Tournament Time

It’s go time. I’m taking a last look at my picks here in the next hour or so before I lock them in. Them I’m going outside and setting $20 on fire, which is the grand total I’m wagering on pools this year. Or perhaps I should take that $20 and hand it to a homeless person when I’m downtown for the St. Patrick’s parade tomorrow. That’s how much faith I have in my picks.

My choices seem awfully safe. I don’t have too many major upsets early, only have one or two surprise teams making the second weekend, and my Final Four will look pretty familiar to a large chunk of the picking population.

This doesn’t feel like a year that’s wide open, but it does feel like a year where no team is without serious flaws. And when the flaws are so common across teams, I seem to have reverted to generally taking the favorites. Probably a good thing I’m not taking these picks to Vegas.

I had some problems with the teams that made the tournament. I thought Oklahoma State should have gotten in over Oklahoma. I thought Middle Tennessee and/or St. Mary’s could have easily been in last night’s 11 v. 11 game instead of Arizona State and Syracuse. But I didn’t lose sleep over any of that.

If we’ve learned one thing over the years it is that putting together the 68-team field is incredibly complex. The selection committee has a number of powerful tools with which they can suss out who deserves an at-large bid and how the brackets should be filled. Many of those tools are flawed, and when the committee leans one way or another they always get ripped by proponents of other tools.

I think the biggest problem with the brackets, every year, is that the committee does not have a single, clearly stated, easily understood philosophy behind selecting teams. Are they selecting the best teams over the course of the entire season? Are they selecting the best teams at the moment the bracket is released? Does the eighth best team in a power conference really deserve a big over a mid-major team that did everything the committee asked of them for four months and then got upset in their conference tournament?

Every year there are calls to expand the tournament, which are mostly ignored. I’m starting to come around to those arguments ever so slightly. I don’t think there needs to be great expansion of the tournament; we shouldn’t let everyone in nor should the tournament jump to 128 teams. But I would be open to considering an expansion of the First Four. I would take, say, the top 16 Power 5 conference teams that did not finish in the top half of their conference standings and force them to play their way into the big bracket. This would, in theory, open up more at large spots for non-Power 5 schools. It would, also, make late-season games in big conferences even more interesting as two teams fighting for fifth vs sixth place in the Big 12 would also be fighting to avoid the play-in games to the NCAA tournament should they be selected.

I just came up with this idea, so I’m sure there are obvious flaws that haven’t occurred to me yet.

I’d be more for abolishing conference tournaments and expanding the tournament by another 12/16/20 teams. But the conferences are never giving up their tournaments so that ain’t happening.

We spend way too much time worrying about these teams on the back half of the draw anyway. They make the tournament more interesting by making people talk and argue about who got in over who didn’t, provide some upsets early, but despite the VCU/George Mason/LSU examples, these teams rarely play a role in determining a champion.

Anyway, here are some of my picks:

Final Four: Arizona, Michigan, Villanova, Michigan State
Arizona over Villanova.
I’m mostly doing this so I can feel good when my national champ gets beat. And for the potential of the NCAA having to vacate a title just a few months after they forced Louisville to vacate their 2013 title.
I’m still wavering on Michigan State. I feel like they have more untapped potential than Duke, but Duke’s perimeter players are better and could be the difference. I have a couple hours to decide.

Big 12 teams: KU in Elite 8, Texas Tech and West Virginia in Sweet 16, Texas and TCU both win one game.

As for KU, it’s been a wild mood swing week. Monday I was feeling good about the draw, thinking if they were healthy and played smart, they should make the Elite 8. Tuesday and Wednesday was when everyone started jumping on the “Penn can beat Kansas!” idea, which annoyed me. Folks keep pumping out the stat that Penn is one of the best teams in the country guarding the 3-point line. But only one national analyst looked deeper into those numbers. CBS’ Kevin Flaherty pointed out that Penn has played just three teams this season who ranked in the Top 50 in 3-point shooting percentage. In those three games Penn’s opponents shot a combined 48.1%. KU is ranked #12 in 3-point shooting percentage.

That doesn’t mean Penn won’t lock down KU’s shooters, or KU won’t pick the first round for the annual “Hey guys, let’s shoot terribly in March!” game. But it does show that Penn’s prowess guarding the three may have been built on playing teams that don’t shoot the 3 well, and they struggle when they do face a good shooting team.

And then there was the Udoka saga. I have a friend who insists that Doke didn’t hurt himself as badly as KU has suggested, and Bill Self just rested him last weekend in hopes of getting Mitch Lightfoot and Silvio De Sousa to play better before the NCAAs. That seems kind of diabolical to me. Self looked way to excited at the end of the West Virginia game for a guy who wasn’t interested in the results of the weekend’s games.

But as Udoka’s health has dramatically improved, that theory is seeming a little less crazy.

Earlier in the week there was concern over whether Udoka would be able to play this weekend at all. It was starting to feel like March 2014 when every day brought different news about Joel Embiid’s health. By last night Udoka had been upgraded to “game time decision” for the Penn game. I guess we’ll find out at 2:00 eastern.

KU should be able to beat Penn without a healthy Doke. Getting through the second round will be very tough. I say sit him today unless absolutely needed and then hope he’s healthy enough Saturday to play without being a liability. Survive, advance, and hope he’s close to normal for the trip to Omaha next weekend.

I guess I’m reasonably optimistic he’ll be back this weekend. But I also have that Embiid thing in my head and I’m mentally adding things to my Netflix queue in case KU’s season ends this weekend.

KU Hoops: A Fine Weekend

I hate it when my favorite team makes me look dumb.

I pick this as the year KU’s Big 12 title streak ends and they go out and win the conference by two games.

They lose their only effective big man going into the conference tournament, and have to play a team that dominated them twice, so I figure they’re either one-and-done or maybe win Thursday and lose Friday. So of course they cruise on Thursday, fight through a sloppy game Friday, and play their best game of the season Saturday to wrap up the tournament title and secure a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament in the process.

Thanks a lot, Jayhawks.

Last weekend was a fine weekend of hoops for my boys. That Saturday championship game against West Virginia was fantastic, one that will not get deleted off the DVR for awhile. And while it came with the usual caveats of small sample sizes, their three-game run erased a lot of questions about this team.

Malik Newman was amazing all weekend. He finally, consistently showed the talent that made him one of the best players in the country his senior year of high school. He was barely touching rim on his shots over the weekend. Hell, the ball barely touched his hands between pass and shot. He was locked in. It’s unrealistic to expect that performance in every game going forward. But he’s playing with a massive amount of confidence and if KU plays long enough, he should have another game like that in him.

Silvio De Sousa’s performance was a potential season-changer. We were all worried about how KU would do without Udoka Azubuike down low. Mitch Lightfoot had mixed results all weekend. But De Sousa, especially on Saturday, suddenly looked like a legit rotation player that can be counted on to play significant minutes in the NCAA tournament. The kid struggled so much to find his comfort zone since his arrival in late December. Even on the nights when he could stay on the court more than a few minutes, he often looked lost and uncertain. Suddenly this weekend KU was running plays for him, and they were working. He was getting rebounds no one on KU has gotten all year. He was the toughest player aside from Devonté Graham KU has had all year.

Like Newman, you can’t expect De Sousa to go 8–8 from the field and grab 12 rebounds every night. And I think he benefitted from already having prepared for and played against West Virginia twice. He may not look as comfortable against NC State or Seton Hall Saturday with only a day to watch film.[1] But he is a guy you can now expect to play 10–15 minutes. If he can stay on the high end of that range, and be effective on the boards, he’s a game-changer for KU, shoring up one of their biggest weak spots.

Throw in another wonderful weekend from Devonté Graham, including a career-defining sequence late in the championship game,[2] and suddenly I was feeling awfully good about my team’s chance in the NCAAs. Before I was just hoping they could survive the first weekend. Now I was thinking if they play smart they should be in the Elite 8 for a third-straight year at minimum. Play at even 85–90% of what they played Saturday and they were a Final Four team.

All that assumed that Azubuike will be ready to play by Saturday and came before seeing the brackets.

After seeing the brackets, I think KU has a pretty good draw on their half of the Midwest Region. I woke up today to a bunch of talk about Penn being the best 16 seed in years. I’m sure they’re a fine team, but they’ve played one team anywhere near KU’s quality this year, Villanova, and lost handedly. It being March, I’m sure they’ll ugly up the game and make it closer than it should be. But Devonté isn’t ending his career by being part of the first #1 seed to ever lose to a #16.

In the second round both Seton Hall and NC State represent threats. Seton Hall can be really good when they’re on. They have two players that will pose big threats to KU. And NC State is a really solid team that has a lot of great wins this year.

But Devonté isn’t letting Seton Hall get the best of him, and he’s not ending his career by losing to his hometown team.

In the Sweet 16, both Auburn and Clemson ended their seasons on cold stretches, and both lost extremely important inside players in recent weeks. Both teams, if they make it to the second weekend, are certainly capable of beating KU. But I would much rather play either of those teams with their flaws than have to face Arizona. Arizona as a four seed is ridiculous. And the last time KU played Wichita State was also in Omaha and that game did not go well for the Jayhawks.

Baring major injury, KU really should be in the Elite 8. And then you take your chances with Duke or Michigan State. For the record I’d rather play Duke. I don’t think KU can guard Michigan State’s inside guys at all. Duke doesn’t really guard anyone, so KU could turn that game into a shootout and hope they hit shots at the end to pull it out. Either way, there would be no shame in losing to either of those teams, which are both far more talented than KU is. Hell, maybe that’s the way for Bill Self to get over his Elite 8 issues for the first time since 2012. It was playing a loaded North Carolina team in that year’s Elite 8 that produced the best-ever performance by a Self team in that round.

All of this make me really nervous. I haven’t felt this good about a KU bracket in a long time. Given how this year has gone, KU is probably about to make me look dumb again. I’m sure I’ll be a complete mess Thursday afternoon, when game time coincides with school pickup time. I anticipate Penn leading by five at halftime as I’m forced to follow the game on my phone.

Some other notes from the weekend:

  • Man, Sagaba Konate is the biggest punk to come through the Big 12 in a long time. He was a mess in the championship game Saturday. There wasn’t a dead ball when he didn’t put a shoulder or elbow into a KU player. He leg swept Mitch Lightfoot early in the game. Somehow he gets away with being more demonstrative than Draymond Green. The refs must be afraid of him. On KU’s final basket of the night, an alley-oop from LaGerald Vick to Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, Konate ran under Svi and pushed him, again with no call. It’s one thing to be physical. Konate seems like a guy that is intentionally trying to hurt people. Which is a shame because he’s a great player.
  • Speaking of that, once again West Virginia’s offense went to shit late in a tight game. When KU started raining 3s in the final four minutes, instead of throwing the ball to Konate, who KU literally could not stop, the Mountaineers started chucking hero-ball 3s. Once Daxter Miles finally missed one, I knew the game was over. I said it last month: KU is all up in Bob Huggins’ head.
  • Seriously, if Makol Mawien can drop 29 on KU Friday, there should be no possession when Konate doesn’t touch the ball.
  • That was as enjoyable a Big 12 title game for me since the classic 2008 one between KU and Texas, which played out similarly. That day both teams traded shots all day until KU, led by Mario Chalmers, went on a devastating run to close the game out. Both games were ones, with 4–5 minutes left, I said to myself, “This is a great game. I’m fine losing it because we are playing so well.” Back in ’08 my pledge for the NCAA tournament was to remember that team based on the Big 12 title game, when they played nearly perfectly. I’m going to try to do the same this year. Maybe things will turn out as good as they did in ’08!
  • S was out of town over the weekend, so it was just the girls and I. I ordered pizza and disappeared into the basement when the game started Saturday. That was as much yelling as I’ve done all year. Once, I think after De Sousa’s dunk to end the first half, I yelled so loud and long that all the noise upstairs stopped momentarily. I don’t know if they thought I was in distress, or that I was yelling at them to knock off whatever they were doing.

I’ll have more thoughts on the tournament as a whole tomorrow.

  1. Assuming KU wins Thursday, of course.  ↩
  2. Yanks off his arm sleeve, which had been pulled out of place by a West Virginia defender, and throws it into the crowd. Then drives Jevon Carter deep into the lane, throws two little head fakes, and hits a tough-ass 15’ baseline jumper. Next time down, he surveys the defense, gets a switch onto Esa Ahmad, and then drills a step-back three that pretty much ended the game.  ↩

Reaching for the Stars, Vol. 4

Chart Week: March 5, 1983
Song: “Allentown” – Billy Joel
Chart Position: #17, 15th week on the chart. Peaked at #17 for six straight weeks from February through March.

This week’s edition is the first that draws from SiriusXM’s VJ Big 40 show on its Eighties on 8 channel. For those not familiar, Eighties on 8 features three of the original MTV VJs – Nina Blackwood, Mark Goodman, and Alan Hunter – pumping out classic tunes all day.[1] Each weekend they take an old Billboard Top 40 list and do their own recreation of a countdown of that week’s hits. The show runs several times over the weekend, beginning Friday night and finishing with a Monday morning airing.

Last week’s show was from 1983. And I believe it proves the existence of the Music Gods.

There’s no doubt there are Woof Gods, beings poised to punish players and fans for hubris in sports. They are why no real fan thinks about the Final Four when your team hasn’t even made it out of the first weekend of the tournament yet. The Woof Gods are always listening and know if you’re imagining hanging a banner when there’s still a nasty 8-seed to get past.[2]

As for the Music Gods, their existence and purpose is more complex. Are these beings that play the right song at the exact right moment on a date? Do they allow you to, somehow, know what song is coming next on the radio before it plays? Or are they more like the Woof Gods in making sure any song you hate will be played far too often on a radio you have no control over?[3]

Whatever their cause, I think the Music Gods have messed with me twice in the past year. Sometime late last winter, when another VJ Big 40 was also from 1983, I flipped by the show just in time to hear “Allentown” at least four different times. It happened on Saturday, twice on Sunday, and again on Monday.

Last weekend it happened again. I heard “Allentown” once while dropping M off at volleyball practice Saturday afternoon. In the evening I heard it again while taking C to the store to get some school supplies. Sunday I ran out to get some stuff for breakfast. The moment the electronic system lit up, I heard the sharp factory whistle that opens the song. It’s as though the Music Gods had their collective finger poised over the play button until I triggered the ignition. And Monday morning, after leaving an appointment, I heard the final five or so seconds of the song as soon as I got in the car.

Pretty weird, huh?

I swore I wrote about Billy Joel way back in the early days of the blog, about how I attempted to use his music to woo a foxy girl from Omaha that lived in my dorm my freshman year.[4] I searched the archives and could not find the post, which means it must have been lost in one of my 800 redesigns of the site over the years. Or maybe I just imagined writing about it.

Anyways…part of that post was about how I grew up listening to a lot of Billy Joel. That was mostly because my mom loved him. She had all of his albums and played them often. One of my earliest music memories was her asking me to play “Piano Man” over and over again one day. As I got older, Joel was a good meeting point of our respective musical tastes. She was listening to more adult contemporary, I was mostly listening to Top 40 pop, and he was one of a handful of artists where those genres met. I continued to like Joel into college, until I went hard core New Jack Swing and Hip Hop, and later alternative rock. Billy’s music was not cool anymore, so I packed his tapes away at home and never listened to them again. Unlike some other artists of that era, I’ve never rediscovered my childhood love for his music. For awhile I hated it. Now I can tolerate some of his songs, but it doesn’t move me the way, say, Hall & Oates does.

But, hey, respect to Billy for one of the greatest careers in American pop music.

This song is one of the ones I can handle. Since it has been forced upon me these two weekends over the past year, I’ve come to admire its lyrics, its sound, and its intent. Although Joel’s music would never be called Heartland Rock, this song can certainly claim a thematic connection with that genre. “Allentown” fits right in with Bruce’s songs about the factory workers of New Jersey, and Mellencamp’s stories about Midwestern farmers who faced uncertain futures in the 1980s.

I generally think of Joel’s music being, ultimately, hopeful. “Allentown” ends suggesting that better days will come. But it also contains likely the bleakest lyrics of his career.

Out in Bethlehem they’re killing time
Filling out forms
Standing in line

Well we’re waiting here in Allentown
For the Pennsylvania we never found
For the promises our teachers gave
If we worked hard
If we behaved

Every child has a pretty good shot
To get at least as far as their old man got
But something happened on the way to that place
They threw an American flag in our face

Joel’s lyrics were also generally timeless, meaning they were not anchored into a specific era. But in “Allentown” you hear all the anger, frustration, and confusion of the time in which the song was written. A time when large parts of the country were undergoing dramatic changes from economic systems that had been in place since World War II.

Perhaps that’s the message the Music Gods were pushing on me. I’ve often made fun of Billy Joel over the years. By forcing me to listen to “Allentown” four times a weekend, twice in a year, and getting the song stuck in my head, I suppose they wanted to remind me that Joel was worthy of some respect.

  1. Martha Quinn was involved until a couple years back, but has disappeared, other than some pre-recorded 80s trivia bits they still run.  ↩
  2. Shaka Smart being the coach at Texas is kind of the ultimate Woof God punishment for KU fans. No one – NO ONE – took VCU seriously back in 2011. Now he is in Austin to always remind us.  ↩
  3. My personal music hell was the summer the radio at the warehouse I worked at was constantly tuned to the adult pop hits station that played the Spin Doctor’s “Two Princes” every 87 minutes.  ↩
  4. Key word being attempted. The young lady was not swayed by my efforts, and I tried hard: she was hella cute.  ↩

Friday Playlist

“Espionage” – Preoccupations. Going back to their days performing as Viet Cong, this band has always mined the dark, post-punk sounds that came straight from Joy Division. I wasn’t crazy about this song at first, but it’s really grown on me in recent weeks.

“Living” – EERA. Another dark and brooding song. I must be drawn to this stuff because it’s been so damn cold for the past few days after our spring preview of late February.

“My Enemy” – CHVRCHES with Matt Berninger. This sounds nothing like what either of these artists have done in the past. I think it’s a nice change of pace for both of them.

“Western Cold Wind” – Joana Serrat. I guess I have to have one song like this each week: the folksy, Americana-ish, atmospheric song by a female artist. This one is a little different as Serrat is from Spain, but sings like she’s from Texas.

“This Corrosion” – The Sisters of Mercy. Our flashback song of the week, released as a single in 1988. There was a DJ on KLZR in Lawrence, KS back in the early 90s, after the station had switched to a local DJ, alt-rock format, who would play the full album version of this song – all 10+ minutes of it – in the wee hours of the morning. Something about that chorus was good for cranking up when you got home after last call. Hey now, hey now now.

KU Hoops: Seriously, Again?

As the Billy Preston saga wrapped up in February someone posted the following list of how KU’s recent top front court recruits had performed in the NCAA tournament their freshman year:

2014 – Joel Embiid played 0 minutes in two games due to injury.
2015 – Cliff Alexander played 0 minutes in two games due to eligibility issues.
2016 – Cheick Diallo played 7 minutes and scored 9 points in a first round win over Austin Peay. He played zero minutes in the remaining three games due to coach’s decisions.
2017 – Udoka Azubuike played 0 minutes in four games due to injury.
2018 – Billy Preston will play 0 minutes due to eligibility issues.

Clearly the Hoops Gods are upset with KU about something. Maybe it because the Jayhawks keep winning the Big 12 despite the Gods’ best efforts and this is the punishment earned for that offense. But, seriously, come up with a new trick, fools.

I think a lot of KU fans looked at that list, shook their heads, had a few “What if so and so played…” thoughts, but then said, “Well, at least we’ll have Big Doke this year.” Hahaha!

The Hoops Gods were not done with the Jayhawks, though.

Azubuike will miss this weekend’s Big 12 tournament because of a partially torn MCL suffered in practice. There is a chance that he’ll be ready to play next weekend in the NCAA tournament, but even if he’s on the court he won’t be at full strength.

This weekend isn’t an issue. I’m fine with KU losing early in Kansas City to, hopefully, fall off the #1 Seed line. I still don’t think this team has a deep NCAA run in them, and losing to a lower seed as a two rather than a one will hurt approximately 13% less.

KU should be able to get through their first round game without Doke, or with him playing limited minutes. Mitch Lightfoot should matchup reasonably well with a big man from a 15/16 team if he can stay out of foul trouble. I think it’s a lot to ask Silvio De Sousa to match his performance against Oklahoma two weeks ago, but getting 15 solid minutes out of him would be huge.

Playing the second round without Doke is frightening. That will likely be a decent team from a Power 5 conference. Even if they don’t have a stud center, they might have a few 6’9”+ guys they can roll out to wear down Lightfoot and De Sousa. I’m already having terrible visions of KU trailing an eight seed by seven points midway through the second half with a lineup of five guards on the court because Mitch has four fouls and Silvio has already fouled out.

Shit, man.

March is just the worst.

Reader’s Notebook, 3/6/18

My torrid pace of reading in 2018 continues. I knocked out two more books in the Y: The Last Man comic series and am still enjoying it. And I’m still working through Nick Hornby’s Ten Years in the Tub. And then I knocked out a few other books over the past couple weeks.

End of Watch – Stephen King “End of watch” is the term used when a police officer is killed in the line of duty. So King is kind of telegraphing how this book, the final one in the Bill Hodges trilogy, is going to end. But you still want to read to see how he gets there.

This book ties back more directly to book one, and Brady Hartsfield, that book’s evil centerpiece, than book two did. Hartsfield has been in a hospital brain trauma wing for years after Hodges’ partner bashed him in the head repeatedly before he could trigger a bomb that would have killed hundreds of teens at a concert. But Hartsfield is not as feeble as he seems. He has gained the power to enter other people’s bodies and control them. He uses this ability to attempt to finish his concert bomb plan and gain revenge over Hodges and the others who stopped him.

As always, King makes it an entertaining and spooky trip to get to the inevitable end. But I kept feeling like he had done variations on this theme better in the past. As it was a quick and generally entertaining read, I’m not going to complain too much. I will probably not read any more of King’s new work, unless word reaches me that he’s rediscovered the zip on his fastball again.

IQ – Joe Ide Isn’t there a saying about not picking up a book and making assumptions about it based on its title, the cover art, or the author? Gosh, I can’t think of what that would be, but it seems like there should be one…

Whatever it is, that certainly applies in this case. Joe Ide is an Japanese-American author who was raised in South Central LA. Thus I assumed this book would be about a Japanese-American community that was wedged into that predominantly African-American part of the city.


Ide writes about black folks in the ‘hood, and there’s not a Japanese character anywhere in it. The central character is Isaiah Quintabe, who goes by the nickname IQ. He’s a literal genius who uses his intelligence and powers of observation to help people around South Central with problems. Basically, he’s a private detective, but will take just about any job for someone who needs help.

The book is split in between a tale of IQ’s current life – helping to discover who is trying to kill a famous rapper – and an origin story of how he came to be IQ – a story involving the death of his older brother and him hooking up with a small time drug dealer and robbing stores for very particular items. Ide goes back and forth between the two stories, and both are excellent. There is an especially brilliant section near the end where, over the course of ten or so pages, we see how IQ transformed from being a directionless criminal to being the Black Sherlock Holmes of LA.

I think it was an interesting choice to provide so much of IQ’s origin story here. The book being almost evenly split between old and new makes me wonder if Ide can pull off an entire book that is centered on one IQ story (he is working on book two currently). Could he have offered up less of IQ’s background here, stretched out the rapper-killer section, and maybe done a full book about IQ’s past down the road?

That’s the most minor of quibbles, though. IQ is fresh, exciting, smart, deeply funny, moving, and captures the language and culture of its setting perfectly. IQ was on many Best Of lists for 2016 and shortlisted for several awards. I’m excited to see where Ide takes IQ next. He seems like an author poised to do amazing things.

Anatomy of a Song – Marc Myers This is another book I discovered wandering through a bookstore while waiting out a volleyball practice. Based upon a series Myers wrote for The Wall Street Journal, he looks at 45 songs that, as the subtitle states, “changed rock, R&B, and pop.” Each song is explored via an oral history from the performers, producers, songwriters, and record execs, depending on who was available to Myers. You can never go wrong with an oral history of pop culture, so that element of the book works quite well.

I would argue he doesn’t make the best choices in songs. There is an Elvis song, but no Beatles, Michael Jackson, Prince, or Madonna. He ties some songs that were not big charting tracks to technological changes, which I can get on board with. But I would also argue there were better choices in those places. But he does do a nice job of hitting a wide variety of genres. There are several country songs, a Jimmy Cliff song, and a couple songs that are more representative of an era than something that is a permanent part of the cultural memory.

Despite those minor flaws, this was a fun read.

(Crap: I forgot to include a link to the Spotify playlist for all the songs in the book. This playlist is a little out of order, but you get the idea.)

Since We Fell – Dennis Lehane. I picked this up Saturday afternoon, thinking I would knock out 20 or so pages to get a decent start for the coming week. Next thing I knew it was about 11:30 and I was setting it down with my bookmark at the book’s exact midpoint.[1] I kept at it Sunday and read the final page around 7:45 that evening. So before I get into the details, that should tell you something about this book.

Despite racing through it that quickly, this book has a solid density to it. Lehane takes us through almost the entire life of the main character, Rachel. She is raised primarily by her mother, a best-selling author of self-help books who kept the identity of Rachel’s father secret. After her mother’s death, Rachel seeks to find who her father was. It takes years of work, both on her own and with the help of a private investigator, but eventually she finds that man that lived in her home the first three years of her life. But that discovery leads to more questions.

By now Rachel is a big time news reporter in Boston, first for the paper and later for a local TV station, and is poised to move to a national network thanks to her work in Haiti following a massive earthquake. But an incident in Haiti fundamentally alters who she is, and she soon is crippled by occasional panic attacks that prevent her from leaving her home. Even a marriage to a seemingly amazing man can’t pull her from her depths: she spends nearly 18 straight months holed up in their Boston condo.

Eventually more questions of identity force her back into the world, though. This time the questions are about her husband and his work associates. This leads Rachel on a wild chase through the book’s final third that is full of twists, turns, double-backs, and all kinds of plot goodness. Lehane knows how to write a thriller, and he shows off all his best tricks here. There is a long series of “Holy crap” moments that keep building upon each other.

It was good for Lehane to get away from the two series he’s cranked out in recent years. While I enjoyed both the Kenzie-Gennaro and Coughlin series a lot, I think his best works have been Shutter Island and Mystic River that were free-standing novels. This compares quite well to each of those.

For some reason, I kept thinking this book felt more like Gillian Flynn novel, and I don’t really understand why. Could it simply have been the power of suggestion, as Flynn has the top blurb on the back cover? Or was it Lehane focusing on a strong, but emotionally damaged, female character that make it feel more like a Flynn novel? Regardless, the two authors have a lot in common – both write literate, smart, yet accessible books that keep you turning the pages – so I doubt Lehane would be upset by the comparison.

Spring break is right around the corner. If you’re traveling somewhere where you will be sitting in the sun, sipping on tropical beverages, I highly recommend this as the book to help you pass the time. Or just pick it up this weekend and read it at home. It’s tremendous.

  1. Not I did not read straight though during this time. We ate dinner, I ran an errand, watched a little TV.  ↩

D’s Notes

It’s been awhile since I’ve done a random notes post. As I’m kind of between longer posts, right now feels like the perfect moment to revisit that favorite of blog readers worldwide.


A shame KU got blown out at Oklahoma State Saturday. But I A) wasn’t super surprised and B) didn’t really care. My blood pressure rose only slightly because so many of the KU players seemed utterly uninterested in competing. As I told several friends before the game, I was cool with KU losing that game and then losing before the Big 12 tournament championship game next weekend. They accomplished this year’s biggest goal: winning the Big 12 again. Despite all the metrics that say otherwise, I don’t think this team deserves a #1 seed. I’d rather they go into the tournament as a #2 seed, and I don’t care what region they play in. I don’t see a deep run in this team, and I’d rather the inevitable end be about 25% less frustrating because they aren’t a #1 losing to an 8 or 9 in Wichita next Sunday.


Man, we had a good run of weather. For about a two-week stretch the highs were always well above normal, with a couple days up into the 70s. Our lawn has already started to green up a bit. Buds are popping out on some trees and bushes. Flowers are emerging. This is Indiana and it’s still early March, so the inevitable cool down arrived this morning, and this week looks to be cold again, with a couple chances of light snow. For the third straight year we ended meteorological winter[1] with less than 10” of snow. Our biggest snowstorm came while we were in Denver, so we missed the 2.5” we got in late December. And it was the fourth straight winter with less than 20”. Not that I’m complaining, but our snowblower has gone unused so long I’m not expecting it to work the winter we finally get snow again.


I only saw Coco among movies nominated for Academy Awards this year. I don’t say that with pride; I’d like to get back into watching movies again. But with a deep Netflix queue of great TV shows and 800 books to read, it’s hard to devote three hours and the hassle of going to a theater to seeing first-run flicks. And with our girls going to bed at 9:00, it’s hard to squeeze in a DVD or streamed flick after they go down. Maybe some year I’ll devote my time to catching up on all the great movies I’ve missed over the last 15 years or so.


Two weeks ago the Indiana state legislature passed a bill amending the state’s liquor laws and allowing Sunday sales of alcohol. The bill came with a late amendment that put the law into effect on the first Sunday after it received the governor’s signature. That signature came last Thursday, so yesterday was the first day in the modern history of Indiana where you could go to a liquor, grocery, or convenience store and buy beer.[2] To celebrate the day I went out to a local liquor store mid-afternoon. It was the busiest liquor store I’ve ever been in! The parking lot was full. The aisles were cramped. It was pretty funny. I bought six and four packs of two local beers, which were both 25% off in celebration of the day. I imagine next Sunday most liquor stores will be rather quiet, but it is nice to finally have the option.

  1. December 1 through March 1.  ↩
  2. But you can still only buy cold beer at liquor stores. That lobby refuses to cave on that one.  ↩

How Overnight Shipping Works

I love stuff like this: deep explanations into everyday things that are amazingly complex.

We all know that it’s a logistical miracle how fast products can get shipped from one side of the globe to the other. Or even, say, some warehouse in Utah to your front door.

This video breaks down how the major shipping companies in the US manage getting products from point A to B so quickly. So simple yet equally complex.

Friday Playlist

“Blue Rose” – Amen Dunes. Amen Dunes is the project of New Yorker Damon McMahon. I knew nothing about him before I heard this song. I love it’s trippy, atmospheric, nostalgic vibe. 

“6&5” – Jesse Marchant. I was so looking forward to Marchant’s Illusion of Love album after hearing the first two singles. Unfortunately the rest of the album did not match the quality of those two tracks. The first, “Frame for One,” is one of the best songs of the year. And I love the sound of this one, which feels a little like Andrew Bird filtered through old Radiohead.

“Don’t Move Back to LA” – Okkervil River. OR’s The Silver Gymnasium is one of my favorite albums of the decade. The follow-up, 2016’s Away, went a different direction that I did not dig it at all. The first single for In The Rainbow Rain is much easier on my ears. 

“You Thought You Had Me” – Allie Crow Buckley. Ms. Buckley fits right into a niche I’ve been listening to a lot lately: female singer-songwriters who blur the gaps between folk, pop, indie, and country. This is a damn good song.

“Nonbeliever” – Lucy Dacus. FINALLY we have the first great album of 2018. Dacus’ Historian dropped this morning. I’m already one listen through it and Night Shift, front-runner for song of the year to date, is far from the only great song on the disk. The whole album is magnificent and I could have dropped any one of four new songs in this spot. Go listen to it at your earliest convenience. 

“Baker Street” – Gerry Raferty. Recently I found an amazing thing: there’s a channel on iHeart Radio that does nothing but replay American Top 40s from the 1970s and 1980s. Frankly it’s amazing I haven’t listened to it 24/7 since I discovered it. Sadly, iHeart Radio is rumored to be declaring bankruptcy at any moment, so I don’t know how long the platform or station will be around. Anyway, at some point I heard a countdown from the summer of 1978, when this classic was rising up the charts. And then last night I started watching the new NBC comedy AP Bio, which is fantastic. In episode two there were a couple humorous callbacks to the legendary sax line in this song. That was all the motivation I need to include it as your video of the week. Oh, and it’s a very high quality video, too! Raferty was a dynamic performer. 

College Hoops Part 2: The Bad

And now for the not-so-fun stuff surrounding college basketball.

That’s right, no more Big Mondays this year. That’s sad.

I’m kidding, of course. The real thing we need to discuss regarding college hoops is why in the hell the Big 10 is playing their tournament this week. Getting bumped by the lowly Big East and having to adjust your entire schedule by a week, then letting all your teams sit around for nearly two weeks before they play an NCAA tournament game? All so they could play their tournament at Madison Square Garden as a shout out to Rutgers for joining the conference. Seems like a smart move to me.

Last night Rutgers was playing in the opening round. There were not a lot of seats filled. Attendance wasn’t much better in D.C. last year. And I predict it won’t be great when the tournament lands in Philly. But, remember, college athletics are run for the benefit of the student athlete. There is no other explanation why the Big 10 would play its tournament on the east coast. Right?

Ok, on to the real news…

Last Friday sure was exciting. I was on my way home from dropping the girls at school when I got a text from a friend saying Yahoo released names of players that allegedly received money from Andy Miller’s agency, and that Josh Jackson’s mom was on the list. I’m pretty sure I was reading the Yahoo article before my car had come to a complete stop in the garage. Elijah Johnson’s name was on the list, too. That was less than good.

Then later in the day word dropped that Arizona coach Sean Miller was allegedly on an FBI wiretap discussing a $100,000 payment to secure the commitment of DeAndre Ayton last year. That was like napalm getting dropped on sports radio and blogs.

There’s a lot going on here. I’m going to focus on the KU stuff, because the larger case has calmed down a bit and some cooler heads have pointed out we should reserve judgement until the information released Friday has more context, find out who is responsible for leaking the documents, and see if there’s more to come.

So, yeah, not good that two former KU players names were on the original list. After some deeper reading, though, I’m less concerned.

Lots of folks have pointed out that one can make a reasonable assumption that Elijah Johnson took his $15,000 well after he had finished playing at KU. The date on the spreadsheet Yahoo released was three years after Elijah left KU, and there was a notation that referred to a European pro team next to his name. This doesn’t prove that Elijah hadn’t taken the money while at KU and it was still owed, but it does make me inclined to ignore his name. If – big if – IF Elijah took that money after leaving KU there’s no issue for KU. I also feel comfortable taking this view because the Yahoo report didn’t play up Elijah’s name, despite him getting one of the bigger payouts from Miller’s agency and him being a KU alum. Seems like if you have a former Kansas guy getting fifteen grand you put it at the top of the story. But the Yahoo story focused on other programs in its opening paragraphs.

Josh Jackson, or rather his mother Apples Jones, appearing on the list is very concerning. The report claims that Apples may have received just under $3000 from Miller’s assistant, Christian Dawkins. A Dawkins email also indicated that Apples was receiving $10,000 per month from Under Armour to fund the AAU program she runs, and also suggested that Adidas might be paying her. That shoe money could be an issue, despite Apples’ being in charge of an AAU team. Josh signed with Under Armour after leaving KU, so while that would not implicate KU in him getting paid, it could put into question his eligibility if you can draw a straight line from UA sponsoring his mom’s program to him signing with them. Not sure the NCAA is smart or willing enough to do that. Adidas is KU’s supplier. If they were giving Apples money, too, did that have anything to do with Josh playing at KU?

Of course Jones denies ever getting any money from Dawkins. Her denial was rather pointed and carried specifics. She doesn’t play. But doesn’t mean her denial should be taken any more seriously than the others that popped up over the weekend until we get more information about these alleged payments.

At a minimum it looks bad. Is it actually bad? Based on what we know now we have no way of determining what actually happened, and what links there are between KU and the money Josh’s mom received. Friday’s report showed no coordination between the Miller agency and college programs. It appears to be more a case of an agent trying to influence kids to hire him for representation after school that coaches trying to find backdoor ways to get their recruits money. Thus, this mostly seems like more of an eligibility question for individual players than a broader scandal that implicates dozens of programs.

Here’s how I’ll breakdown my level of worry for KU.

I am worried because:

  • Josh Jackson’s mom is on the list. She allegedly received money before he committed to KU, and may have been getting paid by two shoe companies.
  • KU is always in the mix for some of the best recruits in the country. Some of those battles stretch out a long time, which makes you wonder did the kids who picked KU work a better deal from KU, or someone representing KU, than from another school?
  • Adidas. Were they as dirty with KU as they were with Louisville?
  • Andy Miller is one agent. There are dozens of other agents out there throwing money at kids. How many KU players might appear on a spreadsheet if the FBI raided some of their offices?

I am not worried because:

  • Elijah Johnson was the only former KU player that Andy Miller has represented. And he, hopefully, got his money after leaving college.
  • KU has finished second for a ton of good recruits over the years. Several of them went to Arizona. Just saying…
  • Bill Self isn’t Rick Pitino. His Adidas money goes through the university first. Doesn’t mean he’s clean. But, holy hell, that Pitino contract was dirty AF, as the kids would say. How it survived this long without blowing up is kind of incredible.[1]
  • Billy Preston and Cliff Alexander. KU never let one top 20 player play a regulation minute and yanked a top five player off the court mid-year and turned both over to the NCAA for a ruling when questions arose about their eligibility.
  • Silvio De Sousa and Cheick Diallo. KU has worked with the NCAA to get each of these players eligible.a
  • Combine those four players and KU has spent a lot of time talking to the NCAA in recent years. In the case of each of those players, KU had to be transparent about their recruiting process, relationships between the player and outside agents, etc. Nothing has come up from any of those cases that caused the NCAA to take a deeper look at KU’s program. Again, doesn’t mean KU is clean. But it gives me hope they’re cleaner than others.

A final reason I’m not too worried is that I think the NCAA is going to work hard to make this go away. Or, more likely, not do any work to punish most of the schools implicated Friday. I think Arizona, or one of the other schools named in the initial FBI report in September, will end up taking the fall for everyone else. I firmly believe the NCAA chose not to punish North Carolina for decades of academic fraud not because of some fancy lawyering UNC did, but because they knew pretty much every big time athletic program is engaging in some level of academic fraud. They did not want to have to look into every program and start shutting down the folks who keep the money rolling into Indianapolis.

Same for this case. So the NCAA will continue to issue statements that come off as shocked and appalled that such activity may be going on, and express a commitment to amateurism and the student athlete. But they won’t shut anyone down unless the FBI shares evidence that a program paid a couple million dollars to assemble a roster that got them to a Final Four.

They know if they dive into this new mess, it will require them to take a long look at every program. And I believe that pretty much every player that has come through a major summer program, gone to a prep school, or simply been highly recruited by Power Five conference schools can have their eligibility called into question if the NCAA, or anyone else, dug deep into their pasts. That doesn’t mean every kid, or even every program, is dirty. It means that youth basketball, though, is dirty, and most kids that come through those programs will have received something that violates something in the NCAA’s massive list of things “student athletes” are not supposed to do. Or someone attached to them – a parent, sibling, coach, advisor, or mentor – took something along the way.

I’m not surprised or disappointed any of this has come out. In fact, I’m excited.

This is shining a brighter light on the hypocrisy of college sports. This might finally lead to change. Kids are eventually going to get paid, above the table and legally. The draft rules will be changed. The power of the NCAA will be reigned in. Hell, all the parties involved might even take a crack at summer basketball, which is a true cesspool that preys on young kids who have no idea that taking some money then can ruin their chance to ever play college ball. And, hopefully, the power of the shoe companies will be lessened in the process.

  1. As Fab Five Freddy would say.  ↩