Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Super Bowl lacking ... superness?

I was in a fairly good mood today when I showed up at the Capitals practice facility in search of some quotage for an upcoming story I was working on. See, I woke up to find my car underneath a good 1/2 inch of ice after what looked to be a run-of-the-mill two inches of snow turned into massive amounts of ice. I'm talking I had to literally pretend like I was surfing just to get down my driveway icy here.

So as myself and a bunch of reporters waited for Caps coach Bruce Boudreau to emerge for his daily talk, I was pretty enthused that I didn't die on my way to work navigating through the streets. (As an addendum for DC folks, here's how you know the Caps have officially become the biggest game in town ... the Washington Post literally had three different people at a practice — four if you include myself since I work for the Post-owned Express).

THis being a gathering of media folk, corny sports-related jokes ensued as we waited patiently. A fellow from the AP said about the only thing icier than DC right now is the buzz going for this weekend's Super Bowl. Now, after I was able to contain myself from doing one of those obnoxious laughs that gets cut off abruptly with a NO (think hahahahahaha ... NO!), I began to ponder about this whole Super Bowl thing. Am I going to watch? Yes. Am I going to care who wins? Not really. Will I be happy to see Steeler fans (not the actual Steelers, who I like a lot) lose to the most unlikeliest Super Bowl team ever? Hell yes!

I wanted to have a proper picture to sum up how unreal it is to have the Cardinals in the Super Bowl. This was the second photo in google images when I typed in "cardinals super bowl unbelievable" and I think it does a pretty good job of conveying the message.

Now don't get me wrong, I think a lot of the hype for this year's game is being manufactured when compared to last season thanks to ESPN and their bizillion crew members down in Tampa. Now every Super Bowl can have storylines such as a team on the cusp of undefeated greatness like last year's Patriots. I think the very fact that a team like the Cards made the Super Bowl should create enough buzz, but like I've said before, it is kind of deflating when you think about how many teams the Cards were worse than ... during the regular season.

And if you haven't noticed, a lot of the biggest news the past couple weeks has been outside of the Super Bowl. Like watching Tomlinson and the Chargers bicker more and more incessantly through the media, in which case if you don't think a divorce is impending, then you've never been in/seen a break-up before. But back to the game, which I think deserves some attention here in a sports-filled universe. I figure I'll list out the things I'm interested in heading into this Sunday:

1) Will Ken Whisenhunt re-create the now-fired Jon Gruden when he made the Super Bowl in Tampa? I'm talking the whole "former coach knows his former team so well that with two weeks of preparation time, his current team is able to predict what plays are coming" storyline?

2) Former Skin, and distinguished member of the Hogs, Russ Grimm used to be an assistant for the Steelers and now works for Whisenhunt as well. Does another Super Bowl win as an assistant get him in the running for a head coaching job, and better yet, does it help his impending Hall of Fame status, which experts put at iffy.

3) Will anyone pull a Eugene Robinson and get caught in Tampa's prodigious strip club scene days (or maybe hours?) before the big game. My money is on Matt Leinart and Santonio Holmes double teaming some broad named Felacio Jones while throwing $20 bills in the air.

4) What about Hines Ward? Is he going to be like Willis Reed, suiting up as little more than a cheerleader or will he actually make a difference on the field. If he isn't the player he usually is, do the Cards just load up on Willie Parker and dare anyone but Santonio Holmes to beat them?

5) Does Lamar Woodley finally elevate himself to superstar status? I don't know if anyone watched his behind the scenes look at who the smelliest and worst dressed Steeler is on Rome is Burning the other day, but the former West Quad resident and current quarterback terrorizer has some charisma. I want to put it up, but it isn't on youtube. And if you haven't been able to tell, I'm going with Lamar Woodley as my early pick for Super Bowl MVP.

6) Can Kurt Warner convert us all to Christianity if he pulls off what I think would be the most unprobable run to a Super Bowl of all time. Seriously, as much as some people want to call this boring, the simple fact that Warner and these Cards could win this Super Bowl has me thinking about going to church. How else can it be explained? Honestly, they aren't that good.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Something to Keep You Busy

I'm gonna try something new here after getting some positive feedback when I posted that phenomenal Mitch Albom link a couple weeks back. I figure I'm reading a ton of stuff every day, I might as well share some of the best of it for you. So here's something to keep you going at work this Monday morning.

1) The New York Times does a little in-depth character analysis of that dastardly money grubber, Bernie Madoff.
"All of which has led some forensic psychologists to see some similarities between him and serial killers like Ted Bundy. They say that whereas Mr. Bundy murdered people, Mr. Madoff murdered wallets, bank accounts and people’s sense of financial trust and security."

2) In the same vein, the NYT also has a nice profile on the equally fascinating and brash Rahm Emanuel, who probably has more say than anyone on the decision making of Barack Obama.
"Mr. Obama acknowledged as much at a 2005 roast for Mr. Emanuel, who is a former ballet dancer, during which Mr. Obama credited him with being “the first to adopt Machiavelli’s ‘The Prince’ for dance” (a number that included “a lot of kicks below the waist”). When Mr. Emanuel lost part of his middle finger while cutting meat at an Arby’s as a teenager, Mr. Obama joked, the accident “rendered him practically mute.”

3) The Michigan-Michigan State hockey rivalry is alive and kicking, especially after this shit went down in Michigan's two-game sweep this weekend.
"In the final minute, Michigan State forward Andrew Conboy grabbed Michigan defenseman Steve Kampfer from behind and knocked him to the ice. Michigan State forward Corey Tropp immediately slashed Kampfer as he lay on the ice. ... After the game, Comley called for security to help escort his team out of the building. He said a Michigan parent came into the MSU locker room following the game to confront the players."

4) Without George W. Bush to use for propaganda purposes, Al-Qaeda is in a bit of a quandary having to insult Barack Obama — a well-respected figure in the Muslim world.
"In his Nov. 16 video message, (Al Qaeda's No. 2 leader Ayman al-) Zawahiri denounced Obama as "the direct opposite of honorable black Americans" such as Malcolm X. He then used the term "house Negro," implying that Obama is merely a servant carrying out the orders of powerful whites."

5) He may not be starting for the Wizards anymore (because he was literally the worst starter in the NBA statistically speaking), but you gotta feel for DeShawn "I can't feel my face because LeBron bitch slapped it so hard in the playoffs last year" Stevenson in this revealing profile about how he grew up with no father figure at all.
"DeShawn didn't know the police had apprehended Darryl that day for strangling his own mother -- DeShawn's grandmother. But DeShawn says he did sense, even as a sixth-grader, that a TV image might be the closest he would ever come to meeting his biological father."

Friday, January 23, 2009

Obama Overkill

Has anyone else noticed that the news media has basically been covering everything short of when our new President goes to the bathroom? Seriously, we're three days into this thing and I already am growing apathetic to President Barack Obama. Not because I disagree or dislike anything he has done so far, it's just that I need a break from him.

We've gone from the Bush administration going largely unnoticed for a good six months to people covering when Obama takes off his jacket in the Oval Office. And I love all the hoopla over every little move he's making. Man, am I glad he closed a prison and ended torture and made lobbyists not want to join his administration. Remember I voted for the guy, but partly because of this media love affair with him, I'm done drinking the Kool Aid.

See, I tend to agree with Paul Krugman, New York Times columnist and a Barack Obama supporter, when he says blah about the first few days of this Presidency, especially that inaugural speech everyone has been dreaming and slobbering over for days now.

One wishes that the speechwriters had come up with something more inspiring than a call for an “era of responsibility” — which, not to put too fine a point on it, was the same thing former President George W. Bush called for eight years ago.

But my real problem with the speech, on matters economic, was its conventionality. In response to an unprecedented economic crisis — or, more accurately, a crisis whose only real precedent is the Great Depression — Mr. Obama did what people in Washington do when they want to sound serious: he spoke, more or less in the abstract, of the need to make hard choices and stand up to special interests.

Umm .... yeah we have precedence for this if we harken back to the dawn of the Great Depression. Krugman expounds:

Remember, Herbert Hoover didn’t have a problem making unpleasant decisions: he had the courage and toughness to slash spending and raise taxes in the face of the Great Depression. Unfortunately, that just made things worse.

See, lost amidst the Obama love affair has been the actual stuff his residence in the White House is already accomplishing. There isn't a workable stimulus package yet, the economy is free falling once again, Kim-Jong Il just made his first public appearance since a stroke in August signaling he's alive and well, so why is it that the media has to detail things like Michelle Obama's wardrobe or what the hell she's going to do with the White House decor or what movie the kids watched last night or even how Barack goes sans blazer while working. Who cares? Or actually I know who cares, the idiotic American public.

See we should be focusing on things that Obama's entrance into the Presidency has done already. Like finally getting some government-approved stem cell research underway

The Food and Drug Administration authorized the Geron Corp. of Menlo Park, Calif., to test stem cells derived from human embryos on eight to 10 patients with severe spinal cord injuries. The study is aimed primarily at determining the safety of the cells in human subjects, but researchers also will examine the patients for any signs the therapy restored sensation or movement

President Obama is expected to lift a ban on federal funding for such research imposed by his predecessor. While the timing of the FDA approval led some to speculate that the two moves were related, Geron's work had not been restricted by the ban. The cells being used by the company were derived from leftover embryos at fertility clinics before the ban was implemented in 2001.

Maybe I'm just frustrated with all this non sensical and vague "change" business, but if I hear another news report involving what Obama is going to eat for lunch in the next few days or what shoe polish he's using on his penny loafers, I might go up to Wolf Blitzer or Sean Hannity or whoever and punch them in the face myself.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

New Addition to the Michigan Shit List

Well, if the past three Michigan basketball games haven't proven my prior post concerning the team correct, I don't know what will convince you. A road loss to Illinois, a home loss to Ohio State, and an away from home clobbering at the hands of Penn State last night doesn't bury Big Blue's tourney chances, but I don't see how it bodes well for them. The bottom line is you don't hear about too many teams that start one player over 6-feet-4 a making it to post season play all that often. Opposing teams in the Big Ten are beginning to take advantage of this fact.

See, it has been interior players that have torn Michigan a new one of late. Most people kind of shrugged away losing Ekpe Udoh to transfer in the offseason as just another Beilein system related defection that would ultimately be nullified. Well, watching guys like the Illini's MIke Tisdale (24 points), teh Buckeyes' B.J. Mullins (15 points), and Penn State's Jamelle Cornley (17 points) tear this defense a new one, I think it's safe to say we miss big Ekpe.

Speaking of B.J. Mullins, he has officially entered the annoying Ohio State player realm that most Buckeye stars inevitably enter. I was watching his team get beat up by Illinois last night and after making his first basket of the game (10 minutes in might I add) to help the Buckeyes pull within a whopping 12 points, he made the whole "silencing the crowd" motion with his finger all while sporting one of those "so cocky I want to slap him in the face" looks, which obviously got a wide chorus of boos in Champaign.

It got me to do some digging into this fool, and courtesy of a Michigan Daily blog post I found this interesting youtube video that I think any self-respecting Michigan fan who has hate for Ohio State must watch:

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Getting Used to the Cards, Brenda Warner

I must admit, it's still shocking for me to utter the phrase "NFC Champion Arizona Cardinals" even after they somehow maneuvered their way through — pretty convincingly I might add — the playoffs and into Super Bowl lore as the most unexpected participant in the big game ever.

But the more and more I pay attention to them, the more and more I think I'm gonna hop on the bandwagon the next couple of weeks. For me, they've got the whole local angle going. First, there's Tim Hightower, a Waldorf, MD native who played his high school football at Episcopal High School in Alexandria — a school I just so happen to cover on a regular basis.

There's also Darnell Dockett, who used to tear up Montgomery County competition when he was in high school playing for Paint Branch before his days at Florida State. Throw in a team that has a 1,000-yard receiving version of Stevie Breaston (by the way, just another example of how poorly Lloyd Carr used his talent while at Michigan) who highlights a roster of five former Ann Arborites (Stevie B, Gabe Watson, Alan Branch, Jermane Tuman, and Victor Hobson) and you've got a bandwagon I can believe in.

Which brings me to the man everyone just can't seem to stop talking about concerning this team: Kurt Warner. You may remember earlier in the season when I chastised someone who called Warner "one of the greatest passers of all time." Well, I still disagree with the notion, but how can I hate on the guy after making this improbable run. Speaking of Kurt, not that many people picked up on the notable silence of his once outlandishly outspoken bitch (err Christian) of a wife, Brenda Warner. That is until Deadspin pointed it out earlier today. And what do you know, they were able to provide a split screen of exactly what she's been up to between Super Bowl appearances.

On this memorable Inauguration Day, I gotta say, that is change I can believe in.

So I invite you all to join me on the most unlikely bandwagon around these days. Go Cards! Go Brenda Warner! I had no idea the New Testament had blonde wigs or highlights or whatever the hell she did with herself. But whatever, anything is better than the "Alice from the Brady Bunch" crew cut she sporting before. Remember, the Cards are here to stay (at least for the next two weeks) and there's no turning back. After the one for the thumb nonsense of a few years ago, the Steelers don't have any more room for rings — unless they have some fans that can fit Super Bowl rings around their sexy time regions.

Friday, January 16, 2009

NFL-related Distractions

I've been in denial all week. How in the world could the NFC Championship game be between two teams the Redskins went 3-0 against this season? Seriously, the Eagles? The bain of my existance, the team that has caused me more heartache over the years than any other during my nearly 23 years of life. All this on top of the fact that the ungrateful city of Philadelphia is now two wins away from supplanting Boston as Titletown USA.

At least with the perennial woeful Cards, it's one of those well they gotta have success sometime kind of thing. Speaking of which, not sure if anyone noticed, I think we can official call this the The Year of Hitchcock in the NFL considering three out of the four teams left are, well, birds and at least of them will be playing in the Super Bowl in two weeks.

As for picks, well, I really wanna pick the Cards, I really do. But I think the Iggles will be smarter than the Panthers and actually double and triple team Larry Fitzgerald, forcing anyone else to beat them. Do I believe the Cards have anyone else ... Nope. Plus, the Eagles dominated the Cards on Thanksgiving Day and I've always been a big believer in past results. It was part of the reason I picked the Cards to beat the spread last week against Carolina — see Zona lead almost the entire way before giving it up late when it faced the Panthers during the regular season. I've got a feeling there was something glaring Philly noticed in that game. Do I believe the Cards have anyone else, nope. As much as it pains me, that means Eagles in Tampa. Ughhh.

As for the AFC, the Steelers have been the most and probably only consistent team in football this year. Why go against that, especially with Willie Parker looking poised to break out at just the right time of the season. But seriously, let's go back to that Redskins going 3-0 against potential the NFC representatives in the Super Bowl. It has been driving me crazy all week. If the friggin' Cards can put together a run, I gotta believe had the Skins not brain farted against the Bungles and the Lambs earlier in the year, they could have done the same.

So in search of a distraction, I came across this enlightening "Where is he now" article about the one, the only, the cultural phenomenon that is Kevin Pittsnogle. Apparently he's teaching special-ed in West Virginia now, and you just gotta love this imagery:

Inside one of the trailers last Friday stood a tall man with a familiar face. He wore a Bugs Bunny tie and a gray dress shirt with sleeves rolled to the elbows. Tattoos spilled to his wrists. He spoke kindly to two of his special education students, who called him Mr. Pittsnogle.

He's come back from his John Beilein-induced popularity and turned into, well, a West Virginia hick again.

Now, at 24, he is a middle school teacher in his hometown. He is also an unpaid assistant coach for a high school basketball team. He bowls in leagues three nights a week and occasionally plays bingo at Big Bucks Bingo. His wife, Heather, is a bank teller. They have two children and live in a double-wide trailer, and together they wonder how much appetite they have for uprooting their lives again so Pittsnogle can have one more chance at a basketball career.

The first thought that came to my mind was what does this mean for DeShawn Sims. He's tall, he's got tattoos, he's coached by Beilein, he shoots 3-pointers well, and he could possibly break out in the NCAA Tournament as a junior (if Michigan makes it) and become the ghetto fabulous version of the Pittsnogle. Does this mean in four years he could be something random like a massage therapist in Southfield or something?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Sign of the Apocalypse courtesy of Harris Teeter

I know what your first thought is: What the hell is a Harris Teeter and if it's located anywhere but the south I will be downright shocked.

Well up until a couple days ago, I had no idea what a Harris Teeter was either. To me, it sounded like an abnormal kind of nipple or something. In fact, though, Harris Teeter is a grocery store chain and one just opened up across the street from my office here in Virginia. And just like you originally thought, it only has stores in Virginia, Florida, Tennessee, Florida, South Carolina, and Georgia. If you're really interested check out the website.

Seriously, though, when I walked into this place I felt like I had unearthed the new eighth wonder of the world now that the Astrodome has been demolished. I got a giant Philly Cheesesteak for $2.50. And it actually tasted delicious. The place is like Whole Foods, a regular supermarket, and Walmart (or Meijer) all wrapped into one. It's got the best of everything. The prices of Walmart, the selection of a regular supermarket, and the free samples of Whole Foods. And the one I went to is open 24 hours a day!

Oh Harris Teeter, you complete me.

As you can tell, I'm now infatuated with the place and plan on eating many meals from there. But as I was leaving (with my brand new Harris Teeter card I should let you know), a store manager approached me with a loaf of bread. At first I thought it was like that scene in the Bible (holy crap non-religious Mark is now invoking Biblical passages. I think that's what the Teeter does to people) where Jesus and God have a verbal duel and Satan demands the supposed son of God turn a stone into a loaf of bread. What I'm trying to say is I thought this manager was trying to prove himself to be the new incarnation of Jesus, which at this point I would have believed because of how awesome I was feeling about my Teeter experience at that point.

In fact, the manager of Teeter was not Jesus. He was actually just a manager of a Harris Teeter. But the bread, well, that wasn't made up. In fact, Harris Teeter was offering everyone a free loaf of bread for coming by. I was early on the bandwagon of calling this little economic fiasco we're having a "recession", but I've been slow to embrace this new "mini-Depression" phrase some of the media is beginning to throw around. Well, you know when the only other time I can remember people giving regular Joes like myself free bread .... yeah it was the GREAT DEPRESSION.

Woo hoo! Bread Lines!!!

Seriously I never thought I would see the day when some stranger would come up to me and hand over a free loaf of bread. I still refuse to call this a mini-Depression, but I mean c'mon, if people getting obligatory bread isn't enough proof that our economy has imploded then I don't know what is. On a lighter note, I'm writing this post from my cubicle at work and just staring at this giant loaf. And it's not even generic brand bread, it's Sara Lee white bread. I mean really, what am I supposed to do with this? You'd think the Teeter could come up with a better promotion than free bread.

Oh and of course as I was leaving, I had to rub it in that I had made a parallel between today and the Great Depression. So I yelled back to the dude who handed me the bread, "What's next? Free milk?" Moral of the story, you ask? Be jealous that I have a Harris Teeter across the street.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Wow Mitch Albom

I'm on deadline so I gotta make this quick ... but I just couldn't resist posting this particular link on the blog.

For Sports Illustrated last week, legendary writer Mitch Albom wrote a story about the city of Detroit and sports and life there these days. Seriously, it's a must read for anyone who has ever stepped foot in Michigan, currently live in Michigan, or hell, if you just care about what's going on in this country right now.

Here's the link:


Maybe it's a little one sided, but it's one of the best stories I've read in several years. This is the type of stuff I dream I'm one day capable of writing.

Friday, January 09, 2009

An Original Take on Wash Me

I was driving on the highway yesterday when I saw one of the top 10 most original things I've seen while driving on the highway. There was a particularly dirty truck in front of me while sitting in traffic on the Beltway and instead of your standard and childish "Wash Me" written into the back, I saw this:

"I wish my wide were this dirty" followed by a picture of one stick figure doing another stick in the butt. I almost got in an accident from laughing so much. And then I almost got in another accident as I inched as close as I could to the truck so I could get a picture of the whole thing for the blog. Didn't turn out well because the back of the truck was white. So I can only express the hilarity in written form.

Just thought I would share with anyone. Have a good day at work.

Congrats Tommy

I know this is a little belated, but I figured I rag on him so much, I've also got to be the bigger man when Tommy Amaker does something remarkable. The Harvard Crimson defeated their first-ever ranked opponent, beating Boston College, 82-70, just a few days after the Eagles had scored an upset over previously undefeated UNC at the Dean Dome. Here's what the AP thought was the most memorable Tommy quote afterwards:

“Obviously it’s a special night for us and for our basketball program,” Harvard coach Tommy Amaker said.

Ahhh, quintessential Tommy. And obviously and a special and very little else. But the final score got me thinking, how the hell did Harvard put up 82 points. Aren't they running the same "Tommy swirls his finger in the air and then the team proceeds to pass the ball around about 30 feet from the basket before desperation sets in with the shot clock expiring followed by a desperate heave" offense. I mean, it's patented Amaker so I figured he brought it with him to Cambridge, Mass.

I'm guessing the Harvard "fist" offense is the new version of the patented Michigan "swirly finger of death" scheme he used in Ann Arbor.

Well I started to wonder, just how many times did Tommy eclipse 82 during his six-year tenure at Michigan. I went back and looked. It's actually more than I thought, but still not that great a number. He did it 19 times. But let me list the teams he did it against and you'll realize an Amaker-coached team scoring 82+ points against a team like Boston College is a rare feat that should be celebrated ...

In 2001-02, Tommy's first year in Ann Arbor, the team scored more than 82 points against Fairfield, Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne (yes I looked it up, it is in fact an actual school), Eastern Michigan, and in a LOSS to Duke. In 2002-03, they did it against Bowling Green, Charleston Southern, Eastern Michigan, and IUPUI. In 2003-04, it happened against Oakland, High Point, Central Michigan, and OMG a Big Ten team by the name of Iowa. In 2004-05, they never scored even 82 points.

The high point of the Amaker regime (if there is such a thing) came in 2005-06 when Michigan appeared on the brink of an NCAA berth and then blew it down the stretch, culminating in a first-round Big Ten Tournament loss. That season coincides with the best offensive production during Amaker's time. The team got 82+ points in games with Central Michigan, Miami (OH), Chicago St., Wisconsin, Ohio State (this was a loss though), and Notre Dame in the NIT. The year I covered Tommy in 2006-07, the Wolverines only eclipsed 82 points against Wofford.

So if we throw out games against the creme de la crap of Division I basketball, i.e. teams from one-bid leagues that leaves us with five legitimate instances (loss to Duke, Iowa, Wisconsin, loss to Ohio State, and Notre Dame) where Amaker's squads put up more than 82 points. But if we take out losses from that equation, we're left with three times in six years ... and one came in Amaker's first season when he recruited none of the players on the roster.

I guess what I'm trying to get here is savor this one Harvard. As much as you want to believe program building wins like this will become the norm, it's more like an anomaly. I just love piling on Tommy. Give me a good reason why he doesn't deserve and maybe, just maybe I'll stop.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

About that Michigan basketball team

It's probably pretty tough for all you Michigan alums out there trying to catch these basketball games lately since they all seem to be on the Big Ten Network. I guess it's more like the East Coasters because BTN is all over the Midwest. Lucky for me, I've got Verizon Fios at my place and for some reason the Big Ten Network is part of my package. Not exactly sure why, but when something good falls into my lap, I tend not to ask questions.

But because of this, I've gotten to watch a good majority of the games involving my alma mater (still feels weird to write that) Michigan and its men's basketball team. Last night, one of my few nights off from the nauseating boredom mixed in with intermittent excitement that is covering high school sports, I got a chance to catch Michigan's game against suddenly woeful Indiana. I also got to check out the Wolverines win over Illinois on Sunday.

Well, when I first turned on the tube I was dismayed to see Michigan already down 15 halfway through the first half. The team shot something absurd like 3-for-18 from 3-point range in digging itself a 17-point halftime deficit. That turned into a 20-point margin two minutes into the second half.

Then something happened that I wish would have happened a year ago. Instead of sulking, it seems at that point Michigan woke up and realized, 'Hey, we're the better team here, we're really better team here ... OMG we're actually the better team here!" Think Jimmy Stewart running through the streets in "It's a Wonderful Life" after getting a second lease on life. That's how giddy they had to have been.

See, when I had to sit through 22 merciless losses last season, Michigan all too often played the role of Indiana. The Wolverines would get a lead, and then to the surprise of absolutely nobody, crater underneath the weight of their own inadequacy. Things are clearly different now. The overtime win over the Hoosiers was Michigan's second gut check win in a row after its hard fought victory over Illinois last weekend.

But is this merely a mirage? Right now Michigan is 12-3 and in good position to secure an NCAA berth if they get the right bounces. Well, the numbers say things could come crashing down very soon. Two things that haven't changed since last season are youth and a lack of defense. Michigan has three seniors — all of whom play minimally — in a game like college basketball where conference and tournament time are mostly dominated by elder statesmen. Then there's the defense. To put it simply, it's awful.

According to SI's Luke Winn, Michigan has by far the worst defensive efficiency of any team currently in the AP top 30, ranking a woeful 185th in the nation. Last season they were slightly better, ranked 80th in adjusted defensive efficiency, but that was when the team had the Big Ten's leading shot blocker in Ekpe Udoh. Basically this team blew chunks on the defensive end and it only appeared like they sucked moderately because Udoh would cover up their mistakes. There's also the fact that the offense was so terrible, the defense kind of just got overlooked. In general on the defensive, not much has changed, and when push comes to shove numbers don't lie, they are probably worse than even last year's Michigan team. It probably doesn't help that they literally have two guys taller than 6-foot-8 on the roster these days.

Seriously go back and re-watch all of the Wisconsin game, the first half of the Illinois game, and the first half of the Indiana game and you'll see what I'm talking about. In the end, wins can't disguise the fact that opponents were literally walking into the lane for open jumpers and easy layups. Oh yeah, they stink at rebounding, too, but that's pretty common with a Beilein-coached team. To be exact, the Wolverines are second-worst in the Big Ten in rebounding margin.

It's your boy Kelvin ... Grady that is.

So what's different. There's gotta be something different, right? There's gotta be some reasons why a team that won just 10 games a season ago and added two marginally rated recruits (Zack Novak and Stu Douglass) and just recently added one solid player (Laval Lucas-Perry) is now sitting at 12-3.

Umm ... well ... guys actually make open shots this year, a welcome development from the team that appeared to be shooting on a triple rim every single game last season. Zack Novak has turned into an instant impact player with the type of moxie rarely seen in a freshman. The kid just seems to have a knack for knocking down big shots. They also don't really turn the ball over that much (ninth in the country in turnovers per game).

Oh yeah, and the team is just a lot luckier this season. Besides the ridiculous 20-point comeback last night, the Wolverines have beaten Duke on one of its all-time worst shooting days, come from behind in the second half to beat lowly Savannah State by two points at home, and just in general made me leave a number of games thinking, 'Well atleast we got the win", which is good every once in awhile but not every time you face somebody from cupcake city.

Now I realize I'm being a negative Nancy here, but maybe it's because I had to sit through the travesty that was the 2007-08 version of Michigan basketball. I don't think my heart or mind can take the torture of getting my hopes up only to see them wither away from missed shot after missed shot. All that said, I figured I'd give you an account of how I feel about some of the significant players on the team 15 games in ... since I guess having been one of the few and the proud to sit through the past couple seasons, I actually might qualify as something of an expert.

DeShawn Sims: Conventional wisdom says I should list Manny Harris here first, but I list Peedi (that's his nickname for the not-so savvy folks out there) ahead of Manny here because, frankly, I think he's the best player on the team. Oh yeah, and he was my favorite while covering the disaster of last season. Seriously, though, when the offense runs through him rather than the forced penetration of Manny, the team runs so much more smoothly. All the media covering last night's game talked about the huge 3-pointers in the second half by Novak and fellow freshman Stu Douglass, but very few mention that the main reason they got those open looks were because DeShawn sliced and diced the interior early in the second half for three straight buckets. The Hoosier D began collapsing as a result, creating open shots for everyone else.

My man, Peedi.

The guy has a burgeoning outside game, and when he limits his perimeter shooting to when he gets open shots through the flow of the offense, he's supremely effective. The one advantage Michigan's height deficiencies give him is that he's routinely matched up against unathletic centers that simply can't keep up with him, whether it's on the low block or on the perimeter. The guy is shooting at a 52 percent clip right now and should be getting the ball even more.

Manny Harris: Even last year, Manny had this aura about him that because he was considered the best player on the team by outsiders and scouts, things just had to run through him. That's fine and dandy when Manny is allowed to go straight one-on-one with his defender because the bottom line is that Manny Fresh has an NBA-quality first step that is next to impossible to stop without help defense. That's the key, though, the whole help defense part. In general, teams utilize it ... often.

Manny would be wise to add a pull up jumper to his repertoire, especially if he has dreams of playing pro. Teams are just collapsing on him and that's the main reason he's got more than double the amount of turnovers than anybody else on the team (47 total). The next closest is Sims with 20. To Manny's credit, he made a huuuge 3 against Indiana, but in general he throws up way too many bricks from long range. Instead of creating for himself so much, I'd love to see Manny Fresh trust the offense a bit more, rather than taking it the hole with no regard for what's going on around him. Seriously most of the shots he forces are shots that he could get at any point in the shot clock, so why not try to get something a little easier.

Still, I think I'm kind of overlooking the fact that he's just a sophomore and he's clearly made strides from a season ago. Let's just hope Beilein can keep him around for all four years. Judging from what I know about him and his handlers, that's definitely a big if. The fact that he has handlers should say something to you.

Zack Novak: Besides DeShawn, Zack is easily my favorite player on this team. The kid has a knack — and more importantly a willingness — to take and make big shots. He's exactly the type of player Beilein used to recruit at West Virginia and would eventually mold into something even better. What I like most about him is he seems to have a strong grasp of exactly what his limitations are, something you just don't see very often in freshmen. He plays to his strengths and has a grittiness that bodes well for later years. The future is bright for this lefty, especially with players like Manny, DeShawn, and Kelvin there to create open, spot-up shooting opportunities.

Kelvin Grady: Much improved from a year ago, especially in the assist-to-turnover department, where he's playing at a 3-to-1 pace i.e. exactly what you're looking for in a point guard. I'm not sure why Beilein hasn't been starting him — maybe so he can at least say he has one senior on the floor in either David Merritt or C.J. Lee. I really think this team's ideal lineup is a four-guard set with Grady, Manny, Laval Lucas-Perry, and Novak alongside DeShawn. But Beilein has shied away from using it for the most part. One glaring negative about Grady is his shooting. 37 percent from the field just isn't going to cut it.

Laval Lucas-Perry: It's refreshing to have another player besides Manny in the lineup who has shown himself capable of creating and finishing off the dribble. Not to mention LLP has displayed more range than I anticipated, making 16 of his first 35 attempts from 3-point range since he started playing six games ago. I'm anxious to see how he develops as the season goes along and he becomes more and more comfortable. Remember, this kid hadn't seen real live D-I action in over a year as of the end of December.

The Best of the Rest: Freshman Stu Douglass is going to be nice player down the line, but with LLP in the lineup, I don't see him making too much of an impact the rest of this season. I really wish (and I'm sure Beilein does as well) that Zack Gibson could play every game like he did against Illinois last weekend. The Wolverines desperately need his size because there's going to be a game or two where DeShawn gets in foul trouble early. It's just inevitable with him playing in the post so much. I'd like to see Jevohn Shepherd get more minutes. Compared to most everyone else on the roster, he's a pretty solid rebounder, which still isn't saying much for this team. I think Beilein has a prejudice against guys who can't shoot 3-pointers consistently, no matter if they could help his teams out on the floor.

So where does this leave us? Is this squad really an NCAA Tournament team, meaning John Beilein is actually a year ahead of schedule. Because I think there's no denying that if everyone stays on board, there are even better things to come next season when DeShawn Sims is a senior, Manny Harris a junior, and stud recruit Darius Morris coming on board. Only time will tell, I guess, because luck usually runs out.

Well, ESPN's Bracketology has them as a nine seed right now, but I think it's going to take eight and more than likely nine more wins to get into the dance. Now you see why losing that Indiana game the other night would and could have been disastrous. Does this team have eight more conference wins and a Big Ten Tournament win or two left in it? I'm not really sure, especially if it continues to play such porous defense. But seriously, what am I saying here. A year ago Michigan has already lost to Harvard and Central Michigan, anything, really, is better than that.

But I think we can all agree, things look a whole lot better. At the very least I think we can all agree the Beilein hire (which I supported even before they signed him up) was the right move. Also shout out to Rob, he was the inspiration behind this post. I really wanted to keep my nose out of the Michigan basketball analyzing game, but his insistence in Chicago over New Years made me change my mind. I'm curious to see how many people actually make it through this whole post.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Those Russians Can Be Such Jerks

While everyone seems to be fixated on the ongoing conflict in Gaza (and rightfully so) between the Israelis and the Palestinians, there's a little country called Russia concocting its own shenanigans as we speak. Since everybody in the mainstream media stopped worrying about the whole "Russia is trying to re-start the Soviet bloc and show its dominance once again" thing after the war over Georgia (not the dirty south) subsided, there's been little scrutiny of what the Russian government is doing — at least here stateside.

Maybe if you're somewhere warm you can't relate to this story I'm about to share, but here in DC it's about 32 degrees and raining, which has made me scared shitless that I'm going to skid off the road at some point here. I was just in New York and Chicago in the past two weeks and lived in Michigan during the winter for four years, so I can also confirm that it is also balls to wall cold in those places as well. Now, I haven't been to Europe in the winter in quite some time, but based on what I know about latitudes and longitudes, I'm guessing the temperatures there are also pretty, pretty cold right now.

Which makes this article about the squabble between Russia's energy monopoly and Ukraine all the more ridiculous:

Fears of a deep chill spread across Europe yesterday after a row between Russia and Ukraine over gas prices cut supplies to the rest of the continent on a day of plummeting temperatures and heavy snowfalls. ...

Yesterday Russia stopped gas supplies through Ukraine to Bulgaria, Hungary, Greece, Turkey, Romania, Serbia, Bosnia and Macedonia. The government of Slovakia declared a national emergency; Austria and Italy reported falls of 90 per cent; France said Russian supplies had tailed off 70 per cent, and Germany also reported a decline although did not quantify it.

Folks in Europe are calling this "the new Cold War", hehe. I'm guessing the people joking about this still have heat. The reason this is a big deal for everyone, and not just Ukraine, is that Russia controls 1/5 of the gas supply in Europe and all of it comes through Ukraine. But with Ukraine so limited in its gas supply, it has now been forced to horde said gas for itself, meaning the EU is getting even less. I'm guessing farting isn't real big in Europe. I feel like that would the American solution if something like this happened. Some scientist would find a way to turn human farts into heat. But seriously, here's the real tragedy in all this:

The disruption has already forced two big fertiliser producers and a major brewery to stop production, and metals and pharmaceutical firms warned they may have to follow suit.

I thought the Russian loved their booze. And now they want to get rid of the drugs, too. Apparently Russian President/wannabe czar Vladimir Putin is doing this for business reasons since his country has been hit hard by the credit crunch as of late. Basically he wants as much money out of these negotiations. But he also really hates Ukraine because, well, Russia doesn't control them anymore. The European Union is planning to meet separately in the next few days with both Russia and Ukraine. If that doesn't work, there will likely be a three-way gas summit. Am I the only one who thought three-ways only solved problems in pornos?

Just pretend this is Vladimir Putin in one of those thick Russian accents: "We want more money, you Ukrainian bastards ... (pounds fist against whatever podium or table he's sitting behind) ... What about that internet money you've been hoarding? Give us some of that internet money!"

Sunday, January 04, 2009

New Year, New Heights

Alright, I'm back from my Holiday break and ready to take this blog where no other blog has gone before. Well, actually more like where this blog hasn't gone before because there are just too many others out there that have eerily similar sarcastic commentary.

My batteries are re-charged after a couple weeks off and I've got that excitement back. Hopefully the renewed energy will show in the coming weeks and months. I'm in the process of watching Joe Flacco throw the whole "Never bet on a rookie quarterback on the road in the playoffs" theory out the window, so this post is going to be short and sweet. As I'm watching this thing, I can't help but notice the announcers giving credit to guys like Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, and Terrell Suggs But I just can't seem to take my eyes off of Haloti Ngata, the Ravens gigantically nimble defensive tackle.

After a Wikipedia search, it came to my attention that Haloti is of Tongan descent, meaning he's from some random South Pacific island. Another player of South Pacific descent (or actually I guess he's Hawaiian, so more like middle Pacific) is USC's Rey Maualuga. I'm fairly certain he's going to be in the NFL next year. Well, not only did he help his USC team go out with a bang against Penn State in the Rose Bowl, he also went out literally with a bang (sort of).

Watch this video of Rey and my girl Erin Andrews from New Year's Day. Let's just say, I wish I had his bravado.