Friday, February 13, 2009

March Madness, Yogi-Style (#9)



It stands to reason that at least one of my Top Ten Memories had to take place at Yogi's in Bloomington, where we wasted so many wonderful hours watching sports over the years. The day was March 21th, 2008, the first Friday of last year's March Madness. Noffke and I (and a revolving cast of many others, notably Mark Hajduk, aka The Fairy Godmother Bear, Timmy Shark Transon, Alli, Jamie, what felt like dozens more) had the brilliant idea of watching every game of Friday in what would no doubt become a marathon drink-and-ball festival. We posted up at a table by the front bar, ordered food and pitchers, and dug in for a long, long day. Sixteen games, culminating in Indiana vs. Arkansas and a chance for Dan Dakich and DJ White to save our heartbreaking season. Well, that didn't exactly work out. But there were so many exciting moments along the way that the final body blow in a season full of them didn't hurt quite so bad when it inevitably came. Maybe thanks to all that beer, now that I think of it.

I'm leaning on this ESPN scoreboard page to help my poor Swiss-Cheese brain recall everything that went down. Well, everything but this One Shining Moment here. This, I will never forget. Ty Rogers buried a deep three as time expired in OT to give his Western Kentucky Hilltoppers and their hilarious, fantastic mascot (seen above in all his glory) a 101-99 victory over fifth seeded Drake, ending their excellent season. It was a back-and-forth nailbiter from start to finish, as the two teams traded the lead and showed off some serious lights-out shooting. There were other great games as well. Stephen Curry exploded onto the national stage as Davidson beat Gonzaga early on in a close one. He wasn't the only stud scorer to go off that day. Jack McClinton dropped 38 on St. Mary's to pace his Miami Hurricanes to a first-round win. Sonny Weems piled it on against poor, unfortunate Indiana, scoring 31 and barely missing all night, which was a stark contrast to Eric "It's My Party and I'll Shoot Every Time If I Want To" Gordon going 3-for-15. Have I mentioned that I still can't watch Gordon without grinding my teeth? And the Hilltoppers weren't the only 12 seed to pull an upset. Villanova and Clemson went down to the wire, with the 'Nova boys emerging as victors. Western Kentucky and 'Nova won as 12-seeds, but there was even more madness on this very special day.

Down in Tampa, where both of those 5-12 games took place, Siena was a 13-seed going up against a fourth-seeded Vanderbilt squad, and they absolutely crushed the Commodores. It wasn't even close. The same could not be said for the other 4 vs. 13 game, between San Diego and perennial power UConn. This one went to OT, with a final score of 70-69. Good game, right? Scary one for Jim Calhoun and his boys, right? Uh, San Diego won?! It was just a bracket-bustin' kind of day, I guess. Two 12s and two 13s on to the second round. That's why they call it March Madness.

By the time the late games rolled around, we had run up a pretty ridiculous tab on food and beverages. And then there was our side-betting to consider. At the start of the day, we all grabbed a bunch of quarters and decided on some rules. Basically, anyone could holler out any bet on any game going on. For example, "Drake's goanna shoot a three this time down." And then anyone that wanted to call the bet would throw down a quarter to match yours, "Nope, it'll be a deuce", with the winner taking both quarters, and the bet continuing to the next possession in the case of a push. With three or four people playing at once, and four games on at a time, and many bets being carried over... it was absolute madness, which seemed appropriate, given the day! I don't even remember who ended up walking with the most quarters, but we made literally hundreds of bets over the course of the day and night. (note for purists/legal agents, these 'quarters' were of course wooden. Not real money. Yeah.)

I haven't even mentioned Oregon-Mississippi State, a great game with a big Bulldogs rally, and St. Joes-Oklahoma was a good one too, if I recall (which I might not, come to think of it.) So even though we stumbled out of Yogi's at the end of the night with our hearts in our stomachs after watching the ignomonious end of DJ White's heroic IU career, we did so with full bellies (and bladders), and very pumped for the remainder of the tourney. This was the kind of night that made me want to write about sporting events and the watching thereof. This was the kind of day that legends are made of. I demand that we do it again this year. Chicago? Bloomington? Somewhere in between? You call it, and I am there. And, happily, Eric Gordon won't be joining us.

Rookies Give Durant A Run


Thank you, Noffke, for reminding me to watch the NBA Rookie-Sophomore game tonight! This was the first one of these games that I've really watched since Ben Gordon, Luol Deng, and Noce played back in 2006. Surprisingly, it was a great game. The coverage was definitely helped out by the presence of D-Wade (channeling his inner Farnsworth Bentley) and Dwight Howard coaching the two squads, as well as LeBron James doing a very entertaining guest analyst spot alongside Kenny Smith. LeBron showed off his extensive knowledge of the league ("without notes!" as his cohosts noted), commenting on Kevin Durant's improved shooting percentage and comparing Durant's teammate "Uncle" Jeff Green to 'that old uncle you played with down at the gym who would always punish you in the low post.' He also talked about the invaluable experience of playing with the Olympic team this summer and how those players have all led their teams during the NBA season. LeBron also shamelessly dodged the inevitable question, "How much do you weigh these days?"

But unlike past years, this season's game didn't need a ton of distracted, Maddenesque side commentary to stay watchable. Durant dropped 46 on the Rookies on his way to the MVP award, showing off an array of sick dunks and his killer deep stroke. He finished 17-of-25 for the evening and his high effort really rubbed off on guys on both sides of the ball. He brought the game up a level from playground-style alley ooping to a truly competitive event. Watching guys setting screens during an All-Star event was great. Props to Marc Gasol and Rudy Fernandez for playing hard for the rookies, not to mention Scola and Rodney Stuckey (who finished with a game-high nine assists) for the sophs.

Derrick Rose
had a quiet night, which was kind of disappointing for Bulls fans. He's definitely a quiet guy, but he did pick up seven assists (tops for the rooks) throughout a game in which he was hesitant to shoot the rock. LeBron noted at one point that Rose's reluctance to pull up reminded him of himself as a rookie, which definitely gives us something to look forward to. Meanwhile, Eric Gordon reminded us all why we (at least I) tend to root against him, consistently failing to defend or pass - although he did end up with 19 points on a losing team. That's gotta sound familiar to Clippers fans!

This was such a close game that Howard and Wade were forced to work towards the end, as it stayed within a two-possesion margin thanks to some pretty three-point shooting from the rookie squad. The rookies actually fouled as time wound down to try and pull the comeback. Michael Beasley, who had a great game, hit a shot from near half court as the clock expired, which didn't end up counting. Too bad, because a three point margin would have more accurately represented how close and entertaining this game ended up. As the commentaters all noted, the future of the NBA is looking pretty good if these kids are any indication. I expect to see a bunch of them playing in the big All-Star game in the next few years. (Picture from nba.com)

Weekend Watch

Alright so it looks like this might become a weekly segment where towards the end of the work day on Friday I will post what sporting events I plan on watching this weekend.

FRIDAY

7:30 ET Blackhawks @ Blues

First meeting between these two teams there were something like 4 fights in the 1st period. Also Hawks could end their road trip at 6-2. Should be a good game.

Who I am cheering for: Blackhawks

Who I think will win: Blackhawks

9:00 ET NBA Rookies vs Sophomores

Derrick Rose trying to help the Rookies win for the first time in 6 years; I actually find this game more exciting then the All-Star game most of the time. It’s nice to see the young guys run around and see how they react to the crowd and play with each other. My one question is, if Greg Oden is eligible for Rookie of the Year this year, does he play with the Rookies?


Who I am Cheering for: Rookies

Who I think will win: Sophomores

SATURDAY

12 ET - ? College Basketball

I flipped through the schedule and there weren’t really any games that stood out to me that I have to watch. I’ll probably catch a little of Purdue and Iowa. Mostly I will just flip around and find whatever game is most entertaining at the time”

8 ET NBA All-Star Skills Competition

Another event that is more exciting then the All-Star game; I am pretty excited to see H-O-R-S-E for the first time especially after reading Bill Simmons argument for it. The dunk contest can be hit or miss, but if Dwight Howard comes out like he did last year, it should be a good one this year.


SUNDAY

1:00 ET #20 Illinois @ Indiana

During my final few years at school it looked like these two schools were on the verge of becoming an intense rivalry instead of just a rivalry between my friends and I. Well now Sampson’s gone and this rivalry has lost a lot of it’s steam. Illinois should win but I’d like to see IU keep it close while I can make some snide comments about Bruce Weber

Who I am cheering for: Indiana

Who I think will win: Illinois

3:30 ET Daytona 500

This is one of the few NASCAR races I watch every year. I can understand both sides of the auto racing argument; Long, dull and driving in circles or fast, furious and intense racing. Since this is the biggest NASCAR race of the year I will tune in an catch the action. You should to, just try and watch the last 30 laps if nothing else.

Who I am cheering for: Terry Labaonte. Apparently he might not finish the race though.

Who I think is going to win: Jeff Gordon. He has been running well, won a shootout race, and wants to end his losing streak.


8:00 ET NBA All-Star Game

Will I watch the whole game? No, I probably won’t watch much of it, but it’s always worth watching a few minutes of the game, or putting it on your second TV (I had the two TV setup for two years, highly recommend it if you’re an avid sports fan), or having be the channel you flip back to at commercials of the other show. You know there is going to be a lot of big plays

Who I am cheering for: East

Who I think is going to win: It’s a meaningless game, and with no rationale I’m picking the East.

Wildcat Choke Job, Bulls A Mess


Ouch. (Photo thanks to AP) So I worked last night, and set up Illinois vs. Northwestern on DVR for later, but by the time I got off I couldn't resist checking the score. 8 minutes left. NU up 51-41. Oh man! So we hustled down to Scotty's, where it took almost ten minutes to get ESPN2 on one of the TVs... meanwhile I'm anxiously checking the bottom line scoring updates on regular ESPN as NU stays up ten, 57-47, with four minutes and change left, then it just crept closer and closer and closer. Ugh. We finally got the right channel on with 14.7 left to play. Just in time to watch Demetri McCamey finish off the 'Cats with a driving floater off glass. 60 to 59, final score. The 'Cats led by nine with two minutes left, and didn't score again. Are you kidding me??

Above, you see Michael Thompson being stripped by Illinois' Trent Meachem, who finished with 15 points last night. Thompson is my personal goat for this loss, though there is plenty of blame to go around. If you look at ESPN's Photo Gallery, you can also see his superb defense on McCamey's game-clincher. NU could not handle the Illini's pressure in the last couple of minutes and was forced to waste timeout after timeout trying to get the ball up the floor. Craig Moore finished with four turnovers. Coble and Luca Mirkovic played well with fourteen points apiece, but it is becoming pretty clear that the Wildcats may not have the confidence you need to win big games like this one reliably. NU had this game as good as won, and somehow snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Ouch.

In other news, it looks like John Paxson ... well, what is he doing? The Bulls continue to struggle, losing in almost Northwestern-esque style last night to Shawn Marion and the Heat (Marion is now on his way to the Raptors in exchange for injury-prone Jermaine O'Neal). Is Pax staying or going? Apparently, Peter Vecsey first broke the 'news' of his departure yesterday, but Chairman Jerry says he isn't going anywhere. The Sun-Times, that paragon of quality news, is running with the story and reporting that the GM is in fact on his way out the door.

In earlier interviews, it seemed like Reinsdorf really was blaming rookie coach Vinny Del Negro for the Bulls' crap season. Here's the problem. You guys decided to hire a coach with zero head coaching experience, and hand him a young rudderless team. What did you honestly expect? We might have been better off with Kirk Hinrich or Lindsay Hunter player-coaching the squad. Poor Vinny needs some time to get his NBA sea legs under him, so to speak. And Pax really, really needs to pull the trigger on a major trade before February 19th. Go get Amare. Do something. This season does not have to end in disaster. Chicago is 23-30, 10th in the East, and could still easily sneak into the playoffs.

Vegas!


Vegas!

So as you have heard I spent a weekend in Vegas. We hit up most the casinos, Mandalay Bay, Luxor, Excalibur, New York New York, Monte Carlo, Bellagio, Planet Hollywood, Paris, Treasure Island, Encore, Wynn, Rivera, and Circus Circus.

So the big question you hear when you get back form Vegas is, “Did you win?” No, not even close. I went in with images of MIT kids from Bringing Down the House, or Mike McD and left with my pockets almost empty. I did ok on Video Poker and Slots, but other then that nothing.

Jamie had fantastic luck. We both knew basic strategy for Black Jack. So we sat down next to each other and played. First 30 minutes I was knocked out, Jamie was doing good. I figured I’d stand behind her and give her some help until her luck ran out and then I’d leave. Well 3 hours later we were still playing and she had made roughly $150 playing $5 hands.

I told her later “I felt like I was playing, but with your luck!”

Oh well, I could still lessen my losses of the trip by $65 if both my future bets hit.

NBA Championship:

Odds 2/1

The Cleveland Cavs.

I know, not the best odds, but I figured there are four teams that can win the title this year; Lakers, Celtics, Spurs and the LeBrons. Lakers have the best odds to win, then Celtics Spurs and Cavs all had 2/1 odds. I don’t want to sleep on the Spurs, they are good and, probably my second choice of who I would pick, but I am not sure if they can come out of the West. The Celtics and Cavs will most likely have a fantastic series. I feel the Celtics can beat the Cavs, but if they play a close game, I don’t think anyone on the Celtics can go basket for basket with LeBron.

So I think LeBron and the Cavs will meet Kobe and the Lakers in the final. So I took the team with longer odds even though the Lakers have always played LeBron tough. The main reason I made this bet though was to give me a reason to care about the NBA playoffs.

(Sadly when I originally wanted to make the Cavs bet they were closer to 5/1, oh well)

AL Pennant

Odds 9/2

The Chicago White Sox

No explanation necessary. I do wonder however if they odds have increased since baseball prospectus picked the Sox to finish last in the AL Central. If that’s the case then I was just a few days too early.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Sorry Cubs Fans

I wish I was as creative as these two links

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=quKraecWnTs&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NrobcJa_EV8

Top Chef Power Rankings Going into Final Four (spoilers alert!!!)


So we are down to the final 4 of Top Chef. Finally Leah is gone. She has been sliding by since Restaurant Wars. I still agree with Tim/Shark’s opinion that the only reason that she was still around was because the producers (who do have final say on who is voted off) wanted to keep her around because of the Hosea drama. On to the power rankings!

1. Stefan: Even after his subpar performance in this week’s episode he is still head and shoulders above the competition. My biggest concern is that his personality is going to upset whoever helps him and it could cost him the title (ala Tiffani & Marcel). Saying that he is a good leader and knows what he wants and gets it done.

2. Fabio : I am putting him 2 because of his win today. My colleague and my fiancĂ© differ on where he should be ranked. Fodor lives by the motto that Fabio could serve monkey ass and he would make it sound good. Jamie has always felt like he has finished in the middle and has just maintained to get by. All along I have felt that Fabio knows what he wants to cook and can produce exactly what he wants. I feel his pallet is not the same as Tom’s or other judges’ pallets; this potentially shows that his concepts for his dishes are off. He could win it but he needs more dishes (like tonight’s) that are in his wheel house. Either way props for him cooking and winning with one hand on this week’s episode

3. Carla : As Carla stated in tonight’s episode she had been hanging back but has been building steam as of late. I am not sure her green eggs and ham were worthy of winning the quick fire but she defiantly stepped up in the challenge. Can she win this competition, of course she can; will she? I do not think so.

4. Hosea : For the longest time I had Hosea in the top 3 with Stefan and Jamie; but as of late he has definitely fallen off as of late. I still think he has the talent to win, but I think his personal goal of beating Stefan, and not winning the competition could come back to haunt him in the long run.

Next week they will start picking sous chefs for their challenges. Easiest call is Hosea is going to pick Leah to help him. Of course this is dumb because she isn’t nearly as good as Jamie, Radhika, or Jeff. It’s a tough call of who would be more valuable as a teammate in Jamie or Jeffrey . Jeffrey has the talent but never had the focus to succeed. Also in another team competition in restaurant wars, Radhika wanted him to be the front of the house. Because of these reasons I feel that Jamie will be the most valuable teammate (like Dale last year).

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A Few Notes On Amare Stoudemire


Just wanted to write this story up quickly, before getting ready to post my Top Moments Numbers Nine and Eight tomorrow. As the NBA trade deadline approaches, the writers who cover the league are (not suprisingly) digging into various trade rumors, and none are hotter than those surrounding 26-year old Suns power forward Amare Stoudemire. The Bulls are one of the first teams leaguewide who are speculatively interested, and I have to say that the possibility of pairing Stoudemire with our own phenom Derrick Rose is certainly interesting. These are two top-notch talents we're talking about. The two of them on the fast break? Say goodnight.

So, there is no doubt that Amare is a tantalizing possibility. Still, after a few minutes of tinkering with ESPN's Trade Machine (i'll furnish links when I edit this post tomorrow!), it becomes clear that there are a few serious obstacles to a potential trade. First off, the Bulls would in all likelihood have to give up Drew Gooden and his 7 million plus expiring contract. I know Amare is a beast, but to be honest, I really like Gooden's game when he's healthy. In addition, Chicago would have to give up at least one of Tyrus Thomas or Joakim Noah. I would rather see Noah go. But honestly, I think Tyrus' value is a lot higher at this point, and I would hate to see John Paxson send away another developing low post baller (think Tyson Chandler) just so he can play his best seasons elsewhere.

As Steve Aschburner points out in the above linked article, Amare has some serious flaws in his game, especially defensively, that make him a questionable match for the Bulls. And he is injury prone (witness knee microfracture surgery). Still, the kid is a four time All-Star. This is one of those possible deals that would have made former Bulls Trib beat writer Sam Smith salivate and produce column after column of potential trades. All I can think is that if Chicago and Pax decide to pull the trigger, I hope they don't mortgage the future in doing it. Don't dump Luol Deng. Don't get rid of Hinrich, who is invaluable as a Derrick Rose safety valve. If we can swing Amare for Gooden and Gordon, or Gooden and a first rounder, or any of several other possible combos not involving those two (Deng and Hinrich), well, as a fan at home, I would love to see what happens. In terms of building for the future, you can do a lot worse than Rose and Amare. It will be interesting to see what pans out here in the next few weeks, for sure.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

No, He Did it Again!!! (Noffke #8)

Cleveland Browns at Chicago Bears: November 4th, 2001 Soldier Field Chicago Illinois:


This game was fantastic for so many reasons. Not to mention a fabulous

season. The prior week was San Francisco 49ers at Bears where the Bears made an improbable comeback and then Mike Brown had the Pick six or TAINT (Touchdown After Int) in overtime to win the game. I sat around stunned watching thinking I’d never see anything like it again. I was partly right.


The next week I watched the entire game. It was a terribly frustrating game as the Bears offense would have been happy to have been anemic. Every big play Cleveland needed they got and the Bears couldn’t make the same plays. At the two minute mark, I said screw it, got up and left. I had a thing going on at church and I was already going to be late, so I figured I should get going cause the Bears were done.

Even as frustrated as I was I turned on the radio to the game. I figured at least I could hear the post game analysis. As I was driving to church Shane Matthews throw a touchdown pass to Marty Booker. I was happy to be close. As I was pulling into the parking lot the Bears successfully completed the onside kick. I was like ok, I’ll stay in the car until the game is over. I listened as the Bears completed a few short passes and all they had left to do was throw a hail mary. The ball went up and Rookie David Terrell out jumped everyone to knock the ball into the hands of James Allen for the game tying touchdown. I was no going nuts in my car. I decid/ed to stay until it was over. In overtime, Bryan Robinson tipped the ball up into the hands of guess who? Yup Mike Brown for his second game winning TAINT in OT in as many weeks.

As I finally arrived to my church function I ran into my good friend Bryan Schlake and here was the exchange
BS: Man bummer about the Bears today
SN: No man they won
BS: No they didn’t
SN: Yes they did, Mike Brown intercepted the ball and ran it back for the win
BS: No, that was last week
SN: Yeah, and he did it Again!
BS: NO WAY!
Just a fantastic experience. Had I watched it instead of giving up hope and listening in the car might not have made my top ten but everything, season, week before, leaving, sitting in the church parking lot, the conversation with Schlake all together made it amazing.

Rants and Ramblings

Alright, so I’ve been in Vegas and unable to update here but there were a few topics that I wanted to write about before I left. This is going to be a quick rant on a few subjects. We need to come up with a catchy name for this, but until then I guess we will call this Steve’s Rant

Michael Phelps:
To be fair, I was cheering against him in the Olympics (just to tie Spitz record not for him to lose every race. Why? IU love) but he won 8. Which is a great impressive feat, but people, can we please stop calling him the greatest Olympian ever! He is in the picture for greatest Olympian ever but come on. Is 2 Olympics of excellence in your sport better then 4 Olympics? Is what he did better then Jesse Owens in Berlin? I am not going to say it is or isn’t but to call him the greatest Olympian because he has the most medals is just dumb. He participates in an event that gives out the most medals. How many games did the Redeem Team play and they only got one Medal. Is he really that much better of and Olympian then all of those guys?

Now that the Olympics are over he is milking it for all it’s worth (not saying I wouldn’t) but I have been wishing he would just go away.

So now you know how I feel about Mr. Phelps. Now he’s in the news again for the Pot Picture. Honestly are we that surprised? All he has been doing since the summer is going around the world and partying. Every Ravens game he goes to we see him with his cool sideways hat and drinking. He got a DUI when he was 19. So I mean really, are we that surprised. Again I just want him to go away (and yes I hate myself for googleing Michael Phelps images to find those)

Madison Square Garden Performances:
This is one of the biggest non-stories ever! I understand there was nothing going on in the world of sports besides basketball but who cares what people do in the Garden. Kobe scored 61! Amazing! All he did was shoot, he didn’t pass (sorry 3 assist is a joke) he didn’t rebound (how can he not luck into at least 1 board). This then followed by LeBron coming in his 52 point triple double that on second look wasn’t a triple double. Wow! Look at LeBron show up Kobe. Give me a break, the Knicks suck and are coached by D’antoni who is trying to reenact his Seven Seconds or Less offense, which creates a lot of quick shots and doesn’t really care about defense. So it’s no surprise they had great performances. I understand that stars want to shine in NYC cause the media’s there (the media’s overreaction to this is exactly why the stars want to shine in NYC), and that MSG is a “Mecca for Basketball” and is the “World’s Greatest Indoor Arena” (Neither are true anymore) but this over reaction has been dumb. I’d much rather see and be more impressed if Kobe scored 61 on the Cavs or if LeBron put up his triple double against the Lakers (of course neither happened when they played this weekend) but going head to head is how the rivalry should grow, not by seeing who can put up more points against a terrible team. I can’t wait for this story to go away.

Duke UNC.
Hasn’t been over hyped as much as year’s past (ESPN, ESPN2 both covering the game with ESPNU using Cameron Crazy cam, really?) but with Dukie V to call the game I’m sure I’ll get to hear plenty of it. On the positive side, I get to see a bloody Tyler Hansborugh with Broken Nose at least 50 times this week!

All right enough of my rant (complaining)

Later tonight #8 Moment!