Expertise's Politics and Sports Blog

Thursday, March 10, 2005
Championship Week Thursday: Part II.

Not a lot of surprises this afternoon, but some key games did affect the NCAA Tournament:

First, NC State kept their Dance hopes alive by easily beating Florida State.  They looked shaky in the second half, but they weren't in any real trouble as they led all game, and a significant part of it by 20.

That doesn't mean they're a lock.  NC State still has to beat Wake tomorrow.  The good thing is that Chris Paul won't play in that game.  But they're guaranteed to have that bubble burst if they can't get it done, regardless of what the analysts say.  So all today's game meant is that they're still on the bubble instead of them being an afterthought like Maryland.

Also, Depaul fell to UAB today by three in Conference USA action.  That keeps UAB alive and has Depaul hoping someone falls tonight or tomorrow.  I don't have them completely out, but they're in the same shape as Notre Dame right now, if not worse.  UAB, however, can lock it up with an upset against Louisville tomorrow.  That's possible, as they took Louisville to the limit last month, and came up short by four.

Mississippi St beat Georgia, but they'll have to do a little more to make me think they should be considered.  Iowa State beat Baylor in an easy victory.  I'm not sure if that makes them a lock, but they'll have a strong case.  I'd place them as one if they come up with the victory against Texas Tech tomorrow.  Iowa beat Purdue, but they'll probably have to make the Big-12 final in order to get in.

Tonight's games:  Miami vs. Virginia; Oregon State is leading UCLA late in that game, which could put UCLA back on the bubble; Georgetown vs. UConn; George Washington vs. Fordham; Texas A&M vs. Kansas St.; Arizona St. vs. Washington; Vandy vs. Auburn; Stanford vs. Washington St.

Posted at 07:42 pm by Expertise
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Championship Week Thursday: Part I.

The bubble burst for Maryland today, as they lost to Clemson by double digits.  I think it's safe to say that they're NIT-bound, as everyone has agreed that losing three times to Clemson cannot be ignored by the selection committee.

Meanwhile, West Virginia stamped their ticket today by upsetting ACC-bound Boston College, and rather impressively.  West Virginia led by as much as 25 early in the game, and when BC made their run, they were able to endure it and eventually put it away in the final minutes of the game.

Will the Big East be able to get seven teams into the tournament?  It's still possible.  Notre Dame certainly has a problem, but there's a lot of basketball to be played between now and Friday night.  I'm sure they won't be the only bubble team that will flounder before it's all said and done.

In other news, Louisville keeps their outside shot at a #1 seed alive by handling TCU in the first round of the C-USA Tourney.  Buffalo kept their bubble alive by handling Toledo.  St Joseph's is alive too by beating Richmond

The key afternoon games pit NC State vs. Florida State, Villanova vs. Pitt (winner could sneak a #3 seed after BC's flounder), Utah vs. Colorado State, mid-major bubble Akron vs. Western Michigan, mid-major bubble UTEP vs. Hawaii and Iowa St. vs. Baylor.

Posted at 03:17 pm by Expertise
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Congress subpoenas baseball stars.

If you haven't heard, The House Committee on Government Reform is ready to issue subpoenas on several baseball stars and MLB personnel to appear at a hearing on steroid use in baseball on March 17.

The Committee claims the new policies that Major League Baseball has put in effect this season may not be enough, and has called these guys to appear:

- Mark McGwire
- Jason Giambi
- Curt Schilling
- Jose Canseco
- Rafael Palmeiro
- Sammy Sosa
- Frank Thomas

and also Donald Fehr, the head of the MLB Players Association, MLB Executive VPs Rob Manfred and Sandy Alderson, and San Diego Padres General Manager Kevin Towers.

Just looking at this whole scene on the face of it alone shows that this is a waste of time.  Congress has no legitimate justification for meddling in the affairs of Major League Baseball to begin with. 

They claim their aim, as Reps. Tom Davis and Henry Waxman said in a statement released Wednesday, is to "better understand the steps MLB is taking to get a handle on the steroid issue, and whether news of those steps -- and the public health danger posed by steroid use -- is reaching America's youth.''

And Rep. Cliff Sterns said this:

``We're trying to get to the bottom of the steroid problem...Are they being used in high school? Are they being used in college? Are they being used in professional sports? And what are we doing do stop this, because it is a felony? What is the baseball commissioner doing?''

The problem is, there's no evidence that this is a widespread problem, or there's any major trafficking in any of these areas.  Congress is going off of hearsay; lot of which hasn't been verified as fact.  On top of that, there's already a federal grand jury investigation that has had several players testify already, so not only is Congress spinning wheels, but they could be obstructing the investigation.  And they already know what the baseball commissioner is doing.  Why didn't they simply subpoena Bud Selig if that's what they wanted to know?

Of course, none of that really matters because Congress's default explanation for having any kind of hearing is because they're Congress and they can do what they want.  MLB can fight those subpoenas  - and they should - but those players will be forced to come to Washington "in the public's interest".

Congress knows none of the players they subpoenaed probably wouldn't be able to point to a group or an individual that supplies a considerable number of athletes, whether they're professional, college, or in high school.  Even if they could, they won't because they'd immediately plead the fifth, as that information could be used against them in, say, that federal grand jury investigation. 

Dan Patrick even interviewed former Democratic Presidential Candidate (yea right) Dennis Kucinich Wednesday, who said it's necessary that the hearings don't turn into a witch hunt.  But it's almost guaranteed to turn into one, as they will try to press these guys on what they know about steroid use in their locker rooms and whether they've been approached by anyone.  That sure sounds like a witch hunt to me.  They definitely didn't subpoena Jose Canseco to get his expert opinion of the new steroid policies.

Some of these guys, like Curt Schilling and Frank Thomas, have not been accused of steroid use and have been calling for MLB's cleanup for years.  What's the purpose of sending them to Washington?  Does Congress expect them to give testimony as to who was doing what and even what they overheard?  Do they actually believe Schilling and Thomas will rat out their teammates?  Give me a break.

To show this hearing is definitely a fraud is the fact that they didn't subpoena Barry Bonds, who is probably the highest profiled athlete connected to the steroid scandal.  They didn't want Bonds because they know he doesn't mind telling the politicians on that committee what he thinks of them.  If you think he was pissed off at the media at the press conference on March 1st, imagine how he'd feel if Congress forced him to fly cross-country to testify in some sham hearings.  It would be a circus, and that if his lawyer didn't force him to plead the fifth in every other breath.

Instead of wasting time on baseball's steroid issue, why don't Waxman, Davis, and the rest of the committee live true to it's name and reform government?  I'm sure the American people would appreciate that a little more than their elected representatives wasting time and taxpayers money dwelling on an issue that they can't solve and have no business getting into in the first place.

Never mind.  As the old folks would say, that would be too much like right.

Posted at 04:28 am by Expertise
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Bubble Watch.

Not good at all if you're a Notre Dame fan.

Notre Dame fell tonight to Rutgers, who was in last place in the Big East.

That's an ugly loss folks.  And it didn't help things that their fellow bubble teams pulled out some good wins, either.

Georgetown, who had lost their last five games, beat Seton Hall 56-51West Virginia routed Providence 82-59, which is probably a margin good enough to place them as a lock.  In Conference USA, Depaul can be considered a lock with an solid win against Tulane.  They better hope that someone in the ACC or the Big 10 flounders in the first round.

In other news, Houston fell to 12-15 South Florida tonight, so there's no need to mention them any longer.

Posted at 02:19 am by Expertise
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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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