Thursday, March 27, 2008

"That game was fixed. They were using a freakin' ladder, for God's sakes!"

NCAA Tournament Preview: Rounds 3 and 4: Well...I was going to go with something more substantial, but after making my picks, I cruised over to Seth Davis's latest entry. His selections are identical, so, if you're going to read anyone's pre-game analysis, it might as well be his. The picks are straight up, though I've made my (indefensibly gutless) spread selections in bold.

All gambling data comes from

Round 3 picks

UNC (-9) over Washington State: if WSU manages to control the tempo, this game could be closer than people expect...and I'm hoping it is. In fact, I officially rooting for WSU to win, since UNC is the leading national bracket national champion pick, plus they were kind of dicks in running it up against an overmatched Arkansas squad.

Louisville (-3) over Tennessee: should be a terrific game.

(-12) over Villanova: walkover.

Wisconsin (-5) over Davidson: can't wait for this one, though it scares the bejesus out of me, which makes different than any other Wisconsin game. What concerns me is that, for the second game in a row, the Badgers will not have the best player on the floor. And if you don't think is an issue, see this (which still makes me angry). 10 bucks (+125) on Stephen Curry to be over 23.5 points, though--hopefully--Wisconsin shuts down everyone else.

Update: Just discovered this...which scares the crap out of me even more. That's a whole lotta goodwill.

Memphis (-4.5) over MSU: initially, I had Memphis covering this one. But here's the thing: given how terribly they shoot FTs, this effectively makes the line more like 7 or 8. In other words Memphis, in all probability, needs to up by fifteen or so late in the game (in which case Tom Izzo won't foul) to be assured of a cover.

(-2.5) over Stanford: hopefully. On the plus side, this would probably cause Misha's head to explode.

(-11.5) over Western Kentucky: I'm tempted to call this a "trap game" UCLA--though it's somewhat of a misnomer in a one-and-done tourney--but are they really going to look past WKU in anticipation of playing...the winner of Xavier/West Virginia? Hardly. Unless they've already mentally punched their ticket to San Antonio (where they'll likely play Memphis), they should win going away tonight.

(+1) over West Viriginia: tough one to pick. WVU is more athletic and has more star power, but Xavier's the better team. It would be fantastic for their program if they got to the Elite 8.

Round 4 picks

UNC over Louisville
Wisconsin over Kansas
Memphis over Texas
UCLA over Xavier

All four of those have the potential to be outstanding games. If Louisville survives Tennessee, it wouldn't surprise me if they knocked off UNC. If you're a UNC booster (which is not unlike rooting for democracy), you cannot tell me that you aren't a little concerned about a repeat of last year's Elite 8 meltdown. Which reminds me....

Three Quick Prop Picks

1. Yes, Memphis is (at 6/5) far and away the most likely one seed to be knocked out first, but the payout is lousy, so I'd be tempted to go with UNC or Kansas (both are 13/4).

2. The Big 12 (at 11/4) to have the most teams in the Elite 8.

3. UCLA (at 9/2) to win by 21 or more points tonight.

I'll hypothetically lay $7.50 on each of the games, $15 on Curry, $5 on UNC crapping out first, and $10 each on the Big 12 and UCLA.

Now...sit back and watch me turn that $100 into $37.50. Bear Stearns ain't got nothin' on me.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

"...If the rule you followed brought you to this, of what use was the rule?"

NCAA Tourney Impressions: The First Four Days

Having watched all 48 games (literally), I can safely say: I'm an idiot, as, once again, I've gotten far too cute with my tourney picks. Not that this would ever stop me from analyzing the events of the past four days..

65. Coppin State (16):
64. Mount St. Mary's (16):
63. Mississippi Valley State (16):
62. University of Texas-Arlington (16):
61. Portland State University (16):
60. Austin Peay (15): no comment for any of these six teams. They got beaten soundly, as anticipated. See you in twelve months, MEAC, Big Sky, America East, and Ohio Valley Conferences! It's been real...

59. Belmont (15): hmmm.....seems as though I was wayyyyyyy off with my projection that it was impossible for Belmont to hang tough with Duke. My bad. Good for Belmont, I say. Though, not getting a shot off when inbounding under Duke's basket with 4.2 seconds to go? Inexcusable. Terrible, terrible pass.

58. University of Maryland Baltimore County (15): held their own against a GTown team that would be exposed as horrible, horrible frauds two days later. Still...

57. American University (15): really could've ("could've," Ryan) beaten Tennessee.

56. Boise State University (14):
55. Cal State Fullerton (14):
54. Cornell (14):
53. Oral Roberts (13): No comments here either, except to say: what the hell, Cornell? 17% from the field in the first half?? Thank God I didn't end up picking them.

51. Winthrop (13): grrrr....this was such a clever pick, too. Let the record show that they were tied with Washington State at 29-all at halftime...and then completely shit the bed in the second half, where they were outscored 42-11. That's right, 11 second half points (and it should've been 8, since they hit a meaningless three with seconds to go). Brutal. If CBS is looking to spice up their coverage, might I suggest a webcam trained on my increasingly-reddening face as I watch non-televised game go sour on the ticker? I even promise to keep my pants on.

50. Siena (13): This rank is a little deceiving, since I ended up picking them to go the Sweet 16. They didn't, but beating Vandy was reward enough.

49. George Mason (12): phew.

48. Western Kentucky (12): rot in hell, Hilltoppers. Rot in hell.

47. Texas A&M (9):
46. Miami (7): both teams screwed me over in the 1st round (and A&M almost blew up my bracket altogether Saturday night.)

45. Georgia (14): For much of Thursday afternoon, it looked as though they were going to pull it off against Xavier, which made me furious, since I ended picking against them. In the end, playing five games in seven days seems to have gotten the best of them, as Xavier won going away.

44. West Virginia (7):
good for them.

43. Marquette (6):
impressive showing, as they were oh so close from knocking off two top 15 programs (Kentucky and Stanford). Gutting OT loss.

42. Clemson (5): nailed it!

41. South Alabama (10): the team that everyone was clamoring for to be in the tourney went out like lambs against Butler. I believe this proves the axiom--which I just made up--that "any team that loses to North Texas should not, at any point, be taken seriously." I'll need to remember that one for '09.

40. Oklahoma (6): bah...they were about as bad as I thought they were....just not as lousy at St. Joe's.

39. Oregon (9): I won't lie, I called's Luke Winn every name under the sun when Oregon jumped out to an early lead (most were variations on the following: "you [string of expletives deleted] idiot, I wanted to pick U of O but you talked me out of it with your [expletives deleted] statistics!"), but he redeemed himself in the end. Sorry about what I said about your wife.

38. UNLV (9):
They've screwed me yet again, since I always pick them to lose in the first round and yet they never seem to. OK, I promise to pick you next year. Now...couldn't you have at least beaten Kansas? I ask for so little...

37. USC (6): nailed it. What made this extra sweet was that so many people--insanely, I might add--had USC advancing to the Final Four (including Bill Simmons and his wife, who, for writing purposes, I'm increasingly convinced are the same person. I'm not alone on that front).

36. Gonzaga (7): Not to brag, but I was really, really bang on with my analysis of this program.

35. Purdue (6): better than I thought. After they clobbered Baylor, I was convinced they'd beat Xavier. They didn't, but they did reveal themselves as a team to watch next year (their starting five this year featured two freshman, two sophomores, and a junior).

34. Michigan State (5): From last Wednesday's post:

Sigh...they're my boys, but I just don't think they're very good this year. Temple is not a great matchup for them. (Note: I'm fully prepared to retract all of this two weeks from now, after they miraculously land in the Final Four.)

The second thing. (When will I learn never to doubt Tom Izzo? After four trips to the Final Four in the past nine years, he's probably earned it.) Let's just move on...

33. Indiana (8): again, spot on. Worst 25-8 team from a major conference I've ever seen. Like the appropriate Wizard of Oz character (tin man? lion? I can never remember...and I've never seen the movie) they have no heart. Also like the appropriate character (Dorothy? Just kidding!), their coach (Dan Dakich) has no brain. A technical foul in the first five minutes of the game when you're team is already fragile? Were you concerned that your "interim coach" label wasn't tenuous enough? Why not just show up drunk, a la Dennis Hopper in Hoosiers?

32. St. Joseph's (11): thanks a lot, jerks.

31. Kansas State (11): As relieved as I was that they prevailed over USC, my anxiety was about ten times worse when they played Wisconsin. Despite the fact that K-State never got within 10 in the second half, I was positive they would make a late run. Thankfully, Beasley--the presumptive #1 pick in this summer's NBA Draft--was cold/flustered most of the game.

30. Arkansas (9): their run ended about as I expected, mainly: decisively, at the hands of UNC.

29. Temple (12): not this year.

28. Mississippi State (9): played Memphis very tough and had a makeable shot to tie it at the end of regulation. While I'm sure they're disappointed, they had a good week.

27. Villanova (12): [pumping my fist]

26. Arizona (10): Flamed out. Lesson: if you're consistently insulting the team that you're about to pick, you should probably go the other way. Though, I will say, right upset (over Duke), wrong team (West Virginia).

25. Baylor (11):
24. BYU (8):
23. Kent State (9):
22. Kentucky (11):
21. St. Mary's (10):
Five misfires, but only one carryover error (Kentucky, whom I had advancing to the Sweet 16). Two quick comments. Kent State: 10 points in the first half?? I stand by my original statement. BYU: to the two guys shooting in the low 40s from the line: there is absolutely no excuse for you two to not be shooting underhand. Honestly. There's no way you'd be below 60% using that method. And for anyone that will argue that it's embarrassing to granny your FTs, I'll ask: more embarrassing than 43%? Not possible.

20. Butler (7): I so wanted them to beat Tennessee...(suggested headline: "(The) Butler Did It!")...and, frankly, they should've gotten a better shot off at the end of regulation. Mark my words, no team will be pleased to be facing Butler next March....even if they are losing A.J. Graves.

19. Washington State (4): 0-2 with these guys. Whoops.

18. Connecticut (4): looks good on them.

17. Xavier (3): tough squad.

16. Davidson (10): My only legitimate genius moment in this year's tourney, as only about 5% of participants (according to ESPN's National Bracket) had mighty Davidson in the Sweet 16. I [insert heart emoticon] Stephen Curry, who has put up 70 points in two games, and was absolutely money from the line down the stretch against GTown.

15. Drake (5): Groan...I love this team...and I'm sad to see them go. Their OT loss against Western Kentucky led to my only angry shower of the first four days (over/under: 1.5).

14. Georgetown (2): I told you! By the way, Roy Hibbert (who was in foul trouble) played 16 minutes, was 3-3 from the field, scored 6 points, nabbed one fucking rebound, and busted roughly 200,000 brackets. It drives me crazy that Hibbert is projected to go 14th in the draft (to Denver), ahead of Hansbrough, Douglas-Roberts, and Hasheem Thabeet (...and to that future Nuggets club: I'm sorry).

13. Vanderbilt (4): I should've known better.

12. Pittsburgh (4): I should've known better.

11. Louisville (3): From Wednesday's post:

[there's] seemingly no buzz at all about this year's team, which is kind of confusing.

I stand by this, as the Cardinals--who've won their two tourney games by a combined 48 points--seem lightning hot at the moment, and I'm not surprised in the slightest that they're a 2.5 point favorite against a Tennessee team that's looked very beatable of late.

10. Stanford (3): I was going to open with a rant about Stanford coach Trent Johnson who--inexcusably, in my mind--got himself ejected from their 2nd Round game against Marquette, but SI's Grant Wahl has convinced me that power-tripping ref Clark Shaw is to blame. Fine then. The Lopez brothers (Brook in particular) really showed me something Saturday night...

9. Notre Dame (5): opposed to these guys, who, by all accounts, shit the bed Saturday against a middling Washington State squad. I blame myself, since I assumed that a team that averaged 80.7 points a game would be able to hang with a more offensively-challenged Pac-10 team. Instead, they scored 41 points...or slightly more than a point a minute (GOD!). I'm trying to work up the energy to be annoyed that this game was barely televised (CBS aired about two minutes from the first half), but, truthfully, I wouldn't have wanted to watch this trash. Disappointing.

8. Tennessee (2): I dunno. Either they learn from their mistakes (sloppy play, poor shot selection, ragged D) or they flame out. I'm leaning towards the latter.

7. Duke (2): Exposed. Misha, a diehard Duke fans, thinks they should blow-up the whole Duke model (athletic players; offensively minded; heavily reliant on perimeter shooting--and thus quite streaky; no inside presence--aka "the donut system") as they're not capable of winning a title with what they have right now. Let's put it this way: I don't disagree.

6. Kansas (1): wishing I was approximately 30% less smug in condemning the Jayhawks last week, but I'm still not sold on them.

5. Texas (2):
Rick Barnes--the occasionally dim but generally competent Texas coach--ought to take the tape of the final four minutes of Sunday's game against Miami, jazz it up with some star wipes, then sell it online. Suggested title: "How Not to Close Out a Game." Yes, they won, and yes they were up by 15 in the second half...but the final margin--2--has got to be a bit disconcerting. That Miami team isn't very good. They're just not.

4. Wisconsin (3): Looked awful against Cal State Fullerton, but handled K-State with (what was in retrospect) relative ease. (And--sorry in advance for getting a little wonky here--kudos to Bo Ryan for realizing what coaches now seem to forget: that fronting a dominant post player is an effective way to neutralize the threat...provided you have weak side help. Beasley got his 23...but was clearly rattled.) A potential showdown with Kansas is looming. If they can control the tempo, they'll win.

3. Memphis (1): You're right, totally a dead issue. I promise to stop harping on Memphis's shoddy FT shooting as soon as coach John Calipari stops being an asshole about the whole thing. At last night's press conference, he had these two gems:

“We made more free throws [Memphis made 15 of 32, versus MSU hitting 14 of 20] than them,” Calipari said. "We beat them at the free-throw line.”

“The free throws we need to make, we’ll make,” Calipari said. “I’ve got absolutely no issues. There are three, four other issues I worry about. It’s not free-throw shooting.”


2. North Carolina (1): underreported story: Roy Williams being a total dick and playing his starters against Arkansas until they got 100 points...even though they. Real classy. And yet he's routinely hailed as a fantastic guy because...why, exactly? He doesn't swear? He's folsky? He's got a--and I find this super-creepy, btw--picture of a bloodied Tyler Hansbrough on his desk, reinforcing the whole "loving father" image? I don't get it.

1. UCLA (1): Survived a very real scare...and I know it won't be easy from here on in (except for--fingers crossed--the Western Kentucky game), but they're mentally tougher than anyone else left and I'm sticking with them.

What I Liked About the First 48 Games

1. great games:
so far, we've had five classics this year (Duke-Belmont, WKU-Drake, USD-UConn, Texas A&;M-UCLA, and Stanford-Marquette), plus six more very good games/near-classics (Davidson-GTown, Butler-Tennessee, Gonzaga-Davidson, Clemson-Villanova, West Virginia-Duke, Memphis-Miss. St). That's about 25% of the games (hell, you could probably throw in American-Tennessee on Friday to make it an even twelve), which isn't too bad. True, Thursday, Duke game aside, was a bit of a dud, but the next three days delivered some ridiculously compelling basketball. Good times.

2. sexy upcoming matchups: Louisville-Tennessee, Michigan State-Memphis, Davidson-Wisconsin, and Stanford-Texas...and those are just the ones that are guaranteed to happen in Round 3.

3. At the moment, my Elite Eight is still intact: I know. I'm frightened too.

4. This.

What I Didn't Like

1. Reliance on the 3:
I know I say this every year, but they really need to move the 3 point line back in college basketball. Yes, it is the great equalizer and it's probably the single biggest reason why lower seeds can hang and bang with the major programs, but, my God, do these people chuck. From watching the games and skimming a dozen or so box scores, I can safely say that you'll be hard-pressed to find a team that attempted fewer than 33% of its shots from behind the arc...and many are creeping up (or exceeding) the 50% barrier. (And, no, I don't feel the need to back this up with empirical evidence. Just trust me.) That's just scary, as it discourages teams from running true five man offenses. And, to head you off before you raise this point, for every game with incredibly impressive shooting (witness Drake and Western Kentucky going a combined 30 of 70 from 3PT range), there's a cover-your-eyes-awful performance from someone else (see Oregon and Mississippi State, who were a tepid 13 of 55 from downtown).

2. Dumb rules: Much as it would have satisfied me to see Memphis get taken down by Mississippi State, I have to admit that MSU relied on a fairly underhanded tactic. Looking to foul with less than two minutes to go on a dead ball, MSU fouled Joey Dorsey--who is lucky to knock down 4 out of 10 on a given day--intentionally while the clock was stopped. This accomplished two things: it put a notoriously poor shooter on the line and, because no time elapsed, extended the game for MSU. But, here's the thing: these fouls weren't deemed intentional (which would mean two shots plus the ball back for Memphis). Now...not to get to technical, but last time I checked, intentional meant "done with intention or on purpose." Furthermore, there can be no doubt that MSU was handpicking the shooter.

Look, you can't have that rule on the books. You just can't. More to the point, I can't for the life of me understand why the NCAA would want to reward teams for exploiting something that's patently unfair. Unless, you know, they like the idea of keeping the games close. (Ohhhhhh.)

(Also, I'm dying for the NCAA powers that be to eliminate the whole Scottie Pippen-esque "I'm going to pump fake and get the defender to jump, then immediately jump into him and half-heartedly attempt a shot in a effort to get a shooting foul called." Terrible for the game. Look, 85% of the time I bitched about a no-call in a game, I was told that it was because I wasn't going up under control (i.e. they didn't want to bail me out). Fine. I hated it then, but I understand the logic now. So why can't they incorporate this in college ball? I'm mystified.)

3. Chalk picks: I know I say this every (or most) year(s), but it continues to bother me when picking chalk (i.e. all favorites)--which an infant or a semi-competent monkey could easily do--yields better results that an informed (i.e. my) set of picks. Well, this is one of those years, as, under the Yahoo! format, you'd have 47 points (out of a possible 64) right now, and, in my Canadian law school pool, would be comfortably positioned in a tie for 25th out of 483 participants. I, on the other hand, with my 39 points, am languishing in a tie for 312th, behind 18 people who picked Duke to win it all, 7 who went with Georgetown, one who chose UConn, and another who--improbably--made no National Champion selection whatsoever. To which, all I can say is: goddammit.

4. There's roughly a 50% chance that Carrie's parents think I'm absolutely fucking insane at this point:
...most likely because I planned four days entirely around watching the games, including taping six hours of coverage Saturday night while we were out at theatre, putting post-it notes on the TV screen so I could watch the last two minutes of the UCLA-Texas A&M game without having the other scores spoiled for me by the Score's ticker, then watching the rest of the games on tape until 3 in the morning. Jim, Carrie's dad, observed on Sunday: "You know, most people watch basketball for one or two hours, but you've watched it for one or two days." I think he was impressed, but he could easily have been horrified.

A brief Round 3 and 4 preview should be up by Thursday night...

Thursday, March 20, 2008

"It's Business Time."

2008 NCAA March Madness Preview, Part Two: The Contenders...and 21 Other Teams

32. St. Joseph's (11): could very well lose to Oklahoma.

31. Kansas State (11): as you may or may not have heard, K-State's star, Michael Beasley, went to six different high schools (plus was home schooled for a year), which is, um, more schools than I've attended my whole life...and I've been in school seemingly forever. Anyway, Beasley is the real deal, and will probably put his team on his back for the USC game. Beyond that is anyone's guess. If you've yet to see him play: you're in for a treat.

30. Arkansas (9): fodder for UNC.

29. Temple (12): will be lucky to win a round.

28. Mississippi State (9): shout out to my buddy Viktor, who went to Mississippi State and now lives in Prague (and whom I've haven't talked to since Cuba in July for Jon's wedding). Vik, if you somehow see this: check your e-mails, dammit. We're trying to send you a wedding invitation.

27. Villanova (12):
will--hopefully--outlast Clemson.

26. Arizona (10): a disgraceful 14-loss season (with 4 or 5 loss talent) could, potentially, be redeemed by a nice run in the tourney. Or they won't give a shit (like they apparently haven't all year) and will flame out. Either or.

25. Baylor (11):
Great story of redemption here, as the program nearly folded after one player murder another five years back. They may or may not outlast Purdue.

24. BYU (8): I think they'll beat A&M. With that taken care of, let's move on to this: up until this year (2008!) when they relented, BYU's basketball team has, in accordance with Latter-Day Saints policy, refused to play games on Sundays. And the NCAA has been fine with this.

What? What??

Admittedly, it's easy enough for the committee to slot them into the Thursday-Saturday group (and not Friday-Sunday) but that's almost not even the point. How, exactly, are they able to call shots with the NCAA? This is baffling. While it's by no means exactly analogous what if a school from the Deep South refused to play a team with black players? Or anyone over 6'6"? Or black players above 6'6"?? I demand a 60 Minutes feature on this.

23. Kent State (9): losing to UNLV will be the worst thing that has ever happened to the school.

22. Kentucky (11): may surprise some. Though, word of warning, if you're keen on Kentucky making a deep run in the tourney, I'd like to point out that Gardner-Webb--who shocked the Wildcats back in November--finished a discouraging 16-16 this year...and lost by 12 to something called Lipscomb (which I believe is some sort of parasite...). Huzzah!

21. St. Mary's (10): My research indicates that St. Mary is the patron saint of running the break (note: not true). Saint Mary's is probably a bit fortunate to be here, having dropped 3 of its last 5, but they like to run, and run they shall...all over Miami. The Virgin Mother versus South Beach? Epic tilt!

20. Butler (7): like these guys, hate their draw. Fun fact: Butler Fieldhouse was where they filmed the state final in Hoosiers. [Douche chill]

19. Washington State (4): By my count, they opened 14-0, but are now 24-8, meaning they are a cool (literally) 10-8 since January 12. This doesn't exactly engender a lot of confidence. I'm warming up to a potential Winthrop upset.

18. Connecticut (4): As per my contractual obligation after this soul-crushing incident (from 1:05 - 3:20) when I was 15 and had UConn winning it all, I am not officially acknowledging UConn's existence, will say as little as possible about the team for the duration of their stay in the tournament, and will swiftly move on.

17. Xavier (3): boy, I don't know.

16. Davidson (10): move over, Gonzaga, there's a new sleeper in town...

15. Drake (5): can flat-out shoot. Love the Drake.

14. Georgetown (2): Robbie is high on GTown, whereas I kind of still hate them because of what they did last year (oh...they know). GTown seems to be the Final Four pick du jour (Wilbon and--I think--TK tapped them today on PTI) and while I'm all for Kansas bashing, I have to ask: seriously? You do realize that you're basically pinning all your hopes on Roy Hibbert, who, at 7'2", 275 pounds (and, according to, nearly four years old) is undeniably a superior physical specimen but, as a player, leaves a great deal to be desired. Case in point #1: against Rutgers three weeks ago, he scored a grand total of zero points. Case in point #2: he averages 6.5 rebounds a game. 6.5! He's 7'2"!! That's less than a rebound a foot! Unfortunately, this violates my ultra-strict "if you've over seven feet tall and can't average seven rebounds a game while playing starter's minutes, they should revoke your scholarship." Sorry, Roy. It's been real.

13. Vanderbilt (4): trendy of late (ie. since Monday) to pick them to lose to upstart Siena, but I think they'll prevail and then take down the winner of Clemson-Nova. Since that's really all I have for Vandy, indulge me for a second with one of my favorite anecdotes (alas, I can't remember where I herd/read it):

Harold Vanderbilt (who won the America's Cup three times) is out on his private (and, needless to say, rather substantial) yacht with a friend of his. As they're out on the water, they happen to pass an even larger yacht. Harold's friend turns to him and asks "how come you don't have a boat like that?" Harold shrugs his shoulders dismissively and replies: "what do I look like, a Rockefeller?"

12. Pittsburgh (4): Can't shake the feeling that the Big East tourney title was their championship game, but they could string together a couple of wins.

11. Louisville (3):
seemingly no buzz at all about this year's team, which is kind of confusing.

10. Stanford (3): I like this team, but I'm concerned they're not mentally tough enough to close out inferior teams. (The fawning SI article from a few weeks back about the 7-foot Lopez twins--which inexplicably dwelled on their fascination with all things Disney and instantly made me think of Rod and Tod in the episode where Lisa is President--did very little to disabuse me of this notion.)

9. Notre Dame (5):
By all accounts, they're not terribly interested in playing defense, which, I won't lie, is a bit of concern...but, hot damn, this is a fun team. Watch for Luke Harangody.

8. Tennessee (2): A shockingly athletic team, to the point where, against lesser opponents, I keep expecting them to use the bucket full of confetti gag, (And I love Chris Lofton's game...even if he does occasionally disappear for long stretches of time.) I'm just not sold on them. Additionally, aside from Wisconsin (see below), no other team gor jobbed more than UT. They were probably one win away from being a 1 seed (had they beaten Arkansas in the SEC Tournament, they probably would've locked it up), yet somehow ended up in the same region as the top 1 seed (UNC). Using the tournament S-curve, this translates into UT being the 8th seeded team overall, or the lowest 2-seed in the draw. And if they do somehow manage to make it to the Elite Eight, they get to play UNC in Charlotte. To which I call bullshit.

7. Duke (2): It's simple: if Duke manages to stay hot from outside for 160 minutes (or, possibly, as little as 130), they'll advance to the Final Four, even prevailing over a brutally tough UCLA team. If they don't, they won't...and could fall to anyone from the Zona-WVU winner onwards. Live by the three, die by the three. Whatever happens, this is a fun team to watch (Singler and Nelson, in particular), even if--and here I'm staying true to my 12-year old self--I still kind of hate their guts.

6. Kansas (1): I know, I know, you love this team, John Q. Office Pool. You loved them last year (lost in the Elite Eight), in 2006 (First Round), in 2005 (First Round), but not as much as this year. No way. Go for it. I dare you. I dare you. I dare you.

5. Texas (2): Ewing/Barber theory aler--oh, wait, I hate that damn thing. They're good. Really good...and I'm not just saying that because I got them 5th overall in my pool with Misha and Taylor.

4. Wisconsin (3): my dark horse final four pick. If you could not tell anyone, it'd be appreciated.

By the way, regardless of what happens in this tournament, it's totally asinine that Duke (no regular season conference title, no conference tourney title, 5 losses) is a 2 seed and Wisconsin (regular season and conference tourney title, 4 losses) a 3. I know, I know, the ACC is miles and miles above the Big Ten...except, wait, don't both conferences have 4 teams each in the tourney? Hmmmm. I blame, as always, those snobby Atlantic Coast liberals. Get over yourselves!

3. Memphis (1): great, great team (even if analysts are making the Dribble-Drive Motion out to be the second coming of string's not THAT complicated, folks). I'm still concerned about their FT shooting (this was not assuaged by their struggles down the stretch against Tennessee). Look here, John Calipari, you can argue until your Memphis blue in the face that improving your nearly-last-in-the-nation free throw percentage from 65% to 70% would only increase your per game average by 1.5 points (or that you shot 75% from the line during the joke of a conference tournament you guys were never in danger of losing for a second), but you still don't seem to get it: when you're up 2 (or down 1) with 8 seconds to play, this particular weakness makes you very vulnerable. Making it seem otherwise--and not to get too TMQ here--seems to be almost tempting fate. We'll see.

2. North Carolina (1): Under the NCAA's pod system (which seeks to minimize travel time for teams...because we all know how much the NCAA cares about its student-ath--LOL. Sorry, I still can't get through that with a straight face) UNC has an exceedingly favourable draw, with rounds 1 and 2 to be played in Raleigh, NC and Round 3 and 4 (should they qualify) in Charlotte....which is akin to me being in the tournament and getting to play rounds 1 and 2 on my driveway, then 3 and 4 in my backyard (i.e. super fair to everyone else). Whatever. If you're so desperate to get them to the Final Four, just give them a fucking bye until April 5th (which is only slightly less transparent).

But there's some (or, you know, "a lot of") pathos here, mainly: going scoreless for the last eight minutes of their Elite Eight game against Georgetown last year and blowing up my bracket in the process (IDIOTS!). If they do get to the Championship Game, it promises to be epic.

1. UCLA (1): I hate to bandy about silly sports cliches like "team of destiny," but watch this and this and tell me they're not. Go on.

Now, some might say they've simply been lucky, to which I respond: shut up. Typically, I hate UCLA, but this squad (with Westbrook, Love, and Collison leading the way) is incredibly talented and (maybe more importantly) resilient. As such, they're my pick to win it all.

(And, yes, I am deeply troubled that Bill Simmons--who apparently and inexplicably doesn't recognize Kevin Love as a legitimate low-post threat--also picked UCLA to win...but then doesn't Joe Lunardi offset The Sports Guy? Here's hoping...)

"And Harlem Globetrotter...does that name mean nothing to you?"

NCAA Preview, Part One: The "We're Just Happy to Be Here" Crowd...and Indiana University.

65. Coppin State (16): Lots of internet chatter that Coppin State (record: 16-20) should be playing Mississippi Valley State (17-15) and not Mount St. Mary's (18-14). The reason that's not the matchup--allegedly--is that it would pit two black colleges against each other, which just might be perceived as racist. While that may, in fact, be true, it kind of obscures the real story, that being: the play-in game shouldn't exist at all. It's a terrible idea. But since it's not going anywhere, it should at least be contested between the two last teams to get an at-large bid (this year: Villanova and Arizona), with the winner getting a 12-seed (both squads are too good to be 16-seeds...and it wouldn't be fair to North Carolina).

64. Mount St. Mary's (16): As I'm typing this, I happen to be watching said play-in game, which is being contested in front of seemingly dozens of fans at Dayton University. Not exactly a tournament atmosphere...and I can't help thinking that both CSU and MSM are feeling a little gypped at this stage (also, I just discovered that both schools are located in Maryland--that's discrimination, too, people!). The only thing that's remotely entertaining is that Brent Musburger has this pained look on his face anytime they cut to him in the announcer's booth, almost as if he's silently wondering "which network executive's wife did I inadvertently sleep with at the Christmas party to get this shitty gig?? I cover the fucking Rose Bowl!!" (Also: is it even possible that Musburger is 69? If so, he's remarkably well-preserved. Keith Jackson was a blathering idiot at that age...). As for MSM, its most famous alum--improbably--is Edward J. Flanagan, the founder of Boys Town. Weak.

63. Mississippi Valley State (16):
MVS opened the season with eight consecutive losses (including a shattering 71-26 loss against Washington State), which is actually kind of which point the Dean secretly had the entire team killed and replaced, and they went 17-7 the rest of the way. Or not. But they did lose their first eight games. They're listed as 32 point underdogs against UCLA (and though he hasn't released them yet, I'm guessing they'll get Danny Sheridan's rather cruel "trillion to one" label), which all adds up to Jerry Rice very probably not attending Thursday's game.

62. University of Texas-Arlington (16):
a surprisingly big school (just a shade under 20,000 students) that wins the "school motto that most sounds like the mission statement for a cult" title in a walk ("Cultivated mind is the guardian genius of democracy"). Their new (as of 2007) school logo looks so much like Boise State's, that I have no idea how they haven't been sued over it yet. (It's a dogfight between Lou Diamond Phillips and the creator of Jimmy Neutron for the most famous alum.) This is their first trip to the tourney...and it'll be a short one, as Memphis will absolutely pulverize them. Well, at least they'll get to live it up for a few days in...Little Rock, Arkansas? Aww, crap.

61. Portland State University (16):
another first timer. Courtney Love went there (but--shocker--did not graduate) and appears to have covered a portion of her tuition by stripping (true story), which would've been (to borrow Ryan's phrase) abjectly terrifying for unsuspecting freshman. Even though Kansas is the weakest one-seed by quite a wide margin, it's safe to say that this won't be the year that a 16 knocks off a 1.

60. Austin Peay (15):
I'll admit: this name always makes me laugh. Turns out Austin Peay was the Governor of Tennessee in the 1920s and that he signed off on the bill banning the teaching of evolution in the classroom (the so-called Butler Act), which paved the way for the Scopes Monkey Trial. Somewhere, Mike Huckabee just nodded approvingly...and has no idea why.

59. Belmont (15):
much as I dislike Duke, they will never, ever lose in the first round as a #2 seed (sigh). Not a lot going on with Belmont, which is located in Nashville, Tennessee. Their motto is somewhat hilarious--"from here to anywhere"--because it feels like an afterthought ("seriously, just leave. We don't give a shit what happens to you once you give us our 95k..."). The school counts Melinda Doolittle--who made it to Idol's final three last year and was clearly the most talented, but lost because she (a) was apparently unaware that they didn't stop writing songs in 1952, and (b) was completely disingenuous whenever she received compliments ("me? Really? Gosh!") to the point where it became quite grating--among its famous alums, so they lose marks from me for that.

58. University of Maryland Baltimore County (15):
I can't shake the feeling that this is a Wire shout-out. Despite my misgivings about Georgetown, they shouldn't have much trouble with UMBC, who win the "most adorable nickname" award--The Retrievers--so handily that I may need to retire it.

57. American University (15):
Another first timer, which is a little astounding, given that their program has been around for at least fifty years. Famous alums include Kermit Washington (aka: this guy--at the 1:25 mark--...and if you're confused as to which one is Washington in the clip, here's a hint: his mother was not proud) and my man David Aldridge. I remember them from their epic high-scoring tilts with Loyola Marymount back in the late 80s/early 90s, which they would invariably lose by something like 162-137, so...expect lots of pressure defense.

56. Boise State University (14):
would love to pull the trigger on this one, because I love BSU, but they're in a lot of trouble here. (Might I suggest converting their basketball court to blue, as well? No good?) Louisville's an awfully tough squad and I'd be surprised if BSU kept it close.

55. Cal State Fullerton (14):
Note to CSF players: My God, you go to Cal State Fullerton! Your weather is far too temperate and your campus far too nice to be cooped up in a gym all day. You should probably quit, or, at the very least, not try too hard against Wisconsin. (Please.) Fun fact: CSF's coach is nicknamed "Sweater Vest"--I shit you not.

54. Cornell (14): I love this matchup (against Stanford) and no one can convince me that the tourney organizers don't routinely rig the brackets so that they can create matchups like this. Somehow, David Fay must be involved. Ordinarily, I'm all over picking the Ivy League winner to pull off the upset (see: Princeton v. UCLA in 1996--to this day, still my favorite tourney moment), but I don't think Cornell quite has enough to pull this one off--though it wouldn't surprise me in the slightest if it was close.

53. Oral Roberts (13): so many jokes. I think I'll take a pass.

52. San Diego (13): ...which, of course, in German means a whale's vagina.

51. Winthrop (13): Winthrop is in for the 4th consecutive year, which is laudable. This time around, however, it's a bit of a downer, since, in defeating UNC-Asheville in the conference tourney final, they've deprived the viewer of a chance to see the truly colossal Kenny George--who is 7'7", 360 pounds, and possibly the slowest man alive. Maybe it's because, in said game, George, despite playing 27 minutes, only recorded 4 (4!) rebounds. The fuck? He's 7'7"! He should average 18 a game just by accident! I demand to see that game tape! Damn it all.

Right...Winthrop. They're up against a Washington State team that I have absolutely no faith in. Possible spoiler.

50. Siena (13): They're named after a crayola color! And not even a good one!

49. George Mason (12): 2006's Cinderella will--fingers crossed--get rolled by Notre Dame.

48. Western Kentucky (12): will hang tough with Drake.

47. Texas A&M (9): As punishment for them not making the Final Four last year like I so sexily projected, I'm picking them to lose in the 1st round. Take that.

46. Miami (7): meh. Beat Duke (once), but went 7-8 in the rest of their ACC games. I'm not sold.

45. Georgia (14): despite being a laughable one game over .500, Georgia is in by virtue of winning four games in three (!) days (the Atlanta tornado forced organizers to move their Friday quarterfinal against Kentucky to Saturday morning...and then they had to play again that night) to take the SEC Tournament, which is, I think, revealing of both the strengths AND weaknesses of Conference tourney week. On the one hand, it's a cute story and, admittedly, an impressive feat on the Bulldogs part. On the other hand: they're 17-16! And in the tournament! COME ON! I think this is a by-product of teams in the SEC that knew they were in (Tennessee, Mississippi State, Kentucky, Arkansas) kind of mailing it in in order to preserve their energy for the real tournament. (Of course, no one would ever admit this.) More importantly, Georgia's involvement here, to a certain extent, exposes the tournament as somewhat of a sham. They have no business being here, no business hanging with a solid 27-6 Xavier squad, yet could easily win the game...ah, well.

44. West Virginia (7): in tough against an underachieving Arizona squad that could, potentially, be dangerous if they ever woke up.

43. Marquette (6): no shame in losing to Kentucky....unless it's 1964 Kentucky coached by legendary racist Adolph Rupp (though no mention of that anywhere on Wikipedia) who promptly lets loose with a torrent hateful abuse. That would kind of suck.

42. Clemson (5): hello, upset.

41. South Alabama (10):
A sexy pick...though it's discouraging that tournament officials insist on matching up mid-majors with each other. If you're only going to give out 6 at-large bids to the "lesser" conferences, don't force them to kill each other off.

40. Oklahoma (6): Dunno...feel like they'll fall to an only-OK St. Joe's team.

39. Oregon (9): Luke Winn has successfully convinced me that these guys are defensively inept.

38. UNLV (9):
Among famous UNLV alums, Wikipedia lists two porn stars, Ickey Woods, and an actress from Passions. Nice. Put it this way: UNLV was Courtney Love's safety school. Go Kent State.

37. USC (6): They gave Memphis a scare back in November (a quality loss if there ever was one) by deploying a gimmicky triangle-and-two defense that gave the Tigers fits...but I wouldn't read too much into that. On the other hand, their star player, freshman O.J. Mayo, kind of drives me crazy. That said, this first round matchup with Kansas State (and their first year phenom, Michael Beasley) should be one of the better round one games.

36. Gonzaga (7): The Zags--the little sleeper that could--have won roughly 180 regular season games over the past seven years, but here's what they've done in the NCAA tournament over that same stretch (going back to 2001): lost in the 3rd round; lost in the 1st round; lost in the 2nd round; lost in the 2nd round; lost in the 2nd round; lost in the 3rd round (that was the horrific collapse against UCLA); lost in the first round. This adds up to an underwhelming 7-7 tournament record this millennium. The best analogy I can come up with? They just don't test well. (Plus, it's bad karma to keep losing in the WCC tourney and then snatching up an at-large bid). Truth be told, I'm a bit tired of the Zags and I think they'll lose to Davidson.

35. Purdue (6):
going to lose to Baylor. On the plus side their nickname--the Boilermakers--is still awesome.

34. Michigan State (5): Sigh...they're my boys, but I just don't think they're very good this year. Temple is not a great matchup for them. (Note: I'm fully prepared to retract all of this two weeks from now, after they miraculously land in the Final Four.)

33. Indiana (8): Hey, three Big Ten teams in a row! That's...not good. Here's the thing: IU has two presumptive second team All-Americans on their squad (D.J. White and Eric Gordon) and yet they're still struggling against the likes of Northwestern and Minnesota. Now, people are going to want to chalk this up to their ex-coach being addicted to text messaging (not unlike a 9 year-old Asian girl), but I don't think it's that simple. I watched them lose to a mediocre Michigan State team by--I am not exaggerating--a thousand points and they didn't seem upset in the slightest. Something's not right there.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

"Even Immigrants Enjoying Measure of Comfort..."

In light of yesterday's Dow downturn, here's my favorite Onion headline ever:

And this is pretty funny, too:

Some Old Man Still Churning Out Marmaduke

The Onion

Some Old Man Still Churning Out Marmaduke

MONTGOMERY, TX—"I love what I do," said the elderly cartoonist, his body and mind crippled by an endless and repetitive stream of doodles featuring the Great Dane.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

"The stage was now set for the Alan Parsons project, which I believe was some sort of hovercraft..."

Best of the Decades Project, Part 2: The 90s.

Best Albums

Honourable Mention...

(Compilations not eligible, in case you were curious...)

Good Weird Feeling by Odds
(underrated); The Slim Shady LP by Eminem (overrated); Metallica (aka The Black Album) by Metallica (it is great, but, to me, it's of a total album than three singles padded out to seventy minutes); Jagged Little Pill by Alanis Morissette ([shrugs shoulders] Probably the biggest album of the decade, but I'll be damned if I'm including more than one Alanis album--unless it's that one with "Too Hot"...I loved that tape!--and SFIJ is better. There, I said it.); Use Your Illusion I and II by GNR (Misha will kill me for not including either of these--sorry, buddy!--but while I appreciate these albums--and really like some of the tracks--these are albums that, for whatever reason, I never, ever listen to. Enough said.); The Main Ingredient by Pete Rock and CL Smooth (reminds me so much of the summer. Terrific disc.); Nevermind by Nirvana (I know, I know, but if I'm being honest, I just don't like this album that much. Is it bad? Not in the slightest. Influential? Certainly...but it's not something I find myself cueing up again and again...which is a bit of a kiss of death for this list); In Utero by Nirvana (Carrie and I heard this on FM96's "Albums That Matter" about a month ago, and it was surprisingly unimpressive. Loud, borderline incoherent, and--"Heart-Shaped Box" and "Rape Me" aside--totally forgettable. Very disappointing.); Last of the Ghetto Astronauts by the Matthew Good Band (a great album, but three MGB albums is probably excessive, so this one--the weakest/most unpolished of the bunch--just misses the cut).

What you'll see below: Killer Stretch (the best run of the album--songs must be consecutive), BEST TRACK, plus a couple of comments on why the album deserves a spot.

Bonus feature: Here's a link to a playlist I've put together based on some of the best songs listed below. That's 100 minutes of pleasure. Around here, we call that the Eliot Spitzer Special (too soon?).

The Top 25

T25. August and Everything After
by the Counting Crows (1993).
Round Here, Omaha, Mr. Jones (ANNA BEGINS). Plus let's nor forget "Raining in Baltimore" and "Rain King"--that's a lot of good tracks for a 51-minute album.

T25. Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie by Alanis Morissette (1998): Unsent, So Pure, Joining You. (ONE.) It didn't contain her best song ("Hands Clean," I'll argue) or her biggest hit ("Ironic"...I think), but it's technically her strongest album. I recall listening to this album (on repeat) more than any other when I liked feeling sorry for myself...though a mental image of that now just makes me laugh out loud. God, what a tool.

24. The Chronic
by Dr. Dre (1992): NUTHIN' BUT A G-THANG. Part of me wishes I were cooler so that I could, in good conscious, put this a dozen places higher...while another part of me thinks this shouldn't be ranked at all, as, aside from "Nuthin' But a G-Thang" (admittedly, an incredible song, and arguably, the best summer tune ever), all the other songs tend to blend into one. But crank this one out while sipping cool drinks by the pool on a hot summer day and tell me you don't feel totally pimp. A great atmospheric album.

23. Dirt by Alice in Chains (1992): Them Bones, Dam That River, Rain When I Die, Down in a Hole (WOULD?). Admittedly, it's shameful that I first heard of AIC when watching Singles, but so it goes. In their time, they were outstanding (Jar of Flies should, in fairness, probably also be on this list). From a personal standpoint, their important to me because they bound the outer limit of my interest in hard rock--this far and no further, essentially (sorry, GNR and Metallica).

22. Beautiful Midnight by the Matthew Good Band (1999): Hello Time Bomb, Strange Days, I MISS NEW WAVE, Load Me Up. They were probably never as popular they should've been (though, if you ask Matt Good, he'll say they were too popular), because, between 1995 and 2001, they released five terrific albums (this one, Last of the Ghetto Astronauts, Underdogs, The Audio of Being, and Loser Anthems) plus a five-track, seventeen minute EP (Raygun) that kicks all kinds of ass. That's...pretty damn prodigious.

21. Ten by Pearl Jam (1991): BLACK, Jeremy, Oceans. They covered this one on "Albums That Matter" a few weeks back and it was fascinating, largely because Vedder appears batshit crazy--check out the wikipedia entry if you don't know much about the stories behind the lyrics. It's also kind of startling when you think about song like "Why Go?", assume the lyrics are nonsense, then discover that's it's actually about a girl Vedder knew who was institutionalized against her will. Um.

Anyway, there's no disputing this album's greatness--I'm just a bit tired of it.

20. Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness by Smashing Pumpkins (1995): 1979. I'll be honest, I wasn't that big of a Pumpkins fan, plus I always thought this would've worked better as one awesome CD instead of two pretty good ones, so that's why it's not any higher. (I'm willing to bet you can't name more than five of the albums twenty-eight (!) tracks without googling it.). But, if you can listen to "Bullet with Butterfly Wings" without getting pumped up, you're probably dead. And "1979" is just wonderful.

19. CrazySexyCool by TLC (1994): CREEP, Kick Your Game, Digging on You or Red Light Special, Waterfalls. The TLC thing confuses me, because they were hugggggge back in the day and now they're more or less forgotten, aren't they? Is it because there really aren't girl groups anymore, particularly of the R&B variety? Because Left Eye died? Because, even before Left Eye's death, the band had sort of disintegrated? CrazySexyCool sold fifteen million copies worldwide, nearly had three #1 hits ("Creep" and "Waterfalls" both made it, but "Red Light Special" peaked at #2)...and it kind of boggles my mind that it's a bit of an afterthought now.

18. Core by Stone Temple Pilots (1992): Dead & Bloated, Wicked Garden, Sex Type Thing (great car song or greatest car song? Those are your only choices) or CREEP, Piece of Pie, Plush. Definitely a little more on the fringe than their follow up (see #15), including the abso-fucking-lutely insane "Wet My Bed" which no one can convince me Scott Weiland did not create and record while all kinds of messed up on heroin.

17. Pinkerton
by Weezer (1996): The Good Life, El Scorcho, PINK TRIANGLE. Sure, the knee-jerk reaction would be to include their self-titled debut (aka "The Blue Album") instead, but I do believe this one--a total commercial bomb--to be superior. "I'm done/she's a lesbian/I though I had found the one"? Too good.

16. Purple
by Stone Temple Pilots (1994): Meatplow, Vasoline, Lounge Fly, INTERSTATE LOVE SONG. This could easily be flipped with Core--frankly, it depends almost entirely on your mood, with this one being more polished than Core. While we're here, was anyone else made fun of in school for liking STP more than Pearl Jam when they were clearly just aping PJ? Wasn't this just so infuriating? No? Just me? Oh.

15. New Adventures in HiFi
by REM (1996): E-BOW THE LETTER...because it's a stronger album from start to finish than either Automatic for the People or Out of Time, even if it lacks the standout tracks of the other two (note the lack of a killer stretch here.)

14. Vs.
by Pearl Jam (1993): Go, Animal, DAUGHTER. Why? Because it's grittier than Ten. And because: when I'm itching to listen to some Pearl Jam, this is the first album I think of. It could be because I've heard Ten approximately a thousand times, but I prefer to think it's because Vs. is just better.

13. Day for Night by the Tragically Hip (1994): So Hard Done By (which my buddy Eric saw a stripper dance to years ago...and swears it was life-altering), NAUTICAL DISASTER (one of my five favorite songs ever), Thugs, Inevitability of Death, Scared. With apologies to Fully, Completely, Up to Here, and Trouble in the Henhouse, this is pretty clearly their Sgt. Pepper's. Instead of me writing anything, go listen to "Nautical Disaster" three times in a row and listen to the lyrics. So dark...and yet so wonderful.

12. Mezzanine
by Massive Attack (1998): Teardrop, Inertia Creeps, Exchange, Dissolved Girl, Man Next Door (ANGEL). You may remember Massive Attack from every movie soundtrack for the past six years (yikes!). Mezzanine is arguably ineligible, since I didn't actually listen to this in the 90s, but it's my list dammit! I saw Massive Attack perform at Creamfields in Prague in the summer of 2003 and it was...mind blowing. This album seems to get 5% better every year, and, at least for me, it's weird to think that it's ten years old.

11. Underdogs
by the Matthew Good Band (1997): Everything is Automatic (a tree-mendous driving song), Apparitions, MY OUT OF STYLE IS COMING BACK, The Strangest One of All. OK, so I'm totally in the tank for Matt Good...except for his latest album...or his blog, so I could see how people think this is too high on the list, but, if you haven't heard it, give it a listen, because it rocks something fierce.

10. Clumsy
by Our Lady Peace (1997): SUPERMAN'S DEAD (tie), Automatic Flowers, Carnival, Big Dumb Rocket, 4 A.M. (tie). Strangely, I don't even think I own this album at this stage, which is a travesty. This will always remind me of Matt Barker (Barker, are you still alive?), Misha, and I driving to some girl's cottage at night in a blizzard in Barker's piece of shit Sunfire in late January and me thinking we had a 50-50 chance of surviving. Good times! This album--the band's high water-mark, despite the fact that their best song ever ("Naveed") was on their previous disc--serves a reminder that, before they totally fucking sucked, OLP was awesome (sadly, there's about an 85% that people my brother's age--20--won't believe this...).

9. The Bends
by Radiohead (1995): Planet Telex, The Bends, High and Dry, FAKE PLASTIC TREES or Just, My Iron Lung (awesome on Rock Band), Bulletproof...I Wish I Was. This seems low, no? I think it does....but I can't justify putting it higher than any of the next eight albums. we are. You know what? In a lot of ways, this album is superior to OK Computer. It's definitely more accessible. It has more standout tracks. And you can listen to it regardless of your mood (whereas OK requires that you be at least little depressed to get the full effect). And yet, now that I have it here, I can't think of a counter-point to all of this. Rats. I hate when this happens...let's just move on.

8. Tuesday Night Music Club
by Sheryl Crow (1993): Run Baby Run, Leaving Las Vegas, Strong Enough, Can't Cry Anymore. (I SHALL BELIEVE). TNMC aces the "can you listen to this CD from start to finish without itching to get up and skip the track" test, as, aside from "The Na-Na Song" (vaguely annoying, but mostly just forgettable) there isn't a weak cut here. It succeeds because she's able to do so many different things so well: catchy ("All I Wanna Do," "Can't Cry Anymore"), soulful ("Leaving Las Vegas," "No One Said it Would be Easy"), and flat-out gorgeous (I adore "I Shall Believe"--guaranteed to be played at the wedding).

7. Everything I Long For by Hayden (1995): Bad as They Seem, IN SEPTEMBER, We Don't Mind or Stem, Skates, I'm to Blame or When This is Over, Bunkbeds. Goddamn, I have such a soft spot in my heart for this disc...yet I almost forgot to include it. Shameful. Everything Hayden's released subsequent to this has been a little lifeless for me (though, based on Rob's recommendation, I'm warming up to In Field & Town), but it may just be that I'm holding everything else to an impossibly high standard after this one.

6. Definitely Maybe by Oasis (1994): uh...the whole thing? OK, how about Rock and Roll Star, Shakermaker, Live Forever (which I put up there with the strongest starting three songs of any album ever)?...or Columbia, SUPERSONIC, Bring it On Down, Cigarettes and Alcohol, Digsy's Diner? The album that started it all. Released late in August 1994, I got this four months later (unrequested) from my Uncle John for Christmas--making it one of the savviest presents in history. What's so strange about Definitely Maybe is that, if Morning Glory never happened, this would be talked about as one of the "great" albums, but it did, so it isn't. (Though NME putting it as their #1 album of all-time does sort of undermine this theory.) As it stands, this album, while a bit more raw (rawer?), edgier, and more uneven than it's more celebrated big brother, is still a gem, and, lavish NME praise aside, wildly underrated.

5. Achtung Baby by U2: Even Better Than a Real Thing, One, Until the End of the World, WHO'S GOING TO RIDE YOUR WILD HORSES? (That, or ULTRAVIOLET). ..Were you getting worried, Shuk? I eagerly await an 800-word comment on why Zooropa was unfairly snubbed (my preemptive response: aside from "Lemon" and "Stay"--and maybe "Numb"--it was simply experimental for the sake of being experimental...and don't even get me started on Pop...). I think it's a tribute to this album that I bought it (on tape!) for "Mysterious Ways," which I listened to over and over and over again (to the exclusion of all other tracks) and now I think it's probably only the fifth best song on the album. Tremendous.

Fun fact: I'd never heard this before, but, apparently, the title (along with "verboten," the only German I know) is a nod to The Producers.

4. Doggystyle by Snoop Doggy Dogg (1993): Gin and Juice, The Shiznit, Lodi Dodi, Murder was the Case. (PUMP PUMP.) ooooo, look how hip I am! Seriously, though, this album will forever remind me of the summer of 1994 (it wasn't released until November '93), which coincided with the first time I ever got drunk...which coincided with me thinking I was hella cool. More so than anyone else on this list (though a case can be made for OLP), Snoop never came within sniffing distance of anything coming close to the artistry of this album (see especially the unfortunately named and sounding Doggfather), but whatever, it's just so much fun to listen to, and still allows me to feel like a gangster (while remaining completely pussified--yay, cognitive dissonance!)

3. Urban Hymns by The Verve (1997): Bittersweet Symphony, Sonnet, The Rolling People, The Drugs Don't Work (but see also: Space and Time, WEEPING WILLOW, Lucky Man, This Time). Arguably, the only reason this album isn't one spot higher is because thinking about bums me out a bit, since The Verve, in my memory, broke up approximately nine seconds after releasing this album (it was actually closer to 20 months, but they released nothing between October '97 and April '99, so it might as well have been nine seconds). Simply put, it's terrific, and I've been listening to it at least once month for the past, oh, ten years.

A couple of fun facts about Urban Hymns (I feel so much like Alan Cross!):

1. "Bitter Sweet Symphony," despite premiering at #2 on the UK charts, amazingly never hit #1, meaning that the Verve's only #1 hit was "The Drugs Don't Work," the second single off the album.
2. I was going to talk about the writing credit dispute with the Stones on "BSS," but since everyone knows that The Verve ended up never making a penny off their iconic tune, I thought I'd go with a Richie Ashcroft (lead singer/colossal douche/kinda awesome) quote upon hearing that the Rolling Stones would retain the composing credit on the song: "This is the best song [Mick] Jagger and [Keith] Richards have written in 20 years." Bam!
3. Just for the hell of it, here's the YouTube link to the "BSS" video--by virtue of its geniously simply concept, probably among the best videos ever made.

2. OK Computer by Radiohead (1997): Airbag, PARANOID ANDROID (though you can make a case for "Electioneering"), Subterranean Homesick Alien, Exit Music (For a Film). For a time, there was a story (I think Jon started it) circulating that I didn't go out for a month because I'd locked myself in my bedroom to listen to this disc, and while it's not true (I was actually masturbating--just kidding!), it makes a lot of sense (the music part, people!) and I almost wish it were true (if I'd seen The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, I'd reference it here, but I haven't, so I don't want to be a poseur), because this CD is phenomenal.

1. What's the Story Morning Glory?
by Oasis (1996):
Hello, Roll With It, WONDERWALL, Down Look Back in Anger. Now, did this album eventually ruin the band? Undeniably: yes. Don't believe me? Three points. 1. To quote Noel Gallagher back in '96: "we were bigger than, dare I say it, fucking God"--thankfully, hubris has never, ever undermined a band. Oh, wait. 2. Put on Be Here Now and give it a listen. (Go on, I'll wait.) No, it's nowhere near terrible (and, given that it was released in '97, is probably worthy of honorable mention status), but it did signal the beginning of the end...and paled in comparison to Morning Glory. 3. and let's never lose sight of the fact that 18 million (yes, that's how many copies of this album were sold worldwide--truly staggering) times, say, the $2.50 they probably got for each album buys you a lot of coke.

All of that said, this album is disgustingly good (I didn't even mention "The Swamp Song," the title track, "Champagne Supernova," or the fact that the B-sides off this album were themselves spun off into one of the better forgotten gems of the decade--The Masterplan--though see here for a hilariously bad Pitchfork review), my favorite ever, and as listenable to now as it was 12 years ago. I remember every second of the first time I listened to it (in my basement the day it came out) with Misha. Soaking in every note. Hearing "Wonderwall" for the first time and saying "this is going to be a fucking humongous hit." And just being in total awe. I still feel that way.

I have nothing else to say...and you stopped reading ages ago.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

"The Monkees weren't about music, Marge. They were about rebellion, about political and social upheaval!"

In Treatment Mid-Season Review: Bit of a light blogging week for me (mostly due to an assignment I'm working on for U.S. Con law with a word limit that's about half as long as it should be, and thus twice as hard), but I'm hoping to knock off "90s albums" and "90s books" next week, followed by a March Madness preview by the 19th, and--possibly--a drunken running diary for the first day of the tourney on the 20th. Anyway...

Based on the hit Israeli show (it ended up winning scores of Israeli Emmys, though, upon idle speculation careful examination, I've concluded that it's actually the only Israeli telivision program in existence), In Treatment tells the story of therapist Paul Weston (played by Gabriel Byrne). For those that don't know the conceit, In Treatment--like (but not really) a soap opera--five times a week. Paul sees Laura on Monday, Alex on Tuesday, Sophie on Wednesday, Jake and Amy on Thursday, then goes to see his own therapist (Gina, played by the increasingly whale-like but incredibly talented Dianne Wiest) on Friday. Each episode covers one session and occurs more or less in real time, with sessions occasionally ending early and Paul's wife Kate getting involved.

Pretty early on in the show, In Treatment "broke" with the stated format and started to introduce Paul's own issues into the sessions. Now, I'm of two minds on this. On the one hand, it's a little irritating that the show got away (and rather quickly at that) from something truly novel--real time glimpses at "regular" people in therapy--in order to expose the viewer to Paul's admittedly pretty fundamentally fucked up life. I just can't shake the feeling that this was done because HBO didn't think viewers would respond to a straight therapy show. On the other hand, I also feel as though my own interest would wane if they didn't inject some personal drama into the series. Plus: it's compelling. So, did they abandon an arguably purer format to appeal to a broader audience? Absolutely...but I'm to blame, so I can't really object.

Sepinwall's blog, once again, is a great resource if you're new to the show, and I highly recommend.

Ranking the Storylines (best to worse):

16; A gifted gymnast; broke her arm in what might've been a suicide attempt; has daddy (and mommy!) issues (he's never around and may or may not have sexually abused her as a child); may have an eating disorder. Since this is arguably the only time that Paul actually shows off his therapeutic chops on a consistent basis, this is the best storyline in a walk. There's a lot going on in these sessions (in addition to what I've mentioned above, Sophie has an extraordinarily icky relationship with her coach) and it's interesting to see Sophie challenge Paul, and Paul, in turn, engineer some breakthroughs (of course, this does have a tendency to blow up in his face on occasion). Mia Wasikowska (who plays Sophie...and is actually Australian, I just discovered) is quite good and she and Byrne really riff nicely together (there's definitely a--non-dysfunctional--father/daughter dynamic between the two of them).

Alex: early 40s; fighter pilot; Type-A personality; fixated on having the best of everything; daddy issues (cold and occasionally physically abusive); possibly latently gay. These sessions are interesting because he can push Paul's buttons. I've always liked Blair Underwood (who plays Alex) and, once again, he's great here. What I like about these sessions is that if Paul tries something that is blatantly a therapeutic technique, Alex will call him on it, and then throw it back in Paul's face. Underwood is also a great storyteller, so his sessions are usually quite engaging.

Trying not to be too spoilery here so I'll be vague, but, at one point, Alex totally crosses a line during a session (it's not what you think), but then, one week later, Paul acts almost as if nothing has happened. That struck me as artificial.

Paul--> early to mid-fifties; marriage is disintergrating; starting to hate his patients (except for the one he's in love with); was involved in some sort of work related (only?) feud with Gina in the past; has Daddy issues (his dad had an affair with a patient and left his mom--are you noticing a trend?). Gina--> mid-fifties; lost her husband in the past year; formerly Paul's mentor; somewhat confrontational as a therapist (or, at the very least: not afraid to say things that her patients might find uncomfortable). I have to say, it's fascinating to see Paul use the same tactics his patients do (accusing Gina of putting words in his mouth, of slavishly focusing on one theory at the expense of all other interpreations, threatening to never come back, etc.), not to mention his revisionist history. The addition of Kate, however, might be Friday's undoing, as Paul's no longer free to discuss his patients. In effect, the producers have short-circuited the most interesting aspect of the Paul-Gina dynamic, mainly: (I probably don't need to--but nonetheless will--point out that Gina and Paul both serve as proxies for we the viewers, allowing us to compare our opinions and theories about the Monday-to-Thursday crowd with those of the "trained" "professionals" [Clarification: quotation marks because I realize they're playing roles here, not because I think little of the profession. In a completely unrelated story, Jenn, our therapist friend, describes the show as "pretty representative of 'real' psychodynamic work," though sensationalized in places.] If you think about it too much, it kind of falls apart, but it's actually one of the more intriguing charms of the show, which--I'll hasten to point out--I truly love, criticisms aside.)

If the Kate-Paul-Gina sessions do continue--by no means a certainty at this point--one thing that is strangely riveting (and something to watch out for) is Paul objecting to how Gina is leading the sessions, followed by a lengthy explaination of what he would do in her place. For some reason, this is fascinating, if completely insulting to Kate, as she's talked about as if she's not even there.

Laura: early 30s; anesthesiologist; possible sex addict (not once in six appearances has she failed to tell Paul a sexually explicit anecdote); believes herself to be in love with Paul; has daddy issues (was basically a ghost after his wife died). I keep going back and forth on this one. Full disclosure: I kind of hate Melissa George (who plays Laura) mostly because she nearly single-handedly ruined Alias in S3 (by which--DANGLING MODIFIER ALERT--I mean the show was nearly ruined, not that it was ruined and she played a prominent role), so I was fully prepared to hate her character--and, truth be told, she is pretty awful. But, in fairness, she's supposed to be awful, and George acts the shit out of basically every scene she's in, so....

Many have pointed out that Laura (for reasons I won't go into) is essentially Sophie fifteen years later, and that it's hypocritical of fans to like Sophie (a message board favorite) and hate Laura (which they do). I'm going to reserve judgment here until I see how the rest of the season plays out, but, suffice to say, Byrne and George have loads of chemistry, it's just a little unfortunate that it's directed towards a Friends-like will-they-or-won't-they? scenario where you can't help shouting at the screen "don't do it, Paul! Don't do it!"

Jake and Amy: Jake--> mid-thirties; blue collar; angry; insecure. Amy--> mid-thirties; some sort of high-powered executive; possible compulsive liar; has daddy issues (I can't remember the specifics). My main issue here is that Jake (Josh Charles) and Amy (Embeth Davidtz) pretty clear hate each other and should just get fucking divorced already! I'm not really sure if their sessions are going anywhere...or, perhaps more importantly, if there's really anywhere to go. But the other factor at play is that they're both profoundly unlikeable (this is especially disappointing for me as I'm a big fan of Josh Charles from his Sports Night days--in fairness, he is kind of trenchantly funny here), thus I don't find their plight terribly compelling.

One entertaining aspect of the show is that, if Jake and Amy get in an especially nasty row, Carrie has taken to singing "D-I-V-O-R-C-E" a la Tammy Wynette, which is always good for a laugh...

By the time this is posted, 30 episodes will have aired, with 13 to go (no word--and HBO has been pretty tight-lipped--as to why it ends on a Wednesday). That's more than two-thirds of the season, yet many, many questions remain unanswered. To that end, I've listed ten below (with my speculation in parenthesis). Read on at your own peril, as salient plot points are discussed. If you haven't watched yet: what the hell? Start already!

Unanswered Questions (my best guess on the outcome)

**SPOILER ALERT: Vital plot points are discussed below. Do not highlight unless you're just dying to know.**

1. Does Laura actually like Paul, or this is just erotic transference? (Tough one. I think we're supposed to think that Laura will lose all interest if Paul gives in--her reaction to his admission in episode 26 is telling on this front--but I think that, if only to throw the viewers for a loop, she will actually remain interested, assuming he relents. Just a hunch. The only problem with this is that it creates some logistical problems for a potential second season--would Paul continue to treat someone he is sleeping with? Presumably not.)
2. Previous question aside: will they hook up? (Hook up might be too strong. But I predict the season will end with a kiss. Perhaps at the end of a Sophie session, hence the Wednesday ending? Their chemistry is undeniable.)
3. Is Alex secretly gay? (The whole "macho military is actually a closeted homosexual" is a little too trite for me to endorse, but, as many have observed, some things are cliched for a reason. If you think about, a lot about this makes sense: he enjoys living with his gay friend; he admits to going to a gay bar and watching gay porn with them; his lousy performance in bed with Laura (the first time); assuming that his heart attack is no longer an issue, it would explain why he's not on active duty at the moment--i.e. some sort of "don't ask, don't tell" violation, which...don't even get me started on how that can still be an actual policy in 2008. Nevertheless, I'm going to say that he isn't gay, only because it might be too obvious at this stage.)
4. Is Alex a pathological liar? (Lots--OK: some--internet chatter that Alex is making all of this up. This stems from the fact that, after Laura slept with him, she mentioned that he was "like a fighter pilot," but in a way that suggested that Alex hadn't told her that he was a fighter pilot. I'm not sure if there's much more to this theory than that--though it does fit with Alex's impressive storytelling. I'm inclined to think that Laura's line is just a red herring and that Alex is telling the truth for the most part.)
5. How did Alex find out all that information about Paul? (internet speculation has Alex placing a bug in the coffee machine he gave Paul and, the more I think about it, the more I think that this is the only possible explanation. I don't buy for a second that Alex got all that dirt on Paul from other therapists, especially since some of the info--his feelings for Laura--couldn't realistically be known to them.)
6. Was Sophie sexually abused by her father? (Almost certainly. I think we're building towards that being the an end-of-season reveal, though it, too, has been fairly telegraphed.)
7. Will Jake and Amy be together at the end of the season? (Yes...but just barely...and Amy will have slept with someone else.)
8. What really happened with Paul and Gina? (Still not sure. For a while, I thought they'd slept together. Now? Probably not, but something tells me we haven't heard the last of the Institute.)
9. Will Paul and Kate save their marriage? (I don't think so. Better question: should they bother?)
10. Are all of these patients merely hallucinations from an institutionalized Paul? Think about it: is it a coincidence that they're so similar? (