvin. I could do this coaching thing. In case you asked, by best five for the Hawks: Lue, Joe, Childress, Josh Smith, and Zaza.

4:53 - We're down ten because we're getting nothing from Joe or Josh. The Lakers are attacking the hoop and getting to the foul line. If I were Dick Vitale, now would be a good time to mention the danish I had for breakfast.

3:20 - Childress seems to be the only one who is going to the line.

2:48 - Middle-aged people getting it on on Kiss Cam. Eeeewww. The joint is full tonight, by the way.

1:41 - Childress for three off a great set-up from Joe, followed by a good defensive possession. We're within two.

:22 - Vlad Radmanovic just gave it to Josh Smith from behind on a rebound. Showing his appreciation, Kobe buries a three.

Down five at the end of three. We've done a really good job of defending Kobe, but the Lakers have gotten help for him. Joe and Josh have confirmed my thinking that they are the best players on the team by a significant margin.

From Liveblog with Love

11:20 - Alley-oop #3 for Josh Smith. This transition game really suits him. Ryan Cameron's insurance rating just changed to "smoker with multiple Haitian girlfriends." Sasha Vujacic hits a less boner-inducing jumper on the other end.

9:10 - Oh, Shelden.

8:30 - Speedy Claxton: three turnovers, 0/2 from the field, and he just got beat off the dribble by Jordan Farmar, forcing Shelden to foul Turiaf, who looks good. Mike Woodson agrees with my assessment, as Tyronne Lue is back in. If Lue gives average defensive production, then he is the solution at the point.

8:03 - Turiaf draws a charge, then sets up Farmar for an open jumper. For all the flak that Mitch Kupchak has taken, he's built some good depth on the Lakers. And that's before we get to the Andrew Bynum pick. Speaking of Bynum, he's not exactly subtle with his bullrushes to the basket. Shelden draws a foul just like Coach K taught him. Pay the Squatter, clap clap clap clap clap.

6:56 - Joe sets up Tyronne Lue for a THREEEEEE!!!!! Joe only has seven points so far, so the Hawks' barometer sees a storm. Then again, he's doing a good job on Kobe right now. I forgot to mention when I was whining about Johnson's all-star snub that his defensive production is just a wee bit better than that of Vinsanity. But then again, who is better suited for a meaningless exhibition in which there is no defense or passing?

4:10 - Great movement from the Lakers leads to an Andrew Bynum hook from two feet. The Hawks rotated well, but the Lakers were unselfish. It helps to have a back-to-the-basket threat.

3:09 - Feathery one-hander from Bynum. He's graceful for a big guy (when he wants to be). The Lakers need to funnel the ball to him more, although his success might change when opponents start doubling him.

2:42 - Bad things are happening to girthy people on Catastrophe Theater. The crowd loves it. Anyone want to send me the clip from The Naked Gun? You know the one.

1:37 - Is it just me or does Marvin not have very good hands?

1:10 - We're down nine and on pace to score 60 points. Danger.

1:00 - Saved by Smush! He barrels through the lane and gives the ref an easy charge call, then gets t'd up for good measure. Kudos to Royal Ivey for getting trucked and standing his ground.

40-31 at the half. Not an offensive clinic from the Hawks. When Joe isn't carrying the team, they struggle. No one else has more than six. It has to get better.

Hawks-Lakers Liveblog - Dr. No

On a big night out before fatherhood ended my drinking career (or at least forced a Sugar Ray Leonard retirement), I would name my drinks after Bond movies to keep track of my intake. As with the real series, Roger Moore = trouble and Timothy Dalton = death. Anyway, if you need guidance on the title of this post and the next three (for quarters two through four), there you go.

I'm in a suite along with a collection of bloggers. Collectively, we don't do much for the stereotype that blogging is a young white male activity.

11:54 - And we have our first dunk from Josh Smith, right from the tip. Andrew Bynum shows some frightening footwork to equalize.

10:05 - Eagle County's favorite son just scored a three-point play, took the ball off Joe Johnson on a break, and then got fouled at the other end. I previously observed that male Lakers fans had Shaq jerseys and kids and women had Kobe jerseys. Wonder if that's still the case?

8:48 - Phil Jackson calls a 20 with his team up 6-2. In the old days, I'd make a joke about how he's frustrated that his team isn't up 12, but surely he knows the Hawks are surprisingly competent! Winners of five of seven? They come out of the timeout and throw the ball right down to Bynum, who tries to bang his way through Zaza. Unsuccessful. Thatsh!t don't fly in Tbilisi.

7:03 - A carrying call on Kobe! Sweet! And...a turnover on the other end for the Hawks.

6:47 - Last year Smush Parker roasted the Hawks in the home opener. Tonight, he's very quiet. A sign that the Hawks have improved their defending of opposing point guards? We're down 8-6 right now because Lamar Odom is cold and shooting a lot of bad shots. 66% of the Hawks' offense is the "throw the ball up to Josh Smith and let him flush." Ryan Cameron will spontaneously combust at this rate.

3:38 - The A-Town Dancers, brought to you tonight by the loving memory of Luther Campbell. Wait, Luke is still alive...?

3:21 - You know your franchises don't have a glorious history when there's a banner in the arena for Widespread Panic's 15 sold-out shows from 1999-2006. Welcome to Georgia.

1:40 - I don't think there's been a single made jumper in the game.

1:23 - Ronny Turiaf just got a reputation call. I need his agent. Then he rubbed off from the high post on the same triangle play that's been working since the Jud Buechler era and missed the bunny, but the Hawks' defense was contorted and the Lakers got an easy follow. 16-14 Lakers at the end of the first. Coincidentally, this was the score of the Super Bowl at the half. But Bow Wow is in 'da house, so this beats the Super Bowl anyway.

Hawks-Lakers Liveblog Tonight!

Live, from the deepest recesses of Philips Arena, blog night with the Hawks tonight, starting at 7 p.m.! And the team has won five of seven! And three straight on the road! And we're only 3.5 games out of a playoff spot! And there was an article from Chris Sheridan today to rain on the Hawks' parade by reminding us of impending events in Belkinkampf! Scheisse!($)!

Friday, February 02, 2007


Whining for Joe

There are few topics that are more useless than "All-Star Snubs!!!" All-star games are excuses for great parties and contractual bonuses; they aren't meaningful in any way and I can't remember the last all-star game I watched from start to finish in any sport. That said, when you're a fan of a team that's been down for as long as the Hawks have, you get excited by the idea of any recognition for the franchise. Josh Smith winning the 2005 dunk contest was the biggest amount of recognition the Hawks have received in years. Being a Hawks fan is like being an American after our failure in Vietnam and the embarrassing clusterf*** that was the military mission to free the hostages in Teheran. You need that context to understand why we were so happy with our invasion of Granada.

With that introduction, I'm annoyed that Joe Johnson isn't an all-star. Here are his numbers, as compared to the other two all-star reserves at shooting guard:

Johnson - 25.3 ppg, 47.9 FG%, 53.4 adjusted FG%, 4.1 APG, 4.1 RPG, 1.27 points per shot

Vince Carter - 25.0 ppg, 45.7 FG%, 50.6 adjusted FG%, 4.6 APG, 5.6 RPG, 1.29 points per shot

Rip Hamilton - 22.7 ppg, 46.2 FG%, 48.0 adjusted FG%, 3.6 APG, 4.0 RPG, 1.29 points per shot

In addition to the facts that Johnson scores more and shoots for a better percentage than the players who were selected to the all-star game in his place, Carter and Hamilton have the benefit of playing with the two best point guards in the Eastern Conference, while Johnson plays with Tyronne Lue (a decent point guard, but not Billups or Kidd) and Speedy Claxton (on the days when Speedy is not in the shop). I'd understand if the NBA made the decisions on the all-star reserves and thus put Hamilton and Carter on the team because they have higher Q-ratings, as do their teams, but this decision was made by the coaches of the Eastern Conference, who ought to know better than anyone how good Johnson is since they instruct their teams to double him every time he makes any move to the hoop.

In short, I doubt that the rest of the country knows what a terrific player Joe Johnson is and all-star minutes would have helped in raising his profile.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

No S***, Terrence

Thank goodness we all have Terrence Moore to spend 688 words telling us that the 2006 Bears aren't as good as the 1985 Bears. A real controversial statement. And even more shockingly, Richard Dent, a member of the '85 Bears, agrees with that opinion. Way to find an impartial source for your totally obvious statement.

What's the bet, by the way, that when the Bears get together to have beers, they vent to one another about how they're sick and tired of hearing about the '85 Bears. I know of few fan bases that obsess about one team the way that Bears fans do about their one Super Bowl champion. I'll admit that my knowledge on the subject is somewhat imperfect, given that I live 800 miles from the Sovereign Kingdom of Chicagoland, but that's my sense. Maybe Bears fans obsess about the '85 Bears because that collection only won one Super Bowl, but doesn't that sorta imply that the '85 Bears weren't as good as the '89 49ers, '78 Steelers, or '92 Cowboys, the three other teams that are typically considered for the title of "best ever?" (I should probably also mention the '72 Dolphins, but they played the weakest schedule of any of the 80 Super Bowl teams in NFL history. If I'm going to mock Richard Dent and Bears fans for being stuck in the past, then I can't exactly mention the '72 Dolphins without pointing out that they're totally obnoxious about the fact that no team has gone unbeaten since they did it. They probably don't want another team to go unbeaten because that will lead to a comparison between the two teams and then someone might mention that the '72 Dolphins' opponents' had a .367 winning percentage.) Anyway, to get back to the original point, the obsession of Bears fans about their '85 team is, in a roundabout way, an indictment of that team's place in history as compared to the other elite Super Bowl champions. 49ers, Steelers, and Cowboys fans can't focus on one team because they've five Super Bowls apiece; Bears fans spoil their one champion like an only child.