Thursday, March 24, 2005

London Trip in Review

Longest “_______ in Review” Ever

by Dave Schmitt and Ellen Fitzgerald, KankaNation feature columnists

Wednesday, March 9 through Tuesday March 15, we traveled to London, England for an exciting vacation. The official purpose of this trip was to visit Dave’s brother Michael, who’s in ND’s London program this semester, and since Dave had never been out of the country, it seemed like a really cool idea. We left for Newark Airport Wednesday night after work, and Ellen’s parents met us there with her luggage, and of course, another carry-on bag full of food.

British Airways was very nice; we were in the fourth of four levels of seating (they didn’t even let us see first class), but it was not a bad trip at all. Neither of us have flown in a major aircraft in quite some time, just the small commuter jets to various Midwest spots so this was a BIG shock to our system. The food was pretty good, there were screens at every seat showing 15 channel movies and tv, and the headrests had foldable parts that you could bend into a pillow. We arrived at London Heathrow around 9am local time, having slept maybe two hours on the overnight flight. Not so good. We got only slightly lost trying to find the ND classroom building to meet Michael and Molly, who’s in the ND London 2nd-Year Law program right now. You may remember Molly from such movies as “Kanka, you never seen me sober, have you?” and “Chasing Dave around Ray’s St. Patrick’s Day Party, Cursing at him because he doesn’t know why Ellen isn’t here yet.”

After lunch, they had class, so we went on our first adventure of the trip, to the Cabinet War Rooms and Churchill Museum. This is a very cool underground exhibit of the bunker used by Churchill and the British military brass during WWII. It’s all been preserved behind glass, and we walked through it with a very good hand-held audio tour. Dave just finished reading Franklin & Winston, and so he’s really into all this stuff at the moment. After this, we walked around the Big Ben-Westminster area for a while, trying to figure out what to do next. The crappy thing about London is that EVERYTHING closes early. Most touristy places close at 5, most restaurants close by 7, and most pubs close by 11. So you’ve gotta be up early and quit early. We went to the National Gallery and Ellen showed Dave some art things (she’s got a pretty good background in art history,) and then we had dinner at a pretty good English restaurant. This is a story.

So Dave circled this restaurant in a guide book as a possibly dinner spot if we were in the area. As we’re walking towards it, Dave’s looking at the map trying to figure out our next turn. A man comes up to us and says, “are you lost?” We really weren’t lost yet, and he probably would’ve blown him off, IF HE WASN’T DRESSED CRAZY AND CARRYING A TROMBONE! We told him where we were trying to go, and he led us there. Along the way, Dave brought up the trombone. He plays for some show in London, and in typical British fashion, starting babbling on a ridiculous tangent. But it was cool, he was a crazy old man. We found the restaurant, and thanked him for his help. And this is when he whipped it out: “All the best!” complete with the thumbs-up. We shit you not. Our jaws dropped in homage to the British Klondike.

After dinner, we hit the National Portrait Gallery, which has pretty sweet portraits of every important British dude ever. It amused Dave. At this point, we’d had 2 hours sleep since waking up for work on Wednesday around 6am. It is 11pm Thursday night that Molly decides we need to go out and drink until 3am. She manages to find the 2 bars in all of London that are still open, and take us there. Luckily, Dave caught a second wind. Ellen, the girl who falls asleep at the mere sight of a couch, was incredibly being a champion all day long. One of the biggest shocks ever. It was at this first pub that Dave had his first pint of real Guinness. It is truly a treasure. St. Patty’s Day Guinness back in Manhattan just wasn’t the same after a week of God’s Juice. (Now’s a good time to mention that the first bar we went to was shady – only the basement was open, due to the late hour, and we sat in a back cave-like room because there were old women dancing in the front. And it completely decided that the arbitrary closing time of the night would be 1am. Weird.)

Friday was very cool. We started the day at the Tower of London with Michael. We went on a tour and saw where everyone was executed. The Tower also houses the Crown Jewels, which includes the crown (duh,) all the cool scepters, and various diamonds and the coronation robe. And there was a museum with lots of cool armor, which could’ve amused Michael all day, if we had let him stay there. He’s always been really into armor, for whatever reason. Next, we walked through Westminster Abbey. Lots of monarchs were buried there, and the architecture inside is amazing – at every turn, there’s a different monument to a cool person. We capped Friday’s touristy stuff at the Imperial War Museum. This is kinda hidden out of the way, but we’re definitely glad we made the trip. It has a kick-ass D-Day exhibit and lots of neat war stuff like simulations of being in the trenches and the Blitz.

Story #2: for dinner, Michael showed us to this place by him that he likes, a pub called Windsor Castle. We sat a tiny round table and ordered drinks. When we looked at the menu, we gave Michael some awkward looks: “oh yeah, they serve Thai food here, not normal bar food.” You couldn’t IMAGINE a more random thing. It was excellent, however. As we were getting ready to leave, Michael says, “hey, I see my friend Jerry. Come say hi, I want you to meet him.” Jerry’s standing at the bar, and he’s not a college student, but a random middle-aged regular. Nice to see my brother mingling with the locals. Anyway, he was funny as hell, and we noticed that there were some little plaques around the bar with peoples’ names on them. Michael asked Jerry if he has a plaque. Yes, he said, but it was two spots down from where he was standing at the moment. What a guy.

Saturday, we took a day trip out to Bath, a town about an hour and a half outside London by train. It contains preserved Roman Baths (hence the name. . .it’s Roman name was Aquae Sullus and that translates into “the waters of Sullus” which basically means the baths) from when the Romans invaded England in the time of Julius Caesar. The Baths were very cool, as was the town itself. Old English village: tiny streets, tons of shops on top of each other, cobblestone, etc. It was like stepping back into the 18th century. There was even a Cadbury store, where we got Cadbury ice cream since Cadbury is the English equivalent to Hershey. . .all over the place. It might’ve been the greatest thing ever (according to Dave). We also visited the Jane Austen Center (she lived in and wrote about Bath a bit) and the Museum of Costume which was a great museum (according to Ellen definitely not Dave) that showed clothing from Elizabethan times to present. It was awesome seeing perfectly preserved clothes from the 1500s. . We made it back to London around 6pm, and met Michael and Molly for dinner. After dinner, we had a drink at a bar, where we did an intercontinental salute to Charlie Weis. It’s Dave’s new thing: any time he drinks with ND people now, he insists that we give it up for Charlie. We suggest you guys try it, too.

Sunday is Story #3. We went to church with Molly at 12:30 (Michael spent all day at “the church,” which apparently is a pub). We actually tried to do things before 12:30 but nothing in London opens on Sunday before 12 or 1. We killed time in a local food store and bought weird flavor potato chips like “Prawn Cocktail” and “Steak”. Communion was interesting: lines were not formed. Instead, everyone went up to the front at once, and kneeled (as many as could fit at once) on a long kneeler across the entire front of the altar area to receive Communion. After Mass, we embarked on the trip Ellen has been waiting years to make: to the Burberry Factory Store! It was located way the hell out of the way, far from the nearest Tube (subway) stop. We had to walk about 45 minutes north once we got out of the Tube, through a very shady neighborhood, just to get there. Dave can’t imagine how this place gets enough customers. Ellen however KNOWS that true shoppers would do anything for their passion, even risk life and limb! Anyway, inside is Ellen’s dream come true: cheap designer shit. But everything’s still really expensive, because the dollar sucks against the pound. She found some things she liked, but there was no changing room. Weird according to Dave, but it really is typical of places like this (outlets and sample sales).

Anyway, she bought two items, and wanted to use the bathroom before we left. The bathrooms were located in the front, right behind the registers. AND ELLEN WENT INTO THE MEN’S ROOM. Now granted, the men/women signs in England aren’t that clearcut, and there was no urinal in the men’s room (just stalls) to show that it was clearly a men’s room. So she went in, and the security guard started screaming at Dave to get her out. So Dave opened the door and yelled, “Ellen, you’re in the men’s room, you gotta get out!” He then stood by the door and waited for her to come out. A confused Chinese guy got upset with Dave in the meantime, because he couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t let him in the men’s room. Ok, so that was that. Dave goes to retrieve his backpack from the bag check, and he can’t find the tag. The lady asks me to describe it, and this leads to her going through my bag and announcing all the bizarre snacks I’m carrying around, in case Ellen got hungry (the weird chips we bought while killing time in the food store). Good times, good times. Luckily, we found a light rail station nearby that could take us to a Tube stop. It was scary, also, but we didn’t wanna do anymore walking. Unfortunately, this adventure took up the whole afternoon. For dinner, we met Molly for fish and chips and afterwards went on a walking tour that was recommended to us by Dave’s friend Doug. It was all about Jack the Ripper. . .very very cool! Afterwards Ellen got hungry and like we said earlier, everything in London closes early so we couldn’t even get anything at a McDonald’s! (They had really good Cadbury Cream Egg McFlurrys)

Monday, we traveled by train to Windsor Castle with Michael. It was the coolest thing Dave had ever seen. This part-time royal residence was awesome. Ellen personally liked it better than Versailles. Its chapel was amazing (better than Westminster Abbey, Michael and Dave thought), and the inside parts we were allowed to see were just ridiculous. Since the royals weren’t around, we were allowed to see where they live. Unbelievable. It was a real-live castle! (Of course, upon peeking through the gate the first time, Dave saw green field in the middle, and mentioned what an awesome wiffleball field it would make. But we digress). We had lunch at a local pub where someone was talking to the owner about how things are going to be for the royal wedding next week since it is right across the street, and then returned so Michael could get to class. (They go to class in the London program. Who knew?!) Back in London, we saw really cool Greek and Roman artifacts along with the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum, and then walked around in Harrod’s (huge famous department store) for a little bit. After this, we got lucky and were able to go and see Parliament in session. It was highly amusing: they just ramble on about the most random shit, interject whatever they feel like, and generally get nothing done. I mean they were talking about their kids’ birthday parties! No wonder they work all night! It was high comedy. We follow this up with dinner at a random pub. After dinner, we got what we had been craving all week: a Cadbury Cream Egg McFlurry from McDonald’s (talk about random!) It was everything we always thought it would be.

Tuesday, we walked by Buckingham Palace, which was pretty cool. And then it was time to return to land of George W. Bush and March Madness (which is awesome) and bad Guinness (which is not so awesome). Fun trip, we highly recommend it.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

MLB Preview 6: AL Central

Minnesota Twins

Shannon Stewart LF/DH
Lew Ford DH/LF
Justin Morneau 1B
Joe Mauer C
Jacque Jones RF
Torii Hunter CF
Mike Cuddyer 3B
Jason Bartlett/Nick Punto SS
Luis Rivas 2B

Johan Santana
Brad Radke
Kyle Lohse
Carlos Silva
Joe Mays
Matt Guerrier
JD Durbin
Boof Bonser

Ugh. What can you say about this lineup, other than that it's built to play pinball in that dome of theirs. My lineup makes halfway decent sense, but Rivas will probably inexplicably move up to second (or inexplicably be allowed to play in the first place, if that's your opinion of him). The bench features Juan Castro, Augie Ojeda, and, of course, Matt LeCroy. If and when Joe Mauer goes down, Minnesota has two very capably backups - Mike Redmond and Corky Miller. Boy is this team lucky it plays 81 games at home every year.
The rotation looks good if Lohse has a decent year. They're getting Mays back, and Durbin is a Baseball America Top 100 prospect (as is Mauer, technically, due to the injury bug last year). Boof Bonser may not see much MLB time this year, if any, but I just wanted to give him the proper shout-out. The bullpen is again solid. Joe Nathan will again be set up by the likes of Juan Rincon and JC Romero, and by BA Top 100 Jesse Crain.

Chicago White Sox

Scott Podsednik LF
Aaron Rowand CF
Frank Thomas DH
Paul Konerko 1B
Jermaine Dye/Carl Everett RF
Joe Crede 3B
AJ Pierzynski C
Juan Uribe SS
Willie Harris 2B

Mark Buehrle
Freddy Garcia
Jose Contreras
Jon Garland
Orlando Hernandez
Felix Diaz
Dustin Hermanson

Well it's a lineup built for speed. If and when "Big Frank" goes down, you can put Harris at leadoff or Uribe at the 1 or 2 and move everyone else down - and the lineup then looks much nicer (but Pierzynski still looks like a jerk either way). The bench features established catcher Ben Davis and... are you ready? Give me a T! Give me a Mo! Give me a Timo!
The rotation features a great 1-2 punch (at least when Buehrle remembers that getting people out is a good thing). After that - well, it's really up to Contreras and Hernandez. After them, it's pretty thin. Of course, if the bullpen can ride Damaso Marte, Luis Vizcaino, and Shingo Takatsu, maybe no one will notice starters 3-5.

Cleveland Indians

Coco Crisp CF
Ronnie Belliard 2B
Travis Hafner DH
Victor Martinez C
Juan Gonzalez LF
Casey Blake RF/3B
Ben Broussard 1B
Aaron Boone 3B
Jhonny Peralta/Brandon Phillips SS

CC Sabathia
Jake Westbrook
Kevin Millwood
Clifford Lee
Scott Elarton
Jason Davis
Jason Bere
Denny Stark
Brian Tallet
Billy Traber
Kyle Denney
Jason Stanford
Francisco Cruceta
Jeremy Guthrie

The lineup. I don't know how Coco will handle a full year as the leadoff guy, but he did put up great fantasy numbers last year. And, if all else fails, you could always move Belliard up to leadoff and put Crisp or Peralta second. Manager Eric Wedge toyed with the idea of batting Martinez 3rd and Hafner 4th, but he has decided to go with what worked last year. Pronk (Hafner) will hopefully continue to be Cleveland's best kept secret (who'd we get rid of for him? Einar Diaz?); in a best case scenario, Martinez will not need to share the catcher Silver Slugger with Pudge Rodriguez this year. Gonzales signed with the team as a minor leaguer, but he's looked decent in spring training this year. Blake proved himself with the bat this year, and he's said to be a "natural-born outfielder" as he makes the position switch this year. He will play 3rd base until Boone returns from his injury. Rounding out the lineup: Broussard was unbelievably clutch last year, making himself indispensable when it looked like Blake would take over at first when Boone was signed. Peralta, meanwhile, has won the shortstop job over Phillips. Phillips is a great natural fielder, but his bat has struggled since early 2003. The bench features Jody Gerut once he returns from knee surgery, center fielder to be Grady Sizemore, slugging righty Ryan Ludwick, former LA starter Alex Cora, catcher Josh Bard (easily a starter on a bad team), and strikeout king Jose Hernandez, who can play anywhere and hits well against lefties. If necessary, BA Top 100 outfielder Franklin Gutierrez is waiting in the wings.
The rotation: Sabathia showed up lighter than ever, and he's still the ace. Fantasy experts may not like Jake Westbrook this year, but he did lead the league in ERA in 2004. Millwood is a safe pickup - anything from him is a bonus. People are calling Lee a bust, but I think he basically just ran out of gas last year. Look for a comeback from him. Elarton busted out after shaking post-Colorado-pitcher-syndrome. Davis is an absolute fireballer; he'll be the #5 starter until Sabathia returns from his minor injury. Anything from Bere or Stark is a bonus, while the rest of that list presents a bright, bright future. What of the bullpen that some say cost the Tribe the playoffs last year? Bob Wickman has returned from injures to retake the closer role; he's looked great this spring. Davis and Tadano will be the long relievers. Bob Howry, Rafael Betancourt, and Matt Miller had underrated seasons last year. They'll be joined by new pickups Arthur Rhodes and Scott Sauerbeck (who missed 2004 due to injury), and returner David Riske.

Craig Monroe/Nook Logan CF
Carlos Guillen SS
Pudge Rodriguez C
Magglio Ordonez RF
Dmitri Young DH
Rondell White/Bobby Higginson LF
Carlos Pena 1B
Brandon Inge 3B
Omar Infante/Fernando Vina 2B

Jeremy Bonderman
Nate Robertson
Mike Maroth
Jason Johnson
Gary Knotts
Wilfredo Ledezma
Colby Lewis

The surprise was the release of .320 hitter Alex Sanchez, let go for not improving his defensive play. So, Detroit has options. Logan can leadoff; Monroe can't. Vina can but he's not healthy. This lineup actually looks really good (especially with the 2004 Guillen had), other than the fact Brandon Inge is the best and only option at 3rd (ok, so he has revitalized his offensive production, but "OK" doesn't always cut it at 3rd in the AL). The bench consists of Vance Wilson (now who's the backup catcher in Queens?), Omar Infante, Ramon Hernandez, and Marcus Thames.
This is a halfway decent, but not very deep rotation. The bullpen, however, is stacked with Kyle Farnsworth, Ugie Urbina, and Troy Percival.

Kansas City Royals

David DeJesus CF
Tony Graffanino 3B
Mike Sweeney 1B
Ken Harvey DH
Matt Stairs RF
Terrence Long LF
Angel Berroa SS
John Buck C
Ruben Gotay 2B

Brian Anderson
Jose Lima
Runelvys Hernandez
Zack Greinke
Jimmy Gobble
Denny Bautista
Chris George
Kyle Snyder
Mike Wood

On the other side of Missouri, the Cardinals have a "middle of the lineup" that stretches from the 2-6 spots. The Royals have a "middle of the lineup" that goes from 3-5. And this is the AL team. The moral? The bigger the "middle of the lineup" is, the better the team. I just don't know what to do here. This team isn't built for power, or for speed, or for anything. As a positive, I don't think DeJesus will be following Johnny Damon, Jermaine Dye, and Carlos Beltran (imagine that starting outfield - decent) but of town any time soon. My suggestion? Play Eli Marrero (C, 1B, OF) as much as possible. Other than Marrero and Abraham Nunez, the only bench player of note is Chris Truby. Truby is infamous in baseball nerd circles for his associations with Satan and Albert Belle.
If Brian Anderson (who has Browns season tickets and wears #19 in honor of Bernie Kosar) can figure out how to win again (although that may have been his lineup's fault), this is a good rotation. Greinke is a great young up-and-comer, Hernandez was an ace-in-training before losing all of 2004, and Lima Time is Lima Time. The bullpen features a closer battle between the fallen closer-of-the-future Mike MacDougal and converted starter Jeremy Affeldt.

I'm going to be out of town between Monday and Thursday next week, so I'll warn you now: the first baseball lineups will be due on the message board on Friday, April 1st, but 5 pm eastern. More info to come.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The Case for the Upset

Albuquerque Regional

(1) Washington vs (16) Montana - Grizzlies are bigger than Huskies. The state of Montana is bigger than the state of Washington. Um, yeah. That's about it.

(8) Pacific vs (9) Pitt - I'd hardly call it an upset if a 9 seed from one of the toughest divisions in the country beats an 8 from a mid-major - even if that 9 seed has played inconsistently and is vastly overrated in the polls.

(5) Georgia Tech vs (12) George Washington - GW beat Maryland 101-92, and Maryland beat Tech 79-71. Seems simple to me. (Of course, you have to avoid the fact that GW lost big to Wake Forest, while the Yellow Jackets lost by only 1 in overtime.)

(4) Louisville vs (13) LA-Lafayette - I would have a hard time betting against a group of Cajuns, especially after living next door to one for a year.

(6) Texas Tech vs (11) UCLA - For as many national championships as Bob Knight has won, everyone only wants to talk about his first-round losses. Hey, I guess we can't rule out another one.

(3) Gonzaga vs (14) Winthrop - Maybe Gonzaga will be really confused by not being the underdog in a tournament game.

(7) West Virginia vs (10) Creighton - 7/10 isn't that far from 8/9. You've got a former Cinderella going up against a team that may have run out of gas in the Big East finals. This one's reasonable.

(2) Wake Forest vs (15) Chattanooga - Chattanooga's another perennial Cinderalla, and Wake isn't the superstar team everyone thought they were in October. Plus, on a personal note, I can't root for Wake because Chris Paul is the name of the principal who decided to close Lorain Catholic.

Chicago Regional

(1) Illinois vs (16) Farleigh Dickinson - Well, if 1/3 of the Illini get distracted by saying "Farleigh Farleigh Farleigh" the whole game, and another 1/3 get distracted by snickering every time they hear "Dickinson," and the final 1/3 get disqualified for accidentally showing up in their orange jerseys, then this one is a cakewalk for Farleigh Dickinson.

(8) Texas vs (9) Nevada - 8/9, Nevada's a former Cinderella, Texas likes to choke in big games no matter what the sport. Doable.

(5) Alabama vs (12) UW-Milwaukee - Alabama is hot, but this is the dreaded 5-12 game, and the Panthers always seem to be a media darling come tourney time.

(4) Boston College vs (13) Penn - BC lost their first game after being outcoached by Notre Dame. Penn is the Ivy League champ. Do you think they'd have trouble outsmarting the Eagles?

(6) LSU vs (11) UAB - UAB went to the Sweet 16 last year, LSU is a team that I haven't heard about all season. My vote's for UAB.

(3) Arizona vs (14) Utah State - Arizona always seems to be a bit rough around the edges to me. You have to go with the Fighting Lane Weavers in this one.

(7) Southern Illinois vs (10) Saint Mary's - Well, which is the tougher converence, the Missouri Valley, or the WCC? And is having a cool nickname enough to make you root against the mother of your Savior?

(2) Oklahoma State vs (15) SE Louisana - If John Lucas II (that's the fomer Cavs coach and father of John III, who's the current OK St. player) can't make this game due to a delayed flight or whatever, this could greatly confuse the Cowboys - perhaps even enough for the loss? I mean, I saw Lucas coach the Cavs. He's carrying Eddie Sutton out there with secret hand signals to the bench. Or something like that.

Syracuse Regional

(1) North Carolina vs (16) Oakland - I got nothing. Really. Unless North Carolina gets confused and flies to Dayton instead of their actual first round site. Even then, it would be close.

(8) Minnesota vs (9) Iowa State - This is a hot bubble team against a school that... well, I know Jon Byrer goes there, and that Janelle McCarville - but niether of them play on the men's basketball team. I gotta go with the Cyclones.

(5) Villanova vs (12) New Mexico - Hey, it's a 5/12. If this game was decided by media vote, New Mexico would probably thrash the vastly underrated Wildcats. Unfortunately, though, I think they're actually going to play this one out and see how it goes.

(4) Florida vs (13) Ohio - Two of the many reasons to go with Ohio: 1. They're MAC-tastic! 2. That whole election thing.

(6) Wisconsin vs (11) Northern Iowa - When I see this matchup, all I can think of is Mike vs. Hannah in a wrestling match, with Meg as the special guest referee. I've wrestled Mike before, and I have to give the edge to Hannah (and therefore UNI) in this one. I'll also avoid any totally inappropriate comments about wrestling Hannah.

(3) Kansas vs (14) Bucknell - Hey, Bucknell beat Pitt. Why can't they beat Kansas.

(7) Charlotte vs (10) NC State - NC State is an ACC team. Charlotte may get confused by not being the underdog. Oh yeah, and that Philip Rivers is awesome!

(2) Connecticut vs (15) Central Florida - Maybe if they had Dante Culpepper. Even then, it's still a maybe.

Austin Regional

(1) Duke vs (16) Delaware St. - Hi, we're in Delaware. And hey, it is a state! Duke only loses if they're forced to forfeit once the tournament committee realizes how ugly Sheldon Williams is.

(8) Stanford vs (9) Mississippi St. - I honestly haven't heard a single thing about either team all year. It's a toss-up.

(5) Michigan St. vs (12) Old Dominion - Old Dominion is a 12 seed with 27 wins. Good enough for me.

(4) Syracuse vs. (13) Vermont - This former Cinderella is 26 in the RPI and held their own against RPI #1 Kansas at the beginning of the year. Look for a lot of the Jim Boeheim Face.

(6) Utah vs. (11) UTEP - Sure, Utah has Bogut and the spread option (oh wait, nevermind), but don't take it from me - just listen to all the "experts" who have UTEP as a big sleeper team.

(3) Oklahoma vs. (14) Niagara - One team had a terrible time winning big games last year. The other hasn't seen the tournament in 35 years and is hungry to play. You decide.

(7) Cincinnati vs. (10) Iowa - I don't know if I'd even call Iowa winning an upset. I saw Cincinnati play this year, and they were very sloppy. A disciplined team coached by a Bob Knight disciple should be able to handle the Bearcats much easier than the Bearcats would handle the new SAT.

(2) Kentucky vs. (15) E. Kentucky - I'm picturing a comical scene where the janitor leaves something sitting in front of the Eastern Kentucky locker room, blocking the word "Eastern" from sight. The Kentucky players walk in, for some reason dress in the EKU uniforms, and unwittingly win the game for the Colonels. Really, that's the only way it's going to happen.

OK, so I lied about the Transaction Wire today. But, there's a new link in the sidebar. Check out Corby's Blog - a blog about the bar itself. You'll notice a familiar Corby's regular has his picture up on the site.

Monday, March 14, 2005

The Weekend in Review

Norcross Edition

Well, I finally remembered to do a running diary of the ND men's game, but I think I'll scrap that for now. Here's my rambling story on the rest of the weekend in the north Atlanta suburbs:

So last week was trip #1 to Atlanta. Norcross, actually. Apparently, Norcross is a place where everybody works because that's where all the businesses are, but nobody lives there because it's too expensive. So, there wasn't much going on - especially for someone without a rental car. They do have a metro system, but it was a $15 cab ride to get there. Oh well. I did do some quality random wandering along the side of the road. That's right, there really weren't any sidewalks - it's like this suburb was anti-exercising. There were Wachovias as far as the eye could see (and three Waffle Houses!), but not much in the way of pedestrian pathways.
The first night, I walked over to this little Italian place that was part of a shopping plaza. I had the lasagna, of course, since I'm by no means creative, and always get the lasagna at Italian places. The walls had autographed pictures of all of last year's SEC football coaches - including Lou Holtz in his ND gear. Nice. The people there were almost too friendly. My waiter did the whole "do you need anything else?" about five times. Meanwhile, while I was waiting for my food, another waitress who wasn't busy saw I was alone and brought over free copies of two local small-town newspapers.
The next night, I went back to the same shopping plaza (did I mention there wasn't much in walking distance?) to a place I thought was like a BW3's. It wasn't - it was more like a family lunch diner that only served hamburgers. My supervisor actually encouraged me to go to places with fancy $25 dinners every night, so I actually thought of ditching this place when I saw that all they had were $6 hamburger combo meals. (Unfortunately, unlike band trips, I didn't get to keep the expense money after the trip was done.) But, it was too late, as once again the people there were too nice and I was waited on as soon as I picked up a menu. So I had a triple pickle BLT or whatever.
Tangent time: My classes were with five other people: two women from North Dakota, two from a small town in Illinois, and a guy from Bradenton, Florida. I was waiting for a "don't cha know" from the North Dakotans, but I wasn't that lucky. The Bradenton man, however, had a bit of a southern drawl. To top it off, he kept wanting to talk about the new lockbox software his company just got (even though it didn't come from the company whose training classes we were at). He must have said "lockbox" 100 times... in a souther drawl... I kept wanting to stare him down and shout, "strategery." On day 3, my class ended at 4, and my flight didn't leave until 10:30. Fortunately, I was near the northernmost stop of the metro, and the airport was the southernmost. The women from Illinois - Pana to be exact - took me to the metro, saving First Federal $15 in cab fares. Since you can get from any point on the metro to any other point for only $1.75, I decided to stop in downtown Atlanta on my way to the airport. There, I saw the Coca-Cola Museum. Emphasis there on "saw," as in "from the outside," since it was $9 to get in. Right next to it was this place called "The Underground." Here's the story as I picked it up: In the early 1900s, with all the people and horses and streetcars, the streets were getting really crowded. So, what Atlanta decided to do was build a whole new set of streets 20-25 feet
off the ground, above the existing streets (it looked a lot like a parking garage). The "old" streets on the bottom would then be used for trains. Nowadays, since they don't need the trains any more, the underground area is now a shopping area/tourist attraction... named "The Underground." There, I saw a restaurant called the "Irish Bred Pub." Now, I've come to the conclusion that as an ND grad, I'm not allowed to pass up a place like this. I perused the menu, and saw something called "Irish Beef and Guiness Stew." (That is, Irish beef stew made with Guiness.) Now, I KNEW that the members of KankaNation would never let me live this down if I passed it up, especially since I have the tendency to run my mouth when I drop the ball. The Irish Beef and Guiness Stew wasn't quite the big meal I hoped it to be - it was a small pot not much bigger than a coffee mug. But, I was amused to find all the Guiness settled at the bottom.
Now, the Underground was only so big, so there was still almost 3 hours to go before my flight when I got to the airport. This turned out to be a good thing, as you'll soon see. I used one of those ticket kiosks that look like an ATM machine. I didn't have a Delta whatever club card, so it said it could read my name from my credit card. So, I stuck it in and pulled it back out, even though the fit was a little snug. It didn't read the card, so I put it back in, and kept pushing until... it got stuck really good in there. Genius. They had to call over a "Delta Technician" to fix it. While I was waiting for the "technician," I noticed that the machine had a barcode scanner, and that the online receipt I printed the other day had a bar code on it. So, I asked someone behind the counter, "Could I have avoided all of this just by scanning my receipt here?" I sure could have, and the woman took my receipt and checked my in in about 3 seconds. Dah. While I'm still waiting, I'm thinking to myself, "Hey, maybe they'll give me some free miles, and I'll be able to fly to see Dave and Ellen this year." As the technician came over and, instead of taking the machine apart, simply yanked my card from the slot, the woman from Delta came over and said, "I tried to get a $50 travel voucher for you, but they were all out. So, I got you these 3 drink coupons instead." The good news is that they are valid for three years. The bad news is that those three years are 2003-2005. Good good. So, I still have 3 coupons sitting on my desk at home which will probably never be used - unless someone wants to volunteer to take them off my hands.The flight home was uneventful, but when I got home, there was snow on the ground. But hey, I'm from Ohio, so that didn't really bother me.


Reader Tara sent some updates on former ND footballers. Here they are with their new teams:
Lance Legree - Jets
Mike Gandy - Bills
Javin Hunter - Panthers (NFL Europe)
Allen Rossum - Falcons (re-signed)

You may or may not know this, but the Ravens tried to move Javin Hunter from WR to CB before releasing him. It looks like Hunter will play WR in Europe.

In basketball news, Niele Ivey is playing well in Spain despite injuries. Also in basketball news, you'll notice that I added a link to the Senior CLASS voting at the top of the page.

Adding to Tara's updates, Matt Carroll was signed by the Charlotte Bobcats, and is actually getting decent playing time. Don't believe me? Check out this story from

MVP Baseball 2005

The new features that may be the reason why I've been playing this way too much lately.
  • Managers can now argue close calls. If you do well, the team gets fired up and actually gets an "attribute boost." If you don't do well, you get kicked out of the game as the manager. Now, most umps work really hard with little respect, so I normally wouldn't promote including blown calls in a video game. But here's what's great about this feature - if your manager gets thrown out of the game, the computer takes over as manager. You still control the pitcher, hitters, defense, etc., but only the computer can put in pinch hitters and make pitching changes on your team.

  • MVP Baseball only has the actual names and pictures of players in the MLB Players Association. For the rest (including most minor leaguers, but also former "scabs" like Damien Miller and Kevin Millar), they do the college game thing and give fake names to players who otherwise have the same look, number, and attributes as a real person. Why is this important? This year, the Baseball America Top 100 Prospects are labeled in their player profiles. Don't count out a guy like me starting a franchise in the game and trading for all 100.

  • There were two things most noticeably missing (to me) from MVP 2004. Number one was the pitcher covering first. In 2004, if you told the first baseman to throw to first, he would hold the ball until the pitcher got to the bag. This year, he hits the pitcher midstride on the way to the bag. Now, MVP's defensive animations impressed the heck out of me last year - adding the fluid toss to first is icing on the cake.

  • Now, you have to be a big baseball nerd to appreciate this last one. Not a fat, sit in front of your computer and slam real players type of baseball nerd, but a Frank Catalanotto student of the game type baseball. When you're hitting, you try to read the spin on the pitch to pick up what type of pitch it is (and therefore it's speed). A fastball will just look white, while a curveball's spin will cause the seams to form a circle effect (the tighter the spin, the smaller the circle, therefore the harder to pick up as a curveball). But, how do you pick up the speed or type of pitch in MVP. Enter 2005's key feature, the "Hitter's Eye." Now, my TV doesn't quite have the resultion to pick up the seams on a small white pea. But, I don't have to do that. With the Hitter's Eye, the ball will flash a certain color for a split second as it comes out of the pitcher's hand. Each color represents a different pitch. Brilliant.

Due up this week: Tuesday night is NSS meeting night and Thursday is St. Patrick's. I think I'm going to put off the AL Central preview a week so I can do a Transaction Wire Wednesday. Also Wednesday, if I'm so motivated, I'm going to do a "fun feature" on what it would take for all 32 (33?) NCAA first round underdogs to pull off an upset.

Monday, March 07, 2005

MLB Preview 5: NL Central

St. Louis Cardinals

David Eckstein SS
Larry Walker RF
Albert Pujols 1B
Scott Rolen 3B
Jim Edmonds CF
Reggie Sanders/Roger Cedeno LF
Mark Grudzielanek 2B
Yadier Molina/Einar Diaz C

Matt Morris
Mark Mulder
Jason Marquis
Chris Carpenter
Jeff Suppan
Al Reyes
Rick Ankiel

I don't think a team could be more stacked 2-6. Eckstein is a great addition to this team for his heart and hustle - so don't listen to what the fat, bald computer nerd baseball "fans" have to say about him. Grudzielanek is a decent veteran pickup. Their choices at catcher aren't much, but bother #3 of the Fabulous Catching Molinas may surprise some people. The bench is OK, but if I recall correctly, Tony LaRussa isn't a big bench man. Bo Hart, Cedeno, and defensive replacement So Taguchi highligh the bench bunch.
The rotation may not look overly impressive, but believe me when I say that those starters can put up some good numbers. They have 4 good starters (all 4 were on my fantasy draft board), and Suppan is a good #5. Anything Ankiel can do is a bonus (laugh all you want, Dave). There were no major changes in a bullpen that features an underrated Jason Isringhausen,

Houston Astros

Craig Biggio LF/2B
Adam Everett/Jose Vizcaino SS
Jeff Bagwell 1B
Lance Berkman CF
Morgan Ensberg/Mike Lamb 3B
Jason Lane RF
Chris Burke 2B/Orlando Palmiero LF
Brad Ausmus C

Roy Oswalt
Roger Clemens
Andy Pettitte
Pete Munro
Tim Redding
Brandon Backe
Carlos Hernandez
Brandon Duckworth

I'm not sure what you do with the lineup here. It looks like Houston will keep Biggio in left and start Baseball America Top 100 prospect Burke at second. However you slice it, this lineup is not nearly as good as last year's, and if Biggio and Bagwell don't have it, Berkman will have to carry this team. That is, if pitchers just don't pitch around him every at bat. Bench? Well, they're all up there, other than Houston's other BA Top 100 guy, OF Willy Taveras.
So, the Astros have a pitcher on their 40-man named Mark McLemore. I see this and I think, "Is McLemore making the switch just like Mark Lemke, who was last seen as a coach/knuckleballing reliever in High-A ball?" No, it turns out that this is a different McLemore - the Mark McLemore we all know and love is still with the A's. Of course, with the utility McLemore born in '64, it's somewhat possible that the pitching McLemore is a Junior. OK, back to the guys who actually have player pages on The top 3 in this rotation can be as good as any - if they stay healthy. After that, it's not so certain. Munro was mediocre last year. Redding is a veteran stopgap. Duckworth has to find a form that may be lost. Only Backe, who I became a big fan of last year, shows a glimmer of hope. The bullpen may not be Lidge-Dotel-Wagner any more, but John Franco-Lidge isn't bad at all. That's especially due to the "Lidge" part. Not only did Lidge blow away the single-season strikeout record for a reliever, but he was also an absolute hoss in the playoffs - he never even looked tired, and he just shut down anyone he faced. Lidge could be the difference maker in the battle for second place in this division, and for the wildcard.

Chicago Cubs

Todd Walker 2B
Corey Patterson CF
Nomar Garciaparra SS
Aramis Ramirez 3B
Jeromy Burnitz RF
Derrek Lee 1B
Michael Barrett C
Todd Hollandsworth/Jerry Hairston, Jr. LF

Kerry Wood
Mark Prior
Carlos Zambrano
Greg Maddux
Glendon Rusch
Sergio Mitre

With the downgrade to Houston's lineup this year, the Cubs have a major chance to pass them up. Do they have the team to do it, though? Burnitz/Alou were dead even stat-wise last year. Are Nomar/Hollandworth better than Gonzalez/Sosa? Does it matter if the rotation puts up? How many random middle infielders will the Cubs sign this year? (They look to break camp with Jose Macias and Neifi Perez coming off the bench.)
Who's the Number 1 in this rotation? More importantly, who's the Number 5? Only 7 guys started for the Northsiders last year, and these are the 6 left. Wood, Prior, and Maddux probably couldn't survive a 4-man rotation, so can Rusch and Mitre step up? Or does it even matter. The bullpen may be the most important part of this team. Who will close? (No, really, I'm asking - it's probably been decided, but I haven't seen anything.) Who will set up for him? Unless a Joe Borowski or a Ryan Dempster can prove he can get the job done, don't be surprised to see a move for a big closer if the Cubs are still in it for the wildcard come July.

Cincinnati Reds

D'Angelo Jimenez 2B
Sean Casey 1B
Ken Griffey, Jr. CF
Adam Dunn LF
Austin Kearns/Wily Mo Pena RF
Joe Randa 3B
Jason LaRue/Javier Valentin C
Filipe Lopez/Anderson Machado SS

Paul Wilson
Eric Milton
Ramon Ortiz
Aaron Harang
Luke Hudson
Jose Acevedo
Brandon Claussen
Luke Hudson
Josh Hancock
Jung Bong

Give me Jimenez, Casey, Dunn, LaRue, and Valentin. The rest I could do without. Why, tell me, do you sign Randa and stick him in front of Ryan Freel? The bench of Valentin, Pena (even if he's a nutcase), Machado, and Freel isn't too bad, but don't confuse this team for a contender.
Wilson is an underrated starter, especially on a bad team. Milton was probably overpaid for (I don't have the numbers - I'm just assuming). Ortiz is a decent fit on this team. Harang is another in a long line of washed-up prospects who found their way to the Cincinnati rotation. That being said, his numbers last year (10-9, 4.86 ERA) look good. The bullpen is better than you might think (maybe). Ben Weber and Kent Mercker pave the way for Danny Graves. Last year, Graves had 41 saves, even if his method wasn't pretty at first. (He had a 5+ ERA at the beginning of the season before ending at 3.98.)

Pittsburgh Pirates

Matt Lawton RF
Jack Wilson SS
Jason Bay LF
Craig Wilson 1B
Rob Mackowiak 3B
Benito Santiago C
Tike Redman CF
Jose Castillo 2B

Oliver Perez
Kip Wells
Josh Fogg
Ryan Vogelsong
Mark Redman
Sean Burnett
Dave Williams
John van Benschoten

Interesting lineup here. Normally, Lawton bats 1st on a good team and 3rd on a bad team. But then I realized that Pittsburgh doesn't have a leadoff hitter (Redman's .310 OBP last year disqualifies him). So, I moved Bay up to 3rd (although Craig Wilson may end up there), filled in the next few guys, and the next thing I new I didn't need Santiago until the 6 hole. Not too bad. Not great, but not too bad. The bench features Freddy Sanchez (formerly a great middle infield prospect, but he still has time) and Ty Wigginton (formerly a great 3B prospect - sensing a pattern?)
The rotation looks pretty good on paper, especially with Top 100 prospect van Benschoten. But who will setup for Jose Mesa, and when will Mesa again realize that he sucks?

Milwaukee Brewers

Junior Spivey/Rickie Weeks 2B
Bill Hall/JJ Hardy SS
Carlos Lee LF
Geoff Jenkins RF
Lyle Overbay 1B
Wes Helms/Russ Branyon 3B
Brady Clark CF
Damian Miller/Chad Moeller C

Ben Sheets
Doug Davis
Victor Santos
Chris Capuano
Ben Hendrickson
Wes Obermueller
Jorge de la Rosa
Gary Glover
Matt Wise
Jose Capellan
Ben Diggins

I'll count Bobby Crosby, Khalil Greene, Kaz Matsui, and Jose Reyes as established players. That being said, here are the top three Gammonsesque double play combinations:
1. Weeks/Hardy
2. BJ Upton/anyone
3. Brandon Phillips/Jhonny Peralta
This team has some talent, it's just not there yet. And Weeks and Hardy only count for 2 of the 5 Brewers on the BA Top 100 list, which also includes Capellan and Prince Fielder. (By the way - add Prince to the impressive list of "we saw him when"s that we saw at ND - Carmelo, Wade, Tom Brady, the list just goes on.)
Now that we know of the far future, what about the near future - namely this July? Whose jersey will Ben Sheets be wearing on August 1st, and who will step up to take his place? Can Ricky Bottalico take the place of Danny Kolb? Why haven't I mentioned RP/OF Brooks Kieshnick yet? Why do I ask so many questions?

Thursday, March 03, 2005

MLB Preview 4: AL East

New York Yankees

Derek Jeter SS
Hideki Matsui LF
Gary Sheffield RF
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Jorge Posada C
Bernie Williams CF
Ruben Sierra/Jason Giambi DH
Tino Martinez 1B
Tony Womack 2B

Mike Mussina
Randy Johnson
Kevin Brown
Carl Pavano
Jaret Wright
Tanyon Sturtze
Jorge De Paula
Alex Graman

A decent lineup. Of course, Joe Torre will decide to hit A-Rod 2nd and Bernie Williams or Matsui 4th for no apparent reason. Oh, and other than Matsui and and maybe Posada, Tino, or Womack), this isn't a good defensive team.
Pavano and Wright are coming off career years. But, this will most likely turn out to be a bad move for Wright. After a brilliant '97, he faded back into obscurity, only to be resurrected by the great pitching teachers in Atlanta. But, will he fare well without those teachers under the bright lights of the Big City? Also, when (not if) Johnson, Mussina, and Brown go down, who will step up? Steve Karsay? With no major changes in the bullpen, it will once again be up to some hitter - anyone! - to figure out that Mariano Rivera has thrown nothing but cut fastballs since 2001.

Boston Red Sox

Johnny Damon CF
Edgar Renteria SS
David Ortiz DH
Manny Ramirez LF
Kevin Millar 1B
Jason Varitek C
Trot Nixon RF
Bill Mueller 3B
Mark Bellhorn 2B

Curt Schilling
Wade Miller
Matt Clement
Bronson Arroyo
David Wells
Tim Wakefield
Byung-Hyun Kim
Abe Alvarez
John Halama

There are a few new faces in the lineup, but this is still a very solid core group. I put Renteria 2nd here, but you could easily drop him down to give your lineup a little more overall punch. Heck, who needs a guy who puts his bat on the ball and moves runners over batting second anyways? As for these starting 9 - they'll have to have some endurance. The bench features big names like Kevin Youkilis, Ramon Vazquez, Hanley Ramirez, Adam Hyzdu, and Jay Payton. Yep, that's it.
The rotation features a few new faces. This week's SI points out that the addition of Wells and Clement makes this the MLB's best rotation as far as control of the strike zone goes. Let's just see if Miller can stay healthy and Clement can prove to the doubters that he's worth his big contract. The good news is that the bullpen features some good names. Setting up for Keith Foulke will be Alan Embree, Mike Timlin, and Matt Mantei.

Baltimore Orioles

Brian Roberts2B
Melvin Mora 3B
Miguel Tejada SS
Sammy Sosa RF
Javy Lopez C
Rafael Palmeiro DH
Jay Gibbons 1B
Larry Bigbie LF
Luis Matos CF

Sidney Ponson
Daniel Cabrera
Erik Bedard
Rodrigo Lopez
Eric DuBose
Matt Riley
Bruce Chen
Kurt Ainsworth
Rick Bauer
John Maine

This is a lineup that should be able to compete in any division. Baltimore cleared their two-man logjam at second by sending Jerry Hairston, Jr. out west, giving Roberts the starting job full time. Mora can flat-out put the bat on the ball, and dropping Gibbons another spot in the lineup should help him return to his underrated 2003 form. Now it's up to Sosa and Palmeiro to stay healthy, and for Javy Lopez to avoid a slump in his sophomore AL season. Then, anything that Bigbie and Matos can and will do will be a bonus.
The rotation won't strick fear in anyone's heart. But hey, at least Bruce Chen gets to play for the same team two years in a row. And, on the bright side, the bullpen is just loaded. Setting up for new closer BJ Ryan is former closer Jorge Julio, Jason Grimsley, Steve Kline, and Steve Reed. The lineup and the bullpen (maybe with the addition of a big name closer) can compete in any division, and possibly even in this one. But can Ponson, Lopez, and the rotation hold up their end of the bargain?

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Carl Crawford CF
Julio Lugo/BJ Upton SS
Roberto Alomar 2B
Aubrey Huff RF
Josh Phelps DH
Danny Bautista LF
Travis Lee 1B
Toby Hall C
Alex Gonzalez 3B

Dewon Brazelton
Casey Fossum
Mark Hendrickson
Rob Bell
Douh Waechter
Jorge Sosa
Scott Kazmir

Do you like replaceable parts? Maybe you can be the guy who makes out Tampa Bay's lineup card. Besides the 10 guys listed above (Lugo or Gonzalez can't hold back Upton very long), you also have Rocco Baldelli, Delmon Young, and Joey Gathright. Call me crazy, but I still love watching this team.
The rotation is full of questions, most of them being "Can (Brazelton, Fossum, Sosa, Kazmir) live up to expectations? I have a feeling the answer will be "yes" in at least two occassions. Meanwhile, a revolving door of mediocrity will continue to set up the seemingly resurgent Danys Baez. But will the former Cuban sensation get more than 33 chances to save a game this season?

Toronto Blue Jays

Reed Johnson LF
Frank Catalanotto DH
Vernon Wells CF
Corey Koskie 3B
Eric Hinske/Shea Hillenbrand 1B
Gregg Zaun C
Alex Rios RF
Orlando Hudson/Frank Menechino 2B
Russ Adams/John MacDonald SS

Roy Halladay
Ted Lilly
Miguel Batista
Josh Towers
Scott Schoeneweis
Dave Bush
Justin Miller
Ryan Glynn
Gustavo Chacin

JP Ricciardi is a much-respected GM. However, unless there's some master rebuilding plan I don't know about (and I'm not saying there isn't), this team appears to be heading in the wrong direction. Johnson and Wells are definitely building blocks for the future, and Catalanotto is one of the best veteran role players you could ask for. But what's there other than that? Sure, you can't blame Ricciardi for Hinske's sophomore demise, but where are the rest of the big name prospects?
The rotation has its bright spots, but not many. In what may be potentially bad news, it appears that Bush will get the last spot over Schoenweis. Schoenweis is another great reliever who thinks he's good enough to be used solely as a starter. If he's not, and the team tanks, look out. It appears that Justin Speier will be the closer. That's a decent choice, but surely not one that will strike fear in the hearts of AL East hitters. The only big names setting him up are virtual has-beens. Billy Koch returns not as a closer, but as a middle reliever, after being exposed as a fastball-only pitcher - and one who doesn't even have that much fire on his heater any more. Kerry Lightenberg, meanwhile, is most well known as the guy who took over as the Braves closer after John Rocker's collapse.

Well, that's it. I'll be in Georgia for most of next week, but I'll try to get the NL Central preview out before I go.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

The Weekend in Review


Transaction Wire

  • Cavs get Jiri Welsch from the Celtics for a future draft pick. Well, so now the "random guy on the Celtics in NBA Live 2005 whom I have no idea who he is" is now a Cav. How about that.

  • Knicks trade away Moochie Norris, Vin Baker, Nazr Mohammed, and Jamison Brewer and get Malik Rose and Maurice Taylor.

  • Bears sign Mushin Muhammed and release David Terrell. I believe that's considered an "upgrade."

  • Browns release Robert Griffith and trade Gerard Warren to the Broncos for a draft pick. Good riddance to poor tackling.

  • Speaking of the recent Davis-era purge in Cleveland, it appears that Jeff Faine will be sticking around for now, as long as someone can "light a fire under his backside." Never thought I'd hear that said about Faine.

Bubble Watch

Men: Current RPI: 51 (ouch). Conference leaders ahead of them: 18. At-larges ahead of them: 33. That makes their "bubble magic number" 34, just enough to get in. However, Pitt, who is ranked 18/17 in the polls, is below ND with an RPI of 64. (ND's 50th best SOS is much better than Pitt's 98th best.) So, it'll take a good showing in the conference tourney to make it to the Big Dance. As a 6 seed in the Big East, ND would play #11 Providence in the first round and #3 Syracuse in round 2. Gulp.

Women: Their RPI is #4, despite being ranked 10th in both polls. I'd still love to see the women knock off tOSU a second time in a 1 seed/2 seed Elite 8 matchup.

Like the true sportswriter I am, I will now pretend like I know more about basketball than a guy who coaches for a living, and offer advice for the ND men's team to use for the rest of the season

  • Jordan Cornette needs to play like a forward on offense. Mike Brey sometimes refers to the Cornette-Thomas-Quinn-Falls-Francis lineup as a "4 and 1 set," meaning 4 guards and 1 forward. OK, but... when you have four guys acting like it's a penalty to be inside the 3-point arc for more than three seconds, don't expect much out of your one forward. Every time one of the guards tries to dump it down to Francis in this set, Francis gets beat up up not one but two guys who are wider than him and can crash down and take the ball away. That's what I like about Lattimore on offense, even if he doesn't have more talent than Cornette - he's another option for the defense to worry about close to the basket. If Cornette has such a great jumper, why not play him in a Tom Timmermans-style role at the free throw line, where he can hit mid-range jumpers or even use his athletic ability to drive and make something happen.

  • Don't get behind big early. Well, duh, you might say. But it happens all two often - the 2003 Big East Tournament against St. John's and last week's UCLA game are just two examples. The Irish always find a way to turn it on late and get it close, but in the end the deficit just seems to big to overcome. Come out aggressive and keep it close early.

  • Colin Falls needs to break out of his mini-slump. Sure, you can't say "hey, stop being in a slump," and expect him to say, "ok, sorry about that." And I'm not upset, as now he's just shooting like a human being as opposed to a Larry Bird/Alicia Ratay-esque supershooter. But, when Falls gets in a slump, Quinn and Thomas try to make up for it by forcing more threes of their own. And, since they're forced, that only puts them in a slump, and the next thing you know, it's 7 minutes without a field goal for the Irish.

  • Work to get open looks close to the basket - especially when the three point game is off. Again, it seems obvious - if you're closer to the basket, it should be easier to make shots. Francis is a good player, but the team should be trying to get him open looks instead of just dumping the ball down to him and hoping he can make a shot over the other team after pivoting for 15 seconds. Run some Princeton-style plays to get the guards easy layups. Anything. Layups and dunks are supposed to be easy - try to put yourself in a situation to shoot more of them. Along those lines...

  • Find a way to put Chris Thomas's freshman and sophomore year ego in Chris Quinn's body. Quinn has become very good at putting the ball on the floor and driving the lane. We need more of that. Drive, draw, dish. Or, drive and put up a floater, as he has become very good at. While we're at it, let's teach the other guards to drive like Quinn. I know Thomas has it in him, and I'm sure a Colin Falls, Omari Israel, or Russell Carter can learn. (By the way, you may have noticed I said "Thomas's freshman and sophomore year ego." I do think Thomas is a much more mature player this year. I also can see why he sometimes lollygags back on defense when the guy he's covering is doing the same - that's how he can stay on the court longer. I don't agree with that, but I can see why he's doing it.)

  • More Russell Carter. Has this guy ever missed a three, especially in a big situation? OK, this is the least serious of my points, but still.

The John Chaney Thing

Oh, you've got to love the sports media. (Plus, I've just finished Bob Knight's latest biography, so this situation came up at a great time.) College coaches are supposed to be role models for the 18-22 year old young adults they're in charge of. However, many are setting a terrible example for their kids by lying, cheating, and stealing just so they can keep winning and keep their multi-million dollar contracts (and how many of these coaches donate some of their millions to academics, as Knight does?). Slick Jim Tressel basically sticks his fingers in his ears and does the "I'm not listening! I'm not listening!" routine whenever a player mentions that they have taken money from a booster, just so the coach can circumvent the "if no school officials know about the wrongdoing, the school and team can't be punished" rule. But that's just one example. What did John Chaney do? Did he make a mistake? Yes. Were the consequences much worse than he had planned? Definitely (a St. Joe's senior broke his arm after Chaney sent in a "goon"). So, what did Chaney do after that? Trying to be a role model to his kids, he suspended himself for the A-10 tournament.
So, of course, the "respected" sports media immediately jumps on the "John Chaney should be fired because he's shown he can't control his temper" bandwagon. But is a temper more important than the life lessons he teaches his players? Here's an excerpt from Chaney's bio:

Under Chaney's direction, it has become a yearly occurrence for Temple to meet the nation's toughest opponents in the most hostile environments that college basketball can offer. Chaney knows his teams may take some losses, but playing the best has always been a key element of his grand scheme. The lesson in basketball is the same as the lesson in life: his players soon learn that on the long road to any goal worth striving for whether it is earning a college degree, winning a basketball championship or landing a prestigious job there will always be tough obstacles to overcome.

Thanks to the recent release of the NCAA's Academic Progress Rate Data, let's see how important a college degree is to John Chaney's players. The NCAA's chart on Temple shows that the men's basketball team has a ranking of 818, well below the 925 ranking that indicates a 50% graduation rate - the rate considered "acceptable" by the NCAA. So Chaney isn't graduating players. But wait - this only represents one year of data. On a basketball team, that may be at most 3 people. Let's look at the 4-year averages from the 2004 NCAA Graduation Rate Report. There, it says that, of the 6-10 players who started school between '94 and '97, only 43% graduated, including only 33% of the black players.
What's my point? If you're going to blast a college coach, don't blast him for the occassional outburst. Blast him for making a mockery of college athletics by teaching his impressionable young charges to be dishonest and not caring whether they graduate.

Link of the Week

Courtesy of my high school friend josh - pictures of his tour of duty in Iraq.