Wednesday, April 30, 2008

"Oh, Homer, that's just an urban legend. People don't do that kind of thing with fish!"

At first, I was going to go with "Top 10 Movie Wedding Moments," but then I realized that:

a. most movies with weddings are chick flicks;
b. having the original Manchurian Candidate at number one is just too dark; and
c. I didn't really want to do it.

So...without further ado, here are the Top 10 TV Wedding Moments. (No soap operas--sorry, Luke and Laura.) Enjoy (or, at the very least, nod along):

Honourable mention: the one where Turk and Carla get married on Scrubs (good, not great); Steve and Miranda's wedding on Sex and the City (the only couple I've ever truly liked on the show...I just can't remember a single thing about the wedding episode--there was a wedding episode, right?); the SATC episode where Carrie read her poem and Big wasn't paying attention (not terribly memorable aside from that one scene); Monica and Chandler's wedding on Friends (meh...I was looking for more); Abby and Luka's wedding on ER (surprisingly entertaining); Maeby and George Michael accidentally getting married in the hospital on Arrested Development (good times); Jack's wedding on Lost (because you're positive it's not going to happen right up until the point they both say "I do"--a rare example of "the best fake out is no fake out at all"); Phyllis's wedding on The Office (I know a lot of people loved this one, but I thought it was merely average); any episode of Rich Bride, Poor Bride where it seems that not only should the couple clearly not get married but that they actively despise each other (i.e. every episode); the Dallas episode ("Post-Nuptials") where J.R. and Sue Ellen get married and then Cliff Barnes, somewhat improbably, fights J.R. in the Ewing pool (good times).

The Top 10...

10. "Bachelor Party" (Episode 2.19), "Showdown" (2.20), "Something Borrowed" (2.21), and "Something Blue" (2.22, aired May 14, 2007), How I Met Your Mother (aka "The Ones Where Marshall and Lily Get Married"): The final four episodes of season two fit together quite nicely. There's a lot going on here--not all of it, in fairness, wedding-related: Ted's sanitized wedding toast ("I'm going to hold hands with you all night long," etc.), Barney winning his wedding gifts on The Price is Right, Lily trying to gain weight so she could fit in her wedding dress, Marshall's shaved head, the reveal w/r/t to Robin and Ted, and the fantastic scene in "Bachelor Party" involving Robin and a dirty gift--partial clip below. All told, the show acquitted itself quite well with the wedding stuff--which is often the kiss of death for lesser sitcoms.

9. "Hank's Wedding," The Larry Sanders Show (Episode 2.15, aired September 8, 1993): Hank gets married on the show, but freezes/is too emotional to go through with it, so Larry reads his vows for him. Very sweet. Admittedly, this was made somewhat less sweet in the long run when it was revealed that Hank's wife was a philandering golddigger, but, hey, it's TLSS, would they really have it any other way?

8. "Something Borrowed, Something Blue, Part Two," Frasier (aka "The One Where Daphne runs out on Donnie to be with Niles," Episode 7.24, aired May 18, 2000): You never want to, you know, celebrate someone running out on their wedding, but, here, everyone was rooting for Daphne to end up with Niles, so I suppose it's okay. There's always been a rumor that the creators filmed two final scenes for this episode--one with Daphne marrying Donnie and the one where Daphne fled with Niles--and let a screening audience decide. I find this highly dubious (unless they totally stacked the deck against Donnie's ending being chosen by, say, having him slap Daphne just before completing his vows).

7. "The One with Ross's Wedding, Part Two," Friends (aka "The One Where Ross says the Wrong Name," Episode 4.24, aired May 7, 1998): memorable because: the show unceremoniously dumped Emily (who was kind of a wet blanket; also, it's not called "Friends plus-one," people!); it was, admittedly, fairly shocking; Chandler and Monica hooked up for the first time; it triggered the events of season five, where the show was absolutely on fire (it wouldn't last).

T5. "Lisa's Wedding," The Simpsons (aka "The First Future Episode," Episode 6.19, aired March 19, 1995): terrific episode. In researching this entry, I stumbled upon the shocking fact that Mandy Patinkin was the voice of the very British Hugh. As Shuk pointed out, picking Patinkin over a pool of potentially hundreds of qualified British actors is...curious.

T5. "A Fish Called Selma," The Simpsons (aka "The One Where Selma Marries Troy McClure," Episode 7.19, aired March 24, 1996): Also a great episode, if only for all the innuendo about Troy McClure's fish fetish (a gag that, frankly, will never get old). You could make a good case for the episode where Sideshow Bob marries Selma ("The Black Widower") and Apu's arranged marriage ("The Two Mrs. Nahasapeemapetilons"), too.

4. "Swan Song," Dallas (aka "The One Where Bobby Dies...but it's cool, because, almost exactly one year later, we find out that this was only a dream," Episode 7.30, aired May 17, 1985): Ah, Dallas. How I've missed you. Frankly, it's inexcusable that this isn't in syndication anymore in Canada (I blame the directors of TNN turning into huge perverts and becoming SpikeTV). Anyway, as you'd might expect, picking just one wedding from Dallas was considerably difficult, as, by my count, there have been upwards of a dozen weddings on the show (Pam and Bobby, Ray and Donna, Lucy and Mitch, J.R. and Sue Ellen, J.R. and Sue Ellen again, Cliff and Jamie, Bobby and April, Ellie and Clayton, Sue Ellen and Don Lockwood, J.R. and Cally, Naldo and Jenna, Ray and Jenna, John Ross and Christopher*) and that doesn't even include weddings that were scheduled to go ahead but, for whatever reason, did not (Bobby and Jenna, Liz and Cliff, Mark Graison and Pam). That said, "Swan Song" is the clear choice, as it is both riveting television (at the time: because it was really compelling; upon rewatching: because of how hilariously wooden the performances are) and because it signalled the beginning of the end of this once fine program.

* - OK, this one I made up. The rest are true.

Of note in the below clip is that Bobby was just at Lucy and Mitch's wedding at Southfork ranch with his fiancee, Jenna. There, he decides that he doesn't want to marry Jenna but instead wants to re-marry Pam (whoa...isn't it customary to ask her out to dinner first?). So, of course, there's no avoiding the fact that Bobby Ewing, who, along with J.R., carried the show on his back for a dozen seasons, is, ultimately, kind of a dick. (To the point where, had he survived, you just know he totally would've invited Jenna to his wedding.)

You can see the follow-up scene here.

For me, the best part of the clip is when they're outside, just before the slo-mo crash, when Pam and Bobby have the following exchange (more or less):

Pam: "I dunno, Bobby, I'm so happy, but, let's be honest, you've screwed Jenna over pretty badly here. I'm just not sure if this is the right thing to do."
Bobby: "You know this is the right thing."
Pam: "I think we're doing the right thing!"

3. "One Wedding and a Funeral," 90210 (aka, "The one where Dylan and Toni get married and then Toni gets killed on a hit that Toni's dad put out on Dylan"--yes, that one, Episode 6.10, aired November 8, 1995): Having seen this relatively recently, I can say with confidence that the wedding itself was a bit of a snooze (except for the inexplicably prominent role played by Nat. Really?? Does the guy that slices your pie have to be in the wedding party?), but what comes after--Toni's father, thinking he's going to take care of Dylan, inadvertently OKing a hit on his own daughter--is probably the most memorable thing ever to happen on the show (except for the "Kelly in a cult" thing, which is unintentionally hilarious on several levels).

This sequence of events is surprisingly affecting (including the showrunners having the presence of mind to use a song with staying power--Lyle Lovett's "Nobody Knows Me"--as Dylan's theme, instead of, say, the latest from Shanice or the Goo Goo Dolls). It's also satisfying to say aloud, upon Dylan driving away and the credits rolling that, "well, the show is never going to be better than that. It's all downhill from here." Check out the whole sequence here.

Now seems as good a time as any to point how truly awful the episode's title is. Way to be super-sensitive, 90210! All that's missing is a scene with David saying, "man I just wore this suit two days ago for the wedding..."

2. "The Betrayal," Seinfeld (aka "The Backwards Episode," Episode 9.08, aired November 20, 1997):
While some maintain that the show went downhill (the most frequent lament being that it was too over the top) post-Larry David (i.e. seasons 8 and 9), I couldn't disagree more, as the final two seasons--series finale aside--were absolute gold. Gold, Jerry. And, next to "The Dealership" (my all-time favorite), "The Betrayal" might be #2. For Kramer's lollipop sight gag alone (it gets bigger as the episode progresses), this deserves a slot in the Top 10--and I don't think the writers get enough credit for pulling this off. I was going to include a rant here about the degree of difficulty (the jokes had to be funny played in reverse, but also, if you thought about it, going forward), but, alas, the only YouTube clip I can find is--confoundingly--of the episode in chronological order...which kind of defeats the whole purpose. Nevertheless, scroll to the 4:56 mark for my favorite scene ("I mean, the plague! Please!!").

1. "A Good Old-Fashioned Wedding," Cheers (Woody and Kelly's Wedding, Episode 10.25, aired May 1992):
the highest of high comedy. This hour-long episode had so many things going on--Rebecca torments the chef until he quits, the minister dies, the drunk uncle, Sam gets challenged to a sword-fight, etc.--that it verged on chaotic. But they absolutely nailed it. Bonus points because it took place almost entirely outside of the bar. More than any other show sitcom in the past 20 years, Cheers has fared the worst in syndication. Sure, you can find it in places (I believe it airs on Comedy weekday afternoons), but doesn't get pimped like some of the other shows (Seinfeld and Friends), doesn't have the street cred of other programs (South Park), and, in fairness, isn't quite as timeless as some of the other classics (specifically: The Simpsons). Case in point: YouTube doesn't have a single clip from this gem of an episode. Well, then, you'll have to take my word for it. It was awesome.

In its stead, I'll go with this, one of the five greatest moments in Cheers history.

"I'm like Mozart. And you're like that guy that was always jealous of Mozart..."

(And, no, I don't care that the photo has nothing to do with this post. It was a damn fine episode.) where were we? Apologies for my prolonged absence.

A few points...

1. NBA Playoffs: My excitement is building (which isn't saying a lot, since I probably watched three NBA regular season games from start to finish this year, down from ten or so last year, and 300 when I was seventeen), but, goddammit, San Antonio vs. Phoenix and New Orleans vs. Dallas in the first round? It seems like a bit of waste. When you have six teams out of sixteen that could win the championship (I'm tempted to include Utah as the seventh because I love the way they play, but I don't think they have a chance against L.A.), you really shouldn't have four of them facing off against each other in Round 1. So what if the NBA seeded teams from 1-16 in the playoffs, as so many have clamoured for in recent years? Glad you asked.

Rules: a regular season conference title guarantees you a top 2 spot, and winning your division guarantees you no worse than the 4th best seed of teams in your conference (which is the current rule). This first batch simply re-seeds the sixteen teams that qualified this year...

Round 1:

(1) Boston vs. (16) Atlanta
(8) Phoenix vs. (9) Orlando

(4) New Orleans vs. (13) Washington
(5) San Antonio vs. (12) Cleveland

(3) Detroit vs. (14) Toronto
(6) Utah vs. (11) Denver

(2) Los Angeles vs. (15) Philadelphia
(7) Houston vs. (10) Dallas

Or, if you don't think that the conferences need to represented equally (for argument's sake, let's say that each conference has to have six representatives...though I can't see this ever being an issue, how about this (changes in red/caps)?

Round 1:

(1) Boston vs. (16) PORTLAND
(8) Phoenix vs. (9) Orlando

(4) New Orleans vs. (13) GOLDEN STATE
(5) San Antonio vs. (12) Cleveland

(3) Detroit vs. (14) WASHINGTON
(6) Utah vs. (11) Denver

(2) Los Angeles vs. (15) TORONTO*
(7) Houston vs. (10) Dallas

*= Toronto and Portland were both 41-41 in the regular season and split the season series 1-1. I've given Toronto the better seed because they had the better conference record (29-23 vs. Portland's 26-26). Now, I do feel kind of shitty rewarding Toronto for playing in a weaker conference, but what can you do? Plus, on a neutral court, they're probably slightly better than the Blazers. Doesn't matter--both are would be fodder for Boston and L.A.'s this for a potential 2nd Round?

Boston vs. Phoenix
New Orleans vs. San Antonio

Detroit vs. Utah
Dallas ("upset" pick) vs. L.A.

Followed by...

Boston vs. NO/SA (too close to call--that quarterfinal would be amazing)
Detroit vs. Los Angeles


Boston vs. Los Angeles.

Now, what we'll actually likely end up with is: Boston-Cleveland, Detroit-Orlando, LA-Utah, NO-SA....which is still pretty compelling (well...except for the Eastern Conference), but, man, that crossover draw is sexy.

2. This comes courtesy of Ken Jennings's blog (which I've recently stumbled upon and am enjoying immensely): Match the MPAA rating warning with the appropriate film. (No googling the description, either. I didn't...honest.)

1. 1999: “R for graphic shark attacks, and for language.”
2. 1998: “R for pervasive extreme drug use and related bizarre behavior, strong language, and brief nudity.”
3. 2006: “PG for boxing violence and some language.”
4. 2004: “R for graphic crude and sexual humor, violent images and strong language - all involving puppets.”
5. 1996: “PG-13 for intense depiction of very bad weather.”
6. 1999: “R for disturbing and graphic depiction of violent anti-social behavior, sexuality and language.”
7. 1997: “PG-13 for disaster related peril and violence, nudity, sensuality and brief language.”
8. 1998: “R for intense prolonged realistically graphic sequences of war violence, and for language.”
9. 2003: “R for drug use, self destructive violence, language and sexuality - all involving young teens.”
10. 1995: “R for grisly afterviews of horrific and bizarre killings, and for strong language.”

My answers (highlight to reveal): (1) Deep Blue Sea, (2) Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas [FYI, the tip-off is "pervasive extreme drug use."] (3) Rocky Balboa?, (4) Team America: World Police, (5) Twister, (6) Fight Club, (7) Titanic, (8) Saving Private Ryan, (9) no clue?, (10) Natural Born Killers?

answers found here (I think).

3. The Bachelor: while I've enjoyed this Bachelor season (officially: Carrie makes me watch it) more than most (the final five girls seemed more or less reasonable which happens--approximately--never, and Matt, the Bachelor is easily the most likeable Bachelor in the show's history--by, like, several orders of magnitude), I have to say that Matt, in sending home Amanda yesterday, committed a grievous error. Here's why:

-Shayne, finalist #1, while undeniably attractive, has revealed herself as truly vapid. You know what's a dead giveaway that you're kind of dim? When you make statements like "I'm aware of what's going on in the world. I know about politics" in an interview...and then provide no follow-up information. Also, can we stop with this whole "Shayne [who is Lorenzo Lamas's daughter] is a big-time actress conceit? An 18-episode stint on General Hospital, a cameo on Air America the series (which one presumes not at all coincidentally, starred her father), and a billing in the upcoming Endless Bummer ("Red Bikini Girl") which completely smacks of porn does not a resume make. (On the plus side: there was an Air America series?? It only lasted eight episodes--or: seven longer than I would've guessed--but don't you just feel better knowing this existed? Has there ever been a movie that was less in need of being made into a weekly series? Maybe Mannequin?).

-Chelsea, the other finalist, spent more than half of her last date with Matt acting like he had leprosy. She's generally fairly pleasant (and the one, I suppose, that I'm rooting for now), but clearly has relationship issues. This seems like a good enough reason to send her home.

-Amanda, who was sent packing, was responsible for this (six minutes...but well worth watching)--far and away, the greatest moment in Bachelor history. She deserves to win for that alone. (Although, again, on the plus side, her departure led directly to another Bachelor first: the dropping of a "douchebag" bomb during her tearful goodbye. Carrie and I watched that part again today to see if it actually happened...since it was bleeped out. Verdict? Yup.)

4. American Idol: despite some truly horrific theme nights orchestrated by Nigel Lythgoe and company--all together now: a second Beatles night that was destined to fail, Dolly Parton, songs from the year you were born, inspirational music (for the virtually unwatchable "Idol Gives Back" telethon), Mariah Carey, Andrew Lloyd Webber (which was actually kinda awesome), and Neil Diamond (which was not)...I mean, really, if you were deliberately trying to make people less interested in your show, you probably wouldn't be able to do better than this...--I'm actually enjoying this season quite a bit. That said, it's almost completely inconceivable that it won't come down to the two Davids--Cook (who, simply put, is fantastic...and wayyyy too good for the show) and Archuleta (who is technically perfect, but in a boring the point where he might be a robot set to "adult contempo." I heard him tonight and thought "he'd be great on Star Search." Forty minutes later, I discovered that he was on Star Search and won $100,000. Oh. Well...that proves my point then, doesn't it?). In other words, it's going to be a dull three weeks until we get to the finals.

5. Real World: Hollywood: having seen the first two episodes, I can safely say: when MTV said that they were going to go back to their roots and cast "real" people for their 20th season, I did not realize that they were only picking from the smaller subset of the "absolutely fucking clinically insane." Should be interesting.

6. A few McSweeney's links that I highly recommend: one on bomb defusing, one on first drafts of biblical parables. (And this one, which I came across while procrastinating with this post.)

7. Up next: since I actually get to, you know, read actual books (instead of staring at page after page of statutes and procedural rules until I go blind), there should be more book reviews up in the coming weeks and months.

On tap immediately is (at Taylor's request) the Top 10 video games of the 1990s. After that, I'm hoping to assemble my Wire vs. Sopranos post. That one is bound to be a long one, so it may take a while.

In addition, stay tuned for a post on the wedding blog this week (topic: most memorable/best TV weddings).

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

"Who likes to rock the party? We like to rock the party..."

Championship game thoughts: Now that was fun. A few quick points.

1. thing I neglected to mention last night is that there was a decent chance that, for one of these teams, I would look like a wizard. That team, it turns out, was Memphis (btw, sorry about that whole "you'll never be a winner" thing, Bill Self. Now that you've won a national title, my new thing to make fun of you about is that you're probably going to--stupidly--bail on Kansas for slightly (OK, a fair bit) more money at Oklahoma State. Very principled.) (Although, the more I think about, the less I blame Self and the more I blame OSU for this. $10 million for a college basketball coach? Really?? I know you've got rich benefactors, but isn't there something better you can do with that cash, like, I don't know, improving on your less-than-stellar third-tier national university status? No? Not sexy enough?). Moving on.

Anyway, here's what I said about Memphis last Thursday:

3. Memphis: Wake me up when they shoot 79% from the line (they were a combined 56 of 71 versus MSU and Texas) in a game where they're not up by twenty the entire time.

and from my initial tournament preview three weeks ago:

3. Memphis (1): great, great team (even if analysts are making the Dribble-Drive Motion [DDM] 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 you're 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.

Ahem...nailed it. Memphis was 12 of 19 from the line (63%) for the game and an ugly 1 for 5 (which should really be 1 for 6, since missing the front end of a one-and-one should really count as 0-2) in the final 72 seconds. Now, I'm not going to gloat any more (than I already have) because, had they made their shots down the stretch, all I would've said was "well, it looks like they dodged a bullet with their shaky shooting from the line." Also, despite my misgivings about this Memphis squad, I feel really terrible for them. Surrendering a nine point lead with two minutes to go is just plain shocking.

2. I know I'm going to sound like Bill Simmons here, but the continued fact that there's no sideline reporter for the championship game is inexcusable.* Why not throw the sexy (annual freebie, Carrie!) Sam Ryan into the mix to report on any number of the following issues? Like:

a. why did Joey Dorsey come out of the game with 3:36 to go? I know he had four fouls, but, hell, the game was almost over;

b. what was going on with Derrick Rose for the first 25 minutes and the last 6? No one can convince me he was 100% last night; Why didn't Self play Sasha Kahn in the second half?;

c. did Memphis consider fouling when up 3 with under 10 seconds to go? I think this is a gutless move, personally (and if this becomes common practice, as Simmons apparently wants it to, I'd urge officials to call this an intentional foul...because it is precisely that), but did it cross Calipari's mind?;

d. could someone please explain Kansas's entire second half offense? Before their torrid comeback, they scored 18 points in 18 minutes in the second half. What happened to their low post game?;

e. what was UNC Coach Roy Williams thinking sitting behind the Kansas bench wearing a Jayhawks sweater (or, maybe more to the point, what UNC was thinking)? Now, I realize he coached at Kansas for fifteen years, but: (a) he completely fucked them over in taking the UNC job, and (b) they beat you less than 48 hours ago!

* please note that the infinitely less interesting women's final that I'm watching now on ESPN does have a sideline reporter (the decidedly less sexy Rebecca Lobo). Come on!

** Further update: two sideline reporters.

3. Before I go on....Danny and the Miracles? Gayest name for a championship team ever. It's not even close.

4. Billy Packer continues to be a fucking idiot. The litany:

a. his bizarre belief that all of Memphis's free throws woes stemmed from shooters backing way upon releasing the ball ("watch his feet!"), but then never backing this assertion up with a single replay (hmmm...)

b. diagramming bullshit things on the telestrator (like Taggart simply out-running a KU player to grab a rebound on a FT late in the game) but trying to make them seem profound;

c. essentially ignoring the DDM, even though it was the key to their success this season.

d. maintaining that Derrick Rose's three-pointer, which was later (correctly) ruled a two changed everything, essentially implying that, had it stayed a three, Kansas would've lost by a point. Riiiight, because I'm certain that everything would've gone down the exact same way in the remaining 4:06. (I love when football writers--mainly Gregg Easterbrook--do this, too. As in: "had the Bills just run more clock on 3rd and 6 with seven minutes to go, the Broncos wouldn't have had time for their last minute FG." Whatever you say.)

e. effusively praising Rose for said banked in jumper as the shot clock expired as if he intended to do just that even though it was clearly a spastic fluke...and shame on the usually far more sanguine Jim Nantz for kowtowing there ("THE SHOT OF THE TOURNAMENT!").

f. not calling Dorsey out for being virtually invisible (26 minutes, 6 points, 2 rebounds, 5 fouls).

g. to blathering on about how the reason a Memphis alley-oop failed was that the dunker didn't come in at a 45 degree angle (no, Billy, just a bad pass).

h. to being borderline hysterical in praising the refs late in the game that they were correct in not calling a T on Douglas-Roberts after he spiked the ball (informing us that he was merely "mad at himself"--oh, ok, I didn't realize players submitted their diaries before the refs decided what to call).

i. never once mentioning whether it would've been shrewd for Memphis to (a) call a timeout when up 3 with ten seconds to go, or (b) foul before Chalmers got off his three. We had to wait nearly half an hour, for the post-game show back in the studio, for someone to bring it up (in fairness: Nantz was guilty of this too).

j. and talking endlessly over Kansas's late-game run (again, this is also on Nantz).

k. insisting--seemingly at random--that teams should/should not shoot a 3 with time running down. Seriously, though, is he flipping a coin in the booth for these? As Misha points out, there's no rhyme or reason to his strategy.

I'm positive I'm leaving stuff out, too. And while we're here...

8 Other Dumb Billy Packer Moments Unrelated to Last Night:

2007: incessantly hypes Greg Oden during the National Championship game, all but ignoring the obvious actual major story: mainly, Florida was going for (and eventually would get) their second consecutive title.

2007: uses the expression "fags out" while being interviewed by Charlie Rose. He later, truthfully, points out that he was going by an older definition of the word (roughly synonymous with "tire"), but then inexcusably states: "I can assure you I will use that phrase again and I won't think twice about it."

Late in a heated (but already decided) Duke-UNC game, UNC's Tyler Hansbrough has his nose broken by Duke's Gerald Henderson. Henderson is ejected. Long-time Duke apologist Packer, upon viewing the replay, repeatedly states that Henderson did not do this intentionally (true) and thus shouldn't be ejected (not true). Yes, but...he broke his nose. Inadvertent or not, the foul was hard enough to warrant being tossed.

On Selection Sunday, Packer loudly voices his opinion that George Mason University (a 11-seed), has absolutely no business being the tournament. GMU promptly knocks off North Carolina, Michigan State, and UConn on their way to the Final Four.

Packer criticizes St. Joe's receiving a 1-seed in the tournament, even though the Hawks had lost only one game and were the feel-good story of the year. St. Joe's advances to the Elite 8, but misses out on the Final Four on a last second three by Oklahoma State.

Famously calls Allen Iverson a "tough monkey" while announcing a Georgetown-Villanova game.

Questions the credentials of the undefeated (and Larry Bird-led) Indiana State Sycamores, who had received a 1-seed. ISU advances to the National Championship game before falling to Michigan State.

Packer declares that Lincoln, having not won a single electoral vote in the South, isn't really the people's choice and is doomed to be a terrible President.

I think I say this every year, but this may be the first time in print: I've never seen a college basketball announcer who enjoys the game less than Billy Packer. The fact that he's the face of the tournament's TV presence on an annual basis (he's now called over 100 Final Four games, a stunning 30+ year run) makes my heart hurt. It really does.

If listening to basketball on the radio were still free (it's not) and not on a tape delay (it is), I would turn off the sound on my TV for the final three college games of the year and listen to the dulcet tones of the Westwood One crew in an instant. In an instant.

5. Giving credit where credit is due, John Calipari--whom I dislike for a variety of reasons--was magnanimous in defeat (even though CBS totally tried to cop out by not addressing the FT thing at the end).

6. Where does this game rank among title games? Good question! Let's work backwards here. The first championship game I watched live was in 1988 (Kansas over Oklahoma--the aforementioned "Danny and the Miracles" squad). Of those 20 games (not including this year), I think only three of them truly qualify as classics. In order:

#1. 1989: Michigan over Seton Hall (goes to OT, Rumeal Robinson knocks down 2 FTs with 3 secs to go).
#2. 1993: UNC over Michigan (the Webber TO game)
#3. 1997: Arizona over Kentucky (84-79 in OT--just an incredibly exciting game.)

and the second tier would be:

#4. 2003: Syracuse over Kansas
#5. 2005: UNC over Illinois
#6. 1994: Arkansas over Duke (very underrated game)
#7. 1999: UConn over Duke
#8. 1988: Kansas over Oklahoma

I'm not quite sure if last night's game belongs at the bottom of tier one (very exciting, last-second shot in regulation) or the top of tier two (kind of a sloppy game, OT was an anti-climax). I'm leaning towards the latter. Either way, let's put it at #4. Thoughts?

7. Finally...could the BCS look any worse than the day after a wickedly compelling NCAA title game? I don't think so.

OK...much as I'm tempted to live blog (for hilarity's sake) the women's final tonight (on the Score at midnight, people), this is where I'll end my tourney coverage. Let's do this again real soon--how does next March work for everyone?

Monday, April 7, 2008

"I'm not's just been raining...on my face"

On the Tigers 0-6 start...

Note to sportswriters, intrepid reporters, announcers, commentators, bloggers...actually, pretty much everyone: please stop blaming this on the bullpen, because...

1. The starting pitching has been just as bad. Verlander, Bonderman, Robertson, Rogers, and Willis (he of the single ugliest no-hit bid--5 IP, O H, 7 walks, 46 strikes and 43 balls, 21 batters faced, zero the point where I was begging Leyland to pull him while the no-hitter was still intact--I've ever seen) have the following combined line:

6 GS, 34 IP, 33 H, 19 BB, 5 HR, 20 K, 22 ER, 1.53 WHIP, 5.82 ERA, 5.3 K/9, 1 quality start (Rogers).

The relievers, long the collective whipping boys for the Detroit media, have performed as follows:

22 IP, 24 H, 8 BB, 2 HR, 15 K, 11 ER, 1.45 WHIP, 4.50 ERA, 6.1 K/9

Now, I'm not going to pretend these numbers are particularly awesome (they're not, though--somewhat terrifyingly--the notoriously shaky Todd Jones is tied for the lowest ERA on the team), but it's pretty clear that it's the starters getting the team in trouble. Do I wish the bullpen could bail out Verlander when he gets himself in a sticky situation (see last night and opening day)? Absolutely...but I don't really blame them if they can't emerge unscathed from runners on the corner with none out.

(Seriously, Willis, no strikeouts? How is that even remotely possible??)

2. Poor hitting. Guillen's batting .400 so far (although, with only 1 RBI), but other guys in the meat of the order are struggling mightly: Ordonez (.280), Sheffield (.200), Cabrera (.111), and Polanco (.087). More to the point, they've only had two multi-run innings in six games, and, arguably even worse, a mere eleven multi-hit innings out of 56 played. (Jesse says that luck plays a major role in this latter stat, which is probably true--I think that might've been in Moneyball--but it's still annoying.) They're also hitting into a hell of a lot of double plays (Cabrera did this twice last night; after the second one, he was promptly booed--way to not reveal yourselves as fair weather fans, Detroit.) This would be considered bad for most teams, but is especially egregious for a squad projected to lead the league in runs going away.

I'll save my rant about how they're horribly impatient at the plate (which is fine when the bats are hot, but infuriating when they're cold) for another time.

3. Random, silly mistakes. Look no further than last night, when after tying the game up at 1 in the bottom of the third, Santiago inexplicably tried to stretch a double into a triple and proceeded to get thrown out by six feet, thus making the first out...and killing what had the makings of a big inning in the process. See also the sure-handed Carlos Guillen dropping a routine throw to first in the top of the sixth, opening the door for (what amounted to) a game-ending six-run inning for the Sox.

4. A bit of bad luck. Polanco, Sheffield, Cabrera (sort of), Granderson (that one really hurts, we need him back desperately), Zumaya (again!), and Rodney (ok, that one is probably a good thing) have all been felled by injuries thus far, so we're not exactly at full strength at the moment. Yes, I'm officially making excuses--who had April 7th in the office pool?

5. Schedule. Up next: three on the road against the reeling Red Sox, three on the road against the White Sox (who have owned the Tigers for, more or less, the past decade), two at home against Minnesota, two on the road against Cleveland, four on the road against the white hot Jays, three at home against Texas (finally!), three at home against the Angels, two on the road against the Yankees...and that's April for them. Yikes! I'll be honest, looking at the pitching probables (Dice-K against Rogers tomorrow...that's not good) they could easily drop 4 of the next 6, and come home to Minnesota a cool (frigid, in fact) 2-10. Chief Wiggum once said, this is probably going to get worse before it gets better.

Thankfully, this is a team than can get (and stay) hot quickly, and could easily reel off seven or eight in a row. (Granderson--who, fingers crossed--should be back in the next ten days, will facilitate this.)

As, before you ask, yes, I do blame Shuk for all of this. [Shakes fist]

College Hoops (briefly)

Note on tonight's championship game: hilariously, the two teams I've bagged on the most the past three weeks (aside from Georgetown--poor, defenseless Georgetown) are in the final, so, either way, I'm bound to look like a chump. I have no stake in tonight's game (I've already won one pool...and am knocked out in my other ones), so I'm just hoping for a tight, well-played game, something that's been in short supply since, oh, round 2. I kind of like Memphis tonight, as I think that Douglas-Roberts and (especially) Derrick Rose will essentially refuse to lose. So let's go with 64-59 Memphis tonight.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

"Well, no matter which way you look at it, the tape's still winning. Make sure you don't lose it..."

Round 3 and 4 Tourney Recap: Sweet 16 participants (along with their original rank in my 65 to 1 posts).

48. Western Kentucky: File this under "No Good Deed Goes Unpunished": as a reward for making the Sweet 16, WKU....loses their coach to a marginally better program (South Carolina) in a much better conference (the SEC). I can't say I really blame Darrin Horn for doing this (I'd be lying if I said I'd say no to more money and more exposure if it were me), but, goddamn, is that ever disheartening...

44. West Virginia: Don't have much to say here, aside from: (a) I'm astounded that they only hit one three (on eleven attempts) against Xavier, yet managed to stay in the game; (b) Joe Alexander is an absolute freak--it actually scares me how athletic he is...I can't see how, Chad Ford be damned, he isn't, ultimately, a lottery pick; and (c) if Alexander doesn't foul out--on what can only be described as a dubious blocking foul--I'm convinced WVU wins that game.

34. Michigan State:
THERE's the MSU stinkbomb we were all waiting on. My question: this couldn't have happened during the Temple game, thus making me seem like a genius??

27. Villanova:

19. Washington State:
the team that couldn't shoot straight all year....couldn't shoot straight against UNC (31.6% from the field, including 2 of 16 from 3 point range). And yet, against Notre Dame (my sleeper Sweet 16 pick) they looked like the '96 Bulls. Bastards.

17. Xavier:
Great run for these guys.

16. Davidson:
This year's Cinderella. A wonderful st--


They fought valiantly against a far more talented Jayhawks squa--


Even though they came up just a little short against Kansas, it's hard to be disapp--

screw it

Godfuckingdammit, Davidson. You should have won that game! What the hell happened on that last possession? Let's count the ways it was defective. (Scroll to the 1:40 mark for the final sequence....though it does leave out part of it). Here's what went wrong (in chronological order):

a. Curry should not have taken the ball up the court. (That's Jason Richards's job. You may have heard of him as he lead the nation in assists this year! GOD!)

b. Curry definitely shouldn't have walked the ball up the court. Among my issues with college basketball, acting like you're in a tie game with under fifteen seconds to go instead of acting like you're trailing, is one of my biggest. I hate this. Why waste half of the 14 precious seconds you have walking the ball up? I was actually concerned that he'd be called for a backcourt violation.

c. They should not have played for the last shot. Again: you're down two points. I don't mind going for the three, but why take it with under two seconds, when you have no conceivable chance of getting an offensive board and a cheap basket...or a foul...or anything? Yes, scoring too soon is a bit of a risk (and tying it up only to have Kansas hit a buzzer-beater would be devastating), but settling for a terrible shot is infuriating.

d. They should have run some sort of play for Curry. An isolation play is fine, but Mario Chalmers (who was covering Curry) is a ridiculously good athlete (plus, Curry, who had played something like 78 minutes in 48 hours, was no doubt exhausted--note: this is why I'm not annoyed that they called a timeout with 15 seconds to go). Why not try something exotic like a double screen? I swear this would've worked.

e. No matter what happens, Curry has to take the last shot. I don't blame him for passing (he was double-covered), because it never should have come to that. That we were deprived of Curry throwing up a shot (which may well have been a prayer) with time running down and every single fucking person in the arena and every single person watching at home thinking that it would somehow go in is....nothing sort of crushing.

Taylor called me roughly 40 seconds after the game ended, and before he even said hello, blurted out "so what the hell did they talk about in the huddle during that timeout?" I don't know, spaz. I don't know.

That said: thank you, Davidson, for an amazing run. Stephen Curry made himself a whole lotta money these past two weeks.

11. Louisville: I'm no expert, but I think that the sequence from 6:20 left in the second half to 0:46, where Louisville scored two points, surrendered eleven, missed five shots (including a layup!) and committed three traveling violations (amazingly, by the same guy--Earl Clark--each time...on the same broken move--an out of control back down in the post) is where it went very wrong for the Cardinals. Also, I'm pretty sure that your star player (first team All-Big East player David Padgett) is supposed to take more than five shots. May want to stew on that one, Pitino.

10. Stanford: Aside from Brook (who was sensational in the tournament) and Robin (who's a dynamo on defense but probably couldn't score ten points if you locked him in the gym by himself for two hours) Lopez, this team is secretly (well...not anymore) atrocious.

ETA: there are rumors swirling that the Lopez twins, both sophomores, are going pro, which--how can I put this delicately?--strikes me as an impossibly bad idea. Arguably, Brook is ready. Robin, who did, in fairness, come on strong late in the Pac-10 season, but also had a stretch where he went for 8, 2, 8, 9, 6, 2, 9, 6, and 9 points (for a less than impressive 6.5 ppg average) in nine consecutive conference games in December and January and essentially bricked (3-9, 6 points, 5 boards, and 4 fouls in 21 minutes against an undersized Texas squad) his final tourney game? Not so much. (Note to Brook: no matter how you edit it, if you show NBA scouts the tape from your signature game--8-11 from the field, 24 points, 12 boards, and 5 blocks in 31 minutes--they're going to figure out pretty quickly that it was against Yale. Trust me.)

This move strikes me as especially shitty because the brothers are apparently joined at the hip. There's no doubt that if one stayed in college, the other would follow...and, if they stayed for their junior year, even with their mediocre recruiting class thus far, there's a decent chance they'll be a Top 5-10 squad in the fall and will vie for a one seed in next year's tourney, so the question becomes: why rush? I'm chalking this one up to Brook's selfishness.

8. Tennessee: gah...what a mess. When your star player (Chris Lofton) goes 7 for 33 in the tournament, you're very lucky to win two games. (And as for Lofton, his draft stock--asuming it existed at all--couldn't have gone down more swiftly. It probably would've been more efficient for him to hand his money directly to Curry.) My favorite part of the UT-Louisville game is that Lofton was 3 of 15 from the field, but 7 of 7 from the FT line. To borrow a line from The West Wing: why the hell are you fouling him? Just let him shoot!

6. Kansas:
There's still time for me not to look like a fool, just not as much as two weeks ago. Nevertheless, until I see Bill Self cutting down the mesh (note to Self: this is customary when a team wins a National Champio--never mind, I don't want to spoil it for you) in San Antonio, I'm sticking to my guns: they're not going to win.

5. Texas:
They just didn't look good at all against Memphis. I wonder if they watched any tape (note to Rick Barnes: this is generally a good idea.) As much as I like D.J. Augustin, he pretty much shit the bed (4-18, 3 assists, 4 turnovers) on Sunday.

4. Wisconsin:
Yuck, yuck, yuck. I feel dirty having picked them to make the Final Four. Final tally: 3 games played, 2 strong halves (the 2nd half vs. Cal State Fullerton and the 2nd half vs. K-State), and 38 turnovers. Let's move on.

3. Memphis:
Wake me up when they shoot 79% from the line (they were a combined 56 of 71 versus MSU and Texas) in a game where they're not up by twenty the entire time.

2. North Carolina:
Thought Louisville had a shot, but UNC (Hansbrough in particular) was too tough. Good for them.

I found the following quote in a Grant Wahl article from a couple of days ago:

During one of our walks on the UNC campus in 2003, I asked [UNC Head Coach Roy] Williams if he would ever think about scheduling a game against the Jayhawks, the team he led to four Final Fours before his famously angst-ridden departure in '03. He looked at me as if I had suggested he become a Buddhist monk. "Nope," Williams said. "And if we do make the tournament and someone were to schedule us in a first-round game -- just one of those "miracles" that happen in the tournament -- then I'd strangle everybody on the committee."

He's not my favorite guy, but you have to admire him for being brutally honest here. Awesome.

1. UCLA: Still not wild about how they're prone to lapses, but, when they're on their game, it is a sight to behold. My man crush on Kevin Love continues to grow.

Other Thoughts:

1. Gambling:
Going back to my previous post, I was 5-3 on my spread picks (missing--foolishly--on all the 1 seeds except for Kansas); Curry covered the over by, oh, 9.5 points; UCLA did not make good on my infinity bet; Big 12 did end up with the most teams in Elite 8; 1 seed bet is still up in the air. So, all told, 7 of my 11 bets game through (with one pending). So...I would've made $75 on my $60 spread bets, turned the $15 on Curry into $33.75; dumped $5 on UCLA winning by 21+; and turned my $10 on the Big 12 into $37.50 (damn!)--resulting in me turning $95 into $146.25 (a miraculous--at least for me--54% return on my investment). This annoys me, since when I lose imaginary money, I'm relieved that I didn't bet. But now...I don't know what to think.

2. Chalk vs. Me:
Picking all faves would give you 103 points (i.e. something that MS Excel could, if properly instructed, do in roughly one-one thousandth of a second) under the Yahoo! format, good for a preposterous 3rd place out of 583 competitors in the Canadian Law School pool...and tantalizingly close to the 16 GB iPod touch first prize. I, on the other hand, continue to languish in a tie for 140th, behind not one, not two, but three people who somehow neglected to select a National Champion--that's right, Jesse Halperin of UVic and Struan Smith of UNB (and an Osgoode student who will remain nameless), I'm calling you out.

3. Lousy games: While there were a couple of entertaining tilts that got a little one-sided near the end (Louisville-UNC, Louisville-Tennessee), only two games (WVU-Xavier and Davidson-Kansas) of the twelve played could truly be considered great. That's disappointing.

4. Refs: my new pet peeve is that college refs will fly in from off-camera (literally: sprinting and pointing) and absolutely nail every time whether a player has inadvertently stepped on the baseline while tracking down a loose ball (it's like a human version of shot spot), even though there is no competitive advantage gained the vast majority of the time, yet routinely fuck up: blocking vs. charging (totally inconsistent here); whether it's a jump ball or the bench called a timeout; failure to call cheap reach-ins, both in the halfcourt (I'm looking at you, Hansbrough) and from behind in transition); failure to call moving screens (watch for this when the point guards are bringing it up this weekend, as you'll probably see a big man acting as sort of a roving blocker); inexplicably ignoring obvious goaltending calls; putting too much stock in defenders flopping/too rigorous in their application of the "if an offensive player lowers his shoulder or moves his arm away from his body at all while dribbling then it's an offensive foul" rule; ignoring the obvious fact that a deadball foul late in a close game almost has to be deemed intentional (as addressed in my previous post)...

...all of which play a way bigger role in determining the outcome of games. (And there goes my blood pressure again...)

5. Picks: I picked UNC vs. UCLA as the National Championship match-up roughly two weeks ago, and I see no reason to change my mind now. UNC over Kansas, UCLA over Memphis.