Expertise's Politics and Sports Blog

Wednesday, March 09, 2005
The NCAA Bubble Teams Part I: The Majors.

As I mentioned in my Super Sunday recap, the selection for the at-large bids will probably go down as one of the most controversial in NCAA Tournament history. 

The NCAA Selection Committee, which consists of these guys, do not have an easy job.  They face the inconsistency and mediocrity of a lot of teams in the major conferences as well as a number of mid-major conferences that have some very strong teams that are favored to win their conference tourneys, but are vulnerable to upsets which places them in the hunt for an at-large bid.

If there was a year for the Selection Committee to show a little love to the mid-majors, this is definitely it.  I can look at several teams right now in almost every major conference - ACC, Big East, SEC, Big Ten - and make a very strong case as to why they don't deserve to get in.  Meanwhile, a lot of teams in the mid-majors have been constantly winning, but it means nothing if they don't win their conference tourney.

Let's start with the ACC first, since that's "my" conference...

Locks:  The usual suspects.  North Carolina, Duke, Wake Forest....and I also have Ga Tech as a lock, as long as they win their second round game on Friday.

Bubble:    NC State has yet to win against ranked competition, but they have had some close calls.  7-9 in the league doesn't look good either, in which one of those was an embarrassing loss to Virginia at home.  They have to beat Florida State on Thursday and a Chris Paul-less Wake Forest on Friday in order to stamp their ticket.  That is possible to do.

Maryland's got tougher waters to climb.  Their only claim to fame is the two wins over Duke; other than that, they have been mediocre to terrible.  They have to beat Clemson on Wed; a team that swept them in conference play this season.  Then they have to play UNC strong to get in.  I don't think they deserve to get in, but I think making it to Friday might do the trick.

Bubble's burst:  Virginia Tech's nonconference schedule is way too weak and they lost to some terrible teams early in the season.  One upset win against Duke won't be enough.  Miami (Fl) has no quality victories, and lost four of their last five to close out the regular season. 

Moving on to the Big East....

Locks:  UConn, Boston College, Syracuse, Pitt, Villanova.  In other words, the ranked teams. 

I have Notre Dame locked too, despite the naysayers.  Victories over Indiana, UConn, Nova, and Boston College is more than enough.

Bubble:  West Virginia swept Pitt, but really doesn't have any other sound wins.  They also lost seven of nine in January; something the selection committee will notice.  Nevertheless, if they beat Providence and BC they'll get in.  I don't see it happening, though.

Bubble's burst:  Georgetown's done.  They had a couple of wins against Pitt and Nova respectively, but they lost their last five games of the season.  Even if they did win their first round game against Seton Hall, which I doubt, it won't be enough without a complete run through the tourney.

The Big Ten...

Locks:  Illinois, Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.

Bubble:  Indiana poses the most interesting scenario out of all of the bubble teams.  They've played a lot of great teams this year.  Problem is, they've lost to most of them, which has resulted in a 15-12 record.  However, they did beat Michigan St., closed the season winning four out of five and has a 10-6 conference record.

If they beat Minnesota, who they split games with this year,  they'll get in.  Otherwise, 13 losses
is simply too many for the selection committee to notice.

Bubble's burst:  Iowa only has one quality win, and that's against Louisville.  Otherwise, they've had a pretty weak schedule.  They'll have to go deep against teams they didn't have a chance of beating this year.

You have to admire Ohio State for their win on Sunday to Illinois, and they might get a notice by the committee.  But their nonconference schedule is too weak and Illinois represents their only win against a ranked team.  Sorry guys.

The Big 12...

Locks:  Kansas, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State.  I got Texas in too, as they swept Oklahoma State in conference play and lost only by one to Wake Forest on the road. 

Bubble:  Texas Tech had a weak nonconference schedule, but they made up for it with wins against Kansas and at Oklahoma.  That 29-pt loss to Oklahoma State and the 20 pt loss in the Oklahoma rematch at home doesn't look good tho, and I think they have to beat the winner of Iowa State/Baylor (they swept Baylor, but lost their only game against Iowa St) in order to get to the Dance.

If it was up to me, I'd make Texas A&M a lock, as they've only lost eight games this year.  However, none of their wins came against ranked opponents, and their nonconference schedule was weak as well.  Thus, not only do they have to win against Kansas State, but they might have to beat Kansas as well.

Bubble burst:  None.  Or at least any that isn't obvious to see.

The SEC...

Locks:  Kentucky, Alabama, Florida.

LSU is in too.  They've only beaten Bama, but they only lost eight games this year, and single-digit losses in what's considered a major conference will get you in no matter what.  That 12-4 conference record looks pretty good too.  They also closed out the season with a six game winning streak.

Bubble:  A lot of people say Mississippi State is in too, but I'm not so sure.  Weak schedule, and no wins against ranked opponents this year.   Getting blown out of the water by FOURTY-NINE by Alabama and getting swept by LSU isn't going to help matters at all.  In fact, I'm inclined to say that they might have to beat Florida to guarantee their spot.

Bubble burst:  Vanderbilt is done.  A big upset win at home against Alabama will get them a mention in the meeting, but they have 12 losses this year.  They needed to finish the season with a win against LSU on the road and came up short.


Locks:  Arizona and Washington, of course.  UCLA and Stanford acted like the only teams who wanted to win must-win games over the weekend, and IMO got their tickets to the dance.

Bubble:  None.  Surprising, ain't it?

Bubble's burst:  Some people have tried to give Arizona State a fighting chance.  I'm not.  Even if they somehow upset Washington in the first round, 12 losses plus no wins against ranked opponents during the regular season and closing out the regular season 0-3 will place a pin on your bubble.

Same way with Oregon State.  They have a win against Washington, but lost to East Carolina?  Was it the jet lag or something?  Add that with the Georgia loss and they were headed to the NIT before they even started the season good.

Conference USA

Locks:  Louisville, Charlotte, Cincinnati.

Bubble:  UAB only has nine losses, but that's for a good reason, as they only had one team that was ranked in their nonconference schedule and lost easily.  Didn't beat any of the ranked teams in the conference either.  Closing out the season by winning their last four helped.  They have to beat the winner of Depaul/Tulane in order to get into the Dance.

Depaul is very very close.  They beat Notre Dame and Old Dominion in nonconference play, something that the committee will take notice of.  An upset over Cincinnati in the rematch after losing to them by 29 in the first game could be a positive too, and it doesn't hurt that they took Louisville to the limit on Saturday.  However, they need to win against Tulane to cement it.

Bubble's burst:  Houston does have an outside shot by beating South Florida and Cincy in the tournament.  Only problem with that is, they've lost by double digits to every ranked team they've played, including a 110-63 spanking by Washington.  They lost to Cincy in January by 19.  They're pretty much done.

Well that's it for right now, folks.  I'll have my picks for the mid-major bubble threats later.

Posted at 05:40 am by Expertise
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Tuesday, March 08, 2005
The Contender.

(Photo: Yahoo's "The Contender" Page)

I've been waiting for NBC's "The Contender" to premiere for weeks.  Similar to Spike TV's "The Ultimate Fighter", which trains mixed martial arts contestants instead of boxers, "The Contender" features 16 boxing upstarts who get a chance to be trained by Sugar Ray Leonard for a chance to win $1,000,000.  The last two fighters will face off at Caesar's Palace in May.

Created by Sylvester Stallone, "The Contender" is definitely the real deal.  Stallone and DreamWorks spared no expense in making this a top-notch affair.  All of the boxers have nice living quarters, they have legendary trainers on hand to help them improve their skills, and they train in a state-of-the-art gym.  Viewers will really like the fights, in which weigh-ins and press conferences are done beforehand with real boxing journalists, and there was a pretty large crowd for the first fight. 

However, I can't say I'm excited about the rounds being edited.  While they were edited perfectly, and I understand them trying to do so because of time and dramatic effect, it would have been good to see them unedited for boxing fans to sit back and be able to accurately judge the rounds for ourselves.

All of the contestants have a "Rocky"-like story.  They're placed in two groups:  West Coast and East Coast fighters.  A number of them have wives and children to make a living for.  Some come from boxing families, and others just come from the streets and had it hard growing up.  Unlike "The Ultimate Fighter", where the MMA guys are literally shut off from the outside world (no television, no clubs, just training at the house), "Contender" actually encourages the fighters' families to live with them during their time there and are featured throughout the show.  This adds a really emotional twist to the show, as viewers get to know everything about the fighters' backgrounds and are able to understand what the families are going through.

Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing depends on the perspective you're looking from.  No doubt it brings more drama and emotion to the show; no doubt that's the angle Stallone is trying to reach, and it makes it more entertaining.  But I doubt boxing purists will approve of that much interaction the families actually have in the show.  In the first episode, both families were with the fighters almost up to belltime.  That could distract the fighter and possibly make him a little more nervous than normal.

For example, the first episode's main event pitted East Coast fighter Peter Manfredo Jr. vs. West Coast fighter Alfonso Gomez.  You could see the contrasting qualities of the two fighters.  Gomez was considered the underdog, while Manfredo was considered one of the strongest fighters from the East because of his record (21-0).

However, the West Coast team won the challenge, which meant they got to decide the fight.  While the West fighters were discussing it, Gomez immediately stepped up to the plate and offered to fight Manfredo.  The West thought he was biting off a little more than he could chew, but they eventually relented.

Gomez, in retrospect, had everything going for him.  He had no family to worry about making a living for, his father was his trainer, who was a former boxer in Mexico, and he had time to hype himself up for the fight.  Manfredo had brought his wife (Who was that hotness. Whew.) and his baby girl with him.  His father, who was a former boxer as well, didn't come with them.  I also suspect Manfredo didn't expect to fight first.

All of this had to play into Manfredo's psyche, and it showed in the fight.  Gomez went to him and challenged Manfredo as soon as the bell sounded, and it seemed that Manfredo was taken aback by his aggression.  He didn't respond, and Gomez continued to stay busy, using uppercuts and jabs to start the fight.

Manfredo seemed as if he was ready for the second round, and popped Gomez with a hook that hurt him the rest of the round.  At one point, it seemed as if Manfredo would stop Gomez, and Gomez had a cut above his right eye to close out the round.  I think the fact that Gomez came out strong in the third round probably demoralized Manfredo, because he didn't do anything for the rest of the fight.  Everything he tried to do, Gomez took it, and brought something better.  Gomez never really hurt Manfredo, but constantly frustrated him with his aggression and his constant busywork.  From the third round on (it was a five-round fight) Manfredo couldn't find anything that worked and Gomez won by unaminous decision.

Check out Tommy Gallagher's commentary of the fight on Yahoo's "The Contender" page, which I find easier to read than NBC's official website.  He comes to almost the same conclusion I did, in that attitude was the deciding factor of the fight.  You can also watch the fight here.

The next episode is Thursday at 8PM EST on NBC.  I expect the West Coast to be a little cocky after that surprising win this week, and from the teasers they gave for next week, the sparks that flew at the press conference between an East and West Coast fighter might turn into a fire.  Word is, there's going to be an altercation on the training grounds.  George Foreman will visit the guys on Thursday as well.  I hope to watch it and give a recap on it as well.

Posted at 04:47 am by Expertise
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Super Sunday recap.

Folks, you won't find a sports day better than the one we received this past Sunday.

In college basketball, the number one ranked team in the nation who was undefeated going into their last game of the regular season against an unranked team that will more than likely miss the NCAA Tournament went down in flames.  Along with them, the number three team in the nation, Kentucky, and the number seven team in the nation, Kansas, both fell to unranked teams. 

Meanwhile, the number two team in the nation, North Carolina, rallied from nine down with 3 minutes left to score 11 straight points to win a thriller at the Dean Dome.  And the number four team in the nation, Wake Forest, hit a floater in order to pull out the win against NC State, albeit the game resulted in the suspension of their top player for dirty tactics.

Is this a precursor to March Madness?  Possibly.  It's hard to see one round in the tourney equal this, much less one day.  But it is good to see a lot of teams playing hard at the close of the season, because next Sunday will probably be one of the most controversial selection shows ever, and no team is really safe.

Illinois's backcourt weaknesses shone against Ohio State.  While a UNC team without McCants was still strong, they all have to contribute on the offensive end because McCants is their pure shooter.  Duke can't beat a team that is equally physical or more physical than them.  Wake Forest is lacking in the front court.  Kentucky will have problems on neutral courts.  One of Kansas's key starters is injured with an ankle sprain.

If you are a bubble team that's slumped down the stretch - Maryland, West Virginia, Georgetown, and Indiana, for example - you couldn't be too happy with what went down Sunday.  But hey; the selection committee has to pick 65 teams.  Hope some of the mid-major favorites win their conference tourneys (especially Holy Cross, Pacific, Winthrop and Davidson). 

Add to that an emotional finish to golf's Doral Open, where Tiger Woods beat Phil Mickelson in a playoff to regain his number one world ranking.  Is Tiger back to form?  We'll see at the Masters.

And the week is only going to get better.  Conference championships go on throughout the week, as Gonzaga and Old Dominion (much to the relief of bubble teams, as OD had to do it in overtime) stamped their tickets to the tourney on Monday.  Most of the major conferences will start on Wednesday.

I'll talk more about the bubble teams - who's locked in, who needs a great conference tournament performance, and who's bubble has already burst - before the ACC tournament starts Wednesday.

Posted at 03:02 am by Expertise
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Sunday, March 06, 2005
Folks, this says it all:

(Photo:  AP/Gary Broome via ESPN)

This kid deserves all the accolades he's getting tonight.  All I ask is that he doesn't go pro after this season.

Posted at 10:24 pm by Expertise
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I'm going to liveblog this the rest of the way.

16:00 - Carolina is dominating the paint, as too much Sean May and Jawad Williams for Shelden Williams to handle.  However, Duke's superior arc shooting is keeping them in the game. 

May's first half line:  17pts, 9 rebs, 3 asts.  Great first half, and I think if he can continue it he'll have a strong argument for ACC player of the year.

13:00 - Both teams need to get a hold of this game, as they're starting to play sloppy.  Duke is doing a better job defending in the paint, as Randolph got three blocks in this half despite having three fouls.  On the other end, Shelden Williams is starting to find his stride in the paint.

9:00 - Carolina's playing like garbage right now.  Not taking advantage of open jumpers, and they're allowing Duke to have their way with them in the paint.  And take note that Reddick hasn't done anything in this half.  While Shelden Williams is having a great defensive day, the refs are letting a lot go.  I'm not going to say WHY that's happening right now.

And as I'm typing this, Randolph gets his fourth foul.

6:00 - Melchionni is looking like a pro, or at least that's what Carolina is allowing him to look.  Every one of the threes he's hit in this game have been wide open because they are trying to keep Reddick pinned down.  It's time for Roy Williams to change game plans because that isn't working.  Carolina's also continuing to miss open shots.

4:00 - Shelden Williams is going to work, as he continues to make some great shots in the paint for Duke.  Only problem is, he keeps missing free throws.  That could hurt them as the clock runs down.

If Carolina could actually hit half the open jumpers they've missed, they'd probably would be up by double digits.  Instead, they're down by four.

3:00 - Duke is up by nine.  Once again, they leave Melchionni wide open for the three.  Carolina looks confused, and no one can buy a basket.  The one thing that went for the Heels is that Randolph has fouled out, which will open up the paint.  But it may be too little too late.

1:44 - May makes it a two point game after being fouled in the paint.  They are now starting to press, which is frustrating Duke.

27 tics - there must be an angel on Carolina's shoulder, because they were able to steal the ball and call the timeout.  Here we go..foul on Nelson, Carolina goes to the line.

17 ticks - Unbelievable.  UnFREAKINbelievable.  Felton misses his second ft, Williams gets the rebound, puts it back up, hits a basket and the foul...hits the free throw, carolina up by 2.   
CAROLINA WON MY GODDDDDDDDD....everyone is storming the court!!!!  You can't see nothing but BLUUUUUEEEEEEEEE

Posted at 05:23 pm by Expertise
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More upsets.

Florida beat Kentucky today with a very impressive performance by Alvin Robertson and some clutch shooting by Matt Walsh.  That means the number one and three teams going down in flames today.

Add the number seven team in the nation to it.  Mizzou beat Kansas by four today.

My first thoughts on the Carolina game:  May is playing huge in the paint, but the backcourt needs to step in and get some shots in from the arc.  Duke is already in foul trouble, which will cause problems down the stretch and there is no one for Duke that can handle May right now.  Carolina started slow, but they are starting to make this a ballgame.

Posted at 04:36 pm by Expertise
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Folks, I'm trying to calm myself down.

I just saw the huge upset by Ohio State defeating the THEN-undefeated Illinois Fighting Illini by one point.

An outstanding game.  Ohio State never gave up, even though they were down by double digits at the half.  In the last 2 minutes of the game, they got some huge baskets to roll in along with a big block on the defensive end.

At the end, Matt Sylvester was the hero, hitting the deciding basket from beyond the arc to give Ohio State it's only lead with 5 seconds left, and a couple of defensive stops put an end to Illi's undefeated season.

Ohio State won't get into the dance this year, but they just closed their season with a win they'll never forget.  I'm sure they won't mind that as a consolation prize.

UPDATE:  I bet Deron Williams would like to take this back from earlier in the week.  And I suppose this website can be shut down too.

College basketball is the focus of the day.  I'm watching Kentucky vs. Florida right now, and I will be ready for Duke at Carolina; hopefully I'll have some kind of voice left after that.

You know, sometimes you got to love CBS.  CBS Sports, that is.

Posted at 02:13 pm by Expertise
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Niger cancels emancipation ceremony.

Check this out:

The government of Niger has cancelled at the last minute a special ceremony during which at least 7,000 slaves were to be granted their freedom.

A spokesman for the government's human rights commission, which had helped to organise the event, said this was because slavery did not exist.   

It is not clear why the government, which was also a co-sponsor of the ceremony, changed its position.

According to the BBC, there are over 40,000 slaves in captivity in Niger.  Of course, the government denies this by using the "see no evil, hear no evil" method, and that's why this ceremony was cancelled.

Hell, why have a ceremony?  Just let them go free and be done with it. 

Posted at 05:26 am by Expertise
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Saturday, March 05, 2005
Payton's back in Boston.

Well, when I heard about Gary Payton being traded from the Celtics to Atlanta I thought it was a stupid move by the Hawks, who really wasn't getting anything out of it because Payton would not resign with them at the end of the season.

My bad.  That was dumb of me; I forgot what league I was talking about.  You see, this is the NBA, where players don't have to report to the team they're traded to if they don't like it.  Thus, Payton probably never stepped foot in Hartsfield Airport.  And what does Atlanta do?  They cut him so he could resign with the Boston Celtics.

You can't really blame Payton for this.  This is a "don't hate the player, hate the game" kinda thing.  After all; the option was given to him, and he looked out for his own interests.  Payton and Walker hustled the Hawks, and now with the trio of Payton, Pierce, and Walker, they are a threat to go deep in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

The blame goes to the Hawks, who has been "rebuilding" ever since they got rid of Steve Smith and Dikembe Mutombo and fired Lenny Wilkens five years ago.  They knew Payton wasn't going to play in Atlanta, because he almost pulled that stunt in Boston at the beginning of the year.  If he was skeptical going to Boston, you had to know Payton felt he was too good to play with the worst team in the league.

So let's see what Atlanta got out of all this:  they got Gary Payton, who didn't show up and had his contract bought out; Michael Stewart, who hasn't shown up and wants the same thing (who the hell is he anyway?).  So that leaves Tom Gugliotta and a first round draft pick.  They would have been better off cutting Walker from his contract and just be done with it all.  At the very least, the Celtics organization should say "thank you" to those dopes in the Hawks front office. 

Meanwhile, Hawks "fans" can look forward to another 11-70 season next year. Yay.

Posted at 05:50 am by Expertise
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Thursday, March 03, 2005
The Senate filibuster.

Several Democrats continue to moan and groan about the Republicans' latest attempts to neutralize Senate filibusters.  One of the latest, done by Senator Robert "Sheets" Byrd from West Virginia, resulted in a rebuke by the Anti-Defamation League.

"We, unlike Nazi Germany or Mussolini's Italy, have never stopped being a nation of laws, not of men," Byrd said. "But witness how men with motives and a majority can manipulate law to cruel and unjust ends."

Ignore Byrd's Nazi reference - and the irony of him discussing it - for a second.  Byrd's comments on how the Republicans "manipulate law" don't hold water once you look at the history of the filibuster.

You see, the process of how filibusters are used have changed over the decades.  It has evolved from a legislative stunt where a senator has to stand and continue speaking until the bill was taken off the floor or cloture (where 67% of the present Senators voted to take the floor from the speaker) was approved.  Even then, cloture wasn't approved until 1917, which meant that one Senator could hold up Senate progress as long as he was physically able to.

Robert Byrd understands the importance of the filibuster because he implemented one in order to block the Civil Rights Act of 1964; a filibuster that lasted 14 hours and thirteen minutes.  He would have continued if it wasn't for Democratic Whip Hubert Humphrey finally negotiating the necessary 67 votes to gain cloture, forcing Byrd off the floor.  It was only the second time in Senate history that a filibuster had been beaten through cloture.

But even filibusters those days are more reasonable than today. After all, speaking for over 14 hours isn't a walk in the park. Filibusters then required you to stand up and use physical exertion.

Today's filibusters don't. All you have to do is simply say "I'm filibustering", and the only way the blocked legislation can come to the floor is through cloture.

Why? Because only the "threat" of a filibuster is sufficient enough to keep legislation from coming onto the floor. After all, Senators have to constantly meet very important lobbyists, attend Washington dinners and fundraisers, and make their trips all over the world. Judicial nominees? Presidential appointments? Doing their jobs? That's not important enough.

Now the Republicans are trying to pass what they call the "nuclear option", which will reduce the cloture requirement from 60 to a simple majority of 51.  This pretty much kills the filibuster entirely, because a filibuster's power is to be used as a final option for legislation that will pass if placed on the Senate floor.

Personally, I don't like the nuclear option.  I think filibusters should be allowed to stay in the Senate.  However, place it back in the old school setting:  force Senators who use it to get their butts up in front of the chamber and talk until their hearts' - or healths' - content.  Republicans need to grow some backbone and force the Democrats to put up or shut up.

Posted at 09:02 pm by Expertise
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