Wednesday, March 30, 2011

MLB 2011: NL Preview

Now for the NL



NL East

1.) Philadelphia Phillies

2.) Florida Marlins

3.) Atlanta Braves

4.) New York Mets
5.) Washington Nationals


The Phillies have problems on offense, as Rollins is aging, Utley is hurt, and Howard is seemingly declining. They need youngster Domonic Brown to really step up. They also need a closer to do well until Brad Lidge returns, and need Brad Lidge to be something closer to Brad Lidge of 2008 instead of Brad Lidge in 2009. That said, that pitching rotation is too good. They have two of the three best active pitchers in terms of a career-long resume, with Halladay and Oswalt (in my opinion, with Johan as the other one). Cliff Lee is basically the new Greg Maddux, and Cole Hamels was amazing last year. They are just amazing. If they stay reasonably healthy, they should easily win this division.

The Marlins are really underrated. Their offense should be amazing, with Hanley, and another year of development from Logan Morrison and the great prospect Mike Stanton. With Josh Johnson, they have a front line pitcher. Their flier on Javier Vazquez could pay off well. This team doesn't have a whole lot of depth, but the Marlins will always have a few cards in their deck in that farm system.

The Braves are still a good team, but they will have to rely on Tim Hudson having another great year, and a lot of their batters continuing to play well. I just don't see them as a team that will easily play as well as they did last year. The Mets, if Johan was healthy, I would think is an intriguing sleeper, since their offense still has a lot of talent, and they should be more healthy this year, the Mets do have the players. If Johan comes back near the ASB, they should be a team that could challenge late. The Nationals will be good in a couple of years. I just hope that the Jayson Werth contract doesn't kill them.


NL Central

1.) Milwaukee Brewers

2.) Cincinnati Reds
3.) St. Louis Cardinals
4.) Houston Astros
5.) Chicago Cubs

6.) Pittsburgh Pirates

I love this Brewers team. They have two great pitchers heading the staff, including Zack Greinke, who's numbers in 2010 were a lot worse than how he actually pitched and now gets to come to the NL. Yovani Gallardo is an up and coming star. Shaun Marcum had a great year last year, and should get the AL to NL bump. Their offense is just loaded, with Fielder, McGehee, Weeks and Braun as the headliners, with capable players like Corey Hart behind them. The Brewers are surprisingly being held under the radar. They might start slowly as Hart and Greinke get healthy, but when they do, look out.

The Reds are really no worse than they were last year, but I doubt Votto has that good of a year again in 2011. Jay Bruce could take another step up to balance that, however. Their pitching is still a work in progress. I just think that the Brewers are a step ahead this year, and have leapfrogged a Reds team that stayed the status quot over the offseason. The Cardinals still have Pujols and Holliday, and a possibly rejuvanated Berkman, but without Wainwright, their pitching is now thin. Dave Duncan could work his usual magic, but its getting a little hard this year. They still have Pujols, but even he needs help.

Picking the Astros to finish fourth as actually a real stretch. However, they finally embraced the youth movement, and although their youth movement won't remind anyone of the Rockies youth movement in 2007, or the Rays youth movement in 2008, but it is interesting. I've seen more fantasy magazines pick Bud Norris as a sleeper pitcher than I can imagine. Chris Johnson, Hunter Pence and Carlos Lee at least provide some hitting ability (their fielding, not so much). I just don't know where the Cubs are headed. They are full of past-their-prime stars like Zambrano and Aramis Ramirez. Their young players like Randy Wells and Starlin Castro could make them intriguing, but I just don't see much there. The Pirates are the Pirates. I think they are finally headed in somewhat of the right direction, but they are still a couple years off.


NL West
1.) Colorado Rockies
2.) San Francisco Giants (Wild Card)
3.) Arizona Diamondbacks
4.) Los Angeles Dodgers

5.) San Diego Padres


The Rockies are a fun team, and they have one of the best pitchers as well as two of the best hitters in Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki. Dexter Fowler had a under the radar nice year last season, with a nice OBP. Their pitching has better depth than it usually does Jorge De La Rosa coming off a nice season and youngster Joulys Chacin coming on. The Rockies are a team that easily could have made the playoffs last season, and if Tolu is healthy for the entire season, than they should win the west.

The Giants had a dream season last season, and history probably won't repeat itself. Their pitching will still be great, and Tim Lincecum should improve from his 2010 performance. With a full year of Buster Posey, their offense should be better. Aubrey Huff could decline easily with age, and the move to replace Juan Uribe with Miguel Tejada probably was a little hasty. They won a weak West last year. They West probably isn't as weak, so they will steal the wildcard even if they have the same season they had last year.

The Diamondbacks are intriguing. Their offense was fine in 2010, and that was with Justin Upton having a down year, and he should improve for 2011. The starting pitching was actually fine, and losing Dan Haren hurts, but he didn't pitch that well for them. Joe Saunders should do well in that ballpark, and youngster Jarrod Parker could come as help from the farm. The problem last season was their bullpen, and they are notoriously volatile. If it becomes just 25% better, this team could finish third. The Dodgers are a mess ever since the McCourt's divorce, and guys like Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier having dissappointing years didn't help. That team is worse than the sum of their parts. The Padres lived a miracle for most of the 2010 season, but without their big hitter, and with their pitching staff due to slight decline to the mean, they will struggle to contend.


NL Playoffs

(1) Philadelphia Phillies over (WC) San Francisco Giants
(2) Milwaukee Brewers over (3) Colorado Rockies

NLCS
(1) Philadelphia Phillies over (2) Milwaukee Brewers (Pitching beats hitting - however, the pitching is pretty close. This could be a great seven game series)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

MLB 2011: AL Season preview

Quick preview and predictions for the AL in 2011; Here's a hint:




AL East

1.) Boston Red Sox
2.) New York Yankees
3.) Toronto Blue Jays
4.) Tampa Bay Rays
5.) Baltimore Orioles

The Red Sox have questions in their lineup, considering most people are too quickly assuming that all of their injured players from 2010 will magically return fully healthy and capable. Adrian Gonzalez will be perfect in Boston, as will Carl Crawford. Their pitching has a lot of questions. Clay Buchholz is probably due for major regression, as his ERA was way lower than his peripheral stats would suggest.

As for the Yankees, I think their aging players are due for another step back, including A-Rod, who's fly-ball and HR rate has dropped three consecutive years. Derek Jeter is also not assured to improve from last year too much. Their pitching needs to seriously outperform what it is on paper. Phil Hughes was not good down the stretch. AJ Burnett had one of the worst years for a Yankees starters ever. Ivan Nova is unproven, and Freddy Garcia is Freddy Garcia, and this is not 2005.

The Blue Jays are on the rise. Their young pitching needs to continue on its pace, and their hitting will probably fall off a little bit, but young players like Travis Snider and Adam Lind should continue to improve. I think the Rays will be hurt for 2010. Losing Crawford is just a huge loss, and I'm not sure how a past-the-hill Manny and Damon help. They'll be back, because they just draft too well. The Orioles are a couple years away. They really should have waited a couple of years to get guys like Reynolds and Guerrero (obviously not a couple of years to get those guys, because they will not be that great in 2014, but comparable players then), because that's when their young talent will be at their absolute peak. Overall, the AL is still the best division in baseball, but now it is the deepest, but not exactly as top-heavy as before.


AL Central

1.) Chicago White Sox
2.) Minnesota Twins (Wild Card)
3.) Detroit Tigers
4.) Kansas City Royals
5.) Cleveland Indians

The White Sox are like most years under Kenny Williams: a mix-and-mash of veterans who can still mash, and young guys who are above average but really nothing better. The way they restock on the fly each year is really commendable. Their offense should be really good, if a little too dependent on the longball, but with Konerko, Quentin and now Dunn in a great hitters park, that should not be a problem. Their pitching isn't exactly great, but good enough to win a flawed division.

The Twins are what they always are, a team whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and should be in contention come September. Their pitching is what it is. Not pretty in terms of fantasy stats, but all have high groundball rates, and with a good defense behind them, that is fine. Liriano of course, is totally different. He's great, but I'm not sure he makes it all the way through the 2011 season in a Twins uniform. With the impotent rest of the AL Central, I think the Twins will steal the Wild Card, and giving the AL Central their first two-team playoff season since 2006.

The rest of the division really isn't that good. The Tigers have a front-line position player and a front-line pitcher in Cabrera and Verlander, but little else. The Royals will be really good in a couple of years, and probably will have a Rays 2008 type season in either 2012 or 2013, but for right now all of their top talent resides in AAA. The Indians are a total mess. They need some talent, and they need it fast. 2007 seems a like a long, long time ago.


AL West

1.) Oakland Athletics
2.) Los Angeles Angels
3.) Texas Rangers
4.) Seattle Mariners

The A's have the best rotation in the AL - even better than the overhyped Red Sox and the young, flamethrowing Rays. If Anderson stays healthy, and the other three just improve a little bit, which they should since they are all young, teh A's will have the pitching necessary to win the AL West. Their hitting needs to improve, but guys like Hedeki Matsui, are worthy risks to take. The A's have enough hitting to go with great pitching (in their bullpen as well), to steal this division for the first time since 2006.

The Angels, for once, are being really undervalued. With Haren/Weaver/Santana as the 1-2-3, they have three frontline pitchers. If Scott Kazmir gives them anything, then they have one of the best 1-4's in the AL after Oakland. Their hitting, with the return of Kendrys Morales should improve. Finally, although his contract is atrocious, Vernon Wells is still a very capable player, and should play well in Anaheim.

The Rangers should drop a little bit. Their hitting probably will fall as Michael Young continues to age, and Josh Hamilton regresses to just amazing instead of the next Mickey Mantle. If Nellie Cruz/Elvis Andrus can pick up the slack they might be fine. They should be good in the coming years, but replacing Cliff Lee with Brandon Webb isn't exactly a step up. The Mariners are what they are, a team with two great players and little else. They should really just stockpile pitching to go along with that park.


AL Playoffs

(1) Boston Red Sox over (WC) Minnesota Twins
(3) Chicago White Sox over (2) Oakland Athletics

ALCS

(3) Chicago White Sox over (1) Boston Red Sox (Why the hell not? Everyone's picking the Red Sox).

NL Tomorrow.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Madness 2011: What the F**K?!?!




I love Cinderella stories in college basketball. I loved Butler last year making it within one unlucky bounce away from a national championship, or George Mason shocking a loaded Connecticut team after already beating Michigan St and UNC (those are three of the six or seven best programs of the deacde) in 2006. I loved Steph Curry leading a Davidson team to the Elite Eight and giving the eventual national champion their toughest game until the Championship game. I love all of those amazing runs, and seeing little schools do well.

That said, I do not love the developments of the 2011 NCAA Tournament at all.

There is a difference between enjoying the run of a cinderella story and seeing March hijacked by one and in this case two. I like my cinderella's, but I just don't like them playing into the April portion of March Madness. Have your fun, but at the end of the day, just go away fighting and let the best teams really fight it out. I didn't have a real problem with Butler last year making it to the Final game, mainly because they were not a cinderella. They were in excellent team, in the top-10 of the AP polls late in the season; they had the major cast members of this year's Final 4 team, but add a great defensive player and a NBA lottery pick. I wouldn't have had a problem if San Diego St. or BYU made it to the Final 4, as they were great teams. I even don't have a real problem with Butler if they came solo, but add that to VCU, and it makes it ridiculous. Midnight has to strike at some point, and I would love it if it struck a little earlier.

At first, I loved that three of the four top seeds were gone before the Elite 8. It was at first interesting, funny, and led to basically everyone's bracket getting beaten with a club. What helped was that two of the games that featured one seeds going down were great quality performances. Arizona played amazing over the last 20 minutes, reminiscent of Kansas' emasculation of UNC in the 2008 Semifinal (more on the Jayhawks later). Kentucky played amazing, shutting down OSU in a way I thought impossible.

However, the lack of one seeds made me realize then and there that the great play portion of the tournament was now over. We might have drama. We might have great finishes, and overtimes, but not great play. Having all four number one seeds gone makes it even worse. No matter what anyone says, having the best teams actually playing in the Final 4 does make it better. Remember 2006? The last year that no one seed made the Final 4, the year that featured VCU's conference colleague George Mason, but probably was the least watched Final 4 and least memorable ever. For those who remembered, that was the year that LSU made the Final 4 (anyone remember two players on that team?). That was the year that a three seed (Florida) won the title. That was the year that March Madness went out with a large thud. The same thing will happen this year. It will be fun at first to watch an 11 seed take on an 8 seed, but when the game turns into a glorified 3-pt contest, it will stop being cute and be mostly unsatisfying.

It is hard to defend the postseason system in College Football, but at least the BCS will always give us a satisfying matchup in the National Championship Game. It will inevitably lead to arguments over why another team isn't included, but usually the two participants are among the best in the country, and have proven it over the length of the college football season. The matchups always feature highly ranked teams, and in general, the games are usually very good, especially since they fixed the BCS after the LSU-USC-Oklahoma mess in 2003. Even if the BCS is killed and a playoff system is initiated, it will be most likely capped at 8 teams, producing the eight best teams in the nation. Making it 65 (and now 68) really bastardizes the regular season. It is just way too many teams to make a single-elimination format effective, and essentially makes the entire regular season meaningless. VCU did little to make the tournament. Kansas did everything. What exactly did that give Kansas?

I'm not saying March Madness is broken, because it is not. In fact, with the addition of the new channels it is shown on so as to allow us all to watch any game we want, it is better than ever. I'm just saying that having two "cinderella's" make the Final 4 doesn't make March Madness better. In fact, it makes the third weekend of March Madness, which should be the best, most important weekend, worse. It takes the teams that play the best basketball out of the tournament, and leaves it with nice storylines and little substance. Cinderella is a great story, but midnight strikes before the ball is over. March Madness is better off if it were no different.


SIDE RANT


I hate how this loss to VCU is becoming another opportunity to reassess Bill Self's coaching and tenure at Kansas. I did write last week that I think he is an exceedingly good coach, and I stand by it, despite this being the fourth time in his Kansas tenure he has been knocked out by a team seeded 9 or worse. Yes, he lost back-to-back years as a 3 and 4 seed in the first round, and yes he has lost two years in a row before the Final 4 as a 32-2 one seed entering the tournament. However, this is more about him coaching up teams in the regular season. Kansas is a blue-blood program, and he has good players, but he doesn't have great players. He has never had a Kemba Walker, or even an Emeka Okafor, or Deron Williams. He's coached only three lottery picks in his time at Kansas, and has never coached a player who was drafted in the top-10, an amazing stat for a program that has been so consistently successful in the decade. He's had good players, but fallible ones. Also, every program has lost their fair share of bad games. Mike Krzyzeswki coached teams from 2005-2009 that were seeded 1,1,6,2,2 in their region, and never made it to the Final 4, and never even made it to the Elite 8, always losing to a lower ranked team, including a 24 point loss to Villanova in the 2009 Sweet 16. Roy Williams lost to George Mason at UNC. Every program has bad losses. Kansas' problem is that their bad losses happen to less-than teams.

Bill Self is notorious for losing to low ranked teams, but that discounts his record against highly-ranked teams. The one year he did win the title? He had to beat a one seed in the semifinal (let alone embarrass one in the proccess) and then beat another one seed in the championship game. Do you know the last time the Champion had to beat two #1 seeds in the Final 4? Arizona, in 1997. Bill Self also seems to have a problem in Elite 8 games, with a record of 1-3 at Kansas in that round (he won the championship the year he did get that "1"), but his record in the Sweet 16 is pristine, and Elite 8 games are about as hard to win as the games in the third weekend.

He's not an amazing coach. He's not Coach K. But he's also not the best of recruiters, and that might have something to do with him running a squeaky-clean program and once recruiting a one-and-done player (Xavier Henry). Only Duke has done as much with less-than-amazing talent (the talent that John Calipari has always had, or Roy Williams), and until 2009, Coach K achieved less than Bill for a long period of time (especially considering the 1999-2001 Duke teams were loaded with NBA talent, especially the 2001 title team). Bill Self will probably get ridiculed, but it is not his fault his team missed open shot after open shot. VCU didn't really contest many of Kansas' three-point shots, and obviously didn't defence their free throws, and Kansas was abhorrent at both. Not Self's fault. They defended VCU well enough to win, and defended them better than even Florida St, the nations best FG% defense, did the round earlier. It is hard to defend him, because the losses are there, but he's also accomplished a lot, among them, winning a title. I hope he doesn't have a 32-2 season next year, because honestly, it sets the expecations higher than a team of that talent should have. The 2010-11 Jayhawks weren't 32-2 good. They really weren't. They fooled me. They didn't fool VCU, though.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Wedding in India

Family, Fun and a City That Does Sleep

(Part 2 of 4)

(Link to Part 1: http://loungingpass.blogspot.com/2011/03/wedding-in-india-family-fun-and-city.html)





Being the youngest cousin was not always to my detriment. When I was a toddler, it was fun to be the center of attention, like the Buzz Lightyear in a extended family full of Sheriff Woody's. However, this age impairment quickly turned against me, forcing me to sleep when others were awake, and cover my ears when others opened their mouths. Finally, I was on even footing, relatively. Being 19, in a country where 19 is good enough to do anything legal, allowed me to look them in the eye, these people, cousins who used to tower over me, and say, "Let's Have some fun." I have cousins ranging from 35 to 5, but taking out the younger ones (who are well younger than me), I have cousins ranging from 35 to 19. This is way different than when we used to range from 21 to 5 like we did at the last wedding in India. Then, there were stigmas attached to that difference, there were things that separated us, that made for a "Kids Table/Adults Table" set up. Those shackles were long gone, the years that spanned Avinash to myself were now just a measure of experience, not a divide for what you were allowed to experience. It allowed me to act free, to act like I was really at a wedding of a cousin, a wedding of a peer, a wedding in India.

That first day was the roce, which is a ceremony that probably means a whole lot more than what I know of it. All I can tell is it is really a final send-off between the, in our case, bride-to-be, and her family and their friends. The opposite party may or may not come; as it is more of a family event than the joint celebration of a wedding. In the beginning, there are some prayers, and then the members of the brides family, starting with the parents, then siblings, then aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, go and bless the bride with what can only be described as white paste. We also bless the unmarried female members of the brides family and friends, which in this scenario included my sister and our cousin and our cousins children among others. Of course, none of this really mattered to me. It was all sweet and I have to assume emotional and meaningful, but I was awaiting the end, where we all get to douse the bride with eggs and beer and ruin the lovely dress she was wearing. That little act ended the formal parts of the day, which left the rest of the day and eventually night to do whatever we want. It was a good thing that my cousin's family owned that farm, or we may have had to actually be careful. Needless to say, the beer was not used to douse people after that.


The actual ceremony of the "Roce"

In retrospect, that roce night was probably the best single night of the week. Since it was first, everyone was a little more amped and ready; we all let our guard down, not totally sure what to expect. Also adding to the night was the intimate setting of the farm, as it seemed secluded not only from the farm, but the world itself. It was a dizzying place by the time the darkness slowly rolled around, with beautiful lights strung from palm tree to palm tree, showering down upon a dance floor that was placed firmly on the sand beneath it. What made it truly special was that the people occupying the dance floor and the farm around it were the people that we had grown up with and together, the people I have known longer than anyone else. We were always a strongly connected family, and a strong group of cousins, but as we all got closer, and that age gap became less important, that strength grew tighter and tighter. This really was the closest I have ever come to a family reunion, with all of my living Aunts and Uncles from that side of the family, as well as all but one cousin (we missed you, Roy) present. The fact that there were few other people added to the fun, as we were left with the people we had grown up around.

I am not a dancer. Never have been, and unless there is some dramatic change in my life that I am certainly not expecting, never will be. My line that I often used as an explanation (some would call it excuse) for not dancing was that "I am a Pinto" (which is my mother's maiden name, and the patriarch of the family who's wedding we were all attending), because in my mind, the older Pinto males didn't dance, but drank and played cards. I have no idea if this is true, but I liked the sound of it. I did dance that night more than any other, because the dance floor looked appealing under the glow of the moon, the lights and the kingfisher. However, limiting my dancing gave me time to really talk to all of these cousins, some who I obviously had known for a long time, but didn't really know. I learned just how amazing, odd, interesting and downright "Pinto" all of these people really were. We are crazy people, much more debaucherous than we seem in our respective daily lives.


Every cousin, minus the bride, from 5 to 35.

There's the bride to be, Vinitha, who I never really knew until now. I realize now I missed out, because her life seemed to be much more fun than I could have imagined. There's Smitha, Vinitha's sister, who I've long been told stories of her wilder, younger days, before she got married and had two kids, both of whom are about as intelligent and ridiculous (in a great way) as any I've seen. She still has that side of her who's as interesting and fun as any. There's Avinash, the responsible one, who actually lives a very respectable life, but always is around to add to the fun. There's Dhiraj who is about as crazy and wild as they come. (The previous four are siblings) There's Vikram, the smart one, who also happens to be a Doctor-turned-Consultant who, like the Hailey's Comet, comes around rarely, but comes in a fiery blaze. There's his brother Andy, the funny smart one, who coined the phrase "winning the night", a daily award given out to the person who fought the hardest. He ended up being the undisputed champion (in his eyes - in reality, there were many viable candidates). There's Marie, the next bride, who brought along her fiancee Ryan, who provided gritty depth (had to throw a sports metaphor, as this is still kind of a sports blog) and set a great foundation for what will happen come October when we all do it again. There's my sister, who I won't describe because I still have to meet her a lot more than any one else. Finally, there's my Uncle, the last "cousin."


The "Uncle" (on left), the final cousin


I'll leave his name out of it, because he probably wouldn't come off to nicely, and the people present know exactly who he is, but he is the one who is closer in age to my eldest cousin than any of his siblings. He's the one who I've long been told was like a cousin to all my older cousins, being more a prankster and teaser than anyone else. I hadn't seen this side of him in reality. He was always my Uncle. I was by far the last cousin to call him "Uncle." By the end of the night, there was no need to call him Uncle anymore. He finally became to me that long-lost oldest cousin, the one who did all the ridiculous things we did, the one who drank with us, joked with us, and laughed with us. I told him late in the night that "how crazy it was [he] was drinking with his paige boy." I don't know who was more shocked at that sudden realization of the sheer size of 14 years in time, him or his wife (who happens to be my second cousin on my dad's side, someone with the generational label to take his place as the eldest cousin a little more naturally). In reality, we were all equal that night, as even the parents, who initially looked in in a mix of horror and hollow shock, were taken over by the moon, the farm and the times.

When the night finally ended that same Uncle returned to his post as "Uncle" when he had to care for the members of the cousinhood (as I'll call them - more easy than naming the individual names) who were defeated by the bottle on night one. No one was knocked out, just a 2-1 split decision after 12 well fought, fun rounds in the ring. We finally left that secluded piece of heaven and returned to Bangalore, the setting of the days that were capped by the more memorable nights. Bangalore is the town that is now my hub in India, the place where most of my family in India is concentrated. I have been there when I was two, when it was a city that had charm, and open streets, and little pollution, and grass. All of those things are gone, erased by the power of computers. Now, it is the IT hub of India, a sprawling, landlocked, dense Metropolis that makes Bombay seem sparse. I might be wrong, since I was only five, but I remember a swath of green grass in front of my Aunt's house in Bangalore when I visited in the mid nineties. That is most certainly gone, with a dense street now surrounding the house. I started this little piece by promising to be honest, as much an implicit promise as anything, and I have to about Bangalore. It is now a city that has lost the charm it used to have. It is a city that reminds me of, say, Dallas, but with pollution. Sprawling, crowded and dusty, it is a challenge; much like its cadre of auto drivers, who often flatly decline to offer you service if the location is anywhere within 5 km. Bangalore is not exactly the greatest city to vacation in, although I have little to say for its nightlife, other than the fact that all public places close at 11:30 (one of the few rules they do enforce), so afterparties are about as crucial at night as a facial mask should be during the day. All I will say is thank God the main three nights of the wedding took place far from the bustling place that is Bangalore central.

Vinitha's Roce was probably the peak of the trip, but this isn't like a band peaking with their first album, or a TV Show peaking in Year 1. This was more like a restaurant that has great appetizers before a solid main course. The week had just begin, and with the amazing day that was in fact Christmas day, we were all ready for day two and three. Lucky for us, the saga had just begun, and begun it had. We left the farm behind, hopefully in a respectable condition. The location would shift, but the drinks, the songs (which were repeated each night until they all got engrained in our heads - Everytime I hear "Stereo Love" I will immediately be taken back to the farm), the people and the fun would stay constant, a reminder of what it is like to go to a wedding in India.


Coming Up Next, Part 3 (The Groom's Roce, the Other Nights, and returning to Mangalore).

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Madness 2011: Review, Reset and React

Well, my bad picking from the NFL playoffs seems to have carried over to March. I got the entire Southeast bracket wrong. 0-4, which is pretty embarrassing. But then, I realized that Bill Simmons gets paid tons of money to go 0-4 in the NFL Playoffs for one week a year, so I'm probably fine. Anyway, before the games starts tomorrow, the games which constitute the best weekend of March Madness, in my opinion, I'll share my thoughts.

= Yes, there were a ton of close games, but other than a glut of winning shots early on Day 1, like Matt Howard's put back and the shot by the Temple kid, and I guess the three by the Morehead State fellow, there were few actual buzzer beaters. The real storyline was mostly odd officiating and abhorrent fouls.

= Obviously the Butler/Pitt ending was the most controversial, but in reality, I'm happy it played out the way it did. If none of the fouls occured, the game ends 70-69 with Butler winning off a beautifully designed play. That's how it should have been. Butler deserved to win that game, and with the foul on Howard, they ended up winning. That said, Pitt's inability to ever go through has been horrible. They have been a great program for years, but really, they never do get the premier players, just a bunch of good ones. They need to get the Kemba Walker's of the world. Of course, they are in Pittsburgh, so that is a challenge.

= Quick officiating thoughts. I had no problem with the five second call. The Texas guy called an inexplicable timeout anyway. If he didn't they never would have even had to inbound the ball. Also, it isn't the refs fault they fouled Derrick Williams.

= I do have problems with two other calls though. I cannot understand why the refs didn't at least review the time left on the clock at the end of the Washington - UNC game. Since the game was in Charlotte, it wreaked of the refs wanting to get the fuck out of the arena with the least bit of work. The other was the backcourt violation on Scoop Jardine. It didn't really look like backcourt.

= Anyway, let's move forward. These games could be classics, but really, I think there are three good teams out there. OSU, Kansas and Duke. Since that is more good teams than last year, we are probably in for a good third weekend, this second weekend doesn't seem to be packing the same punch it normally does. OSU is a loaded team, and they built it perfectly on offense, surrounding Sullinger with shooters. If the shooters are on, the game is over. Duke is a team that, oddly for a Coach K team, I see the sum as less than their parts. They have all the talent of last years team, but let their opponent hang around. There was no way Michigan should have had a good look at a basket to tie the game. That was inexplicable how the Dukies let Michigan get back in that game.

= Kansas is a weird team. They resemble the 2008 title team, although are probably a bit less talented (which is fine, since the Final 4 in 2011 will probably not be as collectively good as the Final 4 in 2008 which was as loaded a Final 4 as I've ever seen). They don't blow teams out, but just execute better. They play solid each game, and make their opponent work for everything. If their opponent plays out of its mind, then they can be beat, but it is difficult. They also rebound fantastically. I've watched more NBA games this year than most, and the difference in play between the NCAA and NBA is more jarring than ever, but Kansas runs stuff that at least looks like NBA plays. Despite three notable early flameouts, Bill Self, in my opinion, is an exceedingly good coach.

= The Big East is a fraud. They probably are a good conference, and top to bottom, probably are the best, but they are not good come tournament time. If all rounds were best of seven, they would dominate, but a lot of their programs struggle in the tournament. Georgetown wasn't fully healthy, but this is the third time in four years they have lost early to a far lesser seed. Syracuse has been beaten by lesser seeds all too often since the 2003 title. I've already talked about Pitt. There is a great chance the Big East doesn't get a Final 4 team for the first time since 2006.

= The NCAA Tournament is really about coaching, and 2011 has hammered that point home. With Steve Fisher, Bill Self, Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams, Jim Calhoun and Billy Donovan, six of the remaining teams have title winning coaches. Three more have a coach who has coached a team to the title game (Thad Matta, John Calipari and Brad Stevens). If Rick Pitino's team didn't turn into a choking dog, and if Jim Boehiem did anything in the tournament again, the number of coaches who have coached in a title game could have been 11 out of 16 teams. Even more than the NFL, coaching in college matters.

= We need some overtimes. We've had one overtime game, and the game (Temple/SDSU) was really the most boring double overtime games in the history of this tournament. The middle weekend is usually good for a couple. The most likely suspect is probably Florida/BYU (who played a double overtime classic last year), or UCONN/SDSU (although I doubt I want to see SDSU in another overtime), or even the amazing 10/11 matchup in VCU and Florida St. However, my darkhose potential classic game is Duke and Arizona. I don't think anyone on Duke can stop Derrick Williams, especially not the laughably overrated Brothers Plumlee.

= I'm looking forward to this weekend anyway, becuase I love all sporting events that can go to midnight. That's probably half the reason I like Western Conference basketball so much more. Who doesn't love when the game goes into the next day. The NCAA starting games at 9:57 gets me so happy. There is guaranteed to be some post-midnight action.

Here are my updated picks:

East

(1) Ohio St. over (4) Kentucky
(2) UNC over (11) Marquette

(1) Ohio St. over (2) UNC


West

(1) Duke over (5) Arizona
(3) UCONN over (2) SDSU

(3) UCONN over (1) Duke

Southwest

(1) Kansas over (12) Richmond
(11) VCU over (10) Florida St.

(1) Kansas over (10) Florida St.


Southeast

(4) Wisconsin over (8) Butler
(2) Florida over (3) BYU

(4) Wisconsin over (2) Florida


Final 4

(E1) Ohio St. over (W3) UCONN
(SW1) Kansas over (SE4) Wisconsin

(SW1) Kansas over (E1) Ohio St.


Games that I am potentially really looking forward to see:

1.) Kansas/Ohio St. Final - getting the best two teams is always a treat. Getting two one seeds hasn't happened since 2008, and getting the best two teams really hasn't happened since 2005.

2.) UCONN/Duke Regional Final - they always play amazing games, like in the 1999 Championship game and the 2004 National Semifinal. Calhoun vs Krzyzewski is probably also the dickiest coaching matchup possible.

3.) BYU/Wisconsin or Butler Regional Final - I don't think BYU will beat Florida, but to see Jimmer Fredette against either one of two of the best defensive teams in the nation would be a treat. My guess is Bo Ryan and Brad Stevens would have something for Mr. Jimmer.

4.) OSU/UNC Regional Final - I picked it to happen, and I would love to see it mostly because I think the Tar Heels would get drummed like a seabass. Seeing Duke or UNC beaten down like Hitler at the end of Inglorious Basterds is a rare, but amazing treat. We saw it in 2009 when Villanova laid the wood to the Dukies, and in 2008, when Kansas guillotined Roy Williams. Seeing one of those go down is always fun, and this one will probably be just as fun.

5.) OSU/Duke Final 4 - See above, #4, about seeing douchey programs get annihilated.


Enjoy the Games.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Rise (and Now Fall) of Rocky Top



The news came today, that Bruce Pearl had been fired as Head Men's Basketball coach at the University of Tennessee, mainly as a scapegoating move for his admitted involvement in lying the the NCAA Investigators in a larger case against the University's Basketball and Football teams. He was shoved out the door, despite the fact that the AD of the university still has his job after now ushering out a second coach in 15 months after violations (Lane Kiffin being the other one), causing great instability to the long-stable football program, and being part of a dual investigation into the practices of two of the program's teams. How he has his job, when by all accounts his performance has been far below Pearl's in amazing. Either way, Bruce Pearl is gone, and this ends a six-year saga of Tennessee Men's Basketball, by far the most successful six-year span in program history, fit with three trips to the Sweet Sixteen and a one-point loss in last year's regional final. Last year I wrote this post below about the great four year span of Tennessee Men's Basketball that had risen a horrible program into the elite of Men's Basketball and how the sky was the limit. That sky is now under a never-ending storm cloud, and with Bruce Pearl gone, I have to admit that I doubt Tennessee Men's Basketball reaches heights nearly this high anytime soon. I'm re-running the post now, with an updated section at the end with some final thoughts about Pearl.

(as a reminder, this was written after last season, before any infractions were announced publicly and before the 2010-2011 season).

_________________________________________________________

The Transformation of Tennessee Basketball



It hit me the second Raymar Morgan hit his game winning free throw. It kept hitting me throughout the Duke-Baylor game. It still astounds me six hours later, as the final four is set, and god damnit Tom Izzo and Mike Krzyzsewksi are there again. What hit me? The stunning realization that I am distraught and saddened by Tennessee Volunteer basketball. I'll blame it on Bruce Pearl and his orange suits.

The last five years of Tennessee Volunteer basketball has by any conceivable measure the best five years in the history of the men's program. When Bruce Pearl took over the job in 2005, he was leading the second most popular basketball team in his own university. He took over an average team, with few real recruits, and somehow led them to a #2 seed in the 2006 tournament. No one really remembers that team, mainly because they lost in the second round to Witchita State, and the pursuits of George Mason have essentially whited-out every other significant fact of that tournament. (Hey, guess what, LSU was in the Final Four that year). However, it was the start of something. It felt good to be a Volunteer fan. I can still remember randomly looking at the AP rankings midway through the 2005-2006 season, and seeing the Volunteers at number 11, and just thinking, "What? Tennessee Basketball." Entering 2006-07 there was actual optimism, because the team had a duo of frosh Smiths (Ramar and JaJuan), and the two players that are responsible for the feeling that now festers inside of me: Chris Lofton and Wayne Chism.

The teams were memorable in 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 because they were actually very good. Back to back sweet sixteen appearances, one with a last second loss to Ohio State in the Oden year (a loss infinitely more heartbreaking than the loss today), and the next to Rick Pitino and a loaded Lousville squad. They had two than three Smiths, a scrappy white guy named Dane Bradshaw, and roamers like Duke Crews (what a porn name!), Josh Powell and Ryan Childress. They were good teams, fun teams, but flawed teams because the A1 recruits still don't truly want to come to Tennessee. 2008-2009 was different, because Lofton was gone, and so was the magic. They had to reload, and spent one middling year that amounted to nothing, but was immediately forgotten because of the exploits of the 2009-2010 team. That one magically got four of its players arrested, which led to the dismissal of the third Smith, Tyler, the team's best player. They then went on to band together and reach the Elite Eight for the first time since in the history of the program, and avenge the Ohio St. Sweet Sixteen loss from 2007. The team had new stars, like Scotty Hopson, Bobby Maze and J.P. Prince. But the binding was three men, Chris Lofton, Wayne Chism and Coach Pearl.

The first man in the trio is Coach Pearl, the man given the near Sisyphusian task of building Tennessee basketball into a major player. In one year, he had the team as a 2 seed. The next, one point away from beating the eventual runner-up in the Sweet 16. The next year having Tennessee ranked #1 for the first time ever, and two years later in the Elite Eight for the first time ever. Gifted with an infinite energy, and an uncanny ability to connect to his players (probably due to him being the only Division 1 coach to paint his chest and cheer in the student section for a Women's Game). Although, since he would have to be stoop to Calipari level shadiness to get major recruits, it is his brilliant coaching that has been his allowed the program to take flight. He has the singular ability to coach his team up for any game at any time. They are the nation's giant killers.

Time and time again, they randomly take huge bites out of the country's top teams. When Florida went back-to-back in 2005-06 and 2006-07, Tennessee beat them three times out of four. They were the only team to beat the Rose-led Memphis team in 2008 until Kansas needed a miracle to upend them in the Title Game, and they also did it in Memphis. Nothing drove this point home more than in the 2009-10 season, when Pearl coached his team up to beat the current #1 Kansas with six scholarship players and three walk-ons. Then, they beat Kentucky. Kansas and Kentucky lost a total of four games before the NCAA Tournament, and two of those were to Tennessee. Again, they came THIS close to knocking off Oden in 2007. There were no limits to Pearl. In the end, the program's inability to draw major recruits were his undoing. He was probably the best in-game head coach of the past five years, only beaten by Tommy Izzo. Bruce Pearl and his contagious smile and bashful behaviour masked a coaching genius, one that succeeded at finally pushing the rock over the hill.

Chism is next. The Chism era is now officially over, and what a whirlwind it was. He was the guy who like his coach, had a brilliant ability to come up huge in games. Izzo knew, so in what will be his final NCAA game, Chism was doubled and effectively taken out of the game, but look back one game, and Chism was the best player on a court that included the Player of the Year, Evan Turner. Chism was an uncontrollable player as a freshman on the memorable 2007 team. He had a maddening ability to jack up threes and wander far, far away from the basket. At times he could take over games, but he mostly was just a sideshow. That was until he did yoeman's work against Greg Oden, outscoring Oden in the 2007 Sweet 16 game. Every year he got better and better, and would just come up huge in major games. He finally was able to use his size and leverage, as he planted himself mainly under the basket, and contorted out lay-ups at every turn. It seemed that there was nothing Chism could not do. Hit a three? Yeah, he could do it. Block a shot? Yup. Wayne Chism's headband had a life of it own. Infamously fickle with the band of cloth, it somehow stayed on his increasingly rectuangular head until he decided mid-game to take it off. Headband off, headband on, behind the three point line or in the paint. Chism never failed to dissapoint, never failed to bring a smile to the Vols faithful. Chism will never suit up for Tennessee again, and if nothing else, that makes this loss hard to take. Never again will he launch a three or throw one down. However, the memories will stay forever.

Of course, that brings us to Lofton. Everything started and ended with Lofton. He was the greatest three-point shooter in team history, and probably the best big game shooter of the 2000s in college basketball. It never looked pretty, but his fall-back three point shot was a thing of beauty. It was him that keyed the 2005-06 resurgence, and him that made the 2006-2007 season the most memorable in Volunteer history. It started with his shot over 6'9" now superstar Kevin Durant to beat Texas. It was then his 30 points against eventual back-to-back Florida. There was no shot he could not hit, not any part of the court that was not outside his range. If it went up, it was probably going in. Chris Lofton was even a great help-defender and passer, the heart and soul of Tennessee's 2006-07 team. He was the man in Knoxville, the guy with the iron balls, able to launch up three's at a whim and make them all count. Yet, none of that mattered one year later after his dramatic senior year.

video

The question was inescapable. What was wrong with Chris Lofton? A pre-season All-American, Lofton was barely averaging 15 points per game, after crossing 20 ppg the season before. The team was having its best regular season ever, acheiving the #1 ranking for the first time in school history. They were finally major players in the regular season, but Chris was not the major reason why. They team was deeper and more talented, but not better because they did not have the same old Chris. We found out why after his senior season ended, it was because he battled cancer without even telling his teammates. Chris Lofton learned in May 2007 that he had cancer. At 21 he was supposed to be at his physical peak, but cancer does not discriminate. He was able to beat it, but it left him lifeless on the court and helpless off it. Only coach Bruce Pearl knew, and he valiantly kept the secret as he personally wanted to curse all the reporters who asked the question every fan was thinking, "What's wrong with Chris?" The fire just wasn't there, and in retrospect, it was there more than ever, but the opponent was cancer, not other teams. Chris beat cancer, but he also beat the odds, becoming a sports legend at Tennessee and not throwing, running or catching an oblong ball with laces. He was the biggest Tennessee sports hero since a certain QB named Manning. He was the heart and soul of the Tennessee resurgence. It all starts with him and his pure shot.

video

Tennessee is finally a team that will probably be in the top-25 for years and years to come. One day, Pearl will start landing major recruits, or at least major enough to get to that Final 4. It is only a matter of time, because he is too good of a coach and he is invested in seeing Tennessee reach glory (unlike a certain Mr. Calipari who is soulless enough to just leave a school he has a contract with in a mess of sanctions and stripped Final 4 seasons). Tennessee will never be Kansas or Kentucky, programs with great history and tradition, but it can easily be the next Michigan St. a program built by a coach and a coach only, one who rebuilt a program into a major power. The shot is there, and we have Wayne Chism and his headband, Bruce Pearl and his orange suits, and Chris Lofton and his big shot and bigger heart. Tennessee Basketball has come so far in five years, and the truth is in the pain caused by their losses.


Update (after Bruce Pearl's firing):
The comparison to Calipari is interesting. Bruce Pearl was guilty of second-degree violations (which really are only met with slaps on the wrist). However, Pearl is also guilty of lying, and that in the end sealed his fate. Unlike his buddy John Calipari, who has been guilty of first-degree infractions, multiple times playing players who were ineligible, has been honest in his shady practices. Calipari has made the final four twice, once with UMASS and the other with Memphis. That said, officially, he's never made it, as both of those two teams have had their records wiped out of the record books. Calipari has a job, and one of the highest-profile ones in the country. Explain that to me when looking at the Pearl situation.

Anyway, this makes the memories of the great Tennessee teams and games of the past six years all the more memorable. The wins over those great Florida teams. The heartbreaking loss to Greg Oden and Ohio St in 2007 (when a win would have all but clinched me winning one of my bracket pools in 2007). The win over undefeated Memphis in Memphis in 2008 which was followed with the No. 1 ranking. The magical run to the brink of the Final 4 after the suspension of the team's best player earlier. All of these amazing things were done with Bruce Pearl at the helm. It is not a far from ridiculous statement to say that Pearl's Tennessee program was the best in the country not to make the Final 4 over the last six years, with ones like Pitt close to it as well. Bruce Pearl really is Tennessee Men's Basketball. Pat Summit is that for women's, and obviously she's accomplished far more in terms of winning than Pearl has. That said, what Pearl has accomplished may be just as big.

Bruce Pearl has made Men's Basketball relevant at Tennessee. He energized the Knoxville faithful by being a great coach, but by also being the one coach that any Volunteer fan would get drunk with. He wore bright orange blazers against Kentucky. He painted his chest orange and stood in the student section of a women's game. He was able to convince Pat Summit to dress like a Cheerleader for a Men's game. He made a program that was invisible into an integral part of the Tennessee sports landscape. Bruce Pearl was fired, fairly or unfairly, but he, and what he did with his fearless players, best personified by Chris Lofton who fought cancer and an undefeated Memphis team and beat them both, will be fondly remembered by me and the millions that would pay anything to see Bruce, orange-chest-clad and all, one more time.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Madness 2011: The Picks

Here we go. I'll do them in region order.

East

1st Round

(1) Ohio St. over (16) Whoever
(8) George Mason over (9) Villanova
(5) West Virginia over (12) Clemson
(4) Kentucky over (13) Princeton
(6) Xavier over (11) Marquette
(3) Syracuse over (14) Indiana St.
(7) Washington over (10) Georgia
(2) UNC over (15) Long Island

(yes, I will pick upsets eventually)

2nd Round

(1) Ohio St. over (8) George Mason
(5) West Virginia over (4) Kentucky
(3) Syracuse over (6) Xavier
(7) Washington over (2) UNC


West Region

1st Round

(1) Duke over (16) Hampton
(9) Tennessee over (8) Michigan
(5) Arizona over (12) Memphis
(4) Texas over (13) Oakland
(11) Missouri over (6) Cincinnati
(3) UCONN over (14) Bucknell
(7) Temple over (10) Penn St.
(2) San Diego St. over (15) Northern Co.

2nd Round

(1) Duke over (9) Tennessee
(4) Texas over (5) Arizona
(3) UCONN over (11) Missouri
(2) San Diego St. over (7) Temple


Southwest Region

1st Round

(1) Kansas over (16) Boston U.
(8) UNLV over (9) Illinois
(12) Richmond over (5) Vanderbilt
(4) Louisville over (13) Morehead St.
(6) Georgetown over (11) Whoever
(3) Purdue over (14) St. Peter's
(10) Florida St. over (7) Texas A&M
(2) Notre Dame over (15) Akron

2nd Round

(1) Kansas over (8) UNLV
(4) Louisville over (12) Richmond
(6) Georgetown over (3) Purdue
(2) Notre Dame over (10) Florida St.


Southeast Region

1st Round

(1) Pitt over (16) UNC Asheville
(8)Butler over (9) Old Dominion
(5) Kansas St. over (12) Utah St.
(4) Wisconsin over (13) Belmont
(6) St. John's over (11) Gonzaga
(3) BYU over (14) Wofford
(10) Michigan St. over (7) UCLA
(2) Florida over (15) UCSB

2nd Round

(1) Pitt over (8) Butler
(5) Kansas St. over (4) Wisconsin
(6) St. John's over (3) BYU
(10) Michigan St. over (2) Florida


Sweet 16

(E1) Ohio St. over (E5) West Virginia
(E3) Syracuse over (E7) Washington

(W4) Texas over (W1) Duke
(W2) San Diego St. over (W3) UCONN

(SW1) Kansas over (SW4) Louisville
(SW6) Georgetown over (SW2) Notre Dame

(SE1) Pitt over (SE5) Kansas St.
(SE10) Michigan St. over (SE6) St. John's


Elite 8

(E1) Ohio St. over (E3) Syracuse

(E4) Texas over (E2) San Diego St.

(SW1) Kansas over (SW6) Georgetown

(SE1) Pitt over (SE10) Michigan St.


Final 4

(E1) Ohio St. over (E4) Texas

(SW1) Kansas over (SE1) Pitt


(SW1) Kansas over (E1) Ohio St.

Champion:
Kansas Jayhawks

Monday, March 14, 2011

Madness 2011: Initial Bracket Thoughts

I'm not a huge college basketball fan. In fact, I've not watched a complete college game so far this year. That said, when March rolls along, much like the nicer weather, college basketball starts appearing more often in my life. This year is no different. I am ready for a fun three weekends of three-point shooting, pick and rolls, and zone defenses, and other things that make the quality of the college game a whole lot worse than the NBA, but the drama just as good. Anyway, the bracket this year has some interesting storylines all to its own. Here are my rambling thoughts on the bracket.

= The first thing that jumped out was the quality of the Southeast (the quarter that Pitt is the #1), and by that, I mean mostly how soft it is. They have, imo, the worst of all the 2's (Florida, a team way overranked), and due to Davies' suspension, the worst of the 3's. Honestly, they have the worst of the 4's, in Wisconsin, as well. Pittsburgh is famous for flaming out in the tournament under coach Jamie Dixon and even before that under Ben Howland. If they don't make it out this year, then they never will.

= Ohio St. can't be too happy with its draw given that it is the top overall seed. This is the second year the selection committee has loaded the region with the overall top seed. Last year Kansas got a brutal draw that was irrelevant since they lost to Northern Iowa. This time, they have a good 2-3-4-5-6-7. All of those teams have a shot. Ohio St. has a really good combination of inside/outside offense but they will need to be at their best.

= I won't be able to really talk about the legitimacy of VCU and UAB being included over the likes of Colorado and Alabama and Virginia Tech, but I will talk about how pissed off Jay Bilas was. He threw the biggest shit-fest over the whole thing, calling out everyone associated with the committee, saying it doesn't "pass the laugh test" (which really made no sense). He made it seem like the biggest snub in the history of the bracket bubble. Why all this drama for teams that have about a .02% chance of making it even to the Sweet 16? Lord knows, but to see Jay Bilas, one of the best, most intelligent, level-headed ESPN personalities, lose his shits was fun.

= I said this last year: "Kansas was my pick to win it all, and this is the last time I ever trust them. I had them winning it all in 2007 too. Of course, they won the following year, so this might bode well for the 2011 Jayhawks." I honestly predicted Kansas winning the 2011 title back in May 2010. Of course, it isn't really a prediction, nor am I going to pick them, but it is scary how consistent they are at screwing with my bracket one year and being really good the next.

= Is there nothing more grating than everyone saying "The Big East is the best conference by far." And this unfounded crap is only going to intensify now that the Big East got 11 bids. This is a conference that got 8 bids a year ago, and only two got to the sweet sixteen and only one got to the elite eight (West Virginia, a team that was not among the best Big East teams last year). Also, the Big East was a juggernaut in 2009. This is not the same thing. I don't see any great teams from the Big East. I'll be stunned if any of them win the title. In 2009, three of the one seeds were from the Big East, and out of their seven bids, five made the Sweet 16, four made the Elite Eight, and two made the Final Four. That's success. If the Big East fails again to come close in 2011, I think the "Big East is the SEC of basketball" needs to stop.

= Back to the draw. I'm not loving Duke's chances. First, they are out West. One seeds out west, especially those who don't come from the Western part of the country, are not usually very successful. Only UCONN as a one out West has come out of it, and that was in 2009. Strange thing about UCONN, which makes Duke's position more precarious, is that they are amazing out West. UCONN was in the West bracket in 1999, 2004 and 2009. Their results: Champions, Champions, Semifinals.

= Also, there is the Tennessee and Texas factor. Texas is a good team that went through a lull, but is, in my opinion, really underranked. They were in the conversation for a one or two seed a couple weeks ago. They can play. Then there is Tennessee, who has been extremely average for most of the second half of the season. That said, they have some big scalps on their mantle over the past four years. Bruce Pearl coaches that team up like no other. In the Florida Back-to-Back years, Tennessee beat Florida three out of four times. In 2007, they played Greg Oden's Ohio St. team in the Sweet 16 and lost by one. In 2010, Kentucky and Kansas had a combined three regular season losses, two of those were to Tennessee. Then, as a five seed they made the Elite Eight. Finally, this season, they beat Pitt and then beat Villanove when they were good. They are a team that can rise to the level of their opponent.

= Kansas should be worried about Louisville. Rick Pitino has NEVER lost in the Sweet 16 round. If he goes that far, he always makes at least the Elite Eight, which is a ridiculous statistic. Kansas and Louisville are slated to play in the Sweet 16. That said, Self is 5-2 in the Sweet 16 round, so something has to give, but I'm not liking Kansas' chances against Sir Rick Pitino.

Overall, this should be a fun tournament. There really is no great team, although Ohio St. is probably the closest. The tournament is really wide open, and there is a chance for some new blood in the Final Four. As always, it is March, let the madness begin.


I'll be back with picks later today or tomorrow. Part 2 of the India-venture coming later this week.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

I wanted to write this soon after I returned from India in January, but like too many things in my life, I pushed it aside for a while. No longer, say I. It is coming. Now. This is a review of what a wedding in India actually is, how great it can be, and a city that has an arcane "Everything closes by 11:30" rule, which is about is ridiculous as prohibition in the 1920's. Anyway, let's go. It is a piece just about the general goings on of a wedding in India in my family. The bride is my cousin, we'll call her Vinitha. She's marrying a man (had to clarify; you can never be too safe), who we'll call Tri-Name. Actually, we'll call him by his nickname Chinny, mainly because I don't know his actual name, as it has been told to me as Rohit or Joseph. Anyway, it takes place in Bangalore, a town that is no longer a town, overrun by globalization, and not exactly in a good way. It takes place between the days of December 24th and January 2nd. It's a good one (for me at least).

__________________________________________________________

A Wedding in India

Family, Fun and a City That Does Sleep

(Part 1 of 4)




India is a different place, a different world. Never more striking when you go there and leave the dead of winter behind. The second you land in India, and leave the cozy confines of the plane, you know immediately that you are in India. There is no combination of smell (not necessarily a bad smell, just a distinctive one) and heat quite like India, a personal welcome greeting that I can't stand, but can't stand to live without (otherwise, how would I know I'm there?). That slap in the face, or more pointedly, in the nose and sweat-glands, at least wakes you up, which is necessary when almost any international flight arrives and leaves India around 2am (India may sleep early, but their airports definitely don't). That smell of heat (yes, it smells) pervades throughout the airport complex in Bombay, so I was dreading my five hour layover, but the second I reached the newly completed Domestic Airport in Bombay, I realized this would be a different experience. It was clean, with high glass windows. It looked like any airport anywhere else in the world (believe me, if you had been to the old Bombay airport, which resembled a Econo Lodge, you would know what this would mean); and that was the second that I realized that this was no ordinary trip to India. No, this was something special. It started out with a surprise, and finished with a week a only partially remember.

When it was over, and my family and me were leaving for Mangalore, my parents childhood home, my grandmother's home that I spent countless summers as a child, I was already set to go back and do it all over again. I wanted every cousin I know to start getting married in India. I don't even care who it was to, or if they would make a happy couple (well, that's not exactly true - I would care after the wedding was over), I just wanted more. The experience was that great, that entertaining, that endless, that its inevitable end didn't even bring on sadness when it was over (yes, I'm the person that normally feels sad when things come to a close and can't just remember the good memories). It just brought on a longing to do it again, and it was horrible. But now, a month and a half later, it is a memory that will be unbreakable and perfect, a memory of a week gone by, a week that was worth living to its fullest, and Lord knows we did just that.

(before I continue, I need to interject that I had to edit what followed about 100 times in fear of it bringing about litigation and what impact the following would have for my image..... but remember India's not exactly a country where the fake ID business is booming, if you know what I mean)

After the long flight, long wait in Bombay, long drive from Bangalore's slightly overrated new airport, and long nap, I was ready to go to Midnight Mass (I arrived on Christmas Eve), meet my cousins who had already arrived in the preceding days, and get a good start in Bangalore. Little did I know that midnight mass was actually more like a pregame. It was one since that was actually far from the end of the night for the family, but also because the outdoor venue for midnight mass was a meeting space for the local mass. Throngs of random people, who could not have looked less Christian even if they were wearing a turbin or reciting Koran verses, descended upon the church that within four days would host a wedding, the wedding. They were drinking in the church courtyard, conversing with each other, basically planning the rest of the night. Although this drew the unending ire of my Aunt Carmel, who's about as religious as they come, I thought it was great. It was like going to mass in a stadium. All I was missing was the beer and hot dog, and of course, the game. It was so perfectly Indian, in its genuine state. No other country in the world would a mass of people just go to a church on Christmas Eve to hang out. In no other country would I be surprised that all of the non-Christians listened to the priests cries of "don't receive communion if you are not a Catholic" (easily a big upset - considering this is the same country that will have every one rush to the line to board the plane when they announce they are boarding rows 30-40). This is the India I suspected, and in all seriousness, missed. What came next wasn't.



Night One...... And it was a good start.


We next retired to my Aunt Carmel's house. Luckily, retiring meant just going to an after Christmas Mass party, and there are few better reasons to celebrate. I finally got to see the bride to be (another cousin), her fiancee (who didn't remember me, but then again I had only met him for about ten minutes a year and a half earlier), my cousin Andy, the bride-to-be's sister Smitha, their older brother and many more people that I won't name right now because I'm sure my incessant naming of random people is losing readers with each successive word. Mainly, I got to meet Vinitha's friends, a cast of characters that would do well in a sitcom, but in this case, the city of Bangalore was just fine. They were all foreign to me on day one, a swath of talls and shorts, thins and not-so-thins, and varying shades of authentic Brown. Within a week, I would know most of them by name, by occupation and by favorite drink. That's what happens when there's an occasion each night to attend to. That's what happens when you see the same people night after night; especially when you want to see those people night after night. If the company you keep is a measure of success, then Vinitha, you are a hall-of-famer. Around three, or four, or five, or basically the expiration of my ability to put off being susceptible to jetlag, I finally did "retire" to the upstairs of my Aunt's house, a place that I really had not been to in eleven fourteen years.

One of the best unintended results of this trip to India was the way it changed my Aunt's house in my life. For my first four trips to India, my Aunt's house, a block away from the noted, turning-too-uppity Bangalore Club, was my home in India, a place where I could be comforted by my Aunt, my Uncle and her kids. It was of intrigue, fun and more good memories that I regret having to forget as age hit. The past three trips to India, it wasn't my home, it wasn't a home. After my cousins from that house mostly moved out, got married (didn't get to go to those weddings, which is really what made this one so special) and had kids of their own, it became a slightly lonely place. I still went there, because I love my Aunt and Uncle, but it wasn't a place I could ever imagine staying or spending the night (sorry for this Auntie Carmel, but be sure this is no longer the case). Not anymore. It became a home for me again, and one that I embraced. It was fun to relive my childhood in that way, sleeping in her house, living in it, eating meals in it. The same places I crawled over, through and under when I was a toddler, I was now living in a decade and a half later, and it was great. Considering little else in the trip would resemble my times in India as a toddler (not that that was a problem), having this little trip back to the mid-90's was an unexpected, lovely surprise.

The next day was the official start of the wedding festivities in its most exact sense, with my cousin's roce (which will be explained in excruciating detail later) in my other cousins farm in the netherworlds of Bangalore, in the way that a netherworld would be a peaceful place that doesn't have 100,000 people milling around per square mile like Bangalore central. It was the first of a week that redefined just how much fun my mom's side of my family is, and just how great this age in all of our respective lives is. It was a perfect set-up, the perfect mix of ages. A perfect brew, that much like India's perfect brews. Both brews would proceed to be imbibed day after day after day (more exactly night after night after night).



Part 2 coming up later............ the roce and meaning of family (at least in a wedding situation), plus the evolution of Bangalore.

About Me

I am a man who will go by the moniker dmstorm22, or StormyD, but not really StormyD. I'll talk about sports, mainly football, sometimes TV, sometimes other random things, sometimes even bring out some lists (a lot, lot, lot of lists). Enjoy.