Friday, March 31, 2006

Gambling: The cure for crushed dreams

You want George Mason to win, I want George Mason to win, everyone wants George Mason to win. By now you've probably seen so much Mason hype from the local sports news and ESPN that you actually think it could happen. And apparently the gambling community agrees, at least to an extent.

The spread going into Saturday evening's first Final Four game: Florida by six points.

Sorry, Mason, six points ain't happening. I'll be with everyone else cheering for another amazing upset, but you don't have anyone to run the floor or match size with Joakim Noah, and Florida's "small" forward is as big as your big man. And I know it's hard to bet against George Mason because you don't want to put yourself in a position where you're rooting against them, but you have to force yourself to put those thoughts aside.


Sentimentality is all well and good in the land of unicorns and rainbows and money growing on trees, but this is the real world and we're talking cold hard cash. Hell, Jai Lewis's grandmother would take Florida and the points on a six point spread.

Getting a spread like that is like finding a $20 bill on the ground. Well, not exactly. It's like finding a $20 bill on the ground and as soon as you go to pick it up, some leprechaun or genie or other creepy Disney character appears from a puff of smoke and tells you that if you attempt to take it there's about a one-in-10 chance that you'll lose $20 instead of get $20. I'm not a statistician and I've seen enough Twilight Zone not to trust genies, but I think I'd be in the majority in picking up the twenty.

The good news for George Mason is that throughout the year the Gators have had trouble finishing off opponents in close games, and hanging around late in games has been Mason's bread and butter in the tournament. So if they can keep it within the spread late, Mason will have a good chance. But at some point the Patriots have to hit a wall, and I'm thinking that point is going to come at about 6:07 p.m. Saturday.

So enjoy the Cinderella story while it lasts. Get in all your "Hoosiers" references while you still can. Feel that little tingle of sentimental excitement every time a sports caster, anchor or analyst says what seems to be the phrase du jour among the sports media: "Can George Mason win? Yes."

And it's true. They can. And I can be the next sweepstakes winner and I can make it to the NHL and I can get more than six hits in a day on my blog.

I'm not trying to take anything away from Mason's accomplishments -- they've had an amazing run and a lot of top 10 teams wouldn't have made it through the four game stretch they just had -- but it's time to be realistic, and a six point spread simply is not. Florida is just too good. They've won nine in a row, including a 16-point drubbing of now-popular championship pick LSU and a 13-point win that was never that close over top-seeded Villanova.

Florida isn't going to be shocked like other teams were if Mason sticks with them in the first half, they don't have a propensity for overconfidence and lackluster play like UConn, they're not an overachieving group of youngsters playing in the shadow of last year's championship like North Carolina, and they're not an entirely overrated team that tanked down the stretch like Michigan State.

Yeah, the what-if's and could-be's are fun, but when those dreams are crushed and GMU's down three times the spread by halftime, won't you be happy knowing you have ill-begotten money to numb the pain of disappointment?

Monday, March 27, 2006

Believe in Karma? GMU shows why you shouldn't

I am a person who believes that if you generally do good things, good things will occur for you in return, and if you generally do bad things, bad things are bound to happen to you. That is why I've found myself torn for the past week in deciding whether or not to root for Fairfax's own George Mason Patriots in the NCAA Tournament.

It's a great story. An 11th seeded team that has never before won a tournament game upsets the last two champions and half of last year's Final Four on an unimaginable run to Indianapolis. What's more, they're only the second 11 seed to make a final four, and if they manage to make the championship they could go up against the only other team to accomplish that feat, LSU, who did it 20 years ago.

But what is inescapable to me is the simple fact that Mason's top guard, Tony Skinn, had to miss the first round game against Michigan State because he punched Hofstra's Loren Stokes SQUARE IN THE GROIN!

The CBS play-by-play and color guys have sugar-coated the incident for the national audience. According to CBS, Skinn is just an emotional player who had a mental lapse in a crucial moment. I can forgive CBS for this, because you so want it to be that classic sports story, and to be honest, the guys on CBS probably hadn't seen a lick of Colonial Athletic Association ball this year before the NCAA tournament. But area fans know better than to gobble up the steaming plate that CBS is serving.

On February 15, Skinn and Drexel's Dominick Mejia got involved in a physical chase for a loose ball, resulting in Skinn on the ground and Mejia standing, at which point Skinn decided it appropriate to kick Mejia. Mejia returned the favor and both players were ejected. In fact, Skinn was the subject of a lot of ire among CAA fans even before he threw the low blow.

ESPN PollA quick look at an poll shows that America appears to have forgiven Skinn and is rooting for his Patriots to win the Championship. (The question is who are you ROOTING for to win, and states favoring GMU are red. A poll of who WILL win comes up with completely different results.)

And I have to admit, I'm even caught up in the drama. I rooted for George Mason to beat the over-confident and somewhat-detestable UConn Huskies. But for a second it did look like karma would catch up with Skinn.

Just after Connecticut scored with seven seconds remaining to cut the Mason lead to 74-72, Mason inbounded to Skinn, who was fouled by UConn's Rudy Gay and went to the line with six seconds to play and a chance to seal the victory. Skinn missed the open end of a one-and-one, UConn rebounded and drove down the floor to tie the game up and send it to overtime.

Even though I was rooting for Mason, I was somewhat satisfied by the fact that Skinn got what was coming to him, choked in a key situation, and assuredly had lost the game for his team. My faith in karma was restored. There was no way the Patriots were recovering in OT to win.

But no. Mason owned the overtime period, hitting clutch shot after clutch shot, and when an almost identical situation came up where Jai Lewis missed potential game-ending free throws with six seconds left and Mason up two, UConn couldn't capitalize and the buzzer sounded, stamping GMU's ticket to Indy.

Even if Skinn goes 0-for-40 shooting in the Final Four matchup with Florida, misses 10 free throws down the stretch and completely costs Mason the game, that doesn't matter; they made the Final Four. People don't remember who made the Elite Eight, but they do remember who made the Final Four. They may have to think about it for a while, but they remember.

Why am I surprised, though? Sports are full of cheaters, dirty players and all around jerks winning championships and holding records. If karma really played a factor, Joey Porter wouldn't have won the Super Bowl this year, Barry Bonds wouldn't hold the single-season homerun record or be close to breaking the career mark, and the Yankees would have exactly 26 fewer World Series titles to their name.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The smartest thing Alfonso Soriano has ever done

If you haven't heard, overhyped, poor-fielding second baseman Alfonso Soriano has finally ended his long stalemate with Your Nation's Nationals* and decided to throw on the big outfielders glove and head to left field, where he will undoubtedly become an overhyped, poor-fielding left fielder.

After repeatedly saying he would not play outfield, asking for a trade, and not taking the field on Monday when he was penciled in at left field, Soriano decided on Wednesday that he just loves the game and wants to play wherever. Coincidentally, Alfonso came back in touch with his unbridled passion for the sport not too long after the Nats front office threatened to put him on the disqualified list for breaching his contract, which would have not only meant no money for Soriano this season, but also would have kept his contract on pause so that he'd remain Nationals property for another year.

When Nationals GM Jim Bowden traded center fielder and all-around stud Brad Wilkerson and outfielder Terrmel Sledge to the Texas Rangers for Soriano, Nats fans were (wrongfully) worked into a frenzy about the so-called "first big name" to come to the team, ignoring the facts that A) Wilkerson has had a great start to his career except for last year when he was hurt, B) Wilkerson would already be a "big name" if he hadn't spent his first four years playing for the Expos where he was doomed to only be seen by the 14 French Canadian baseball fans in existence and the occasional canuck who wandered into Le Stade Olympique** thinking it was a really big hockey rink, C) Soriano's numbers were inflated by playing in a park the size of a matchbox while Wilky's were deflated by playing in the canyon that is RFK, and D) the Nationals brilliant front office made the trade knowing that Soriano has resisted moves to the outfield in the past.

But ignoring why it was so stupid to make the trade in the first place, there are several reasons why Soriano yielding to management and making the move to left field was the right decision for him:

1. He's a bad fielder. In fact, he has the worst fielding percentage for any second baseman over the last 50 years (minimum 650 games). But I'm not pointing that out to say he has no right to claim second base as his position (although that's also true). No, I'm pointing it out to show that he's going to suck in the outfield also, and that's exactly what he wants. Hell, even if he's got some innate ability to track line drives and make amazing leaping catches at the wall, he shouldn't do it! He should tank! Why? Because the more he sucks, the less likely it is he's going to be asked to play the outfield when he goes elsewhere after this year when his contract runs out.

2. Starting 2B Jose Vidro is always hurt. Alfy can say he's fine playing left field all season and all that B.S., but he's got to be thinking that 20 or 30 games into the season when Vidro makes his first trip to the DL, he's going to be right back at second base where he wants to be.

3. Soriano is going to have a terrible year at the plate. I mean monumentally bad. I'm not a psychic or anything, but it doesn't take a magic eight ball to foresee that a guy who relies solely on his power and who isn't very prolific at getting on base (.309 on-base percentage last year) is going to have a rough time switching from one of the top few home run hitters parks in the Majors to the absolute worst park for the longball. And if there's anything baseball reporters love to do, it's blame batting slumps on fielding factors. The switch to left field is Soriano's Get Out of Jail Free card for the atrocious year he was going to have in RFK regardless of what part of the stadium he's standing in to play defense.

4. He's bitched about it long enough. We get the point, Alf. You hate everything about the outfield. Jose Guillen keeps getting mad and saying things that make you laugh and distract you from fielding. Ryan Church keeps telling you that everyone is going to Hell,*** and you can't possibly be expectedd to field pop flies from a fiery pit miles below the surface of the earth. So now that everyone knows you don't want to do it, you can go out and do a crappy job at it and no one can really blame you, right? Awesome.

So there you have it. Switching to the outfield -- specifically after bitching about it and refusing to do it for a while -- is the smartest thing Alfonso Soriano has ever done. It gives him a free pass to completely slack off all year and absolves him of all responsibility to perform on the job, and that's what life is all about.

And now, since Jose Guillen should be quoted in all things related to the Nationals, here's the part of this Nationals post that I will affectionately refer to as "Tell 'em, Jose!":
"You make $10 million, and you're going to say, 'No,' when you know what's coming? ... Come on. What do you think? That's a lot of money, man. I didn't see him leaving all that money on the table and moving on and not playing, just go and sit at home for a year." --Jose Guillen, 3/21/2006 (From The Washington Post.)

*At Washington Capitals hockey games at the Verizon Center, the team is introduced over the PA as they come onto the ice as "Your Nation's Capitals." Why? Well, here's a geography lesson: Washington, D.C., is the nation's capital, presumably the nation you live in if you're attending games at the Verizon Center. Hence, Your Nation's Capitals.
**Olympic Stadium, genius.
***Last season, this quote from Ryan Church in The Washington Post caused a bit of uproar, especially in the Jewish community (Jon is former team chapel leader Jon Moeller, and Church's ex-girlfriend is Jewish): "I said, like, Jewish people, they don't believe in Jesus. Does that mean they're doomed? Jon nodded, like, that's what it meant. My ex-girlfriend! I was like, man, if they only knew. Other religions don't know any better. It's up to us to spread the word." Like, word to J.C. and stuff. Like, the Holy Trinity, man. Like.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Can you hear this, or does Gilbert need to turn it up for you?

That photo is courtesy of MDMadness on Terp Town, which he in turn stole from sergeantmofo of the Terrapin Times boards

Let me start this by completely disqualifying myself of any objective analysis by saying that I love me some Gil Arenas. He's an electrifying player who, along with Antawn Jamison, has jump-started the laughingstock franchise known as Les Bullez.

So in last night's game at the MCI/Verizon/Bell Atlantic/NYNEX* Center, the Wiz and Celts were locked in an Arenas vs. Paul "I'm bleeeding" Pierce** shootout in overtime, and with 14 seconds left, Arenas drained a jumper to put the Wizards ahead, 115-114. The score gave Arenas his 10th and 11th points in the overtime period, so clearly feeling pretty good about himself, Arenas backpedals up the court and throws the double-barreled sign language at Celtics coach Glenn "Doc" Rivers. But alas, if anyone owns the Wizards it's Paul Pierce, and he went right down and drained a 22-foot fade-away at the buzzer to win the game.

Rivers is one of the coaches who didn't vote to put Arenas on this year's NBA All-Star team, and Arenas was outspoken about his disappointment over the matter. Gilbert admitted that it was a new "chip on his shoulder," and that he planned to use it as motivation, the same way he used not being a first-round draft pick as motivation early in his NBA career. He was later made a sub on the All-Star team, but apparently he was still mad enough last night about his initial snub to shoot some birds at the Celtics coach.

Now, I still haven't seen or heard this reported on TV, radio or newspapers, and I've been listening to SportsTalk 980 all morning and reading about the game online, so either the media missed it or they don't think it's worthy of mention. I only even noticed it because I'm a complete nerd who frequents about three different message boards each day.

My initial reaction was some minor outrage and disappointment in one of my favorite basketball players, but then I saw the picture and frankly... I think it's HILARIOUS. Granted, if Pierce had flipped off Eddie Jordan after draining the buzzer-beater, I'd be going crazy and calling for him to be kicked out of the league, but that's why I don't claim to be objective. Will Arenas be fined or suspended? That depends on if anyone in David Stern's office saw it. Am I outraged? No. What I am is embarrassed that after the gesture, the Wizards still lost the game.

My hope is that Arenas learned a lesson in backing up your trash talk. There's no worse feeling than making a great play in the heat of competition and capping it off by breaking out an epic put-down that you've been saving for just the right moment, only to have it stuffed right back in your face merely seconds later. If you're going to open your mouth after stepping it up on offense you better make it stick with some shut down defense, and NO ONE is accusing the Wizards of playing shut down defense. So Gil, I'm not going to tell you to deny the world of your middle fingers forever, just to save them for when you've just hit your own buzzer-beater or when you're team is up by 10 in the fourth quarter.

Oh wait, the Wizards were up by 10 in the fourth quarter last night.

*Verizon, who bought MCI and subsequently renamed D.C.'s Phone Booth, used to be called Bell Atlantic/NYNEX.
**Paul Pierce was stabbed repeatedly outside a Boston night club in 2000.
Also, the post title is a reference to the Mooninites on Aqua Teen Hunger Force, but you should have gotten the joke without having seen the show.

Look, news is boring. I'm not doing it anymore.

You heard me. Yeah, you hadn't figured that out by my no posts in however many months, but baseball season's about to start again and it's time to start ranting and raving. And I'm not doing anymore stupid game posts.

It's time to be merciless, hilarious, and altogether awesome.

If Chuck Norris wrote a Sports Blog for the Washington/Baltimore area, it would be the Chuck Norris Beltway Sports Beat and it would be at

So come back, check in. I can't promise I'll update often, but when I do, I'll try to make it entertaining.