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3.31.2006

No effin' way 

is Facebook worth $2 billion. Poor college kids just don't have the money to blow on the products it advertises.

3.30.2006

Reads 

A bunch of folks at the Media Lab are working on a tiny little camera that one could wear as a prosthetic (connected to a hand-held computer). It would analyze facial expressions in order to tell if the user's target is feeling bored, irritated, etc.

The article says they plan on marketing the device to autistic kids, who often don't pick up on such little nuances. However, where this thing really needs to be tested is on dates and at poker tables.

3.29.2006

This just occurred to me 

I hope JJ Redick gets drafted by the Indiana Pacers and gets assigned No. 18.

3.28.2006

The Brick Testament 

I don't know why I didn't know about this site until now, but some guy named Brendan Powell Smith has thrown together a website that features Lego illustrations of stories from the Bible.

Some readers might object to the conservative-bordering-on-fundamentalist interpretation of some of the passages; it's not clear whether they accurately reflect Smith's own hermeneutics. But hopefully that can be overlooked in favor of the graphic violence and hard-core nudity.

The Game is over 

The entry for The Game on Wikipedia has been removed because its existence and its rules were said to be "unverifiable." (And yes, I know I just lost.)

Fortunately, several other exciting meta-games like Mao, Mornington Crescent and the Color-Country game are still in there.

3.26.2006

Transitivity 

UConn lost to George Mason, who lost to Hofstra, who lost to Northeastern, who lost to Holy Cross, who lost to Harvard.

Finals 

The celebration of UCLA's Final Four bid isn't very wild around here, because winter quarter finals just ended this week and lots of students are heading out for spring break.

The ridiculously annoying unusual quarter system that UCLA (as well as a number of other West Coast schools, Chicago, Ohio State and Dartmouth) use received a mention in ESPN (subscriber site):


As if trying to stop the nation's leading scorer and trying to move on in the NCAA Tournament wasn't enough to have on their minds this week, UCLA's players have something just as important to worry about.

Finals.

Unlike most Division I schools, UCLA is on a quarter system. While most other colleges are currently on spring break, the Bruins are wrapping up their third quarter. Final exams are this week.

While several players spent the early part of the week staying up late and cramming for exams that were scheduled in Westwood, others will take their finals during predetermined times at the team hotel here in Oakland. It depends on what the professor has set up with the team's academic coordinator, who sets up the three-hour test times.

"You know how hard it is during finals to get your mind right," Howland said. "You're so exhausted from cramming -- people forget, these are legitimate student-athletes. The normal fan has no idea the amount of work these guys put in."

Especially at UCLA, where classes like golf, basket weaving and relaxation techniques aren't exactly on the curriculum.

"It's a tough time, but somehow you have to learn how to balance both," Cedric Bozeman said. "You just have to deal with it. Academics first, then basketball. It's pretty much study, then practice, then more studying."


I sincerely hope these guys and their coaches are taking academics seriously. 'Cause the last time UCLA won a national championship was in 1995, when Jim Harrick was coaching. Harrick, you remember, got the ziggy in 1996 after being accused of falsifying an expense report. He landed at Rhode Island for a couple years, then at Georgia. He and Jim Harrick Jr., his assistant coach, were fired from Georgia in 2004 after it was determined that the PE class Harrick Jr. was teaching did not meet Georgia's academic standards. Around 36-40% of the basketball players he recruited at UCLA graduated within six years.

3.25.2006

NCAA roundup, round 3 

Yeah, this blog has been turning into a sports blog recently. But really, is there anything else important happening in the universe?

Over in LA, I got to see Duke-LSU, the last few seconds of West Virginia-Texas, and UCLA-Gonzaga, on each of which I will comment in turn.

Duke-LSU was a slugfest. The offense wasn't pretty, and LSU won by scoring lots of points inside, dominating the boards, and funneling JJ Redick (3-18 shooting, 0-9 inside the arc) into their shotblockers. When he was interviewed after the game, Krzyzewski said that the game was a physical game, one to which his team didn't adjust very well. I'll translate this statement for you: "We got jobbed by the officials, who don't understand that we're supposed to get charging calls any time one of our defenders falls over after minimal contact from an offensive player, and that you're not allowed to breathe on JJ Redick without drawing a foul." As a footnote, my prediction that Greg Paulus would kill the team turned out to be incorect.

UCLA-Gonzaga ran at the same time as West Virginia-Texas, so I only saw glimpses of the WVU-Texas game, including the end where WVU's Kevin Pittsnogle hit a tying 3-pointer with 5 seconds left, only to have Texas inbound the ball immediately and get it to Kenton Paulino for the game-winning 3. Not many people will claim that Texas's Rick Barnes is a great coach, but it seems to me that a team that can run an end-of-game play successfully on the fly (taking advantage a defense that isn't set) instead of calling a timeout and having the coach diagram every possibility is a well-coached team.

UCLA-Gonzaga was a wild game. UCLA started off terribly by taking outside shots early in the count and by playing turnstile D; they ended up down 17 late in the first half. PG Jordan Farmar injured his non-shooting wrist earlier in the week and seemed to be reluctant to drive to the basket for most of the first half.

UCLA put together a quick 8-point spurt bridging halftime, but Adam Morrison and JP Batista continued to fill up the Gonzaga basket. Also, the officials ruled at some point that a player can get fouled by his own backboard. With three minutes left, UCLA still trailed by 9 and was in considerable foul trouble.

Then the game started.

3:13, Luc Richard Mbah A Moute sinks a pair of free throws. 71-64 Gonzaga.
2:22, Adam Morrison misses a jumper.
2:09, Mbah A Moute puts back a Farmar drive. 71-66 Gonzaga.
1:35, Derek Raivio misses a 3, and Batista misses the putback.
1:01, Morrison misses a jumper.
0:52, Farmar sinks a midrange jumper. 71-68 Gonzaga.
0:23, Morrison misses a jumper.
0:20, Ryan Hollins gets fouled after the rebound and sinks a pair. 71-70 Gonzaga.
0:20, Raivio inbounds the ball to Morrison deep in the corner.
0:16, Morrision gets double-teamed and lobs the ball over to Batista in the other corner.
0:12, Batista gets cornered by Cedric Bozeman, then Farmar steals the ball from behind and dishes to a streaking Mbah A Moute for a layup. 72-71 UCLA.
0:06, Raivio is driving for a game-winning layup and encounters traffic. Mbah A Moute runs up from behind and *dives onto the floor* to steal Raivio's dribble, then gets fouled. He sinks one of two free throws. 73-71 UCLA.
0:02, Batista fields a long pass and misses a last-second shot. Ballgame.

Whew.

Farmar's steal reminds me a lot of Bird's steal and dish to Dennis Johnson against the Detroit Pistons in 1987 (which thankfully I am too young to remember fully), or of MJ hacking the ball away from Karl Malone and then shoving Bryon Russell in 1998. Amazing.

The CBS cameras showed an extended shot of Morrison lying on the court, crying into his jersey after the game. (A couple UCLA guys eventually helped him up.) Half of me feels sorry that his pain has to be broadcast on national television. The other half of me thinks it's hilarious that a guy who talks so much junk to his opponents during the game was so spectacularly humbled. The other half of me also just shoved the first half out the window.

I have UCLA making it to the Final Four and losing to Duke in the semis in both of my brackets, but that's not going to happen now.

--------------------

George Mason Patriots beat Wichita State. Hey, did you know two mid-major teams made the Sweet 16 this year? Despite this attention, the Patriots are still feeling disrespected.

Villanova outlasts BC in an overtime slugfest. Despite its three- or four-guard lineup, they're a physically tough team that didn't get pushed around by BC. In other news, the officials ruled that you can be called for a travel if you're holding the ball and a guy pulls you to the ground by grabbing the ball. 'Nova's game-winning inbounds play was pretty sweet -- Randy Foye curls around a double screen, they fake a pass to him, and then one of the screeners, Will Sheridan, cuts to the basket.

Florida over Georgetown. Meh.

UConn over Washington. Washington adopted the brilliant strategy of stopping UConn forwards Josh Boone and Hilton Armstrong by fouling them every time they got within five feet of the hoop (they ended up shooting 11-18 from the line combined). The strategy backfired slightly when Washington players started getting DQed like East German swimmers towards the end of the game. UW star Brandon Roy also got mutually T'ed up with Rudy Gay somewhere during the second half. The foul was his fourth and provided another demonstration of why counting a technical as a personal foul is such a horrible idea. Also, somewhere along the line UConn laptop salesman Marcus Williams got fouled by a leg cramp.

Oh yeah, Rashad Anderson hit a clutch three to tie the game in regulation. Ryan Appleby hit a clutch three to pull UW within two near the end of OT, stole the inbounds pass, passed up a layup chance to try to get the ball out for a three (the correct play, since UW had lots of players fouling out), and passed the ball to Roy, who then passed it to Williams to ice the games.

Finally, UW's Huskies logo looks a hell of a lot more dignified than UConn's.

Best headline EVAR 

From Fark. It has to do with the recent "election" in Belarus and Mountain Dew.

3.24.2006

Ken Pomeroy 

Ken Pomeroy's site is the Moneyball site for college basketball. The most useful part of his site is the distribution of points that teams score/give up as free throws, 2s and 3s. I used some of this data in making my picks, with mixed results. But it correctly predicted LSU's win over Duke.

Pomeroy also has a good article at ESPN Insider on points off turnovers. It means a lot in football, but not so much in basketball because only half of all turnovers are steals (which potentially lead to fast breaks the other way). The other half give the ball to the other team out of bounds, which isn't much of an advantage.

I'd be interested to see what the result of missed 3-pointers is -- how often do they lead to fast breaks the other way, and how often do they lead to offensive rebounds?

3.23.2006

Soriano gives in 

Well, it looks like Alfonso Soriano has agreed to play LF, at least for now.

I keep reading about how forcing Soriano to play LF is some sort of grave injustice being perpetrated by a employer agaisnt a helpless employee. I think this notion is ridiculous.

The standard baseball contract guarantees a player a spot on the baseball roster. It provides no protection against changing positions, changing spots in the batting order, playing when hurt, or being benched. The last three items happen all the time as a result of player performance, and there's no reason for a player to expect that the first item shouldn't happen, unless he gets it writen into his contract explicitly.

People keep coming up with terrible real-world examples of being forced to change jobs to illustrate how traumatic being traded to the Nats and being forced to change positions supposedly is. The best analogy I can think of is that of a consultant who's taking on a new project in a new city for six months. And most consultants get paid a lot less than Soriano does. Yeah, it's an adjustment, but you still use the same basic skills. Moving to the OF takes some getting used to, but it's still baseball -- catch the ball and throw it to your teammates. For crying out loud, even Kevin Millar can play LF. And Soriano's main asset as a fielder, his exceptional range, will be a bigger asset in the outfield.

The rub, as everyone seems to understand it, is that Soriano's value as a power-hitting 2B is higher than his value as a power-hitting OF, even if he is the worst regular defensive 2B of the last few years. As long as he can accumulate 93 days of service this season, he'll be eligible for free agency after this season, when his contract expires. I'm not sure how true this is, given that all the other MLB teams have scouts who recognize that he's a poor infielder who belongs in the OF where he can use his range and make fewer tricky plays. But I guess one team that's dopey enough to promise him a spot at 2B next year is enough of a market. Still, there's no expectation that the team will act in a manner that will maximize the value of the player's next contract.

The job of a baseball player is to win, period. Soriano seems like a nice enough guy in person, and I think his initial refusal to move may have had more to do with personal pride than with money. But if he had successfully won his argument, the effect would have been to hurt his team on the field and to throw incumbent 2B Jose Vidro under the bus. These things are most definitely not part of the job description.

3.22.2006

Another bet that should be on the books but isn't 

Next season, will Peyton Manning ever wave off the Colts' field-goal team on fourth down?

3.18.2006

Shoot me now with a very big gun 

Japan has their leadoff man on second in the top of the seventh inning of a scoreless game against Korea.

Korea is now bringing in pitcher Bung-Hole Byung-Hyun Kim.

EDIT: Wow. I amaze myself.

Sports betting needs to catch up with technology to the point where I can bet that BH will give up a home run in the inning. I wouldn't have called the bit where he intentionally drilled the next guy, gave up a wild pitch, and then let him score on a ground-rule double though.

The wee people 

Koreans are so much like the Irish, it's scary.

There's one respect in which the comparison fails, though. Centuries of oppression and general down-troddenness at the hands of the British have led to a rich tradition of literature and music in Ireland, just as it did in black America.

So what the hell is wrong with Korean music?

3.16.2006

The wisdom of crowds 

ESPN's National Bracket is up (though subject to change in the next 10 hours).

Gonzaga is evidently a trendy pick to make the Final Four, and I think it's a terrible one. Their supposedly impressive 65-63 loss to UConn is easily explained away by the absence of suspended laptop fence Marcus Williams, and Memphis (who is the top seed in their region) easily beat them despite Adam Morrison scoring 34 points.

3.14.2006

I like those odds 

Via ESPN, we learn that "noted oddsmaker" Danny Sheridan has pegged Oral Roberts University as a 5 sextillion-to-1 dog to win the NCAA tournament. That's 5x10^21 to 1.

Good thing Danny Sheridan doesn't actually operate his own sports book. If he did, I would feel honor-bound to lay a buck on Oral Roberts and find out some way to pay off enough players and officials to give them the championship and have them shut up. I'm pretty sure I could do this for less than $5,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. Unless he defaults on the payment, and all these officials and players end up squealing because they haven't been paid. But once it's clear that there's no money to be had anywhere, they wouldn't squeal and risk tarnishing their athletic reputations forever. Would they?

Now my head hurts.

3.12.2006

Moneyball redux 

I reread Moneyball this weekend. You may recall that Moneyball is the story of Oakland A's GM Billy Beane and his quest to build a winning baseball team on the cheap by going after players whose skills (primarily on-base percentage) were undervalued.

Anyway, I ran across this passage again:


"Power is something that can be acquired," says Billy quickly. "Good hitters develop power. Power hitters don't become good hitters."

"Do you see [prospect Mark Teahen] at third base or shortstop?" asks another old scout, like a prosecuting attorney leading a witness.

"Let's forget about positions and just ask: who is the best hitter?" says Billy.

Paul [dePodesta] looks up from his computer. "Teahen: .493 on base; .624 slug. Thirty walks and only seventeen strikeouts in only one hundred ninety-four at bats." It's hard to tell what the scouts make of the numbers. Scouts from other teams would almost surely say: who gives a shit about a guy's numbers? It's college ball. You need to look at the guy. Imagine what he might become.

Everyone stares silently at Teahen's name for about thirty seconds. Erik says, "I hate to say it but if you want to talk about another Jason Giambi, this guy could be it." Giambi was a natural hitter who developed power only after the Oakland A's drafted him. In the second round. Over the objections of scouts who said he couldn't run, throw, field, or hit with power. Jason Giambi: MVP of the American League in 2000.


Well, we all know now how it is that Jason Giambi and other baseball players "acquire" power. If I were Billy Beane, I'd persuade the A's owners to cough up an extra $16 million per year to sign David Ortiz as soon as his contract is up. In recent years, the A's have been one big slugger away from making the playoffs.

On second thought...scratch that. David Ortiz is an undisciplined, free-swinging out machine. The A's shouldn't touch him with a 10-foot pole.

3.07.2006

Innocent until proven guilty 

I've seen a number of folks invoking the principle above in order to defend Barry Bonds and his Baseball Hall of Fame candidacy.

It's patently ridiculous.

First, there's a hell of a lot of direct evidence and testimony that Bonds was a user. Maybe the Feds will drag Bonds into a criminal trial for perjuring the BALCO trial, and maybe these witnesses will suddenly deny their testimony under oath. But I doubt it.

Second, HOF voting is not a criminal trial. Bonds will not be deprived of life or liberty if he is denied admittance into the HOF. (If I were a writer, I might still vote him in based on his projected juice-free career. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa wouldn't make my cut though.)

Finally, giving Bonds the benefit of whatever doubt remains is unfair to his contemporaries. Statistics don't sit in a vacuum -- they need to be compared to the statistics of other players from the era. What kind of numbers could Alex Rodriguez or Manny Ramirez have put up if they were on the juice? (Yes, I am pretty confident that neither of them are users. A-Rod is probably scared of needles, and Manny wouldn't be able to figure out which end goes in.)

Gaming the office pool 

Via jackdeuce comes this article on how to win the office March Madness pool.

I'll spare you the trouble of reading the article and summarize its two points for you here:



Of course, I would have thought that an avid index-funds investor like jackdeuce would be content to pick the higher seed in every game up to the Final Four. Either that, or copy ESPN's national bracket.

3.04.2006

On top (or, another one from the log) 

This blog is the top result on Google when one searches for the phrase "I could give a shit about Carolina". (Slide down to the March 15 entry.)

3.03.2006

Help 

Does anybody happen to know how many Spaghetti-Os are in a standard-size can? A bunch of UCLA math grad students are currently arguing about this. A common quote on the Internet is 1750, but that seems really large to me. I suggested that the grad students start an office pool.

3.01.2006

Crowd control 

Well, about 2,000 dumbass Florida State fans gave the other 8,000 a bad name when they stormed the court with 1.7 seconds remaining in FSU's 77-74 win over Duke. I only saw one replay of the incident on ESPN; it looked like one yahoo hurdled the scorer's table and ran out onto the court early, after which the other 1,999 fans spilled out. The clock operator was sneaky and tried to run off the rest of the clock while the crowd was on the court, but the refs put the time back on, gave Duke a couple technical free throws and concluded the game.

Ironically, a similar incident occurred during a FSU football game at Virginia in 1995. FSU came into the game ranked #2 and had yet to be beaten in ACC play (29-0). FSU was down five and mounting a last-second drive when Virginia fans stormed the field one down early. The fans got chased off, and then stormed the field again when Virginia stuffed FSU one yard short of a winning touchdown.

Unfortunately, most basketball courts are too small for the home team to bring in barriers the way they do at soccer matches in Europe. I think what FSU should have done was to have a ringer storm the court early, then have a bunch of sherrifs surround him and pretend to Taser him. That would have kept everyone in their seats.

As for the actual game, FSU pounded Duke inside relentlessly and reaped the benefits of the DVD they sent to the ACC commish's office. I can just imagine what UConn will do if they get Duke in the national championship game (although I certainly don't feel good about having to root for a team that needed to reinstate a laptop thief in order to stay on top). Also, I'm getting a little bit scared that Coach K will soon realize that his best lineup has Sean Dockery at the point, DeMarcus Nelson at off-guard, and Greg "turnover machine" "destined to be the next Steve Wojciechowski" Paulus parked on the bench.

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