Friday, March 20, 2009

Obama vs. Hansbrough

Though this is from 2008, I just love this picture. This is awesome.

Full video of the leader of our nation shooting hoops can be found here. Where's the hustle, Barack?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Barack Obama loves NCAA hoops

Our President is a sports fan

Hallelujah! My respect for Barack Obama just went up that much more. Except that he predicted Meech out in the first round, so I guess it's back down to normal.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Dhani Jones tackles the Globe

Just in case you haven't seen it, now you have. Former Meeechigan Wolverine Linebacker, poet (article here), Michigan Daily photographer (this is true, though I'm still hunting down the photo), cycling enthusiast, ESPN guest columnist, and all around renaissance man is taking his act to TV. The LSA mag story is here.

Only at Michigan can you find athletes who are not only exceptionally talented (Pro Bowl NFL Linebacker), but well-rounded and well-educated to boot. The epitome of the Michigan man is Dhani Jones.

Friday, March 13, 2009

it's that time of year, folks.

I love football, and don't get me wrong, there's not much more I would like to see than huge hits, mind-blowing moves, and touchdown-enabling blocks from a pulling guard year-round. However, I suppose it's only fair to, you know, not force football players to die extremely young lives on the gridiron by extending the season to 50 weeks. Sadly that time has passed us, and we'll have to wait until fall to see Hines Ward fined for playing good hard football. Soon we'll be left with the bane of my sports existence: summer. Don't get me wrong, it is fun to go to the ballpark and watch a game. It's the experience that does it for me with baseball. Watching baseball on TV is about as fun as being a blind person in an art museum. There's just not enough going on for me. I understand that it's a "thinking man's game" and that it's just all about the strategy, but all sports have strategy, and most of them manage to remain interesting to watch on TV. What's worse is the pace. You get maybe a pitch or two in a minute, and in between each pitch the batter has to step away from the plate and go through his excruciatingly long pre-at-bat warm-up. Then the pitcher takes another 20 seconds to decide what pitch to throw. Play the damn game.

I digress. It's SPRING! Ahead of us we have March Madness, The French Open, NHL and NBA playoffs, the conclusion of the Champions League, and college lacrosse playoffs, to name a few. Absolutely beautiful.

March Madness. Things are already heating up and the bracket hasn't even come out yet. In the last two days, 3 of the top teams in the country lost, which brings a whole mess of teams into the picture for a #1 seed. Teams like Wake Forest, Louisville, and Michigan State have been brought up in the discussion of #1 seeds. Let's get this out of the way: I'm a Michigan State fan. I grew up in East Lansing and go to Michigan. No my dad does not hate me for it. No it's not weird to go to Michigan after having grown up in East Lansing. However, I don't think that MSU deserves a #1 seed. They definitely deserve a #2 seed (best in the nation against the RPI top 50 at 12-2), but blowout losses to UNC and Purdue as well as losses against Northwestern and Penn State just do not look good. Dick Vitale was quoted as saying that he has a better chance of growing hair than MSU does of being a 1-seed. Probably true.

Does getting a 1-seed even really matter, though? 10 years ago being a one seed pretty much got you through to the sweet-16, now it only really gets you out of the first game. Fact: no number 1 seed has ever lost in the first round. The closest a 1-seed has come to losing in the first round? Georgetown vs. Princeton in 1989. Georgetown won 50-49 after Princeton led most of the game and the nation first witnessed the effectiveness of Pete Carrill's low-scoring, pass-intensive offensive scheme (which, ironically enough, was used by a former assistant to take Georgetown to the Final Four a couple years ago). Anyway. The point is to question how much being a #1 seed matters. This last week is a good example. 3 Possible 1-seeds (Pittsburgh, Connecticut, and Oklahoma) all lost early in their conference tournaments. It looks like any team can win on any day, which is part of the magic of college basketball. There's so much talent out there that it's always interesting (March MADNESS). As my dad would say, "That's why they play the games." In fact, I did a little research. It turns out that in the last 10 years, just under 42% of the Final Four teams have been 1-seeds (18/44). 10/44 were 2-seeds, 7/44 were 3-seeds, 3/44 were 4-seeds, 3/44 were 5-seeds, 2/44 were 8-seeds, and there was 1 11-seed, George Mason. From the looks of it, seeding is a good way to rank-order teams, but the difference between being a #1 seed and a #2 seed is not all that great. You can still make the Final Four or win it all if you're not a 1-seed.

Before long, I'll sit down and watch Michigan vs. Illinois. If the Wolverines can pull it out, there is no way we don't make it to the tournament for the first time in a decade. John Beilein is doing a fantastic job with the program, and things look to be on the upswing for the future. My only gripe is that we depend so much on the three ball (leading the Big 10 with just under 9 a game) that if we're cold we just won't score enough points to win. That said, if we play our A-game Michigan definitely has the potential to make the Sweet 16 and maybe even the Elite 8. I would love to see a Michigan-Michigan State game deep in the tournament, even though I would have to disown my friends for a day.

Switching gears, there's nothing that makes my heart flutter like soccer. I have a feeling that if I don't talk about soccer here, it won't get much attention, and we can't have that. When May comes around, you best believe that Greg and I will get some stuff about lacrosse on here, don't you fret. Even though I watch European soccer, I don't call it football. I live in America. It is soccer here. We already have our own football, although the European definition makes a lot more sense. It's unfortunate that a team like AC Milan is underachieving so much. They've got the talent to win every game (Dida, Senderos, Nesta, Maldini, Kaladze, Kaka, Ronaldinho, Inzaghi, Shevchenko, and Zambrotta). Somehow they found a way to not qualify for the Champion's League this year, and they seem content to sit behind Juventus and Inter. in the Serie A.

Speaking of the Champion's League, I can't wait for this to play out. I never saw Liverpool getting by Real Madrid, especially without Stephen Gerrard in the first leg (leads all scorers with 7). While we have to wait until May for the Championship, as the clubs are all still competing in their respective national leagues, Liverpool is going to win it if they keep up the momentum. Yes Bayern beat Sporting 12-1 on aggregate, but that was a David and Goliath-esque match-up. When Liverpool fires on all cylinders they're tough to beat, and beating the high-scoring defending champions of La Liga 1-0 and 4-0 in the round of 16 is a big momentum boost. Other top contenders in my book are Barcelona and Manchester United. In order for Man U. to win, they'll have to get Berbatov and Rooney playing at the same time, and Ronaldo's going to have to do some damage. This is an insanely talented team that can make the round of 4 coasting. To win it, though, they'll have to find their A-game. Barcelona surprises me. After losing Ronaldinho to AC Milan, I thought they were going to decline. But no! Lionel Messi comes into his own and Thierry Henry starts playing good ball again and suddenly they're atop the Spanish premiership. I was in Spain last year when they suffered the 5-1 drubbing from Real Madrid. The streets went crazy, but those days are no more.

All in all it's going to be a heated couple of months. I'll go into more depth on basketball and hockey, as well as lacrosse, when the time comes.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Where do NFL Players come from?

Here is an interactive USA Today graphic designed in part by my buddy and fellow Michigan grad, Bill Couch. It appears that RR's recruiting blitz of Florida is right on the money in terms of tapping the best resource.

Check it out.

Also: My buddy helped design this and other interactive data sets for USA Today. However, very few of USA Today's interactive data sets are on the subject of sports. The potential for really cool sports-related interactive data sets is enormous, given the wealth of rich sports data and stats out there. If you've got any ideas for future sports-related interactive graphics, list them in the comments. This is a relatively new thing for USA today, so I'm sure suggestions from sports nuts that read this blog will be highly valued.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

New Kicks

As seen here on Manny Harris.


T.O. to... the BILLS?!

Bills = doomed? T.O. consistently ruins the chemistry of each team for which he has played. Now the Bills are giving him another chance. They certainly do need a consistent receiver, but their team unity is a precious thing to gamble with. Especially without an A-list quarterback (Trent Edwards, right?). Well, if they're trying to get people to watch now, they certainly have my attention.

What do you think?

Saturday, March 7, 2009

University of Miami Football

The University of Miami football program was one of the most feared and dominant teams in the 90s. Their W's, however, coming at the expense of recruiting questionable characters and questionable rappers as well. Not to mention making the matchup with Notre Dame in 1988 garner this title.

That all changed when Donna Shalala, President Clinton's former Secretary of Health and Human Services, took the helm as president and decided to turn the program around. Randy Shannon was hired as head football coach, who's favorite saying is "nothing good ever happened after midnight." He's reeling in top flight talent like the Miami of old, but we still have yet to see a dominant team come out of Coral Gables. From wikipedia: "He has led the Hurricanes to a 12–13 record in his first two years as head coach. This is the lowest winning percentage (.480) for a Miami Hurricanes' head coach in 30 years since Lou Saban went 9–12 in his two years as Hurricanes' head coach (1977–1978)."

Is Randy Shannon just not a good head coach? If he is, when is his program going to turn the corner? He's had ridiculous recruiting classes, and they're playing in a very weak conference (BC is the toughest team? VA Tech? Didn't Wake win the titale a few year ago? Pleeeeease). Whereas before I would always root against Miami because of their suspect, thuggish players and questionable standards of conduct of the program (for other such teams see Ohio State, and Florida State), but now I'd like them to get off the ground and make the ACC exciting to watch again. Maybe we'll just have to wait for UNC to do that, though...

Thursday, March 5, 2009

A Few Random Thoughts

Just a few things I've been thinking about over the past few days:

  1. I love the new rivalries that are developing in the NBA. Lebron vs. Kobe, Lebron vs. D-Wade, or Chris Paul vs. Deron Williams are developing into some of the leagues most interesting and appealing rivalries that we see today. Much like the rivalries of the 80's and 90's, these sub-plots to each game or playoff race are making the NBA even more interesting to watch on a nightly basis.
  2. That being said - I wish the officiating in the NBA was more consistent. More specifically, I wish the officials would call the NBA's top stars for travelling violations more. I will be the first to admit that watching Lebron, Kobe, D-Wade, etc. pull-off dazzling moves on a nightly basis is one of the best parts of the NBA. But every night they get away with some of the most basic violations of the leagues rules - and I think that the officials have so much respect for these stars that they just turn a blind eye. Disappointing. Q: How many bench players could benefit from taking 3 or 4 steps in the lane like today's stars do? A: All of them.
  3. T.O. was released today - good for the Dallas Cowboys. Maybe with a little consistent leadership and less distraction on this team, they can finally get the most out of the immense talent they seem to have (on paper at least). No doubt that Dallas will still be a circus of some sort, but maybe this year it will be a little more controlled.
  4. What is next for T.O.? I can't imagine a serious contender in the NFL will be willing to take a chance on a man who no doubt has talent, but is a plague to the locker room of every team he has been with. A man with who has played himself into some big contracts with good contending teams, has also found a way to talk and act himself out of these situations. What serious contender would be interested in taking the chance on a guy who is almost guaranteed to turn on you once he doesn't get exactly what he wants. I believe T.O. will spend the rest of his career on a mediocre team willing to spend the money on him to put butts in seats. A team that knows it wont contend, is content on having a certain amount of disparity in the locker room. Oakland Raiders ring a bell anyone?
  5. I wish that hockey was back on ESPN again. The coverage on VS and once a week on NBC is just terrible. Furthermore, ESPN isn't in the habit of promoting games that aren't carried on their family of networks. Therefore, we get approximately a minute a night on SportsCenter devoted to hockey coverage. Maybe America doesn't care about hockey as much as it used to, and maybe because I am in "Hockeytown", I am eager to keep up with the goings on of the NHL. But good coverage beats bad coverage any day, and ESPN is, on some levels, still the Worldwide Leader in Sports.
  6. Finally, Chauncey Billups returned to Detroit this week, and was greeted with open arms. In a sense it was touching to see the Detroit fan base welcome back their hero, and a man who led their team to 5 consecutive Eastern Conference Finals. I can't remember a time when the home team dimmed the lights for a returning player and gave him an introduction bigger than that of the home team. On top of it all, Chauncey publicly thanked the fans and media of Detroit for his time here and the way in which he was treated. Class-acts all around.
Holler back with all comments.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

New York Times articles: fodder for discussion

1) Article on the remarkable consistency of free throw percentage over 50 years

Looks like Michigan could take a lesson from Southern Utah, Utah and Utah Valley. Wtf?

2) Article on Shane Battier, and how his value to his team is not in his stats.

Very interesting read. I'd recommend taking the time to read the whole thing if you haven't already.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The World Baseball Classic...Pros and Cons

With the start of the World Baseball Classic just days away, I find myself becoming excited for the start of the Baseball season. As a fan of our Country's greatest past-time, I can't help but be excited for opening day - and as a fan of all sports, baseball is one of the only things we have during the heart of the summer, before football season starts up again. In short, I can't wait for that first pitch.

As far as the game of baseball is concerned, the WBC is a huge event. Much like the all-star game, fans are able to see national all-star teams play other all-stars of the world. Fans can root for their favorite players as well as their country, and unlike the Olympics, you don't have to deal with the ridiculous rules of Olympic international play. Furthermore, games in the WBC are generally more competitive, as the players have much more to play for than they do in the MLB all-star game. All in all, it seems like a pretty good situation for the fans and the game of baseball.

But wait...

As a fan of a specific team, (go ahead and hate me because I am a Yankees fan), I find myself a little disturbed by the fact that the WBC takes place before the start of a grueling 162 game season. With most of the players having not played baseball for the better part of 5 months, many are not in top "baseball" shape (not to be confused with great physical shape), putting them at risk for injury.

Don't get me wrong, I would love to see Derek Jeter help lead the U.S. team to a victory in the WBC. But I would hate it even more if he were to get injured, and subsequently miss time during the MLB season. How would the fans in Boston feel if Big Papi were to bust his ankle rounding first, and miss 4 months of the regular season? Not good.

If possible injury is not enough of a "con" for you, what about poor mechanics and technique? Baseball is a sport centered on rhythm and routine. Pitchers and catchers report to camp almost 2 weeks before position players just to get a head-start on finding their rhythm and working on their mechanics. There is a reason that they don't make full starts until 4 weeks into spring training. Just this week Blue Jays pitcher B.J. Ryan opted out of the WBC becaus his mechanics were not ready for competition yet. Smart choice B.J., but how many other pitchers are too proud or not smart enough to hold themselves back and do the same thing?

What about hitters? Finding the groove and timing of a swing is something that also takes the majority of training camp. Getting your hand-eye coordination back takes time and repetition. While not necessarily a proven direct detriment to these aspects of the game, the WBC does seem to rush these players back into competition games before they are physically ready.

So what is the solution? No other major American sport has something like the WBC, but I am certain that neither the MLB, NHL, or the NBA would let their players compete in a tournament the size of the WBC before the season. As is, the NFL barely has its starters play in pre-season games - let alone playing in full-speed competitive games. While the NHL does occasionaly take extended breaks for international play (Olympics, World Championships, etc.), these all occur mid-season.

I think the best bet for the WBC would be to have it played in the off-season, starting about a month, maybe two, after the World Series. Granted this would make it necessary to be played in a warm climate, but what baseball player wouldn't be willing to play for two weeks in warm weather in the middle of winter? While this doesn't eliminate the risk of injury, it does give each player adequate time to recover from any injury sustained, as well as adequate off-season time from the MLB.

I know things like this are hard to change, especially in the game of baseball (it took them 9 years to even publicly recognize that there "may be" a steroid problem). But why not look into a better situation for all parties involved? I can't be the only one who feels this way.

But what is a fan to do other than watch, and wait, and hope for the best for his country, as well as his home team? So for now, play ball, I guess.

As a newly added member to this blog, I am hoping to offer some of my opinions, but more importantly, to be disagreed with and spark discussion. Feel free to add comments both for and against at will. Strong language appreciated.