Month: March 2015 (Page 1 of 2)

⦿ Tuesday Links

My Instapaper queue is currently like a cheap toilet: so full that it is overflowing.

Wait, that’s a terrible analogy.

How about this: by failing to get a links post out before spring break, and then continuing to add items to Instapaper during the break, I have a ridiculous number of articles to share.

So I’m going to bundle all the baseball items together in another post, and throw everything else into this one. In the interest of not completely overwhelming you, I’ve cut a few articles I might normally share but don’t seem necessary this time around.

Put on your readin’ glasses!

Of course you’ll want to read a minute-by-minute breakdown of the night that “We Are The World” was recorded.

There’s tons of great stuff in here, but I loved this story from Lionel Richie:

Last year, Richie told Billboard about the songwriting session: “I’m on the floor in Michael’s bedroom. I don’t think he had a bed — he just slept on the floor. There’s a bunch of albums around the wall, and there’s a carpet and a little bench. I’m writing the first verse — ‘There comes a time’ — and I hear over my shoulder, hhhhhhhhhhhh. There was a goddamn fucking python. A boa constrictor, a python, who cares what the hell it was. It was a big-ass, ugly-ass snake. I’m from Alabama — what you do with a snake is you call the police and you shoot the damn thing. I was screaming. And Michael’s saying, ‘There he is, Lionel, we found him. He was hiding behind the albums. We knew he was in the room, we just didn’t know where he was.’ I said, ‘You’re out of your freaking mind.’ It took me about two hours to calm my ass back down.”

‘We Are the World’: A Minute-by-Minute Breakdown on Its 30th Anniversary

My high school was never all that great at sports. We’d have decent teams occasionally, but conference championships and deep runs into the state tournaments we not very common. So, even though my class was several years out of school, many of us found great joy in the wonderful run from 1994–96, when Raytown, led by future NBA player Tyronn Lue, was really good.

I was at the epic state quarterfinal game against Central in 1995. It remains one of the best games, at any level, I’ve ever seen in person. My enduring memory of that night was a Central fan, sitting a few rows behind us, screaming “MR. HOOD! MR. HOOD!” over-and-over after Derek Hood’s desperation three sent the game to overtime.

The Kansas City Star talked to the coaches and some of the players involved in that game as the 20th anniversary passed a few weeks back.

Legacy of Derek Hood’s three-pointer in Central’s playoff win over Tyronn Lue and Raytown lives on, 20 years later

I love Top Gun when it came out, and for several years after. Flying fighter jets seemed like about the coolest job in the world. Despite being just 15, though, I realized there was a lot of terrific leaps of logic

Some of these are of interest only to true aficionados of naval aviation, but it is still fun to look back and see how ridiculous the movie was.

79 Cringeworthy Technical Errors In The Movie ‘Top Gun’

An oral history of Larry Bird’s 60-point game? Hell yes!

‘It Was Like Living in a Video Game’

Proof there is still strong, important journalism being practiced in the US of A.

Who Won the Scene? The Kid vs. Play Freestyle Rap Battle in ‘House Party’

Here is a great piece about one particular flavor of Wikipedia ridiculousness. I kind of wish I had some grammatical hang-up that I could devote myself to. I guess I’ll stick to silently mocking anyone who uses an apostrophe to pluralize their last name on their Christmas cards.

Don’t You Dare Use ‘Comprised Of’ On Wikipedia: One Editor Will Take It Out

Finally, and fabulously, how Larry King Tweets.

Larry King has a special way of tweeting: The broadcast legend who just can’t retire

Spring Break

IMG 3654


I forget if I warned my loyal readers that I would be disappearing for over a week as we traveled south for spring break. Facebook friends know the deal, and hopefully the rest of you figured it out on your own.

We are back, safe, tanned, and not entirely well-rested. I dropped the girls back at school about an hour ago and S. is off for a couple meetings. So I suppose I should get back in the swing of things, too, and share some details of our trip.

We returned to Captiva Island in Florida, where we spent spring break 2013. This time, though, rather than going alone and staying at the South Seas resort, we rented a large home with a significant chunk of S.’s family. Three of her sisters, who brought two husbands and two kids, and their dad and step-mom came from Indy and Denver.

Our home was right around the corner from the resort, so we were in a familiar spot. We had a pool and hot tub in the backyard and were just a quick walk away from the beach. For the most part, we had exceptional weather, unlike the cool spring of ’13. A little rain marred Monday afternoon, and then Friday was a complete washout as a big storm moved through after lunch that did not let up until the evening. But, as that was our last day, it gave everyone a chance to chill out a little and get an early start on having everything packed for early departures on Saturday.

It wasn’t quite as weird as two years ago, when it seemed like every time we turned around we saw someone either from Indianapolis or Kansas City, but there were still plenty of Midwesterners around. Last Saturday, on our second leg to Captiva, we stopped at lunch at the Siesta Key exit. We walked into a sandwich shop and a few moments later, a family of three came in, the high school-aged boy wearing a shirt from a Catholic high school in Indy. We asked if that was where he went, told the parents our girls were at St. P’s, and they laughed and said that’s where their son had gone to grade/middle school. Nine-hundred miles from home!

Then Tuesday night we were on the beach watching the sunset and the mother of one of C.’s grade-mates came over and said hello. Unfortunately C. got sick while we were in Florida and she stayed home that night, so she didn’t get to hang out with her friend while the parents shared a drink. Two years ago we ran into a couple St. P’s families at the resort, but this was a little more random because this family was actually staying on Sanibel. They had just come up because they said this is the best spot to watch sunsets.1

Our only real disappointment of the week was that we didn’t see a single dolphin. Two years ago they seemed to be everywhere, and one memorably “walked” along the beach with us for nearly half an hour, swimming as close as ten feet from the shore and staying with us as we walked over a mile. This year, nothing. Not even behind the dolphin cruise boats, which seemed to always have a pod of dolphins jumping through their wakes two years ago. I never heard an explanation for why they weren’t around this year. Maybe it was just bad luck. But we spent time on the beach every day, at different times, so it seemed odd.

Our drives were mostly uneventful. We drove through crazy-thick fog in the mountains of Tennessee on the way down. We laughed at the pimped-out county sheriff SUVs in Georgia that all had a label slapped on the back that said, “Purchased with money seized in drug raids.” I imagine there was some complaining by the locals that the sheriffs had big SUVs with tinted windows and custom wheels and these decals were an attempt to mute those criticisms.

I’ve now made three driving trips through the south. And each time I marvel at how southern drivers will just sit in the far left lane of 3-lane highways and not move even if there is a line of traffic behind them going faster. You can ride their bumpers, veer out to the left, flash your brights. Nothing works. I decided that drivers ed down there must involve a discussion that goes something like this, “Ya’ll jest need to find ya’llselves a lane where ya’ll feel comfortable and then spread out and stay there awhile. Don’t matter how fast ya’ll go. And don’t worry but no one else. They’ll go right around ya’ll.”

Late Friday evening, on the way down, there was a big accident on the north-bound side of I-75 that had all three lanes completely stopped and traffic backed up for miles. We came upon a car doing about 60 in the left lane. After a few moments we realized both the passenger AND THE DRIVER were holding their phones up and taking pictures of the stranded cars on the other side of the road. Idiots.

And we passed a woman in northern Florida going about 65 in the left lane who was putting her makeup on while veering around in her lane.

Keep in mind, most people were going 80-85 in the left lane when one of these yahoos wasn’t blocking traffic.

We stopped in Valdosta, GA for the evening on the way down. Saturday morning at breakfast we sat next to an older couple of snowbirds who were on their way back to St. Louis after three months in Florida. The moment my ass hit the seat, the man began asking me questions and telling me their story. They were really nice. As we were saying our goodbyes, he said, “Watch out for the old people going slow in the left lane!” and cackled. Which made me wonder, was he just really self-aware, or is he the rare old guy who puts the hammer down?

They also told us they had seen a 40-mile backup during their travels the previous day. We’ve heard about these crazy backups but had been lucky enough to never hit one that bad. Until Saturday on our way back. Between Macon and Atlanta, we hit a stretch that Google said would take us nearly two hours to travel under 30 miles. We did some quick map checking and got off of I-75 and used some state highways and get into Atlanta. Which then dumped us right into the eternal traffic-jam that is the ATL. We avoided the big bottleneck, but it still took us about three hours to go around 100 miles.

Between that nonsense, the time commitment, and the way these drives suck the life out of you, we decided our next spring break beach trip will involve planning further out and paying for airfare. We’ll have to pack more carefully, and airports are their own special kind of hell during spring break, but we can’t do the 20+ hours in a car thing again.

My nephew from Denver is five, and he and L. are like two peas in the proverbial pod. He’s really into singing, and one of his favorite current songs is “Uptown Funk.” We’d be walking to the beach and he’d be yelling, in his loud, little kid voice, “Up-town, funk you up. Uptown funk you up!” over and over. Once L. joined in, we got a few odd looks from people.

When we got off I-75 and tried the side roads, we came across something we had never seen nor heard of before: the Chik-Fil-A Dwarf House restaurants. I’m still not sure if these are just supposed to be charming, fairy tale-like attractions or if they’re actually aimed at little people. You never really know in the south.

Favorite billboard, seen in Georgia. One put up by the League of the South, an organization known for its progressive views on pretty much everything. The billboard had a simple message: #Secede

I love the hashtag attached to the ancient, tired, defeated-in-battle cause. Bringing the old to the new.

We laughed to ourselves when we heard it was snowing in Indianapolis during our first couple days on the beach. Despite knowing the spring is almost always reluctant to bloom in full in our part of the world, it was still disappointing to come home to temperatures in the 40s and the lawns not yet fully green and the trees still ugly and bare. There should be a switch that flips while away in warmer climes that makes your home at least look like spring when you return. I could handle a few more weeks where it stays cool if things were just green again, finally.

It was a fantastic trip. We were (mostly) smart with the sunscreen, so only some limited, minor burns for the pale Midwestern folks. Everyone was well-behaved. Other than one big storm, we had excellent weather. And everyone travelled safely.

Kickball practice begins today. Softball Wednesday. And soccer Thursday. And the summer swim team sent out the late April date for the informational meeting while we were away. We’re instantly in the spring crush. Summer will be here before you know it.


  1. They come to Sanibel every year, so I trust their judgement. 

Picks To Pick Against

We’re on the verge of that panic state that precedes any big trip. We’ve had clothes laid out since the weekend. We have about 38 lists with things we need to buy, pack, and take care of before we depart Friday morning. I’m also writing a baseball preview for my paper, L. has a playdate scheduled for this afternoon, and there are still many errands to run.

Which means I best put down some NCAA picks before I forget and one of my Final Four picks has already been ousted.

First off, I watched parts of last night’s BYU-Mississippi play-in game. That was absolutely fantastic. We need more games like that.

Next, while this may surprise you, I’m hoping Kentucky does what everyone expects them to do and gets six more wins to close out the perfect season. It’s not a matter of wanting them to be successful and have something to lord over the rest of college basketball’s blue blood programs. Obviously I’m hoping they lose a heart-breaking game to KU in the Elite 8.

But after thinking about the ramifications of how their season could end, I think clinching the perfect season would be a good thing. First off, it’s not likely to happen again soon. Which means no matter what UK and John Calipari do from here on out, it will be a disappointment. I relish the thought of Calipari snapping at the media and fans who wonder “What’s wrong with Kentucky?” when his team is 26–3 next February.

Next, if someone beats Kentucky this year, we’re going to start this whole process over again. Which brings a double-edged sword of possibilities. First, to the good for non-Kentucky fans, the pressure on future UK teams will be immense to get to 3X and 0 and then close out the season. The undefeated question has dogged the program the past three seasons. It’s going to be even bigger going forward if this team doesn’t win the title.

However, if they don’t win, Calipari may go full supernova in recruiting. There’s no question he’s the best in the game right now. But what if he says, “Eff it, I HAVE to go undefeated,” and stops recruiting a couple top 30 guys to go with his 3–4 top 10 guys in each class? What if he says, each year, “I’m signing the best point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward, and center in this class no matter what,”? At least Jahlil Okafor went to Duke and Andrew Wiggins went to KU. If Kentucky falls short, Calipari may not let those guys get away again.

That’s all meaningless chatter, though. Kentucky ain’t losing.[1]

My Final Four:
Arizona (North Carolina upsets Wisconsin in Sweet 16)
Iowa State

As for KU, I feel better about their chances than I did when the bracket first got posted. I still think the odds are better they’re done the first weekend than the second, though.

I worry about Perry Ellis’ health. I’m wondering if he might not play a little like Wayne Simien did in the 2004 tournament, when he was fighting a leg injury. He played well in KU’s opening game and again in the Sweet 16. He was clearly hobbled in the second round and Elite 8. Will Perry be able to come back and play hard and well Sunday if KU gets by New Mexico State in the opening round?

But the thing that gives me a little hope is that they have played seven games now without Cliff Alexander. Landon Lucas and Hunter Mickelson have both provided some solid minutes in his absence. I think they’re both comfortable being asked to play important roles. Those seven games could be the difference in KU moving forward.

I also realized it’s a little funny that I was so disheartened about playing Wichita State. I don’t live in Kansas, or the Kansas City area anymore. I don’t have any family or friends who went to WSU. Why should I care so much about the chances of the Shockers being the team that sends KU home? Especially when KU could be playing Indiana in the second round. And I’m going to be spending a week in Florida with three IU alums.[2] And then I’ll come home to a city full of IU fans that may be inclined to engage in friendly discussions with me should the Hoosiers be the team that ends KU’s season.

You know what? Screw them both. Wichita State and Indiana, I mean. Oh, and New Mexico State, too. And Notre Dame. And Kentucky. Screw the whole freaking Midwest bracket.

Rock Chalk, bitches!

  1. Worth noting, my jinx powers are strong this year. Witness what happened to Brannen Greene after I declared he was my favorite KU player. And how Iowa State lost two games immediately after I said they weren’t losing again.  ↩
  2. Fortunately none of the three are big basketball fans, and likely won’t know that KU and IU could play until I tell them. They also know that I get grumpy when KU’s season ends and will leave me alone if that nightmare scenario occurs.  ↩

He Knows The Deal

Straight up, I did not like Maurice Clarett back when he played for Ohio State. Part of it was just that I don’t like Ohio State and I hated their coach at the time, Jim Tressel. There were always rumors about him off-the-field, too. Rumors that seemed to be proven true with some legal issues after he left college that resulted in him landing in prison.

However, since he went to prison, he has taken hold of and turned around his life dramatically. It’s been an amazing thing to follow. I don’t know that he leads a perfect life today (who does?) but he seems like a very different dude than the youngster who helped lead OSU to a national title.

I know many of you have seen this already, but on Twitter today, Clarett has had some strong takes about both the retirement of Chris Borland after only one year in the NFL, and how schools manage their “student athletes.” Since he lived in the belly of the beast, his opinion has a little extra heft to it.


Not My Favorite Bracket

Next Sunday I’m going to be walking on a beach, swimming in a pool, and otherwise enjoying the Florida sun on day two of our week on Captiva Island. God forbid there is rain or it suddenly gets cool and I’m forced to watch basketball all day. Because I think my plan next weekend is going to be to soak in the much-needed warmth of Florida[0] and not spend much time watching the first weekend of the NCAA tournament.

[^1: I say that despite today being the first day over 70 in Indy since late October. It’s back to the 40s by Wednesday, though.

Because I have a terrible feeling about how next Sunday is going to go for my Jayhawks. And that’s only, of course, if they get by New Mexico State on Friday, a game I’ll have to follow on my phone while driving through Tennessee and Georgia. Should they survive Friday, they are rewarded with either a mercurial and maddening Indiana team, that has never been as good as it should be – likely held back by the man calling plays from he bench – and a hungry, amped up, woefully under-seeded Wichita State team that could cap their fantastic three-year run by knocking off the mighty Jayhawks who refuse to schedule them.


I think my biggest hope for the weekend is that Wichita State spends the week bitching about how there’s no way they should be a 7 seed and get hammered by the basketball gods for their hubris.

(Seriously, what’s the deal with KU getting stuck with experienced Missouri Valley teams that are dropped 2–3 slots below where they should be? No way was Northern Iowa an 8 seed in 2010.)[1]

My expectations were low this year anyway. I’ve been telling people for weeks that KU would not survive the first weekend of the tournament. Size deficiencies, injury issues, and the Cliff Alexander suspension seemed to make KU the most likely high seed to go out early this year.

And I was fine with that. They extended the conference championship streak and won 26 games before the NCAA tournament, which is really a fantastic set of accomplishments.

But Wichita freaking State?

Like I said, I may just enjoy the sun and avoid the TV next Sunday.

I was involved in an interesting discussion regarding this year’s KU team over the weekend. Let me preface by saying that our current culture of hyper-communication makes all sports discussions seem more negative than they used to be. And each year they seem to get worse.

But I don’t know that a recent KU team has been as unloved as this one. I blame Kentucky. The Wildcats destroying KU in the second game of the season put a damper on the year from almost the beginning. And then I think a ton of KU fans look to Kentucky, and how John Calipari has collected talent and got them to play so well, and wonder why KU’s one-and-doners haven’t done the same. Last year with Andrew Wiggins and a partial year from Joel Embiid KU was still erratic. Aside from a couple games, the team never really seemed to mesh into a powerful whole.

This year Kelly Oubre took two months to figure out how to play at this level, and Cliff Alexander never got going before his suspension. Meanwhile Kentucky was going 97–0.

While I’ve been bummed by the sense of entitlement coming from some KU fans who insist that X amount of talent should guarantee Y level of success, I admit I’ve been affected by it. I haven’t loved watching this year’s team. Partially because they rarely seem to get more than two guys playing well at a time and show maddening lapses in concentration and effectiveness. Partially because so many people have bitched about this year’s team.

I realized Friday night, after KU beat Baylor for the third time this year, that it’s really been a remarkable season. Looking back at the Big 12 schedule, I honestly can’t explain how they won a few of those games. How do they come back from 18 down against West Virginia without Perry Ellis on the court and without hitting a single 3-pointer? How do they battle against a much bigger Texas team and twice erase six-point second half leads, once without Alexander? How do they take on a white-hot Baylor team with a gimpy Ellis Friday night and win going away? How do they build a 17-point lead against Iowa State Saturday and go into the final minute of the game tied before watching the Cyclones make the big plays late?

The answer is easy: this team is way tougher than you realize at first glance. I think we miss that because the team lacks that single, fiery leader who is the focal point. There’s no Russell Robinson or Darnell Jackson as on the ’08 team. No Sherron Collins. No Thomas Robinson. There isn’t that one alpha leader who will threaten to kick your ass if you don’t play as hard as he does. There isn’t the visible, emotional leader who exudes competitiveness and confidence in a game’s biggest moments.

Just a bunch of guys who have quietly gotten much better on the defensive end of the court and learned how to just keep plugging away no matter how ugly the offense is. Frank Mason might raise his arms a little. Kelly Oubre and Wayne Simien might pump their fists. Perry Ellis might raise his eyebrows. But they don’t raise temperature of the building all on their own.

That’s the one thing that gives me hope for next week. Maybe they can finally start hitting shots again. Maybe the minutes and production from Landon Lucas and Hunter Mickelson since Alexander was suspended will make the difference against a smaller team like Wichita State or Indiana. Probably not, but there’s a chance.

If they get through the first weekend of the tournament, it’s going to be because of that quiet toughness and confidence that has been built up since that terrible night against Kentucky back in November.

  1. Fundamental difference between coaches/players complaining about their seed/opponents and fans doing it. You’re supposed to bitch if you’re a fan!  ↩

Season’s End

Great seasons often come to an end early in March. Teams that cruised through the regular season run into injuries, over-confidence, or just better opponents and walk off the court for the final time with an L next to their name.

That happened to M.’s volleyball team last night.

After winning their first nine matches, including the first two of the tournament, they dropped a 3-game match in the quarterfinals last night, losing 15–11 in game three.

They played hard, but the other team, St. B’s, was just better than them. Which hurt a little more as St. P’s had beaten this team during the regular season. But St. P’s was missing their second-best player, who had mono, and their normally reliable servers all seemed to lose their mojo in the tournament and struggled to rip off those 5–6–7 point runs that were so common during the regular season.

Most significantly, though, every St. B’s girl could serve. They weren’t all great, but each of them could get the ball over the net and into play. As I mentioned early in the season, that’s like 75% of the battle in fourth grade volleyball. Where M.’s team was killing itself by serving the ball into the net or out-of-bounds and wasting scoring chances, the other team almost always got 2–3 points from each server.

St. P’s lost game one handily. They had an early lead in game two, but trailed 20–13 before roaring back and taking a 24–22 lead. But St. B’s got it to 24-all and were serving for the match[1] when their server put it into the net. They never had the lead in game three but were as close as 11–9.

I think the parents were more disappointed than the girls, although there were some long faces in the final post-game huddle of the year. Cupcakes in the school colors helped ease the pain a little, I think.

To be honest, though, they were fortunate to get to the quarterfinals. In Sunday’s opening round, they won game one easily, muddled through game two, and were down 7–1 in game three before rallying to win.

Then in Wednesday’s second round, they again romped in game one and slumped through game two, and were down 11–10 in game three after losing four-straight points against a really tough server. She sent one more high, looping serve to the back line. The St. P’s receiver, who had muffed three-straight returns, smacked the ball and sent it on a line drive toward the net. A teammate just happened to be in the way. As she ducked to protect herself, she got her arms up, popped the ball across the net, and it landed in. 11–11. St. P’s got it to 13–11, then lost serve and another point. 13-all. Fortunately St. P’s best server got the final two points to send them to the quarters.

I’ll say this, though. Losing last night may have been a good thing. The team they would have faced in the semifinals was amazing. They were also from St. B’s. They also had seven or eight girls who could serve. But they also had three girls who could serve better than St. P’s best server. One girl could serve overhanded from five feet behind the back line and pick what spot she hit. A couple others were still underhanded servers, but hit it very high, which always causes confusion on the other side. And then their best server was also an underhanded server, but sent it to nearly the rafters and then got the ball to knuckle on the way down. In their quarterfinal, she served 21-straight points to open a game! She only missed out on serving out the game because her coach asked her to switch to overhand serves and she flubbed a toss. Not sure what’s in the water fountains at St. B’s, but it clearly helps with your serves!

If our girls couldn’t handle St. B’s second-best team, there was no way they could have hung with their top team.

M. played her best game of the year last night. She had several returns and kept most of them in play. She looked confident in taking the ball and if her aim wasn’t always accurate, she generally hit it with the correct amount of power. She never got comfortable serving this year, and her coach subbed her out before she had a chance to serve in each of the tournament games. Which was fine with us. But I’m hoping that the combination of her liking volleyball so much, her realization of how important serving is, and not getting to serve in the tournament will finally get her to listen to me when I want to go out and work on serves in the driveway. As I told her last night, it’s really not that hard and if you can just get the ball over the net and keep it in play, you give your team a great chance to win the point.

So it was a great season overall. They didn’t lose a game until their seventh match and didn’t lose a match until the quarterfinals of the tournament. It was a pretty good start for a bunch of girls who had never played before.

Now we take two weeks off for spring break and begin kickball immediately after. C. will begin her first softball season and L. will be back on the soccer fields after spring break, too.

Stupid me did not know until last night that you only have to win by two in the third game at this level. So this would be the final point of the game regardless.  ↩

Friday Vid

“The One I Love” – Big Country

Odds are if you mention the band Big Country to most people in our generation, they immediately and only think of one song. Which makes sense, as other than that classic, Big Country was never huge in America.

But they had a couple other smaller hits here in the States, including this gorgeous track from their 1993 album The Buffalo Skinners, which hit #34 on the mainstream rock chart and #17 on the modern rock chart. They chop about a minute off the full version in this performance, but it’s still a wonderful performance and reminder that the band was more than that one song.

Unfulfilled Promise

This post is one of the most difficult pieces I’ve ever had to publish.

Not because I’m sharing some rough personal news or writing about an event that has caused me emotional stress. But rather because it has been percolating in my head for roughly two months, rewritten multiple times, and I’ve spent hours doing research on it.

And I’m still not sure I’m satisfied with it.

But, since I spent hours yesterday trying to, finally, wrap it up, I’m going to go ahead and post it and be done.

First, background.

Waaaaaay back in early January, the SEC Network aired an edited and enhanced[1] replay of the legendary February 1990 game between Loyola Marymount and LSU. If you don’t recall the magic of that day,[2] you might want to do a quick reset by reading Luke Winn’s retelling of the game from a couple years back:

The Lost Art of Scoring: Revisiting the 1990 LSU-Loyola epic

I recorded the game and have, in small chunks, watched it while running on the treadmill. It is so awesome. Loyola had the late Hank Gathers, Bo Kimball, and a bunch of guys who showed no fear in running-and-gunning for 40 minutes. Or more, if needed.

LSU had sophomore Chris Jackson, who led the nation in scoring as a freshman and could do just about anything he wanted on the court. They also had 7-footer Stanley Roberts, who had been ineligible as a freshman, and was not just tall, not just huge, but also pretty damn good. And, just to make it interesting, they had a freshman named Shaquille O’Neal. The guys surrounding those three were long, athletic, and capable of hitting shots and playing defense.

While watching this game, I kept thinking about how little the Shaq-led LSU teams did in the NCAA tournament. In 1990, the one year Jackson and Roberts were both on the roster with Shaq, the Tigers lost eight games in the regular season and earned a #5 seed in the NCAA tournament, losing to #4 seed Georgia Tech in the second round. Now, that Tech team was pretty good. It made the Final Four and had a few NBA players on its roster, notably Kenny Anderson.

But, still…LSU had two 7-footers, who were both massive while still being athletic. And a guard who was nearly un-guardable.

The next two years, Shaq was on his own. In 1991 LSU lost in the first round to eleventh seed UConn. In 1992, his final year at LSU, the Tigers lost to #2 seed Indiana in the second round.

So the Shaq era was a bit of a bust when it came to winning in March. No surprise given who the coach of that team was. Dale Brown was a coach who always seemed too clever for his own good, generally getting in the way of his most talented teams in March.

So I began wondering, what was the biggest waste of future talent for an NCAA team? Or, put the other way, what was the lowest return of NCAA tournament success based on NBA talent on the team?

That’s where I ran into issues. I think I keep looking at this too broadly. My focus should really just be on that 1990 LSU team compared to other single seasons. But I keep wanting to rope the entire Shaq era into the discussion.

Anyway, here are some other teams I thought of.

  • The 1990 Syracuse team. Derrick Coleman, Billy Owens, and LeRon Ellis. It was ranked #1 for the first two months of the season, but lost to Minnesota in the Sweet 16.
  • 1991 Arizona. Chris Mills, Brian Williams, and Sean Rooks among others. Lost to Seton Hall in the Sweet 16.
  • 1998 Kansas. Two first team All-Americans in Raef LaFrentz and Paul Pierce. Lost to Rhode Island in round of 32.
  • 1984 North Carolina. Michael Jordan, Brad Daugherty, Sam Perkins, Kenny Smith, and Matt Doherty. Lost to Indiana in Sweet 16.
  • And Georgetown only got to the second weekend of the tournament once, an Elite Eight appearance in 1989, out of three years of Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo. Mutombo was injured much of 1991, so let’s take the 1990 team, which lost to Xavier in the second round.

Late Addition

Good grief. After I posted this, I checked back to some notes I scribbled down a few weeks ago and saw that I forgot a very important team: 2007 Texas. Kevin Durant, one of the greatest freshman in NCAA history. DJ Augustin, who is still playing solid ball in the NBA. AJ Abrams, who was a great shooter. Then a bunch of terrific pieces around them.

And this team lost to an eleven seed, USC, in the second round. BY NINETEEN POINTS.

Not the same collection of talent as LSU, nor as experienced as the ’98 KU team. But, man, this is likely the most Rick Barnes team in the history of Rick Barnes teams.

I’m sure there are other teams that I should have considered, but I went with the ones that immediately jumped into my head. Feel free to throw your own suggestions my way.

Here’s where I start to struggle. How do I separate these teams? Do I look more at how the players performed in college or the pros? Does it matter who you lose to and when, or just that you don’t reach the Final Four? Which is the bigger deal, a team that clearly underachieves or one that just has a bad day at the wrong time?

After much thought, I decided to go with the overall underachievers angle. I’m not thinking about the biggest tournament upsets. And I’m trying my hardest to consider the players at their college level of skill and effectiveness. So 1984 Michael Jordan was a first team All-American. But we was not yet MICHAEL JORDAN.

Of course, now that I’ve finally posted this, I might read it in a week and think it’s complete garbage. Keep that in mind.

So, based on the list above, here are the biggest underachievers I could think of in the last 30 years.

And it’s easy: 1990 LSU. Almost all the other teams listed above were Bad Days At The Worst Time situations. But LSU in 1990? That team should have been un-freaking-guardable. Yet they lost nine times. They played played in the SEC conference, of which Arkansas was not yet a member, which featured a probation-hampered and rebuilding Kentucky team, and Florida was not the power that Billy Donovan would turn them into 20 years later. Yet somehow Georgia, not LSU, won the regular season title. And then LSU lost to Auburn in the first round of the conference tournament.

Again, this team had a guard that could shoot from anywhere on the court, get to the rim any time he wanted, and two massive 7-footers playing in an era when you couldn’t batter guys inside the way you can now. And they lost nine times, including the first weekend of the NCAA tournament.

Absolutely terrible.

Of the other teams I mentioned, only Georgetown really comes close to squandering as much talent. But ‘Zo and Dikembe never played with very good guards, so you could pack the defense inside and just wait for their guards to shoot them out of a game while running the bigs to death on offense. Still, two NBA All-Star caliber 7-footers and you lose to Xavier?

Now if I talked about the worst tournament loss, that’s clearly KU in 1998. LaFrentz never panned out in the NBA, but he was a monster his senior year. And Pierce, before becoming an NBA Hall of Famer, was damn-near unstoppable in his final year in Lawrence. In the Rhode Island game, LaFrentz had 23 points and 14 rebounds. Pierce scored 22. The rest of the team, though, was dreadful from the floor, especially in the second half, and Tyson Wheeler and Cuttino Mobley carved up the KU defense to squeeze out the win. Terrible loss, but that was a great team all season, losing just two games when they were at full strength by a total of three points before the URI game.

The 1990 Syracuse and 1991 Arizona teams were both loaded with future NBA guys, but never really put all their talent together. And each team made the second weekend of the tournament, so their losses weren’t as bad as the KU loss.

Finally, the 1984 Indiana win over North Carolina is the ultimate Bad Day At The Wrong Time game. Carolina was sooooo much more talented than IU. Seriously, look at that roster. It’s ridiculous. But Bobby Knight got his Hoosiers to play unbelievable defense for one day, benefitted from Kenny Smith not being 100%, and pulled off the shocker. That game, almost as much as the three national titles Knight won, is a huge part of his legend at IU. Other than Steve Alford – WHO WAS A FRESHMAN! – there was not a great player on that squad. But, for one day, everyone locked into the role perfectly and they pulled the massive upset.

The biggest thing about that game, though, is it cost us a potential second UNC-Georgetown title game in three years. IU lost to a mediocre Virginia team in the Elite 8. Of course that same team I call mediocre pushed Houston to overtime before losing by 2 in the national semifinal. Houston then fell to the Hoyas in the title game.

If UNC beats IU, are they able to beat UVa for the third time that season? If so, I bet they get by Houston. And then we have a rematch of the classic 1982 title game. Only this time Jordan isn’t a bit player, UNC has Daugherty, Perkins, and Doherty to throw at Patrick Ewing, and (if healthy) Kenny Smith would laugh at the Hoya pressure.

AND THEN…let’s say UNC beats Georgetown in ’84. Villanova over Georgetown probably doesn’t happen the next year, because Patrick Ewing either goes pro after his junior year or the Hoyas go undefeated in ’85 to avenge three years of coming oh-so-close.

OK, one more thing: college basketball was freaking ridiculous from the mid–80s to the mid–90s. There were so many teams loaded with future NBA talents who stayed together for multiple years. Think about all the underachievers/upset victims above. Then throw in the teams that were nearly great but still made it to the Elite 8 or Final Four (Houston, Duke before Laettner). Then add in the UNLVs and Louisvilles and Laettner Duke teams that did win it all. Mercy.

Even when our generation got to college, it was crazy if a guy left after two years. I’m firmly in favor of players having the right to declare for the NBA draft any time they want. But, I have to say, the college game was so much better back when guys stayed until they were physically mature, their games had developed, and they had confidence based on experience, not just raw talent. They knew their systems better and, thus, the game was more pleasing to watch as the game was more about five guys working together than setting up isolations for the most talented scorer.[3]

Now players today are waaaaaay more athletic than they were back then. So the highlights are better today, but the overall aesthetic of the game was better then.

Good grief. 1900 words. I need to stop letting these things sit in my head for eight weeks before I write them up!

  1. Edited because some portions of the game were cut out. Which was kind of insane because one roughly three-minute stretch that got pulled featured about 40 points being scored, combined. Enhanced because there are interviews with both coaches and a few players.  ↩
  2. And to be honest, I never saw the game live. At the same time, I was in Allen Fieldhouse watching #2 KU beat #9 Oklahoma.  ↩
  3. One of the common complaints about the NBA by fans who prefer the college game is, “I hate how the just play one-on-one in the NBA.” Ironically, I think the college game has become more isolation-oriented while the best NBA teams rely on more complex offenses designed to use cuts and screens to get players open rather than just clearly out and watching.  ↩

TV Notes

A few TV notes.

First, I was a couple days late watching the series finale of Parks and Recreation. In fact, I was a couple weeks behind and watched the final five episodes in a two-night binge. And since that was two weeks ago, this is verrrrrry late. But still…

An absolutely perfect and tremendous end to a nearly perfect show. I enjoyed the flash forward gimmick that the final season was built upon, and then the further flashing forward in the finale that gave hints how each character ended up. The “Johnny Karate” episode should go into the Smithsonian. And the finale itself has to be one of the all-time great finales. As the show did in its seven seasons, it hit that ideal balance between silliness and sappiness. Ron Swanson paddling a kayak into the distance? Just a brilliant final image of him.

I’ve said this many times before: I have always liked Modern Family. But Parks & Rec was always a better show. And it’s a damn shame that Modern Family and its cast routinely won awards while the Parks & Rec crew was always looked over. Phil Dunphy is an American treasure. But Leslie Knope and Ron Swanson are pantheon sit-com characters.

So here are some things related to the end of the show I collected a couple weeks back.

‘Parks And Recreation’ Star Amy Poehler: ‘It’s Kind Of Ruined Me For Anything Else’

Knope Springs Eternal: ‘Parks and Recreation Ends Its Brilliant, Satisfying Seven-Season Run

Parks And Recreation: “One Last Ride”

You know, there’s a bigger, and frankly amazing, significance to Parks & Rec ending. With it gone, there are no more great comedies on NBC. And given that they passed on several shows that are on other networks and appear focused on dramas and reality TV, will we ever see the network embrace comedy again?

This is the network that gave us Cheers, Cosby, Seinfeld, Frasier, and Friends. Plus Family Ties, Night Court, A Different World, NewsRadio, Will and Grace, The Office, and Community. Four of the greatest series in TV history, a handful of other excellent ones, and some niche shows that pushed televised comedy forward. Plus about a 1000 shows they desperately wanted us to like but could not match the heavy hitters.

Today CBS is known as the comedy network, Modern Family is on ABC, Brooklyn Nine-Nine is on Fox, and Tina Fey’s latest work is airing on Netflix. Meanwhile NBC offers up some half-assed comedies you can tell are terrible just by watching the promos.

Like a lot of folks, I don’t watch much network TV anymore. But, for the first time since the very early 80s, I have no weekly reason to turn on NBC. Or at least set the DVR to record something aired on NBC.

Since this seems to be a meme, given the show’s pitiful ratings, an obligatory reminder that you really should be watching The Americans. Best show on TV. And given that so few people are watching it, it appears best positioned to become ‘The Next The Wire’, a show that people who watch laud as one of the finest in recent memory that just can not seem to get traction with viewers.

While talking about US-Soviet relations in the 1980s, I just got around to watching the 30 for 30 about the 1980 Soviet hockey team, Miracles and Men, over the weekend. Man, was it fantastic.

There is another, more artsy, documentary about the same subject that recently came out. But to American audiences, this is a largely new topic: how did the players on that Soviet team, generally believed to be the most talented and finest “amateur” team ever assembled, react to losing to the young Americans on that Friday night in Lake Placid, New York?

The film begins by setting up how hockey became a tool for the Soviets to demonstrate their strength on the world stage. (I had no idea that hockey was not played in the USSR until after World War II.) Behind the brilliant Anatoly Tarasov, the Soviets slowly built up not only a formidable program, but completely changed the way that hockey was played.

It’s pretty amazing to watch the video from the 1972 series between the Canadian NHL All-Stars and the Soviet national team. After they were soundly beaten early, the Canadians began playing flat-out dirty hockey, pounding the Soviets into submission. Like The Americans, you suddenly find yourself rooting for the bad guys!

One of the coolest elements of the film is how no US hockey players are interviewed. This is only about the Soviet viewpoint. So we see how they were harassed when the got to America. How Lake Placid, to them, seemed like this fierce little village full of anti-Communist propaganda. And how their rout of the US team in New York a week before the Olympics set them for a massive fall two weeks later.

While there is original video and audio from the ABC broadcast of the US-USSR game, much of the audio is provided from a Soviet radio broadcast. The terseness of the announcer as he shares that the mighty Soviets have lost to “the host team” is a stark contrast to Al Michaels’ legendary exclamation on ABC. It’s easy to imagine people back in the USSR staring at the radios in disbelief after he abruptly ends his commentary.

While the piece focuses on Tarasov and future NHL player Slava Fetisov, the star is team captain Boris Mikhailov. He plays his role as the evil Russian to the hilt. His best line is when the producer asks him if he ever saw the movie “Miracle.” “No!” he spits out in Russian. “Why would I see that? If I want to see a movie, I’ll watch a good one where my team wins!” While he roars, there is also the slightest hint of a smile and twinkle in his eye. For an intensely proud man, that night in 1980 is an embarrassment. But it was still one moment in a lengthy, stellar career. And in that twinkle, I think he shows that he understands and accepts what the game meant to Americans. And that his job is to dismiss this blip on the historical record as one bad night for a legendary team.

Compare his knowing response to the one by a former TASS press official who was in Lake Placid, who snippily replies that for a random man to kiss Sofia Loren, it is the biggest moment in his life, but for her it is just a moment. There’s no humor or lightness hidden behind his annoyance in being asked to relive the upset one more time.

The final third falls off a bit, as it focuses on Fetisov’s attempts to fight the Soviet machine and come to America to play in the NHL.

But, overall, it’s a fine addition to the history of that epic night.

⦿ Friday Links

As I noted in last week’s Friday Vid, Courtney Barnett’s new album is out later this month. Grantland’s Steven Hyden recently spoke with her and shares his impressions of both the album and how she has exploded onto the music scene.

Courtney Barnett Writes All the Best Songs

’Tis the season for articles diving into what is wrong with college basketball and ideas on how to fix it.

I think Seth Davis has some really interesting thoughts here. The big takeaway is that coaches should not have as much control over the rules of the game as they do now. As it stands, the game is set up to reduce the advantage that more talented teams have. Davis suggests some relatively simple tweaks to the rules and the configuration of the court should make for a better, faster-paced, more visually pleasing game.

Jay Bilas, naturally, has the best line:

“I hear people complain and say, well if you do these things, the teams with the better players are going to win,” ESPN analyst Jay Bilas says. “And I’m thinking, did you really just say that? That’s like saying if we took all the sprinters and let them run in a straight line, the fastest guy would win. That’s the whole point.”

The history of college basketball’s offensive decline—and how to fix it

I have not watched very much Big East basketball this year. But last year, when we were stuck inside for two months, I watched a ton. And I was surprised at how good it was. Every night seemed like a close game (and if Butler was involved, overtime was pretty much assured) in front of great crowds. And the schools were all smaller, urban, similarly-focused institutions that did not have D1 football programs. While sprawling geographically, the league still seemed to have a unifying principal that harkened back to the “good old days” before football TV concerns destroyed the classic conference alignments.

Matt Brown with an appreciation of the league. I bet a lot of you did not know it has the #2 conference RPI rating.

Embrace The New Big East

I’m sure some of you know this, but, when he was in high school, Prince was actually a pretty solid basketball player. Apparently that Charlie Murphy true Hollywood story was based on fact.

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Prince Used To Ball Back In The Day

Justin Salazar: American hero

270 Tacos in Three Months? “Taco Sal” Has a Perfect Season

Finally, things like this are why so many people hate Christmas music.

Local radio station to play Christmas music 24/7

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