Monday, March 30, 2009

Drew Carey and March Madness

In my most recent Weekly article, I took a look at March Madness from the fan's-eye view at local sports books. It was a lot of fun and a great excuse to watch hoops with some friends ("I'm working! Swear to God!"). And I got to witness the sublime become the ridiculous, when Drew Carey interfered with the festivities.

Check out the article.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Nevada in a nutshell

This just struck me as the perfect example of how Nevada is different from the rest of the country. I saw this on a blog called The Hazean. It's a recap of a recent poll regarding the length of the NFL season. There's a push to expand the regular season from 16 to 18 games by eliminating two preseason contests and starting the regular season in late August. ESPN did one of its patented state-by-state polls and here are the results:

You might have to click on it to enlarge the text, but basically, Nevada is the only state whose citizens (that is, those who voted in this poll) approve of the expansion in the NFL regular season. Why? Of course, because it gives us two more meaningful NFL weekends in which to gamble. And two more weeks in which I can hit my patented five-team parlay.

Hey, in these tough economic times, you can't blame us, can you?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

BCS strikes again

In case you were wondering why I posted such angst about Saint Mary's on my Facebook page, I've made no secret of my affinity for the West Coast Conference. I write the annual previews for each of the eight member schools for the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook (download the 2009 tournament update here!). I covered the recent conference tournament here in Las Vegas. I even contemplated writing a book about the conference this season, but I couldn't find a publisher for it.

So I'm probably biased toward Saint Mary's. And I'm OK with that. They're an exciting team with an all-world point guard in Patrick Mills, a bunch of talented role players, the two-time all-WCC Defensive Player of the Year in Diamon Simpson, and a likable, quotable coach in Randy Bennett. So when the Gaels got stiffed by the NCAA Tournament selection committee on Sunday, I'll admit it, I was ticked.

But it's not so much what the committee did to Saint Mary's as what it's done and likely will continue to do to midmajor schools -- also known as schools from non-BCS conferences. This year, out of 34 at-large bids available in the 65-team pool, the committee only alloted four of those to non-BCS schools: Brigham Young, Dayton, Butler and Xavier.

Meanwhile, Saint Mary's (26 wins), Creighton (26 wins), Davidson (26 wins), Niagara (26 wins) and San Diego State (23 wins) all had strong cases for NCAA bids, but were all relegated to the NIT. Some of them were knocked off the bubble when teams such as Mississippi State and Southern Cal won their conference tournaments, but even if those automatic bids had gone to NCAA-worthy teams, somebody would be grumbling about an NIT berth today.

Saint Mary's had the strongest case of all the castaways, I believe -- they were 18-1 and leading Gonzaga by 6 late in the first half at Spokane when Mills broke his right wrist. The Gaels went on to lose that game and three of the next four before rallying to win their last five, including a victory over WAC champ Utah State. Mills returned for the WCC tourney and while he wasn't sharp, he was healthy, meaning the Gaels were much closer to the 18-1 version of their team than the Mills-free lineup.

CBS dutifully trotted out some pasty-faced old member of the selection committee to explain why the small schools continue to get the shaft, and his argument was less than convincing. He kept talking about the schools' "body of work" -- i.e., how they performed throughout the entirety of their schedule.

But of course, therein lies the problem. Most midmajor schools can't get the big boys to play them in their home arenas, so they have to settle for neutral-site games or playing on the road if they want to beef up their schedules. That's because the big boys have nothing to gain by beating a midmajor and everything to lose by losing to them. Sure, Gonzaga plays an extremely challenging schedule, but after numerous strong showings in the NCAA Tournament, the Zags now can get on anybody's schedule because a loss to the Zags doesn't hurt the big boys. But in order to build up that kind of a reputation, those midmajor schools have to get to the NCAA Tourney, a Catch-22 if I ever heard of one.

Meanwhile, we get stuck with BCS conference schools like Arizona, Wisconsin and yes, even my beloved Golden Gophers, all decidedly mediocre teams in the second tier of their mediocre conferences. My problem with these schools making the tourney is that we know what we're going to get from them. They've had all year to show that they're good enough to play with the top teams in their leagues (who are now the top seeds in their brackets) and they proved that they don't measure up. And if one of those teams should happen to get hot and reach the Final Four or win the whole thing, then what do we say? That the NCAA field is so watered down that a mediocre team like Arizona, Wisconsin or Minnesota can go on a run like that.

Some of our fondest memories of past NCAA Tournaments come from exciting, Cinderella-type teams that pull off big upsets. Nobody cares if Arizona, Wisconsin or Minnesota beats Duke, North Carolina or UConn. But if Davidson, Santa Clara or Valparaiso pulls off the stunner? That's memorable basketball. And that's what makes good midmajor schools such an attractive alternative to the mediocre middle-class BCS teams. We don't know what we've got in them. In a sense, their weaker schedules actually should work in their favor, because they haven't had a chance to prove themselves against the big boys. That's what the NCAA Tournament should provide -- a chance. Not another game or two for the seventh-place teams in the Big Ten, Big 12 or Pac-10.

My wife pointed out another flaw in the selection committee's logic. So, they have enough respect for Gonzaga to give the Zags a No. 4 seed, but nobody else in the WCC is worthy of a bid? Maybe all they were looking at was the Zags' nonconference schedule, but again, if nobody wants to play you, doesn't that say enough about how much respect your school has in the basketball world?

Of course, it all boils down to money. Arizona, Wisconsin and Minnesota have far more alumni who will travel to the games. They play in much bigger media markets, meaning bigger ad rates for the local CBS affiliates who broadcast their games. The committee can blather on and on about just looking at teams and stats and bodies of work, but we all know what's driving this. It's been done this way since the beginning of time, and it's not about to change.

Sure, I'll still watch the tourney. I might even wager on a game or two. But I refuse to accept that it's a better event with Arizona, Wisconsin and Minnesota in the bracket while Saint Mary's, Creighton and Davidson are stuck in the NIT.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

I have the cat from 'Memento'

Actually, I don't know if there even was a cat in 'Memento' -- probably not, because the Guy Pearce character would have forgotten to feed it, so it eventually would have run away. But if they're looking to make a sequel -- 'Memento 2: Feline Boogaloo' -- I've got the runaway leader for the starring role living under my roof.

In January, we adopted two black cats, a brother and sister who we named Nokomis and Minnehaha (obviously a nod to our Minnesota roots). Minnie is a pretty sane cat -- laid-back, a bit reserved, but when she decides to cuddle with you, she'll make your lap her home for the night.

Nokomis, on the other hand, has issues. He spent the first week at our house under our bed. You'd think maybe he was scared of little kids, because the friends we got them from have two kids, age 6 and 3. But Nokomis loved Nora from the start and will allow her to pick him up and lug him around from room to room like a duffel bag. He's a little less giving with the lovey-dovey where I'm concerned. Once he emerged from under the bed, Nokomis employed a strategy of staying at least two rooms away from me at all times. Whenever I'd enter a room, I'd hear a little jingle from the bell on his collar (his is green, Minnie's is pink, the only way we can quickly tell them apart) and see a black tail exiting the other side of the room.

He's warmed up to me a bit, but that's where the 'Memento' connection comes in. It's like Nokomis has no short term memory. He'll hop up on my lap, nuzzle his head against my leg or beg me for food, and everything's kosher between us. But the next morning, the first time he sees me, his eyes get huge and he sprints out of the room. The next time I see him, he'll be a bit calmer but he'll look at me like, "Who are you again?" Eventually, he's letting me pet him, I'm scratching his back, he's purring, and we're buddies.

And the next morning, he sprints out of the room and the whole process starts over again.

It might be time for me to get a Polaroid camera. Come to think of it, that could be a black cat in the photo, couldn't it?

Friday, March 6, 2009

A 'Wonderful' night

Just got back from Fiona's school performance of "Wonderful" -- a retelling of the whole Dorothy/Wizard/witches story using the music of "The Wizard of Oz," "The Wiz" and "Wicked." Fiona -- age 11 -- played Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, and speaking as the most biased observer in the audience, she was magnificent.

For an elementary school play, she had an extremely challenging role, donning green makeup and singing "Defying Gravity," a song that honestly most high school kids would have trouble pulling off. She and her friend Skyler (who played Glinda) practiced together for hours on end over the last month, and it paid off in spades. Here are a couple of clips from their performance:

Part 1:

Part 2:

As a parent, it's incredibly rewarding to see your child succeed at something she loves doing and worked hard to perfect. And it's a bit humbling to see an 11-year-old surpass your own limited theatrical accomplishments, which of course happened at age 18, not 11. Suffice it to say, I couldn't be prouder of her.

Here's a few more photos from the evening.

Fiona and Skyler (Elphaba and Glinda)

Elphaba and Glinda candid

Fiona and Nora (honorary munchkin)

Positively wicked ... a preview

Fiona is making her off-off-off-off-off-Broadway debut tonight, playing the role of the Wicked Witch in her school's version of the Wizard of Oz, a pretty cool play that mixes the music and story lines of the original movie, "The Wiz" and "Wicked."

I'll give it the full Rex Reed treatment after the show, but here's how she looked when she left for school today.

Scary witch.

Happy witch. It looks cooler with the hat, trust me. You'll see what I mean in my next post.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

As promised ...

... the long-awaited (by me, anyway) review of Middle Cyclone, the latest release by the Divine Ms. Neko Case. I wanted to give it five stars, but I recognize that 31 minutes of frogs and crickets might not be everybody's aural cup of tea.

Still, I love it.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Spending time with Neko, not Bono

It's pretty ironic -- no, wait, that's what Alanis Morrisette would say, so let's go with coincidental -- that Neko Case and U2 both released new albums on March 3. U2 was my favorite band from about 1984 through the late 90s, only to be usurped atop my personal CD mountain by the divine Ms. Case, who's currently the reigning champeeen for a decade running.

My buddy Tim asked me over on my Facebook site if I was spending more time with Neko or U2 on Tuesday night. The answer is quite simple -- Neko, all the way. But the circumstances dictated that more than my tastes. I got an advance copy of Middle Cyclone last week because I'm reviewing it for the Weekly (embarrassing fanboy gushing to be posted on Thursday), so I listened to it pretty much nonstop for about five days in order to decide whether it was a great album or the greatest album ever.

I also am a firm believer in paying for my favorite music, doubly so with artists who literally might go broke if not for fans ponying up for the right to enjoy their tunes. So I planned all along to purchase a copy of Middle Cyclone once it became available. I also have a slew of gift certificates thanks to a reward program through one of my credit cards (better to get books and music than frequent flier miles for airlines that are going under faster than banks these days), so naturally I pre-ordered Neko's album from Amazon.

I needed to get my purchase up to $25 to get the free shipping, so I added U2's No Line on the Horizon to my order, hoping that Amazon would get pre-ordered content to its customers close to the actual release date. And it came today, one day after I could have purchased it online or in a record store.

So now it's time to dive into Bono and the boys' latest effort. Looking forward to it, but I can confidently say nothing's gonna knock Neko off the mountaintop any time soon.