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Uncertain Principles

Physics, Politics, Pop Culture

Saturday, March 20, 2004

Foul Matters

March Madness is sweeping the blogosphere! Well, sort of.

There's a discussion going on on three very erudite blogs regarding the strategy of removing a player who's in foul trouble: Matt Yglesias credits it to Brian Weatherson, and Brian also posted it on Crooked Timber.

It's a simple question that demands a slightly complex answer-- the taller-than-expected Matt gets most of it in his post, and the commenters on the various threads pretty much cover the rest of what needs to be said. There isn't really a single answer, but rather a mish-mash of psychology and strategy that's sort of hard to explain in abstract terms. Leaving players with foul problems in is one of those strategies like "always go for it on fourth and short" that works very well in the spherical, frictionless world of economic approximations and video games, but tends not to be tremendously effective in the real world.

Of course, my first thought on reading this was "George F. Will's Sports Machine". Which is nasty and uncharitable, but then my brackets got completely nuked today, so I'm a touch cranky.

Posted at 10:22 PM | link | follow-ups | 3 comments

Friday, March 19, 2004

I'm the Best!

Statistics from the ESPN Tournament Challenge Pool:

Entry: Orzel FearTurtle

First Round: 140

Total Points: 140

PP Remaining: 1660

Overall Rank: 49260

Percentile: 98.0

The advantage of filling out several pool sheets in various bracket contests is that you completely forget who you picked in the various games. After writing yesterday's post, I thought I had done worse than I actually had, but it turns out that I actually did pick Manhattan to upset Florida in my first sheet. Of course, this is the bracket where I have Maryland picked to win it all, which doesn't look all that brilliant after yesterday's scare.

To give you a sense of scale on this, Kate filled out an entry as well, and got 13 of the 16 games right. Her totals? 326,094th place overall, percentile 86.9. Amazing the difference one game makes.

This won't last, of course, but I just want to gloat while I can.

Posted at 10:26 AM | link | follow-ups | 1 comment

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Serious Basketball Comments

Miscellaneous fill-out-your-bracket-sheet comments:

5-12 Games: Every year for the past N years, one #12 seed has beaten a #5 seed in the first round. This year, the games are Providence vs. Pacific, Florida vs. Manhattan, Illinois vs. Murray St., and Syracuse vs. BYU. Of these, I'm really tempted to take Manhattan over Florida, just because I really, really dislike Florida. This, of course, means that Florida is Final Four bound... The other tempting game is Murray St. over Illinois, because the Big Ten was just awful this year. Problem is, Murray State has had a player suspended for drug issues.

I know nothing about Pacific, but Providence has really slumped late, so that's probably not a terrible pick. And then, of course, there's Syracuse facing BYU. This has been a flaky Syracuse team, and they're on the road, but the ethics of fandom prevent me from picking them to lose.

Mystery Picks: I've read and listened to a lot of commentary this week, and I really can't figure out some of the things being said by smart people.

Lots of people are going on about how a second-round game between Duke and Arizona would be great, but I just don't get it. The PAC-10 was also pretty bad this year, and while Seton Hall wasn't a great team, I've been profoundly underwhelmed with Arizona. They've got talent, but even less discipline than usual .

Another puzzler is the large number of people picking North Carolina to go far. Why? They've got a really good starting five, true, but they only go seven deep, and their leading scorer can usually be relied upon for three or four absolutely brain-dead plays per game. And if seeds hold, they'll face Texas and the Longhorns' amazing array of goons in the second round. I just don't see them getting past Texas.

The other one I have a tough time with is Texas Tech. Lots of people are picking them to beat St. Joe's, which I don't really understand, given that Bob Knight has a wretched record in the last several NCAA Tournaments, and Texas Tech has been decidedly mediocre on the road this year. I'm picking them to lose to Charlotte, actually.

Home Sweet Home: There are a couple of teams out there that could end up being the beneficiary of the same sort of home-court effect we saw with Syracuse playing in Albany last year.

Kansas gets to play its first- and second-round games in Kansas City, and if they get past that, they'd play in St. Louis. I don't really think that'd be enough to get them past Kentucky, but it's something to think about.

The other big home-court effect is Wisconsin getting to play in Milwaukee. This is a bit of a travesty, really, given that they're a six seed-- Syracuse last year was at least a #3 when they got a big gift from the committee. It's also a big screw job for Pittsburgh, who would get the Badgers in the second round. That's a game that ought to be avert-your-eyes ugly, but the Panthers are probably strong enough to overcome the crowd. The winner moves to New Jersey, and a likely match-up with Oklahoma State. Again, probably an ugly game, but it would at least be closer to a neutral site.

My Teams: First, let me say right up front that it wouldn't shock me to see either or both of my teams lose in the first round. I know almost nothing about UTEP or BYU, but Syracuse and Maryland have bother been up and down this year. Maryland is coming off a wonderful weekend, but that was then, this is now.

Assuming they both win, they'd face each other in the second round, setting up a huge dilemma for me. It's a tough game to pick, too. Maryland has been playing well of late, but they're not a good outside shooting team, and could struggle against the famed 2-3. And Syracuse has the sort of offense that could give Maryland problems-- the Terps give up lots of three-pointers, and Gerry McNamara isn't likely to miss those shots. On the other hand, though, Syracuse doesn't have a whole lot of guys who can light it up from outside, while Maryland goes pretty deep.

I've picked this game both ways in various online pools, and I really don't know where to go with it. I think I'm just too close to both teams to pick the game. I'd probably go with Maryland, but that's as much because I've got more emotion invested in them in recent years than anything else. It'll definitely be an interesting game, if it happens.

Of course, it may not happen. That's the beauty of the whole thing, and the #2 reason why college basketball is better than college football.

And it all starts in another ten minutes...

Posted at 12:13 PM | link | follow-ups | 5 comments

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Warning: May Contain Basketball Related Product

For those bored by hoops blogging, I'll mention a couple of interesting things I've encountered in recent days:

First, there's this post by Amy Greenwood on the "progress is icky" ideology of Leon Kass, who would be comical if he weren't powerful. This touches on some of the same things discussed in comments to this earlier post.

William Tozier notes Greenwood's piece, and follows up with some thoughts of his own. I was particularly struck by this bit:

I'd drop everything right now if somebody came along with a convincing new method to teach people, engineer society, mass-brainwash people, or otherwise dehumanize them away from their intense faith and the accompanying conviction that they must interfere with others' lives to pass it on. Some days I think a little dehumanization, correctly applied, would do us all some good. Because it seems some mornings that what sets us apart from the rest of the animals on the planet is the ability to be dangerously stupid.

This interacts in a very interesting but massively spoiler-ish way with the ending of Jack McDevitt's Omega, which I finished just last night. The book raises an interesting dilemma regarding exactly this sort of issue, but doesn't end up doing as much with it as I might've liked. It's a very good book, btw, and I'll say nice things about it on my book log one of these days.

Returning to the Greenwood piece, P.Z. Myers (whose picture on his blog looks sort of like Bill Bryson, for whatever that's worth) has a lot more to say about it, and further evidence of the corrosive stupidity of the Religious Right. It's a good read, if only as a reminder why it's important to get the Bush crowd out of power as quickly as possible.

Speaking of Myers and corrosive stupidity, he's also got a great series of recent posts on recent creationist nonsense. To give you an idea of the tone, the first piece is titled "Is the NRO Always This Stupid," and that's before he loses his temper...

Sticking with science and technology types, Sean Carroll has some interesting reflections on the history of science from a GenEd course with the best title ever.

For those who can't get enough basketball, two Washington Post articles: Tony Kornheiser's annual goofy NCAA Tournament preview; and a great article by Thomas Boswell on what Maryland's win Sunday means:

Three weeks ago, Duke's perpetually arrogant fans chanted, "Not our rival," as the Blue Devils beat Maryland by 23 points.

On Sunday, Maryland's team of kids -- with five freshmen and four sophomores -- stuffed those words back down the throat of a powerhouse Duke team that deeply wanted to win its sixth straight ACC tournament. Oh, the Blue Devils have a rival now, whether they like it or not. Its name is Maryland.


But in a very important way in which Maryland's players and fans now both understand, the Terrapins of the Williams era have gotten over the final hump. When they have an excellent team, they can finish off a national championship run. And when they are young, raw and on the bubble at 14-11, they can reel off five wins in a row, rip the ACC tournament away from the Nos. 1-2-3 seeds and end up a No. 4 seed themselves at the Big Dance.

All my life, everybody has expected such things of Duke. Now, Maryland expects it of itself.

I haven't been rooting for the Terps as long as Boswell has, having picked them up only when I arrived there for grad school, but ten years (!) of Maryland fandom, several of them spent on, make it hard not to shout "Amen!" at several points in the column.

Posted at 10:14 PM | link | follow-ups | 3 comments

Monday, March 15, 2004

130 Lines About 65 Teams

The deafening comments silence following the last few posts can only mean one thing: More basketball commentary! Sadly, I've watched relatively little basketball this year (for me), so this will not be the least bit helpful to anyone. If you want to see a more professional version of this, look at this Kentucky-centric article.

(Apologies to the Nails. But I'm not even going to attempt to make this rhyme, so really, all I'm doing is riffing off their title...)

1 Kentucky. It's funny to see Kentucky as the top overall seed, given that I thought Mississippi State was having a better year in the SEC than they were. Reputation is good for something, it seems.

16a Lehigh. If it weren't for John Feinstein, I wouldn't even know where this place was. After reading The Last Amateurs, though, I always root for the Patriot League.

16b Florida A&M. Every year, at least one team sneaks into the Tournament with a losing record overall. This is that team.

8 Washington. Spoiling Stanford's season only gets you so far. The PAC-10 was just awful this year.

9 UAB. I really don't have any confidence in Conference USA. I suspect they're rated highly because of a Big Ten-style positive feedback loop.

5 Providence. Jim Calhoun fucked up by not recruiting Ryan Gomes. Are you happy now?

12 Pacific. A whole ocean versus some lousy monks? Here's your 12-5 upset...

4 Kansas. It would be awfully ironic if they won it all after Roy Williams left, wouldn't it? Not that that'll happen, you understand.

13 IL-Chicago. We're one team away from the possibility of an all-Illinois Fianl Four. One team, and a realistic chance of any of the three we've got winning.

6 Boston Coll. Al Skinner is one angry-looking man. Even when they win, he looks like he's about to go medieval on somebody.

11 Utah. Rick Majerus is stepping down after this season, due to massive heart problems. Who'd' thunk it?

3 Georgia Tech. "Jarrett Jack" is just a wonderful name for a point guard. You've also got to like Luke Schenscher, who looks like a seven-foot Aussie Art Garfunkel.

14 Northern Iowa. You always have to watch out for the directional schools. They have a way of sneaking up on you.

7 Michigan St. I've heard people complaining that Michigan State wasn't rewarded for their really tough early-season schedule. This neglects the fact that you actually need to win some of the games that you schedule...

10 Nevada. The Big Ten is really pretty bad, and sevens beat tens more often than not, so they might have a chance. But for all I know, they're coached by the big lunkhead from CSI.

2 Gonzaga. Finally, Gonzaga gets a good seed. I guess the selection committee was just awed by Rony Turiaf's magnificent hair.

15 Valparaiso. Two of the favorite Cinderella teams of recent years matched in the first round. Who says the selection committee doesn't have a sense of humor?

1 St. Joe's. Billy Packer beat St. Joe's in the NCAA Tournament forty years ago. I'm sure this is relevant somehow.

16 Liberty. If they lose, Jerry Falwell will blame gay marriage. Or Bill Clinton.

8 Texas Tech. Bob Knight hasn't done too well in the tournament lately, and Texas Tech has been pretty mediocre on the road. I don't think I'd bet on him here.

9 Charlotte. Of course, Knight's opponent is a Conference USA school. Flip a coin.

5 Florida. Billy Donovan is sort of like Rick Pitino without the charming humility. They'll probably win the region, just to piss me off.

12 Manhattan. A colleague who worked with me last year took a tenure-track job at Manhattan. Which is as good a reason as any to take them as the 12-5 upset.

4 Wake Forest. Wake's coming in on a bit of a slide, so if you want a 13 over a 4, this might not be a bad one to pick. Then again, look who they lost to...

13 VCU. Jeff "Milk Dud" Capel makes it back to the NCAA's. It's only a matter of time before Chris Collins is a head coach somewhere...

6 Wisconsin. The Big Ten was awful this year, so winning the conference is only good for a six seed. Of course, they're playing in Milwaukee...

11 Richmond. It's kind of sad that "Spiders" barely sneaks into the Top Ten Odd Nicknames. My current chairman was originally at Richmond, so guess who I'm rooting for?

3 Pitt. Ben Gordon hits a runner in the lane, and they drop all the way to a three seed. Oh well, at least it's a neutral site...

14 Central FL. Does this count as a directional school? It doesn't really matter, unless they're going to suit up their football team, but it'd be nice to have a ruling on this.

7 Memphis. John Calipari is the Poor Man's Rick Pitino. Discuss.

10 South Carolina. Dave Odom and his patented "startled lemur" act return to the NCAA's.

2 OK State. When did Eddie Sutton die, again? And should I send flowers, or something?

15 E. Wash. Another directional school. Not that it will help.

1 Duke. Will Duke be able to bounce back from their shocking loss Sunday? Dick Vitale was so distraught, he went a whole five minutes without speaking.

16 Alabama St. I think Duke will probably manage to bounce back. Vitale will be very relieved.

8 Seton Hall. Louis Orr looks older than Jim Boeheim. Which is odd, given that he played for Jim Boeheim...

9 Arizona. All the commentators I've seen have been talking up the possible Duke-Arizona match-up in the second round, but really, I just can't see why. The PAC-10 was just awful this year, and I've been underwhelmed by Arizona all year.

5 Illinois. Weirdly, the loser of the Big Ten tournament gets a higher seed than the winner. These guys should've been the ones sent to Milwaukee.

12 Murray St. The Big Ten was pretty bad this year. Here's your 12-5 upset.

4 Cincinnati. I have a rule regarding the Bearcats: every year, I pick them to lose to the first half-decent team they play. Hasn't failed me yet.

13 ETSU. A directional school, and playing against Cincinnati. How can they lose?

6 North Carolina. Roy Williams has done a really nice job with the team he was left. If they had a bench, they'd be great.

11 Air Force. Every year, one undeserving team is let into the field, just to give Jay Bilas something to bitch about. This is that team.

3 Texas. Rick Barnes rivals Roy Williams in his ability to recruit gigantic goony-looking white guys. Roy tends to get the ones with talent, though.

14 Princeton. Two coaches later, and still running the back-door cuts. Fifteen years from now, we can undoubtedly expect to find Rick Barnes's son coaching Princeton.

7 Xavier. Maryland beat Duke, and jumped from a bubble team to a four seed. These guys whipped up on St. Joe's, and all they get is a seven seed?

10 Louisville. These guys have been in a tailspin for a month now. Of course, Pitino coaches them, so they'll probably win the region, just to piss me off.

2 Mississippi State. If they had Kentucky's reputation, they'd've been a safe #1 seed, even with the conference tournament lost. They don't, so they weren't.

15 Monmouth. Insert your own Bruce Springsteen/ Bon Jovi joke here. Try to keep it short.

1 Stanford. I knew a guy who used to pick games based on the relative strength of the computer science programs. Which is as good a method as anything, as long as Carnegie Mellon doesn't make the tournament.

16 TX-San Antonio. Remember the Alamo? That's about how much chance these guys have.

8 Alabama. Jay Bilas keeps saying these guys might give Stanford trouble. Frankly, I just don't see it.

9 S. Illinois. A directional school, and a goofy-looking dog as a mascot? Alabama doesn't stand a chance.

5 Syracuse. The title defense begins in Denver. Carmelo Anthony might even be at the game...

12 BYU. Honestly, I have no idea if these guys are any good, but Utah is a good deal closer to Denver than Syracuse. Here's your 12-5 upset pick...

4 Maryland. And thus, the Woof Gods punish my arrogance. If my two teams win, they play each other.

13 UTEP. The great turn-around story of the season. They won six games last year, and only lost seven this year.

6 Vanderbilt. The name is "Przybyszewski." He's no Barry Goheen, but how can you root against a guy with that many consonants?

11 W Michigan. A directional school, from the mighty MAC no less. Could be a tough day for the Commodores.

3 N.C. State. This is a damn fine team, Maryland's big comeback notwithstanding. They could be dangerous.

14 UL-Lafayette. Lafayette, we are here. Soon, you will not be here.

7 DePaul. Here's that damn Conference USA again. If Pat Kennedy were still coaching them, this would be an easy pick...

10 Dayton. Dan Patrick's alma mater. This, I'm sure, is important to somebody.

2 UConn. Emeka Okafor might be the best player in the tournament. Assuming his back holds up.

15 Vermont. A showdown for New England bragging rights. And after they beat UConn, they'll go on to Dayton, then North Carolina State, and...

Posted at 11:03 PM | link | follow-ups | 7 comments

Sunday, March 14, 2004

!fooW !fooW !fooW

Earlier today, I wrote of the Terps:

I fully expect them to get blown out by Duke today in the ACC Championship (teams that win two close and dramatic games tend not to have much left for the third day of a tournament), but it's been a brilliant run, even if it does mean that I won't get anything done this afternoon.

Well, I was right about one thing. I didn't get anything done this afternoon... As for the game...

Wow. Never before have I written a team off this many times in a season, only to have them surprise me. I thought Maryland was completely finished after they lost at home to Wake Forest-- I didn't even think they'de make the NCAA's. Then they beat NC State in Raleigh.

I thought they were done when they fell behind by double digits against Virginia at home. They came back to pull that one out.

I really thought they were done when they trailed NC State by 21 in the first half yesterday. They followed that up with the best comeback in ACC tournament history.

And then they trailed Duke by a dozen with three and a half minutes left, and I was resigned to another year of smug goddamn Duke fans and their ACC tourament win streak...

Wow. John Gilchrist turned in the sort of tournament performance that I've only seen previously from Randolph Childress, and Maryland pulled it out. Simply unbelievable.

Of all the teams that might've removed the ACC tournament monkey from Gary Williams's back, this is about the least likely one I could've imagined. They beat three Top 25 teams in three days, knocking off the #3, #2, and #1 seeds in the tournament in succession.

I'm so happy about the outcome, I'll almost forgive ESPN for making me listen to Mike Patrick and Dick Vitale.

Of course, they'll probably lose in the first round of the NCAA's (be merciful, oh mighty Woof Gods), but they're playing with house money now.

Posted at 5:22 PM | link | follow-ups | no comments

Madness... Madness...

It's March, which means my college hoops addiction is in full flower. Despite Syracuse's best efforts to help me get some work done (they lost to BC in the first game of the Big East tournament), it's a basketball-overload weekend, thanks to Maryland's spectacular comeback against NC State yesterday. What looked like a why-bother-watching blowout in the first half turned into an incredibly dramatic game, with extra suspense provided by a now-you-hear-it, now-you-don't radio signal as Kate and I headed to Oneonta to meet my parents for a very nice dinner. The game faded out completely with thiry seconds or so to go, and Nik Caner-Medley (who was having a lousy game) taking his 60% free-throw shooting to the line with a two-point lead. It came back a few miles later, as Maryland hung on for the upset.

I fully expect them to get blown out by Duke today in the ACC Championship (teams that win two close and dramatic games tend not to have much left for the third day of a tournament), but it's been a brilliant run, even if it does mean that I won't get anything done this afternoon. It's worth it, though.

The game also lead to the Great Sports Paragraph of the Week, from Michael Wilbon's column in today's Post:

The kid whose parents wanted him to go to N.C. State, who was Sendek's No. 1 recruiting target to play point guard, broke State's heart again Saturday. It's said in these parts to be one of the low points of Sendek's tenure, losing [point guard John] Gilchrist to Maryland. Asked by reporters here about his decision to attend Maryland instead of N.C. State, Gilchrist told the story of winning an MVP trophy at the age of 10 at one of Gary Williams's summer youth basketball camps. "Don't tell John this," Williams said, "but we give every kid a trophy."

And, of course, right around the time that my heart rate gets back to normal after the Maryland game this afternoon, they'll be announcing the brackets for the NCAA tournament...

If you're not into basketball, you might want to go read some other site for a while. Might I suggest the Patent of the Week (via Bear Left)? (Note: if you go to the archive page, it's possible to change the default away from PDF, and see the patents themselves in text/ HTML format.)

Posted at 11:31 AM | link | follow-ups | no comments

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