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Requiem for the Fridge

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We made a haul on multiple appliances this weekend, an event that hasn’t occurred in this household in almost 19 years.  Those 19 years were far enough into the distant past that I’d forgotten what a nuisance it is.  We had to drag tables, chairs, cat dishes, and assorted miscellaneous kitchen stuff into the living room and then we had to remove a couple of doors so that old appliances could be removed and new ones muscled into the house.  The most important item on our list (or so we thought) was the timing for removing food items from the old fridge.  The delivery truck, we were told, was to arrive in the “late morning” and we wanted the perishable items exposed to the sultry springtime conditions of Kansas for as minimal a time as possible.  After much discussion and no small amount of prayer, we decided on 10:30.

As it happens, what the truck dispatcher meant with his delivery time estimate was late morning in Seattle (gotta get that last cup of Starbucks in, I suppose).  Our flurry of morning activity was followed by over two hours of playing solitaire and listening to political podcasts on the cell phone.  The truck finally arrived a little before one o’clock and the mayhem began in earnest.  Turns out the doorway wasn’t wide enough even with the door removed, so we had to drag the fridge all the way around the house to the sliding glass door over the deck in the back, a journey made much more difficult by the massive rainfall we’d had just hours earlier.  Dollies carrying heavy appliances just don’t mix well with swampland.  Still, the delivery guys were troopers and in less than an hour we had our new washer, dryer, and refrigerator in place.  I have no idea what a decent tip is for this kind of work and I’m not sure what I gave them was shockingly high or embarrassingly low.  The kid just took the money and smiled and left.

My wife is thrilled with our new toys, but I have mixed feelings about the whole affair.  I won’t miss the washing machine, which had fallen into such decrepitude that I had to use vise grips just to open the door and the control panel had a nasty habit of lighting up and making bizarre beeping noises at three in the morning for no apparent reason.  I’m glad it’s gone.  The dryer was still plugging along after nineteen years of hard use, but it was showing increasingly bizarre behavior, especially when put into touchup mode.  Even in those fifteen minutes of drying time, the heat would get high enough to cook s’mores and we were worried that some of our clothes would start to shrink.  It was time to send it off to a well-deserved retirement.

But I was heartbroken about the fridge.  Four years ago the fan quit, so I ordered a new fan and installed it.  This may seem like no big deal, but when you’re a mechanical klutz like I am, this was a major achievement akin to walking on water and I basked in my own personal, warming glow for weeks afterward.  Over the years, each time I’d walk past the fridge, I’d smile a little and my mind would rewind that happy memory of when I plugged it in and heard the gentle, quiet purr of my own competence made manifest, a sound I’ve so rarely heard over the years.  No more.  The body on the fridge was rusting badly and it looked terrible.  It was only a matter of time before something else broke, something beyond my abilities as a refrigerator whisperer to make right.  I knew it was time for it to go and I bravely fought back the tears as it was hauled away.  I haven’t felt right all weekend.

At least the fan still worked.

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Miscellany – 2018

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Today, I tackle the big issues:  Politics, religion, the weather, and baseball.

Politics

One thing that still rankles about politics in 2016 was the intensely negative tone that politics took during the election, a tone that’s still pervasive two years later.  Your average liberal treats every issue and every political setback as if it was the beginning of the apocalypse.  Meanwhile, the mantra for your typical conservative is “Make America Great Again”, which doesn’t exactly give you a warm, fuzzy feeling about America if you really think about it.  Isn’t America already great?  I guess I thought it was until all of the screaming and general stupidity started.

Well, we do have problems and some of them are pretty bad.  Despite all that, wouldn’t you rather be living here than just about anywhere else in the world?  If you’re an American and you wouldn’t rather live here, then why aren’t you living somewhere else?  No one’s keeping you here.  I know that sounds flippant, but I’m genuinely curious.  If things are so bad here, then why are way more people trying to get in than trying to get out.  Getting out is a lot easier, and yet almost no one is leaving.

Religion

I’ve been thinking a lot about language patterns lately and how groups (or I guess the more common term these days is “tribes”) functioning with even minimal amounts of autonomy and isolation will begin to develop their own language.  Of course, this further increases the groups level of isolation, as no one outside the tribe has any clue what the person inside the tribe is talking about.  This really isn’t a big problem if your tribe is the local knitting club.  You want some degree of isolation and a lot of control over who becomes a member of your tribe.  It’s a bigger problem if your tribe is a one that other tribes have to interact with, like your government.  Government at all levels has its own language and outsiders can be totally at a loss if they have to get a building permit or fight a traffic ticket.  It’s even more of a problem if you belong to a group which has a primary purpose of trying to get others to join in.  If it’s too much work for that potential new member to figure out the language, then he or she isn’t even going to try to join the group, no matter how friendly the members of the group are.  This is becoming a burgeoning issue for the Christian church.  There was a time, maybe fifty years ago or so, when most of the culture in America understood the language of Christian faith, even those people who weren’t attending regularly or at all.  Today, we’ve got a wide swath of third and fourth generation pragmatic atheists that don’t have a clue.  If one of the primary purposes of your tribe is to include new members, or “preach the gospel” to use the churchy turn of phrase, that’s a serious problem, and one that doesn’t lend itself to easy answers.

I’ve actually got a piece I’ve writing about Christian faith, or more specifically, MY Christian faith.  It’s something I’ve never tried to do before and I’m having trouble finishing it.  It’s a struggle for a lot of reasons, probably the biggest being that it’s really outside my comfort zone, but the language issue is making it more difficult as well.  You might see it in a couple of weeks or you might never see it if I get frustrated and put my fist through the computer monitor before I finish.  We’ll see.

The Weather

We had a late winter here.  April was cold, probably even a little colder than January.  We had more snow in April than we had in December, January, February, and March combined.  Then, finally, in the last couple of weeks, it got warmer.  And warmer.  And warmer.  Two weeks ago, we were still running the furnace.  Today, we’re running the air conditioner.  It feels like spring left before it ever really arrived.

There’s a lot of things I like about living around here. The weather isn’t one of them.

Baseball

The Kansas City Royals (or my Kansas City Royals, as I affectionately refer to them when they are winning) are not exactly inspiring comparisons to the 1927 Yankees.  Just a week ago, they had the worst offense and the worst pitching in the major leagues.  This past week, they played a little better and are now all the way up to 27th in offense (out of 30 teams) and 28th in pitching, so they’ve got that going for them, which is nice.  Today’s win pushed them up to a sparkling record of 11-23.  What fans like me find most discouraging is that, unlike a half dozen other truly awful teams in the big leagues this year, the Royals actually went into this season thinking they were contenders.  Their preseason record was among the best in the Majors, it took about a week of meaningful games to dispel any notion that this team was contending for anything beyond the worst record in baseball.  Help isn’t on the way anytime soon.  Most publications that follow minor league baseball rank the Royals farm system as dead last.  They aren’t that bad.  Both Single A teams are quite good and have some prospects that should begin to help the parent team by around 2022.  As for this season, eventually team management is going to have to start trading off all of their remaining good players for younger prospects.  That’s what teams other than the Yankees, Red Sox, and Dodgers have to do to survive.  Rebuilding is in order and the Royals are in the early stages of that process.  If everything goes right, they should be contending again by 2024. Bummer.

Things aren’t all bad.  To paraphrase Rick from Casablanca, we’ll always have 2015.

Rendering unto Caesar

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She caught every eye as she walked into the cafeteria.  A beautiful dame with long, dark hair, piercing eyes as black as coal, and a figure to drive a man crazy.  I stopped munching my carrot stick in mid munch and couldn’t keep myself from looking.  I’d been sitting alone at a table built for six, thinking about my next vacation, or perhaps the ultimate futility of existential philosophy.  I couldn’t be sure anymore about what I’d been thinking, as every thought completely scattered.  She looked across the room directly at me and smiled, then she walked over to my table.  The dazzling smile, the sultry way she moved, I felt like I was in a dream state as I watched her walk toward me.  She sat directly across the table from me and smiled again.

“Hi, I’m Irene Shaw,” she said, with words that dripped with desire and danger.  “What’s your name?”

I told her my name and she pondered that for a second.  “So, Dave, are you married?”

The question quickly brought me down to earth.  This conversation was clearly going in a direction that was more dangerous than I’d realized.  It was time to put a kabosh on it.

“Why, yes, I am,” I said.  “And happily so.”

“What’s your wife’s name?”

Now I was getting nervous.  What was it with all of these questions?  But her voice and smile seemed to pull the answers out of my mouth.  “Brenda,” I said cautiously.

“So tell me, Dave.  How much money did you take in last year?”

That was the question that finally broke her spell.  “Why, last year I made a grand total of none of your damn business,” I said with a hint of anger.  Hopefully, that would be enough to make her back off, maybe move to another table to harass someone else and leave me to eat in peace.  If not, I’d already picked out another table to move to.  She smiled again, and this time the smile contained a hint of menace.

“Dave, allow me to introduce you to my friend Sam,” she said as she looked past my shoulder.  I turned and looked up and then looked up even higher.  Sam was huge and built like a man that had developed a fondness for human growth hormones and eight hours a day in the gym.  Sam smiled at me too, but his smile was very different than Irene’s.  Then he snarled at me.  I turned and looked incredulously at Irene. She just kept smiling.

“Oh, don’t worry about Sam,” she said.  “He’s harmless as long as I tell him to be.  He’s only here to make sure you answer all of my questions.  Now, you were telling me about your income from last year?”

The interview lasted a couple of hours and by the time Irene and Sam were done, I felt like I’d been given a colonoscopy without the anesthetic.  They asked me about details about my family, my job, my house.  They wanted to know about all of my medical expenses and how much my cars were worth and how much I’d paid in property taxes and how much I had in savings and what I was saving it for.  Once the interview was over, Irene got up, walked around the table and stood next to my sweat drenched body.  She gave me one last smile and patted me on the shoulder.  “That should be enough for now,” she said. “We’ll see you next year.”

White as Snow

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It’s Easter and the weather is terrible around here.  The temperature is hovering just above the freezing point for water, so it’s a good thing we aren’t getting any actual water from the sky.  The wind is howling, giving us a balmy wind chill of about 20 degrees Fahrenheit.

For me, Easter is an emotional marker on the calendar for the start of spring, even more so than the equinox, so something about this seems terribly unfair.  I should be able to walk outside and hear robins chirping their happy songs and see bunnies cavorting around the backyard.  Instead, I watch the dismal panorama through my living room window and see steel gray skies and trees fighting to stay upright against the gales of April.  There are no rabbits and the only birds I see are the buzzards circling above, waiting for someone to go outside and collapse from hypothermia.  Okay, the buzzards may be an exaggeration.  Let’s just say it’s not a conducive setting to celebrating the resurrection.

But sometimes bad weather can actually make a perfect backdrop for that celebration.  Two years ago, it snowed on Easter morning.  We had about three inches of the stuff overnight and the storm was long gone by the time I awoke, leaving a blanket of pure white glistening with the sunrise.  My affection for cold weather is akin to my affection for rattlesnakes, but there was something so beautiful about the landscape that I felt a kind of joy looking upon it.  And it seemed appropriate for Easter.

Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them white as snow.” – Isaiah 1:18.  Our pastor quoted that verse on that icy Sunday morning.  On Good Friday, we remember that Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for us, making our souls white as snow.  On Easter Sunday, he provided the exclamation point by rising from the dead.  May that knowledge provide you joy no matter what your weather is this Easter day.

Happy Easter!

Wanna Bet

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Last weekend, at the very end of the NCAA tournament basketball game between Seton Hall and Kansas, a young man playing for the Pirates named Myles Powell made a mad dash down the court and heaved up a desperation three point shot against pretty good defensive pressure.  He sank the shot just before the buzzer sounded and sent untold thousands fans watching the game into wild ecstasy of victorious joy or paroxysms of despair, depending on your rooting interest.  Except Powell’s shot, as impressive as it was, didn’t actually decide the outcome of the game.  That had been decided moments earlier at the free throw line, as Kansas had managed to hit ten straight free throws in the closing minutes to strengthen their tenuous hold on the lead.  Powell’s three pointer had cut the lead from seven to four.

The Las Vegas point spread had Kansas as a four-and-a-half point favorite.

I don’t bet on games.  That’s a rule I’ve lived by now for almost thirty years.  Oh, occasionally I’ll participate in an office NCAA tournament pool (although it’s been years since I’ve done even that) and I’m in a couple of fantasy football leagues where money is exchanged.  But I take a pass when it comes to individual games.  I have a sense that participating in that type of wager might force me into depths of insanity that have heretofore remained unexplored.  I could just see myself, having placed a large, and largely ill-advised, bet on my Jayhawks and then weeping uncontrollably as that three point shot settled gently into the net, then spending the rest of the day trying to choose between suicide, murder, or possibly joining a religious order that wouldn’t be too judgmental about how I achieved my newly impoverished state.  I have a friend that used to hang out with professional bettors in Reno.  These types of reversals happen often enough that you’d think the pros would all be at least a little crazy from the pain, but my friend noticed that, to keep their sanity, the pros are highly practiced at dissociating their emotions from the outcomes.  Most of them just tear up their betting ticket and move on to the next screen that’s televising a game that they have a few bucks riding on.

I picked up this rule when I was almost thirty.  I was working in the Bay Area at the time and the aforementioned friend mentioned that he was heading off to Reno that weekend to lay down a few bets.  That got us looking through a newspaper (For those of you that are younger than thirty, a newspaper was this thing that had the news printed on it where… oh, never mind.  Just go look it up on-line.) that had published the betting lines for that week’s football games. I noted that Kansas was playing at Cal that weekend and that the point spread was 26 points. Kansas hadn’t been very good for several years, but then, neither had Cal.  I mentioned that I thought that the spread seemed really high to me.  Also, Kansas had a new coach and for the first time in five years or so, there was some optimism about the program.  My friend smiled and asked how confident I was about that.  Pretty confident, I said.  A few minutes of discussion ensued and the next thing I knew, I was handing over ten dollars (the minimum bet at the casino he was going to) for my friend to lay down on Kansas.

Cal’s football stadium was only about thirty minutes from my apartment and it wasn’t hard to get a ticket.  Cal isn’t exactly a hotbed for football fervor and Kansas isn’t exactly a big draw in college football.  I arrived early and found a small contingent of Jayhawk fans hanging out at the end of the stadium.  As I recall, they were mostly family members of the players and staff.  The game started out sensationally for us.  On Cal’s first possession, the Bears quarterback threw a swing pass to the right.  The KU cornerback sniffed out the play, stepped in front of the pass and picked it off, then ran untouched into the end zone.  The parents and I were ecstatic, although I suspect for different reasons.  The game was only barely started and I’d already won ten bucks, I thought.  The rest of the first half turned into a slugfest, with neither team gaining much control and the score at halftime was a 14-14 tie.  I was still confident. There seemed to be no way that Cal could cover a point spread of 26.  My confidence got even higher at the start of the second half.  KU drove the length of the field and scored on their first possession.  Now it looked like KU might win the game outright!  I was sailing high.  What would I do with my hard-earned extra ten bucks?  A couple of meals at McDonalds?  A few new shirts at Goodwill?  The possibilities seemed endless.

Well, as I’m sure you guessed, the rest of the game did not go so smoothly.  Let’s just summarize the remainder of the game by saying that Cal scored 38 of the fastest points I have ever seen a football team score. My strongest visual memory from the game was one play late in the third quarter.  Cal had already taken the lead, but KU had the ball.  The play started and the Jayhawk quarterback ran an option right play and all ten other players on offense ran option left.  The quarterback was quickly surrounded by Bear defenders and pitched ball without looking to the running back, who was thirty yards away on the opposite side of the field.  Several Cal players fought each other for the ball for a few seconds, unopposed by any Jayhawks, before one of them finally picked it up and walked into the end zone.  That’s pretty much how the rest of the game went.  With five minutes left in the game, Cal had covered the 26 point spread.  Officially, KU still had a chance to score and cover, but you could tell that wasn’t going to happen.  At least I didn’t have to hang around until the end of the game like the parents did.

So that was the beginning and the end of the betting scene for me.  Sometimes, something happens in your life that is so very overwhelmingly bizarre that you just naturally assume the hand of God was involved somehow.  Experience has taught me that it’s best to listen in those circumstances.  Or at least that’s the way to bet.

Upsets

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Well, it finally happened.  A sixteen seed finally beat a one seed in the NCAA basketball men’s basketball tournament, an event that had not happened in 135 previous matchups.  On Friday night UMBC didn’t just beat, the one seeded Virginia Cavaliers, they ran them clear out of the gym, then out of Charlotte, and completely out of North Carolina by beating them by 20 points.  This got the juices flowing about upsets in general and how this upset ranks among the great upsets in sports history.  Of course, we need to lay down some ground rules.  First, it’s got to be an upset in sports, so I didn’t consider the Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapahoe victory over Custer and the U.S. Army.  Second, it had to have occurred in my lifetime.  Third, it had to have been in one of the four major sports in America (football, basketball, baseball, and hockey), so Average Joe’s victory over the Purple Cobras in Dodgeball in 2004 doesn’t count.  The final criteria is that the game had to occur in a playoff or championship.

Harvard/Stanford – women’s college basketball 1998.  UMBC’s win this year wasn’t the first time a sixteen seed had beaten a one seed in college basketball.  The Harvard women’s team pulled it off almost exactly 20 years ago, beating Stanford 71-67.  At the time, the NCAA would play first round games at home court of the higher seeded team in the women’s tournament, so Harvard had to play the game at Stanford, making the game even more impressive.  Why the upset may not have been THAT impressive:  Stanford was the dominant women’s college basketball team in the 90’s, but the 98 team wasn’t one of their best teams by a long shot and two of their better players got hurt before the tournament.  They probably shouldn’t have even been a one seed.  On the other hand, Harvard only had three losses going into the tourney and was much better than your average sixteen seed.

Mississippi St./Connecticut – women’s college basketball 2017.  Speaking of women’s college basketball.  Connecticut had won 111 games in a row going into its Final Four meeting with Mississippi St., a team the Huskies had beaten by sixty (no, that’s not a typo) a year earlier in the 2016 NCAA tournament.  Mississippi St. beat them in overtime and then went on to win the national title two days later.  UConn’s streak was probably the most dominant stretch in the history of any sport. Why the upset may not have been THAT impressive:  This may seem like a weird thing to say because Uconn was undefeated going into that game, but the 2017 Huskies was probably the weakest team they’d put on the court in maybe five years.  Also, once the game got into overtime, the Huskies were in trouble.  They’d lost their previous four overtime games. Of course, the last time they’d gone to overtime was in 2012, so…

Los Angeles Dodgers/Oakland A’s – 1988 World Series.  I’ve got a funny story about this one that I’ll probably get around to telling on the thirtieth anniversary of this series in October.  It involves my thirtieth birthday party and a lost bet and, well, I’ll tell the rest of it in October because it’s way to long to repeat here.  The Dodgers best player, Kirk Gibson, had injuries to both knees and only had one at-bat the entire series.  Without him, the Dodgers might have fielded the worst World Series team in the last fifty years or so.  Meanwhile, The A’s were a juggernaut. They would appear in three straight World Series.  The Dodgers caught a few breaks (Gibson’s one at-bat was a game winning home run) and they had the best pitcher in baseball that season in Orel Hershiser, who beat the A’s twice.  They won the series four games to one.  Why the upset may not have been THAT impressive:  It’s always hard to pick an upset like this in major league baseball because the worst teams beat the best teams in short series all the time.  Also, the A’s would repeat the ignominy in two years by getting swept by the Reds in the 1990 World Series.  The Reds were also a big underdog.

New York Jets/Baltimore Colts – 1969 Super Bowl.  The Jets were something like a two or three touchdown underdog in this game, as the AFL was considered almost a minor league to the dominant NFL at that time.  But Jets quarterback Joe Namath guaranteed a victory and then went on the field and did it, beating the Colts 16-7.  Why the upset may not have been THAT impressive:  I saw an interview with a Jets defensive lineman a few years after the game and he was asked how he felt about Namath’s prediction. He said he didn’t mind and that at one of the film sessions they used to scout the Colts, one of his teammates stated that they needed to quit watching the game film or they might get overconfident.  The two previous Super Bowls had masked the fact that the AFL had clearly caught the NFL in talent.  The Colts should never have been that big a favorite.

New York Giants/New England Patriots – Super Bowl 2008.  The Patriots entered the game undefeated and a heavy favorite to beat the Giants.  Up to that point they had dominated almost every game they’d played that season.  However, the Giants did an excellent job of shutting down future Hall of Fame receiver Randy Moss and caught some lucky breaks late in the game to pull off the shocker.  And yes, I think trapping a ball off of the side of your helmet for a catch is a lucky break.  Why the upset may not have been THAT impressive: The Patriots were a dominant team in the 2007 season, but the Giants were one of the few teams that almost beat them, losing to the Patriots by four in the last week of the season.  They had a lot of confidence going into the second meeting.

Villanova Wildcats/Georgetown Hoyas – College basketball men’s national championship 1985.  Georgetown had been the dominant college basketball team for several years going into the 1984-1985 season and that team might have been their best team ever. Villanova was an eight seed that year.  But ‘Nova kept the game close in the first half, then shot over 70% in the second half to pull the upset.  Villanova is the lowest seeded team to ever win the national title.  Why the upset may not have been THAT impressive:  Villanova and Georgetown played each other twice that season prior to the tournament. Villanova had ALMOST won both of those games, even nearly pulling off an upset at Georgetown.  The Wildcats may not have been as talented as the Hoyas, but clearly there was something about them that created a matchup problem for Georgetown.

U.S. Men’s National Team/Soviet Union – Olympic hockey 1980.  Back in the 70’s and 80’s, every now and then the Soviet team would come to North America and play a few exhibition games against NHL teams, frequently embarrassing the supposed best players in the world by lopsided scores.  They went on one of those exhibitions in 1980 and played the U.S. Olympic team in Madison Square Garden a week before the Olympics and completely demolished the young Americans 10-3.  I didn’t see the game, but newspaper stories the next day seemed to indicate that the game wasn’t even that close.  That the U.S would manage to beat the Soviets a few weeks later was just incomprehensible, or dare I say, miraculousWhy the upset may not have been THAT impressive:  Vladislav Tretiak of the Soviet team was considered the best goalie in the world at that time, but the rumor was he was engaged in some sort of feud with Soviet coach Victor Tikhonov and, after Tretiak made a boneheaded mistake at the end of the first period that cost his team a goal, Tikhonov pulled Tretiak and replaced him with Vladimir Myshkin.  In the final two periods, the U.S. didn’t get that many shots on goal, but when they got them, they made them count and not having to face Tretiak probably helped.

UMBC/Virginia – NCAA basketball tournament 2018.  Virginia wasn’t just the number one seed in their regional, they were the number one seed in the entire tournament.  UMBC wasn’t even supposed to BE in the tournament.  Vermont was far and away the best team in the America East conference this year.  UMBC beat Vermont on a last second shot in the conference tournament.  And yet, somehow UMBC scored 53 points in the second half against the best defensive team in the country and won by twenty.  Why the upset may not have been THAT impressive: Well, Virginia lost their best defensive player before the game due to injury.  Also, Jairus Lyles was the best player on the court for either team. He’s probably playing in the NBA someday.

I listed these upsets without actually rating them, but if I had to rate them, I’d go with the Miracle on Ice first and I suppose the UMBC win second, just ahead of Mississippi State’s win against Connecticut.  UMBC lost tonight, so we won’t see another upset make this list, at least this week.

NCAA Tournament – the 2018 Version

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It’s time once again to look deeply into the mysterious college basketball crystal ball and devise an outstanding bracket for the NCAA basketball tournament.  I am now available to answer questions and offer my expertise.

Outstanding bracket, eh?  Well, I’d be much happier with a winning bracket for my office pool.  Can you help?

Well, to borrow a favorite phrase from Stormy Daniels, that’ll cost you extra.  Or maybe you should avoid paying me and just buy a magic eight-ball, or maybe some tarot cards.  Your chances will be almost as good.  I’d say about half of the first round games are only slightly beyond a coin flip in terms of difference.  And it’s only going to get worse with each succeeding round.

So you agree with most of the experts that this year’s tournament has a lot of parity?

On the face of it, there is a lot of equality in the field this year, up to a point, but to paraphrase noted gym rat George Orwell, some teams are more equal than others.  It’s true that there isn’t a lot of difference between the sixth best team and the thirtieth best team in this field and I would guess we’ll see a lot of early round upsets as a result.  However, there is a gap between team five and team six on that list.  A small gap, to be sure, but a gap, nonetheless.  I think Virginia, Villanova, Michigan St., Purdue, and Duke all have a slightly higher skill level than the rest of the field.  If you decide to pick another team as a champion on your bracket, you’re not exactly going out on a limb, but I’d think twice before doing it.

Do you really think that the Final Four will be comprised of four of those top five teams?

Actually, no I don’t.  First off, the West regional doesn’t have any of those teams, which is a little unfair, but the selection committee was drunk during most of the selection process, so it’s not surprising.  And, while there is a gap between those teams and the next twenty or so teams, it isn’t a big gap and any of those top five teams is capable of a bad game and an ugly loss.  Certainly, at least two of them will lose and possibly all five, since the gap is that small.  I’m not high on KU’s chances, but they do have a chance, as does Xavier, the other number one seed that isn’t in that group.  It’s really not hard to imagine North Carolina repeating as champion and last year’s runner up, Gonzaga, is playing well.  Wichita State, the other local team that I follow, has a good chance, if they can figure out how to run an inbounds play (both of WSU’s last defeats were decided, in part, by bad inbounds plays at the end of the game).

I noticed your beloved Kansas Jayhawks got another one seed?

Yeah, um, great.

You seem a little dubious?

Apart from the fact that they’ve been terrible as a one seed over the past six years, it’s just hard to get enthusiastic about their chances this season.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love watching these guys play.  They’re tough, they score a lot of points, they seem to have a lot of fun, and they legitimately seem to like each other, which is a unique quality for KU teams over the last couple of years.  I’ve developed a huge man-crush on Devonte Graham this season.  I just love watching him play.  The problem with the Jayhawks is that they just flat-out aren’t as good as those top five teams listed or, for that matter, as good as Jayhawk teams from the past five years or so.  To add insult to injury, two of those five teams I listed earlier are in their regional, making it pretty unlikely that they’ll make the Final Four.  Of course, the last time my expectations were this low was in 2012, which was the last time the Jayhawks went to the Final Four.  So, hooray for low expectations, I guess.

And your other beloved alma mater?

Saint Mary’s got snubbed by the selection committee.  Bunch of pompous, Oklahoma Sooner loving jerks!  Which brings me to a personal peeve of mine concerning the imbecilic selection committee.  If they really can’t do a better job than this, I would be in favor of compiling a bunch of stats on each team, dumping the information into a computer, and letting the computer decide.  Couldn’t do any worse!

We ask this every year, but let’s try it again. Will this be the year a 16-seed beats a 1-seed?

Sixteen seeds are now 0-132 in the NCAA tournament and one is bound to break through sometime, although it’s anybody’s guess when that will be. Last year I said I thought the best odds for one of the sixteen seeds was about 500 to one. Well, one of the four sixteen seeds has considerably better odds than that this year.  Penn shouldn’t actually be a sixteen seed.  They’re probably more of a fifteen or a fourteen seed.  They are playing Kansas.  Kansas can be brilliant at times, but when they stink, they can be like a dozen dead, rotting skunks in a rendering plant.  The odds aren’t great for Penn, maybe around fifty to one, but those are the kind of odds that can give bards something to sing about when the underdog comes through.

Care to predict upsets that area a little more realistic?

When I pick upsets on my bracket, I look for teams that had a good enough season to get a high seed, but seemed to be flagging at the end of the year.  It’s not a perfect system, but it’s better than picking teams based on how pretty the mascot is.  As it happens there are several of those this season.  Auburn won the SEC, but was running on fumes at the end of the season.  They’re playing an underrated Charleston squad.  Ohio State wasn’t great at the end of the year.  Their opponent, South Dakota St., has one of the top big men in country.  Clemson didn’t finish especially well and neither did Nevada.  Neither did Texas Tech, although that was primarily an injury problem and they seem to be getting healthy again.  Oklahoma and Rhode Island both finished badly, but they’re playing each other in the first round, so I don’t know what to tell you.  Kentucky finished the season playing great, but their coach spent most of the last 24 hours whining about the injustice of only being a five seed.  In the past, that kind of sniveling was an indication of a team that’s distracted and, as it happens, their opponent, Davidson, is dangerous.  Karma rarely sleeps.

Any other topics you want to opine upon?

I’m so glad you asked.  This year is going to be all about tempo.  Three of the five favorites I listed earlier favor a slower tempo and one of those three teams, Virginia, should change their mascot from the Cavalier to the Banana Slug.  Watching Virginia is such an unpleasant and painful experience, that I’d load up on Demerol before the game.  Heaven help us if they play Cincinnati, another slow tempo team and the number two seed in Virginia’s regional.  We’ll be lucky if both teams score over twenty points.  Michigan St. and Purdue are also slower tempo teams, although not nearly to the extent that Virginia is.  Villanova and Duke are more up-tempo teams, as are most of the other twenty or so teams that have a shot at winning this thing (excepting Cincinnati, of course).  I think the winner is the team that can best get the game going at their speed.

So who do you think that’s going to be?

For my Final Four, I’m going with Arizona, Villanova, Michigan State, and North Carolina.  For my champion, I’m going with Villanova.  They seem to have the best combination of offense and defense.

And about your bracket, good luck!  You’re going to need it.

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