Friday Playlist (Updated)

Everything is different today. Things that had been in place for years are suddenly changed, awkward, and troublesome. Yep, you guessed it: M got braces put on yesterday. Or at least her top brackets.

She was alternately excited and anxious. I think it’s weird that kids these days often look forward to getting braces. I guess it has to do with how you can personalize them with different colors, and how they are much less bulky than they were when our generation was growing up. I was lucky; I never had braces, so I don’t know what it’s like. But a 20-month process is now underway.

Oh, did you think I was talking about something else changing today? Hmmm…

Onto the tunes.

“Sherry” – Loose Tooth. It seems like I’ve been hearing a lot of really good, Australian indie-pop lately. This is the latest example.

“It’s Like Air” – Communions. These lads are from Denmark. They sound very Mancunian, to me, though. They don’t quite do the Oasis thing as well as DMAs, but this is a pretty solid song.

“Star Roving” – Slowdive. Oh. My. God. !!!! The first single in 22 years by one of the signature bands of the British Shoegaze era is an absolute stunner. How can you take a quarter century off and make a song this good?

“Fake Empire” – The National. I’ve been thinking of this song a lot as I mentally prepare for today’s events. Ah, those heady days of 2008, when this was the soundtrack to an amazing online ad for a skinny guy with a funny name who was running for president.

“Hot Thoughts” – Spoon. Man, the list of anticipated new albums for 2017 keeps growing. We finally get the first big wave next week. Spoon dropped their new single this week, in advance of a March LP release. As always, it’s thoroughly listenable.

“Doomsday” – Ryan Adams. New single that seems appropriate for the day.

“It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” – R.E.M. I wish I could say I felt fine.

Something Is Missing

Well, here we are in the middle of January, and once again the Kansas Jayhawks are putting together an excellent season of college basketball play. Some things just never seem to change.

Except something is different this year. No, not Bill Self’s four-guard offense he’s had to install due to a lack of quality big men. No, not that (Bitch I’m) Frank Mason III is averaging over 20 points a game, putting him on track to be only the second player of the Self era to do so.

Nope, what’s different is a rock of the program that had been around for years is gone.

Wait A Second, Where The Hell Is Perry Ellis?

Winter Sports, Vol 1

An early winter sports update, starting with L’s second year of basketball.

She is playing in the pre-CYO league run at her future high school by the girls coach there. I’m coaching her team again this year. This time around I have eight girls – four second graders, four first graders – all from St. P’s. In fact, of the four teams in the league, three are from St. P’s.

I had two of the second graders last year, and both have improved quite a bit. They are hitting some shots and can handle the ball a lot better. My new second grader is our tallest player,[1] is a good defender, and understands how to turn and shoot. L is probably our best all-around player, although she is way too cocky and tends to start giggling when guarding people she knows.

Three of my first graders get lost on defense constantly. A pair of them are twins, and in both of our games I’ve called them the wrong name at least once while trying to tell them to stay with their girl. Another first grader, bless her heart, looks scared to death 90% of the time. Each time I check her out of the game and ask who she was guarding, she gets a look of pure panic on her face. The fourth first grader is a lot like L: she’s fast, can shoot, goes after the ball after shots, and plays decent D. When those two are on the court together, we get a lot of fast-break opportunities.

Through two games, we are averaging 25 points per game. Which, based on last year’s scores, is just about right.

Ah, but the real story is how we got to that average.

Week one we scored six points. Week two we scored 44.

I know, right?

A lot went into that variance. Week one we played what I think is the best team in the league. They somehow ended up with the best athlete in the league and the most height. They just dominated us on the boards. And my girls could not hit a shot to save their lives. We caught the rim and the backboard over-and-over and nothing would drop. There were also a lot of week one jitters in there. We were awful matching up on defense and gave up too many open looks. Still, we only gave up 28 points.[2] I knew if we could learn to rebound and get some shots to drop we’d be fine.

This past week’s game was a lot better. We jumped out to a 12–6 lead. Then I got us lost in some bad defensive matchups without seeing them and we were on the wrong end of a 20–2 run to end the half. At halftime I told our girls it was my fault we lost our lead. I promised to keep them in good defensive matchups if they would just keep rebounding and working to get good shots.

So we promptly ripped off a 10–0 run to start the second half.

Coaching, man. Coaching.

There was also no defense in the second half. It was like the Louisville-Houston game in the 1983 Final Four: just up-and-down basketball for 20 minutes. On offense we kept beating the other team down the court and even made the occasional pass to an open teammate across the lane.

We had a 4–6 point lead for most of the last ten minutes. We got to the last minute and had a four-point lead. L got a defensive rebound and took off. She was 10 feet ahead of any defenders. I’ve been working with her on controlling her speed when no one is in front of her. She tends to go 1000 miles and hour and then fire the ball off the backboard, giving it no chance to go in. She had done better at jump-stopping and hitting short jumpers all day. So, naturally, this time she pulled up from 10 feet, threw the ball in the general direction of the rim, and hit nothing.

The other team went down, worked for a shot, and cut the lead to 2 with 10 seconds left. They called a time out to kill the clock, but were out of time outs. It’s a 1st/2nd grade league so the refs just had us inbound the ball. I should have called a timeout myself and told the girls to get the ball up the court and don’t stop, no matter what. Instead our girl with the ball dribbled right into a swarm of players, froze, lost possession, and the other team took off toward their hoop as the clock counted down.

If there was video of me in this sequence, you would see me screaming, at the top of my lungs, “STOP HER!!!!” Their player had a wide open lane with a chance to tie the game, while my girls chased and looked at each other, unsure what to do.

Fortunately, the shortest girl in the league had the ball. This girl looks like she’s four. She collected herself, tossed up a shot just before the buzzer sounded, and barely got it six feet off the ground. I went over and collapsed against the wall for a moment.

Our girls were happy that we won and I was immensely relieved.

This coming week we play a team that I think is a pretty even matchup for us. We practiced last night and they seemed to be understanding the idea of not chasing the ball and staying between your girl and the basket on defense. Then we scrimmaged and half of them were standing on the wrong side of the ball.

M and C are both playing volleyball. They’ve been practicing for a couple weeks and start games next week. M is playing for two coaches she’s had before, and they’re starting to have them run actual offense. I haven’t seen them practice, but I think M is going to be one of the setters. She really enjoys playing.

I’m helping coach C’s team, which is kind of a funny story. Her coach is a mom I know a little bit. She doesn’t have a daughter in 4th grade, but coached last year as well, so I figured she just liked coaching and this was part of her time/treasure/talent contribution. When I told her I’d be happy to help as my schedule allowed, I thought about mentioning how I used to play a lot of rec volleyball and even won a 4-on–4 league one year! I’m glad I left that out, because when she sent out her introductory email to the entire team, she mentioned how she played D1 volleyball. I looked her up and she’s still third all time in assists at her alma mater. Yeah, my little 4-on–4 championship experience will really come in handy!

C’s team is funny to watch. This is their first year playing, and most of the eight girls are big goofballs. Like most fourth graders, they struggle at returning and passing. But we have a few decent servers so hopefully we are decent.

  1. Which isn’t saying much. My team is small.  ↩
  2. Actually 26. One of my first graders hit a sweet, 10-foot jumper. Alas, it was in the other team’s basket.  ↩

Playoff Sunday

A nice, long weekend was exactly what we needed just four days after the girls went back to school. That was an intense four days!

I kid. I’m fully supportive of the MLK Day holiday. It just feels oddly timed after our late holiday break. And our girls are going to miss a few days of school next week[1] so January is going to be a very quick month. Academically at least.

We packed some stuff into our long weekend. There was a volleyball practice and a basketball game. I’ll share more about the hoops in a different post. M had a friend over on Sunday to hang out, eat dinner with us, and then sleep over. It was one of those random get togethers where M actually got invited to go to her friend’s house, but since we were headed to basketball, we offered to take her. Then we offered to take her to dinner. And then, when we sat down for dinner, they looked at us with bright eyes and asked, “Can we have a sleepover?!?!” All the rules go out the window on three-day weekends!

Saturday night we watched our nearly three-month old nephew so his parents could enjoy a night out and then a night of uninterrupted sleep. Little R isn’t known for his sleeping prowess quite yet. He was born four weeks early and has been fighting some reflux issues, so he’s been sleeping a solid 2.5–3 hours at a stretch. As happy as I was to give his parents a night out, I’m not going to lie and say I was looking forward to getting up every couple hours. Especially since I’m not in practice with that. But the night went well. The biggest problem was that I couldn’t go back to sleep for close to an hour after both of his middle-of-the-night feeds. Maddening!

Ah, but the biggest highlight of the weekend was some tremendous professional American football on Sunday. I did not get to see every minute of the two games, but I saw all the best minutes.

Before we get to the games, I need to address a point some of you may have thought of: what are my feelings about the Dallas Cowboys? After all, they were my first favorite sports team ever. I was a fan from 1977-ish up to the mid–2000s. That’s when there was the perfect combination of me getting sick of Jerry Jones’ seemingly being more concerned with expanding the Brand than improving the team, and my living in the city where Peyton Manning was hitting his prime. Would I jump back on the Cowboys bandwagon now that they’re good again?


I loathe the Cowboys. While I can enjoy watching this year’s team play from a purely aesthetic point of view, I have not wanted them to win any of their games I have watched. So I was firmly in Green Bay’s camp on Sunday. Quite the switch from the early 90s when I was rooting for the Aikmans against the Favres.

So to the game. I saw all of the first quarter. Although I picked the Cowboys to win this game, I wondered if the more experienced Packers might not come out hot while the Cowboys might feel some nerves after the week off. I didn’t expect the Packers to jump all over Dallas early like that, though. In a game that will become an integral part of his Hall of Fame resume, Aaron Rodgers was just brilliant in the first quarter.

We left for dinner and I missed the next two-plus quarters of the game. I kept checking the score, though, and saw Dallas slowly work their way back into the game. By the time I was home and in front of the TV again, it was late in the fourth quarter and the game was tied. I made it just in time for one of the more brilliant closing sequences in recent NFL playoff history. Ultimately the game was about Rodgers and Mason Crosby. Crosby’s two – well three – field goals in the closing sequence were obviously the difference. But Rodgers somehow hanging onto the ball when he was sacked on the Packers’ final drive was unbelievable. It defied logic and physics. And then, seconds later, his brilliant rollout and pass to Jared Cook was an all-time great play.

For a neutral to mostly neutral fan, that was a fantastic game.

Then onto Kansas City for the nightcap. Ya’ll know I don’t like the Chiefs, but I’m not a Steelers fan, either. So I just kind of sat back and watched it. And figured it would turn out pretty much the way it did. Because even though I’m not a Chiefs fan, I’ve watched them flame out in the most maddening way possible in January many, many times. I expected that the game would be close into the closing seconds and some kind of soul-crushing play would give Pittsburgh the win. Not sure I expected that soul-crushing play to be a holding call on a two-point conversion attempt, but the Chiefs are always finding new and interesting ways to torture their fans. The game reminded me a lot of the Colts-Ravens game back in 2007, when the Colts couldn’t get in the end zone but kicked five field goals to win. That was the Colts’ Super Bowl title team – that beat New England in the AFC title game – so maybe that means something for Pittsburgh. Then again, the Colts got to play at home while the Steelers go to Foxborough. Good luck with that.

One funny thing about the Chiefs-Steelers game was that M’s friend who was sleeping over comes from a Steelers family. So I told her that while I was from Kansas City, I was not rooting for the Chiefs. That got the girls asking questions.

“Why don’t you like the Chiefs? That’s weird.”
“Because they stunk when I moved to Kansas City and I was already a Cowboys fan.”
“Are your friends Chiefs fans?”
“Yes, most of them are.”
“Do you know anyone who is at the game?”
“Don’t you want the Chiefs to win so they’re happy?”
“Well, I don’t want the Chiefs to win, but if they do win I’ll be happy that my friends are happy.”
“If the Chiefs lose will you tease your friends about it?”
“No, that wouldn’t be nice.”

The Saturday games sucked, so no need to discuss them.

Now we’re down to Green Bay and Atlanta, Pittsburgh and New England. I think the home teams are the better all-around squads. Plus, it’s tough to pick against New England at home in January.[2] But the two road teams have that magical feeling that makes this time of year fun.

  1. More on that later.  ↩
  2. Watch the ball pressure, Tomlin!  ↩

Friday Playlist

“Emotions and Math” – Margaret Glaspy. I really enjoyed Glaspy’s album this song serves as the title track for. But I lost it in the haze of the end of last year. I was reminded of this track, and then the album, when my brother in music Erick$ included this song in a playlist of his favorite songs of last year. I love the swagger that Glaspy sings with.

“Dog Years” – Maggie Rogers. A viral phenom thanks to Pharrell, Ms. Rogers is a delightful mix of singer-songwriter indie pop, folk, and modern R&B. This is a really, really good song.

“Distant Shore” – Karen Elson. The first song off Jack White’s ex-wife’s upcoming album is a beautiful little tune that harkens back to a young Dolly Parton. The Black Keys’ Patrick Carney helped Elson out on a couple tracks, which I’m sure will thrill Mr. White.

“Weight of Love” – The Black Keys. Speaking of the Keys, one of the big music news notes of December was that the band finally put all their music onto streaming services. They had always had selected songs available, but if you tried to listen to one of their albums in full, you were greeted with mostly “Track Unavailable” messages. Listen, I’m firmly in the White Stripes side of the Stripes vs. Keys feud. But I also recognize that while the Keys music may not be as artistically great as most of the Stripes output, many of their songs are good to listen to.

“Ladies First” – Queen Latifah featuring Monie Love. This phrase jumped into my head as this week’s playlist came together. So a perfect excuse to share this video.

Reader’s Notebook

First two books of the new year.

The Association of Small Bombs – Karan Mahajan
This is a complicated, if very good, novel. Beginning with a fictional terrorist bomb that explodes in a Delhi market in 1996, it follows the explosion’s effects on those it touched. That includes the men responsible for the attack, the parents of young brothers who died in the blast, their friend who survived and his family, and how the ripples of the attack eventually changed modern Indian society.

It’s about more than just the direct lines you can draw from the blast through the next decade, though. Mahajan pulls in the traditional divisions of India and adds them to the mix. The boys who die are Hindu. Their friend who lives is Muslim. While the families had been friendly for some time, the religious difference between them eventually becomes an issue. And Mansoor, the surviving boy, is slowly pulled from being a secular Muslim into the more religious world, where he contemplates taking action against the state. In Mansoor, we get a brief exploration into why Muslims who come from well-to-do families can be seduced into becoming terrorists.

This novel is very Indian. Mahajan throws in lots of Indian terms – from all regions, religions, and dialects – but does not offer the immediate translation we often get in novels. That can be distracting, as you either set the book aside to do a quick look-up of the term, or plow through using your assumed definition. And while not exhaustive, he does dive into the broad divisions in India, whether North vs South, Rural vs. City, Rich vs Poor, English speakers vs. Native Language speakers, India vs. Pakistan, or Hindu vs. Muslim vs. Christian. I think it helps to have a little knowledge of India’s history when you jump into this. Not that I have much, but I had enough to have a basic idea of the country’s structure and divisions.

The Association of Small Bombs was on many Best Of lists for 2016. It tackles tough issues, offers characters who are interesting and have depth, and is quite well written.

Mr. Mercedes – Stephen King.
Oh to be Stephen King. He is the Prince of the popular novel, cranking out a seemingly endless stream of books.[1] He claimed he would retire when he finally finished The Dark Tower series. By my count he’s now published at least 12 new novels since then. Along with numerous short stories, comics, screenplays, and essays. So much for slowing down.

I was ready to give up on him. I read a couple of those early, post-Dark Tower books and didn’t really like them. I began ignoring his output. That is until 11/22/63 came out. It was so, so good and a reminder of what a great storyteller he is. Still, I didn’t plan on jumping back into his work.

That is until a combination of factors made me reconsider. Last year’s End of Watch got terrific reviews and ended up on a lot of Best Of lists. My brother in books, Dave V., added his praise for it. And I read a couple books last year that were clearly influenced by King: his son Joe Hill’s The Firefighter and Drew Magary’s The Hike. So I decided to go back a couple years and pick up the trilogy that End of Watch concludes.

I give Mr. Mercedes a solid B. It’s not one of King’s best novels, but it’s still very fun to read. It’s a solid story, full of creepy characters, graphic descriptions of violence and decay, pop culture references, and a fight between good and evil. As with most of his books, it sucked me in and kept me turning pages quickly. I wondered if this book, had he written it 20–30 years ago, might not be 650 pages long instead of just over 400. I appreciate his restraint. The most important aspect of the book is that it is the jumping off point for two more. I’m excited to see where he takes the characters who I expect repeat in the next two volumes.

  1. I suppose the difference is that King publishes everything he creates. We all know about the mythical vault on Prince’s estate that is filled with music the public has never heard.  ↩

Late But Great

The girls did just fine. There was some grumpiness, but nothing unusual. The kitchen did seem quiet, as I was pouring bowls of cereal and warming toaster waffles for the first time without Christmas music since November. I need to find some good morning music. I think the quiet kitchen puts everyone on edge.

The morning was a little tougher for me. Not because I was sad that the holiday was over, or because I was dreading my eye doc visit.[1] Nope, it was a tough morning because I was up well past midnight watching the damn CFP championship game.

I’m not mad, though. That was one hell of a game. Especially the last 6:00 of game time. Which took, what, 54 minutes of real time to play? I mean, seriously. Do we have to have 157 replay reviews, 25 minutes of pregame ceremonies after 8:00 Eastern, and then the super-long halftime?

Then again, one of my most vivid college sports memories of my youth is my mom forcing me to go to bed before the 1984 Orange Bowl ended. However, she kept the TV on, and I was allowed to keep my bedroom door cracked, so I was listening when Miami foiled the Nebraska two-point conversion attempt. So I guess kids have been missing the end of the college football season for decades. The new system continues to tradition of the bowl system!

Anyway, my old man complaining out of the way, I really enjoyed the game. I’ve always disliked both schools. Why? I honestly have no idea. I had a contrarian streak in me when I was little, and I remember hating Alabama, Penn State, Ohio State, and USC from my earliest days of watching sports. I always rooted for Nebraska or Oklahoma from the Big 8, or upstart Miami to win back in the early 80s. I think my dislike of Clemson comes from them beating Nebraska in the 1981 Orange Bowl. Ironically, I can’t see myself rooting for Nebraska against either of these teams today.

Anyway anyway…I’ve come to respect and admire Alabama’s constant excellence. That’s damn hard to do. Harder, I think, than what Duke or Kentucky do in college basketball recruiting. Those schools can scoop up a handful of the top 20 high school players each year and always be competitive. Nick Saban has to replace 20–25 players every year. And every single year he not only gets the #1 or #2 recruiting class, but he keeps his team ranked in the top five all season. It’s an amazing feat.

Clemson, I still don’t consider much. I’m not a huge fan of their coach’s persona, but there’s no doubt he can recruit and coach. I suppose, in the grand scheme of things, I should have been pulling for them. But, honestly, I didn’t care. I was just hoping for an entertaining game.

Hopes rewarded!

We got unstoppable Alabama early. They looked absolutely ferocious on defense, and two fantastic touchdown runs by Bo Scarbrough made me worry about a blowout early. But Clemson settled down, clawed back into it, and even when they trailed deep into the second half, it felt like they were the more comfortable team. If they could keep their players healthy. Man, Alabama was laying some serious wood on defense. They seemed as intent on harming Clemson players as tackling them.

Those last three drives of the game will go down in legend. Clemson’s wonderful drive to take their first lead of the game. Alabama’s stone cold, predictable return volley, featuring a couple excellent play calls and a run by Jalen Hurts that would rank up with Vince Young’s national title winning scamper had it held up. But then Watson calmly gets the Tigers down the field, avoiding the rush, making big throws, and being rewarded with some tremendous catches.

The game-winning play was gutsy as hell, too. If they don’t complete that pass, or if Watson has to scramble around and toss the ball away, the game is over. There was a part of me that was shocked Clemson didn’t just take the three points with 6 seconds left and happily go to overtime with the momentum. But that’s how you should win a title against Alabama: with a legendary play that was fueled on pure guts and absolute confidence. I imagine Hunter Renfrow already had no trouble with the ladies. That dude will never sleep alone the rest of his life unless he wants to.

There was controversy. Pick plays get called like three times a year, so there was no way they were getting called in the fourth quarter of a national title game. That said, tackling a defender and forcing him into a teammate is a little extreme. If I was an Alabama fan, I’d be pissed. But that’s the way the game is called today, so I wasn’t too worked up about it as a neutral.

I imagine there’s a lot of grousing in Alabama about the Tide’s offense, and how swapping offensive coordinators in the past week affected them. Did it cost them the game? I would lean toward no – Hurts has a long way to go to be a really good passing QB, and losing Scarbrough in the second half had a huge effect on what they could do – but I also don’t know that Lane Kiffin wouldn’t have called a more effective game.

I don’t feel too sorry for Alabama fans. They’ll likely be back in the playoff next year. And the year after. And for as long as Saban wants to keep coaching them. I think the pure joy felt by Clemson fans far outweighs the disappointment in Alabama.

So a great World Series. A great CFP National Title Game. No pressure on the Super Bowl to live up to that standard.

  1. No new glasses this year! Sadly, though, it looks like this will be my final year avoiding bifocals.  ↩

NFL Playoff Picks

I wouldn’t be half-assing it correctly if I failed to offer up some half-assed NFL playoff predictions. But, first, a few words about the Colts.

WTF?!?! How on earth do you bring back the GM and head coach who have produced an uninspired, incomplete team that misses the playoffs in the weakest division in football and is somehow ruining what should be the next great NFL superstar in the process? Bringing them back last year was shocking enough. But again, for next season? Freaking ridiculous.

I can’t think of a single valid reason to bring Ryan Grigson and Chuck Pagano back. Grigson’s personnel moves have failed time-and-again. Is he really the guy you trust to clean up his own mess? Especially when he publicly bitches about a contract that the Colts had to give Andrew Luck if they wanted to keep him? It’s not like the Colts are the first team who have had to give a quarterback a massive contract. Other teams have managed to build winners despite that huge chunk of change invested in their QB.

Pagano remains popular in the locker room. But the Colts consistently look unprepared early in games. That’s all on the head coach. And the defense stinks, which is supposed to be his area of expertise.

The clock is ticking on Andrew Luck’s career. At this point in his Colts career, Peyton Manning had Marvin Harrison, Edgerrin James (after starting with Marshall Faulk), and Reggie Wayne, plus an amazing offensive line. Luck has T.Y. Hilton and…well, an old, game Frank Gore who is forced to run behind a terrible offensive line that can’t block for him or keep the pass rush off Luck. It’s frankly amazing that Gore managed to crank out 1000 yards this year. Grigson has shown no signs of being able to build on either side of the ball. Pagano is hamstrung by the GM’s deficiencies, but has a bunch of his own.

Clean house, start over with competent management, and stop wasting Luck’s prime.

Whew. Now for the playoffs. I laughed when I looked at the matchups this morning. I had no idea Miami made the playoffs! That’s how tuned out I am to the NFL because of fall soccer and the Colts’ sucking. I get a little less interested each year, and it’s hard to regain that interest. I’m fine turning on a random game for a half or or so, then moving on to other things.

Still, I gotsta make some picks. So here goes. (BTW, here are my preseason picks. I picked six playoff teams! That’s good, right?!?!)


Wild Card

Oakland at Houston. Ken Stabler vs. Dan Pastorini, right? I heard there is a quarterback issue in this game. Are they turning it into an old-timers game, complete with raising the deceased Stabler from his grave? I’ll pick Oakland just because the AFC South is terrible and Houston gets no credit for winning the division.
Miami at Pittsburgh. Man, it’s like 1978 on the AFC side! Not only did Miami make the playoffs, but they won 10 games!?!? Holy shit! Pittsburgh is going to wax them, though.

Divisional Round

Pittsburgh at Kansas City. I’m genetically inclined to never take the Chiefs seriously. That was reinforced by all those great, 1990s Chiefs teams that lost to inferior teams, at home, in the playoffs. And by their annual face plant against the Colts in the years I’ve lived in Indy. And, as a doubter, it’s hard for me to get onboard with a team that seems to win in flukey ways quite often. On the other hand, although I’m not a Chiefs fan, I am well steeped in the magic that may be currently residing under the concrete of the Truman Sports Complex. Could they be feasting on what fueled the Royals in 2014 and 2015? Chiefs.
Oakland at New England. I really, really hope it snows for this game! And there’s a controversial call that involved replay and obscure rule interpretations late in the game. Patriots,

AFC Championship

Kansas City at New England. Come on. New England.


Wild Card

Detroit at Seattle. I might have pulled the trigger on a Detroit upset pick a few weeks ago. But not now. Seattle.
New York at Green Bay. From my limited attention paid, this seems a common selection for an “upset” pick. Upset obviously in quotes because the Giants won more games than the Packers, they were just stuck in the wrong division. But I’m an Aaron Rogers loyalist, and will stick with him here. Green Bay.

Divisional Round

Seattle at Atlanta. This one seems cruel. Atlanta had a quietly spectacular year, and their reward is having to face Seattle after a week off. I know the Seahawks haven’t been quite the same team this year. But I think the Falcons collars are going to be awfully tight and Seattle wins a close one.
Green Bay at Dallas. And what to make of the Cowboys? Do you really go from mediocre to elite by plugging in a couple rookies and staying relatively healthy? That’s not supposed to happen. You’re supposed to have a transition year in there. While I question the Cowboys, I can’t pick against them here; the Football Gods will be on their side after the Dez Bryant game two years ago. Dallas.

NFC Championship

Seattle at Dallas. Can the Seattle defense contain the Cowboys offense? Can the Seattle offense score enough to win? All the questions are on the Seattle side. Dallas.


ESPN is going to freaking meltdown in one, massive TV-gasm if we actually have a Patriots-Cowboys Super Bowl. The two most popular/most hated franchises in the game taking over all sports media for two weeks! Seriously, at least one ESPN exec will have a heart attack if this matchup gets locked in three weeks from now.
Can I really pick the Cowboys, who haven’t been this deep in the playoffs in 20 years, against the team that has owned January for 15 years? Nope, can’t do it. New England 23, Dallas 21.


Friday Playlist

My collection of new music dwindled over the past six weeks, as I both devoted most of my time to either holiday tunes or reviewing my favorite songs of 2016, and as the music industry dialed the spigot back a bit on new releases. I’m looking forward to the flow increasing again soon.

For our first playlist of the new year, a mix of old and new.

“Drive That Fast” – Kitchens of Distinction. I didn’t discover this song until 14 years after its release. In the first few months of my discovery, I did my best to make up for lost time. It rarely pops up anymore, crowded out by hundreds/thousands of other songs in my collection. But it still makes my head spin a little when I hear it, just like the first time I heard it back in the spring of 2005.
“Storms” – Louise Burns. Add Burns’ Young Mopes, which comes out Feb 3, to the list of albums I’m looking forward to.
“Stars” – Hum. I kind of miss the out-of-nowhere bands like this that were a lot more prevalent in the grunge era.
“Baby Are You In?” – Kristin Kontrol. Welp, it looks like Kristin Welchez was serious about the Dum Dum Girls being done. At least for now. Fortunately, this new single by her new incarnation is a step above the first Kristin Kontrol album. Which was fine enough, just not as good as any of the Dum Dum Girls’ albums.
“Fuck, I Hate The Cold” – Cowboy Junkies. It’s not going to be above 20 for the next three days. This is how I feel.

Big 12 Hoops

“Lord, honey, it’s gonna be excitin’!”

Our family is pretty addicted to the various Food Network baking and cooking competition shows. We are especially fond of the Holiday Baking Championship. The quote above came from this year’s winner, Jason Smith, a folksy, down-home baker from Kentucky who was full of oddball yet hilarious comments. That one was used, over-and-over, in promos for the show’s six-week run. It’s become a common saying in our house.

I think it’s also a perfect summation of this year’s Big 12 basketball season. We’re only two games into the schedule and it looks to be the wackiest, most wide-open, most interesting race in recent memory.

Which is a huge surprise. At the end of last season, everyone looked at the rosters of the league’s ten teams, saw who each team was losing, who they had back, threw in the recent history of the league, and figured Kansas would have an absolute cake walk to their 13th straight league championship.

KU might still win, but it’s far from a sure thing.

Baylor and West Virginia are both better than most people expected. Or at least we think they are.

Baylor had, arguably, the most impressive non-conference run of anyone in the county, beating Oregon, Louisville, Xavier, and Michigan State. But last night the Bears were, frankly, fortunate to beat Iowa State at home. Is Baylor going to Baylor again now that the conference schedule has kicked off? If they can hold court at home against Oklahoma State Saturday, they will likely be #1 in at least one poll going into their Monday trip to Morgantown.[1]

Bob Huggins has again found the perfect mix of players for his system. They didn’t have the stoutest of non-conference slates, but they did beat Virginia convincingly in their one marquee matchup. But then they lost to Texas Tech in overtime Tuesday. Playing in Morgantown is always a bitch, and their road success is closely tied to how the officials call the game. Regardless, it doesn’t look like a down year for the Mountaineers.

And then there’s the rest of the league. When conference play began on Friday, the top eight teams all had two losses or fewer. Oklahoma was supposed to be in a rebuilding year, so seeing them in 9th place isn’t a huge surprise. But saying Texas is, likely, the worst team in the conference is a massive surprise. The Longhorns had a few really bad losses mixed into a forgettable preseason slate.

Of the five remaining teams, I don’t think there’s a pushover in the bunch. Jamie Dixon may not turn TCU around completely this year, but they were 11–1 coming into the Big 12 season. The Frogs hung with KU for 40 minutes Friday but just couldn’t make the stops or hit the shots that gave them a chance to win. They’re going to beat some people in Ft. Worth this year.

I doubted K-State going into Tuesday’s game in Lawrence, but they were unflappable in the face of a 12-point, second-half deficit in Allen Fieldhouse. A lousy call cost them a chance at overtime. A couple missed, wide-open looks and a rather curious coaching choice likely cost them a win.[2] You figure they’re going to be very tough in Manhattan all year and sneak a couple road wins here and there.

Iowa State has slipped a bit. They still have Monte Morris, a pretty solid top 3–4 overall, and Hilton Magic. But, they could have easily lost to Tech at home on Friday. Then they almost won at Baylor. I think they’re going to be hard to figure all year.

Oklahoma State has lost their first two Big 12 games, but Juwon Evans will keep them in just about every game they play at home.

I think Texas Tech is the most dangerous team of this group. They could easily be 2–0 right now. Or 0–2, too. Still, this isn’t the pushover squad they were for so many years. West Virginia won’t be the only title contender to lose to the Red Raiders. I don’t think they’re good enough to be a true contender, but they could make a difference in who does win.

Speaking of the champs, KU obviously has some issues. They suddenly can’t guard on the perimeter. The loss of Udoka Azubuike makes an already thin inside rotation kind of scary. I’m currently building a shrine to the Hoops Gods to keep Landen Lucas healthy for the next three months. They’re going to lose at least one game because of terrible free throw shooting.

But, they’re still the most talented team in the league. Have the biggest home court advantage in the game. One of the best coaches in the game who has made in-season adjustments to hide weaknesses in the past. I don’t think we should be writing the season off just yet.

When I look at the Big 12, I don’t see a shitty team anywhere. I think Texas will get things figured out and be decent. Lon Kruger will keep Oklahoma in games despite their youth. Maybe TCU or OSU or someone else loses a couple in a row and kind of fall apart. Today, though, there isn’t a team where you can look at them and be convinced you’re going to beat twice.

There have been years where KU was miles ahead of the pack. Other years where a group of 3–4 teams separated themselves. And a few others maybe the top 5–6 were really good, and then there was a steep drop off.

This year, I don’t expect to see a huge difference between the eventual champion and the teams that finish in slots 6–8. I think in the final week of the regular season, we’re going to have a number of scenarios any one of 2–4 teams could win the title, and a few more could finish anywhere from second to eighth, depending on how the last round of games work out.

As Jason said, “Lord, honey, it’s gonna be excitin’!”

  1. Bad schedule timing. If they were playing KU, who will likely be #1/#2 in both polls, it would be exactly 53 weeks since last year’s KU-OU, #1/2 vs #2/1 game.  ↩
  2. DJ Johnson kills KU. I have no idea why the Wildcats stopped throwing him the ball in the last 10 minutes of the game. I believe his only points over that stretch came on a follow-dunk. If he touches the ball 6–8 times in the low post over that stretch, I really think K-State wins.  ↩