Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Tribe, by a pug whisker

Things are getting pretty tight all around in the Bog Poll. Might be unfair to drop Georgetown two spots because of a close loss at Villanova, but William and Mary has won four straight and ODU's win at Georgetown still pulls weight. Virginia Tech's resume is beginning to tarnish as losses at UNC and Florida State look worse and wins over Miami and Seton Hall are more meh than yeah. ACC as a whole is looking at a down year.

Richmond is pushing hard, but has to get a little more consistent on the road (4-5) to challenge for the A-10 title and an NCAA at-large bid. Tony Bennett has the Cavaliers bamboozling opponents with his slowdown, defense first style. And I am sure that Terps fans are howling about a #8 ranking but I see them about the same as VCU, struggling for steady play. Big drop to GW at #9, who has to be better than La Salle, even on the road, if they want us to believe their improvement will take them further than a return to just the Atlantic 10 Tournament. Any further slipups by the Colonials or Morgan State will precipitate a reappearance by George Mason or the debut of Radford in the Bog Poll Top 10.

For the record, the pithy comments below are the direct result of spending Monday at Valley Forge. More on this later in the week, perhaps.

1. William and Mary (14-3)

If the Tribe doesn't go down the tubes soon, I expect to hear Pat Robertson predict a typhoon in Williamsburg.
2. Old Dominion (14-5)
Won their fifth straight game, taking down Drexel, the only Division I school that rhymes with Nick Van Exel.
3. Georgetown (13-3)
Austin Freeman, Greg Monroe and Chris Wright possess on-court chemistry not seen in Washington since Warren, Brennan and Frankfurter.
4. Virginia Tech (13-3)
Hokies make an impression with a win over Miami but the impression fades with a loss at Florida State, leading to an unimpressive week.
5. Richmond (14-5)
Spiders beat UMass and La Salle, so why can't I get the Paul Simon lyric "shades of mediocrity" out of my head?
6. Virginia (11-4)
Suddenly Charlottesville is a Top 25 slaughterhouse, the Abattoir of the ACC.
7. VCU (12-4)
Rams win at Hofstra, get another victory by beating the traffic on the Long Island Expressway.
8. Maryland (11-5)
Greivis Vasquez can shimmy all he wants but the Terps can't shake their NIT label.
9. GW (11-5)
Aaron Ware's 16 points against La Salle were no match for the Explorers' Aaric Murray's 21 aas the Colonials fell aapaart aagainst their aadversiaries in aan aagonizing aadventure.

10. Morgan State (11-7)
Just trying to get my head around the fact that the Bears beat a team with a player named Arsenio.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Empathy for the Steroid Devil

Everyone has something to say about Mark McGwire this week. In my lifetime, I have seen the East German female Olympic swimmers, Ben Johnson, Lyle Alzado, and it seems that every sport has been affected by legal and illegal performance-enhancing drugs. Which should really come as no surprise because sports is about competition and part of competition is about looking for an advantage. Because of that, athletes are going to keep cheating and sports governing organizations have to keep trying to catch them. Somewhat coincidentally, I had something of an eye-opening experience this week that led me to a tangential thought on this topic.

Up until about 18 months ago, I considered myself to be in reasonably good physical shape for a person my age, which will be 43 in a few weeks. Not a triathlete by any stretch, but my annual doctor visit usually ended with a gold star on my chart. Then I tore my ACL. I had it repaired surgically - not arthroscopic with the pretty lasers and the freckle-sized scars, but the kind with the really sharp knife that leaves the big, bumpy stripes you can show people. It sucked, it hurt, but I did all the prescribed rehab (also sucked and hurt) and wore the proper braces and took the precautions per doctors' orders.

Once released from the formal regimen of a licensed physical therapist, I had to get back to exercising. I did some swimming last summer, but that resolve faded somewhere in mid-July. Thoughout the fall, I procrastinated about resuming any kind of real workouts because the knee wasn't supposed to be full strength until a year after the surgery, which was November. You know, then it's the holidays, snow, ice, it's too cold, I'm lazy, I think I might be getting sick, the dog doesn't like it when I sweat...

Never been much of a New Year's resolution guy, but when a desk cleaning unearthed an exercise routine I had followed and enjoyed in the past, I dragged out the dumbbells and got on the treadmill. Worked out Tuesday - felt good. Worked out Wednesday, different muscle group focus - felt good. Woke up yesterday - exhausted. Had a pretty good night's sleep Wednesday, but there was not enough coffee in the world to keep me going, and the muscles complained about doing things like driving and scratching. So I took the day off from physical exertions, but I am hoping to get back to it today.

And this is where my performace enhancement empathy comes in. I'm not talking about the 23-year old who adds 30 pounds of muscle in the offseason so he can compete for a defensive end position. I'm talking about the aging baseball player who starts to notice how much tougher it is to make it through the West Coast road trip. As the money has gotten bigger and bigger, adding a couple years to a career means millions of dollars. Weight training and conditioning have become more and more important and at some point, you just can't get the same benefits. Me, I can take a day off because I know my body needs it and not worry about losing my job, but these guys are always being pushed by the next guy.

Now, I am not saying I think that athletes should be allowed to take performance-enhancing drugs. But there's an old Chris Rock routine where he talks about the rage OJ Simpson must have felt when he saw Ron Goldman driving around Los Angeles in a Ferrari OJ had bought for Nicole. The laugh line was something like, "I'm not saying he killed her, but I could understand." So when he comes to aging athletes crossing the line so they can hang on a little longer, well, I can understand.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Onscreen and on my mind

Continuing my "Blogging Frenzy" this week, let's turn from sports to popular entertainment. (Warning: massive amount of text to follow).

Saw "Avatar" with the kids over the holidays, taking in the full 3-D IMAX experience and enjoyed it very much. Long at nearly 2 1/2 hours, but riveting enough that none of us were willing to take a bathroom break. James Cameron created a world of rich beauty and texture that you could almost smell on the screen, but that could have just been the patchouli wafting from the youngsters in front of me. Special effects is too small a concept to adequately describe the technical achievement, but I also enjoyed little nods and details like Sigourney Weaver as the scientist who smokes and curses but also mothers the Na'vi children and her fellow scientists, at one point forcing Jake Sully to eat something before he returns to his alternate reality. Also, the fighting equipment Weaver donned at the end of "Aliens" returns to a more nefarious purpose. And the almost drunken exhilaration Sully feels when he first inhabits his Na'vi body, freed from the bonds of paraplegia, brought chills and a smile.

I know there's been a lot of fuss about the politics of this movie, to which I would reply, "It's a movie." It's not a documentary, and I felt well entertained for the cost of the tickets. And if you find it so offensive, console yourself with the thought that Cameron might wait another 12 years to make a sequel.

"Imagine That" for the kids and "The Hangover" for the grownups. Not sure how we ended up with the former except that my 10-year old insisted on it, mainly to spite his 12-year old brother, who, shockingly, was not intrigued by the tale of a man whose job and relationship with his seven-year old daughter are rescued when he agrees to spend time in her imaginary world of princesses and dragons. Maybe the presence of Eddie Murphy in the lead role made it acceptable, based on the big laughs they got out of "Daddy Day Care" when it popped up on cable recently.

Far from the worst kids movie I've ever seen, "Imagine That" gets a charming and not just cute performance from Yara Shahidi as Murphy's daughter, Olivia. Thomas Haden Church does whatever it is that he does so well that it always makes for a bemused chuckle, this time as a Native-American shaman/fund manager. Throw in a great bit where Church tries to fuel his preteen son's "vision quest" with Red Bull and flat, awkward cameos from Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony, and you've got a solid 90 minutes of family entertainment. Very earnest, lots of blue skies and rainbows, but when the temps haven't cracked 33 in two weeks and the snow patches still dot the lawn, this is tolerable.

About the only thing "The Hangover" shares with "Imagine That" is a cameo appearance from a sports superstar. This one is for immature audiences only, as long as they are at least 18 years old. We get about 15 minutes of setup as four guys go to Vegas for a bachelor party. They arrive, settle in and gather on the hotel rooftop to toast the groom and the night of bacchanalia that awaits. As our heroes raise their glasses, the camera pulls aways to the brilliant nighttime skyline of Las Vegas and the party music fades up. Cut to the next morning, where the missing items include the groom and a tooth and the found items include a baby and a full-grown Bengal tiger. None of the remaining three musketeers can remember anything from the night before and outrageous hilarity ensues as we piece it together with them. Having been to Vegas for a bachelor party where nothing like this happened, I can say that not one note is struck falsely. Las Vegas as a film locale has an appeal that's been captured brilliantly in "Swingers" and, of course, "Honeymoon in Vegas," and "The Hangover" pulls off the difficult task of making it work for an entire movie. For the darker side of this aspect, see "Casino," "The Godfather" (I and II), and when you're ready for a real downer, "Leaving Las Vegas." For mostly misdemeanor fun, property damage and injuries fixed with a quick trip to the ER or a good dentist, check out "The Hangover."

Still catching up with "Modern Family" episodes that I missed in the fall season. The only downside is that this usually leads me into "Cougar Town," which would be almost watchable without Courtney Cox in the lead and Josh Hopkins as the hunky(?) neighbor she seems destined to sleep with I'm guessing halfway thru Season 2, if the show makes it that far. Cox's annoying mania would work much better if they gave her some truly counterbalancing depression, but I'm guessing that would interfere with the concept of the show as a comedy, and I don't think she's got the acting chops to pull it off. A quick scan of the Hopkins resume reveals the source of my distaste: Ally McBeal, North Shore, Brothers and Sisters, Swingtown, Private Practice; and he's really boring. Almost a shame, because the rest of the cast (who doesn't love some Busy Phillips?) bring the funny.

More recent entries I have caught up with are "Men of a Certain Age" on TNT and "Blue Mountain State" on Spike. The former has been well received critically, and since I am a man approaching that titular era of my life, I thought I'd look in. Plus, it has Andre Braugher, who I'd watch on infomercials if, God forbid, he ever made any. Also Ray Romano, who I didn't hate on his big hit, and Scott Bakula, who I've never been able to convince myself didn't play Starbuck on the original "Battlestar Galactica." So, I've seen bits and pieces, and most of last night's episode, "Go With the Flow." For starters, really bad title for the episode, which invokes the terrible commercials for flomax, etc. Maybe that's the joke. What we get is Romano telling the guys about his reentry into the dating world, which includes a black eye. Having been happily married for almost 15 years, I can't really identify with this one, not even vicariously, and the eventual explanation of the black eye doesn't live up to the buildup, sort of a summation of my feelings about the show.

Romano's character has kids a little older than my own, and there have been some nice moments of his interaction with them that resonate with me, but his marriage fell apart because of his gambling problem and he also has a business to run. Not much there for me because if the gambling addiction doesn't destroy him utterly and completely, I might not find it believable. Braugher's character is also a family man whose main main issues stem from his relationship with his father and his health, but I'll echo something I read (New Yorker, I think) that said it's hard to swallow him as a struggling car salesman. Just too much Jesuit bleeding through. As patchy as my empathy for those characters is, I am in another universe from Bakula's struggling almost once-was actor with little ambition beyond bedhopping.

Ultimately, this is a show about guys who hit the diner once a week or so to keep themselves anchored through a connection that predates everything else that is taking priority in their lives. For that, it's well done, but I don't see myself making it a regular stop on the basic cable circuit, and I think it will be retired long before these characters do.

So if I give "Men of a Certain Age" high marks for its effort at thoughtful, intelligent rumination, I have to give "Blue Mountain State" the same for the exact opposite. From Spike TV, the home of Manswers, 1000 Ways to Die, and a steady dose of mixed martial arts programming, comes the sweet, soothing tale of a college football program where young men are mentored and nurtured physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually as they journey into adulthood and become responsible members of society. Start with the opening credits, a fetishistic fanfare of muscleboys donning football equipment juxtaposed with comely co-eds removing various undergarments, both found in their natural environments of athletic fields, locker rooms and strip clubs. And beer. Also Ed Marinaro, the only Heisman runner-up currently working in television today. Although the noise from my treadmill obscured most of the dialogue, I think this is a show best watched with the sound off, or, better yet, dubbed in a foreign language. Think "American Pie" meets "Varsity Blues" without the funny parts or sympathetic characters. Sprinkle in all the euphemisms for sex, drugs, alcohol, and bodily functions basic cable will permit, and there's your show. "Seinfeld" dubbed itself a show about nothing, but I think that title truly belongs to "Blue Mountain State."

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Playoff wins are so yummers!

Okay, how 'bout a little Ravens today? I was only able to watch the first and fourth quarter of the game Sunday, but really that was about twice as much time as it took to settle this thing.

About a month ago, I assessed the Ravens' chances of making the playoffs at 25% and their chance to advance at 10%, so kudos to them for coming up real big. Part of my assessment was to recommend that they run more on offense and blitz more ondefense, taking their chances with a weak and injury-addled secondary. Not that this is so original, but they seemed to take those tactics to an extreme on Sunday against the Patriots.

Now, it helps when you score 24 points to your opponent's zero in the first quarter, but even if you look at the playcalling in that period, the ground game predominated. After Ray Rice's astonishing 83-yard touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage, Baltimore ran six straight times before Joe Flacco threw incomplete twice. They scored on the next drive combining four rushes with two pass plays and ended the quarter with two more runs and an incomplete pass. So at the end of the first, the Ravens had rushed 13 times for 112 yards and Flacco was 1-4 for 13 yards to McGahee and had avoided a sack for a one yard rush. That 3-1 run to pass ratio had ballooned to 5-1 by the end of the game, a number I don't think I've ever seen from a team not running the triple option.

On the defensive side, the Ravens beat one of the top QBs in the league for only the second time this season. And, sure, it helped that Tom Brady was hobbling around and didn't have Wes Welker to throw to, but Baltimore's pass rush forced three turnovers in the first quarter on some very unBrady type plays: Terrell Suggs forced a fumble from the blind side on a rush we've seen Brady step up to avoid countless times; then facing a blitz from Jarret Johnson, instead of thowing the ball harmlessly to the sideline, Brady fired it over the middle right to Chris Carr; the third pick came on a nice play by Dominique Foxworth to tip the ball away from a Patriot receiver to Ed Reed. But, that's just unlucky, not unBrady, right? Umm, no. Unlucky and unBrady are actually listed as synonyms in the NFL Style Book.

So, moving ahead, how do the Ravens stack up against Indy Saturday night? Going back to their meeting earlier this season, a 17-15 Colts' win in Baltimore, the Ravens did not sack Peyton Manning but did force two interceptions, and gave up just under 300 yards passing (okay, 299, but still). Playing without Suggs, the defense certainly did its job, and I would be happy with a similar effort Saturday night. On offense, the Ravens must run the ball as well as they have been recently and get into the end zone. Any game where you attempt six field goals is going to be tough to win. Still, it's hard to see them getting stoned on three attempts from the one yard line again.

So, in summary, never count the Ravens out even when the odds seem stacked against them, win streaks don't mean anything, and Ray Rice, Ray Rice, Ray Rice.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Hoyas, Hokies, Hahaha!

Virginia Tech had a tremendous opportunity to step to the head of the Bog Poll class, but could not withstand UNC's shooting and depth in Chapel Hill yesterday, so the nod goes to Georgetown, who put down UConn with a steely performance down the stretch on Saturday. William and Mary stumbled badly at home against UNC Wilmington, and the rest of the CAA teams struggled in the opening of conference play. On the other hand, Maryland and Virginia bolstered Big Conference cred with impressive wins. Richmond and GW need to improve to push the A-10 past the CAA and the final spot in the poll is absolutely up for grabs. This week it goes to Morgan State strictly on strength of schedule.

1. Georgetown (12-2)

The only way to improve Austin Freeman's performance against UConn would be to have Morgan Freeman voice over the highlights. "I always knew Austin could shoot the trey, but until that game, I never knew just how many he could make." Also, have Clint Eastwood direct the clip.
2. Virginia Tech (12-2)
That thunderous scratching sound you just heard was Associated Press voters crossing the Hokies off their Top 25 ballots.
3. William and Mary (12-3)
Andrew Pavloff has made 100 percent of his free throw attempts this year, but David Schneider has to ring a bell every time Pavloff steps to the line.
4. Old Dominion (12-5)
Monarchs shoot 20-for-60 from the field and 14-for-34 from the line against Hofstra and still win. Insert Gilbert Arenas, Plaxico Burress or Dick Cheney joke here.
5. Maryland (10-4)
After the first big drop, the roller coaster goes shooting up another incline to dizzying heights on its way to a series of corkscrews just before it screams into a stretch of stomach-churning peaks and valleys for the exhilarating finish! The Terrorpin Train is definitely my favorite ride in Garyland! So much better than the the Friedgen Funhouse!
6. Richmond (12-5)
Chris Mooney blames road losses on flight delays. Should probably take James Carville off the travel party list.
7. Virginia (9-4)
There hasn't been this much excitement in Charlottesville since Izod merged with Lacoste.
8. VCU (10-4)
Rams' future in this poll more uncertain than Jimmy Fallon's at NBC
9. GW (11-4)
Colonials get their calendar mixed up, instead of No Pants Metro Ride Day, celebrate No Second Half Offense Day against Xavier.

10. Morgan State (9-7)
Hoping that the Bears' six-game road trip inspires a Kerouacesque return of Blogging with Boze.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Gilbert's Got a Gun

When Gilbert Arenas first became a Washington Wizard in 2003, I had very little knowledge of him as a player and less as a person. As his star rose so explosively over the next few years, I came to admire and enjoy his game while also being entertained by his personality. I rooted for him to come back from his injuries and bring some success to the Wizards, for my own benefit but mostly so that my kids would have a team to root for like I did for the Bullets in their brief heyday. Now, I kinda wish they hadn't paid any attention to the Wiz. In any case, here are my thoughts (read/sing this one aloud in your best Steven Tyler voice).

Gilbert's Got a Gun

Gilbert's got a gun
Gilbert's got a gun
He says it's just for fun
Not so says Crittenton
What did Javaris do?
Did he beat aces over twos?

But Gilbert hasn't been arrested
Instead he played in last night's game
Suspension was a comin'
Now that Gilbert's got a gun
The Wiz ain't never gonna be the same

Gilbert's got a gun
Not DeShawn Stevenson
His Twitter page is overrun
Pay lawyers' work's undone
Are the stories all untrue?
Will the fans start to boo?

Said he tried to protect his baby
The man's got to be insane
It's an unforgiveable blunder
Trade him to the Thunder
The Knicks, the Nets or the Ukraine

Gilbert's got a gun
His time in DC's done
Make him a Phoenix Sun

I'd rather have Attila the Hun
What will David Stern do?
Will we bid Gilbert adieu?

The whole thing makes me queasy
We're lucky someone wasn't slain
Don't know which story to believe in
But no matter how it ends up
We'll still tune in and watch the game

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Tribe Still Rules

William and Mary's non-upset upset at College Park keeps them atop the poll. Is there another team in the country that has beaten two ACC teams at home this year? Georgetown starts the very tough Big East schedule with two solid wins after falling to Old Dominion. Virginia Tech is getting no national recognition, but a win at Carolina this Sunday would almost certainly do the trick and get the Hokies into the Top 25. After the top three, my rankings are a pudding of five teams in search of themselves, still. If any of them (VCU, ODU, GW, Maryland and Richmond) get their act together, they can contend for an NCAA bid. After that are the surging Virginia Cavaliers and Loyola Greyhounds who need to keep winning to stay in the unfamiliar territory of my Bog Poll Top 10.

1. William and Mary (10-2)
In modern revisions of the classic fable, "The Tortoise and the Hare," the tortoise is defeated by the pug, the wren, and the phoenix.
2. Georgetown (11-1)
John Thompson wisely passes up Gilbert Arenas' invitation to the weekly Verizon Center poker game.
3. Virginia Tech (12-1)
In just two short years, Dorenzo Hudson has gone from vomiter to victor, from hurler to hero, from puker to preeminent-three point shooter. Talk about your boot and rally.
4. VCU (9-2)
Rams led UNC-Wilmington 51-17 in the second half last week. When was the last time a team had triple its opponent's points in the second half? Paging Marty Aronoff ...
5. Richmond (11-4)
Spiders starting to fade like Charlotte after the State Fair. Pass the tissues please.

6. Old Dominion (9-5)
Monarchs are unbeaten at home, unlike Tiger Woods, if that email I got last week is to be believed.

7. Maryland (9-4)
Terps lose to William and Mary, key recruit Terrence Ross decommits and, since bad things happen in threes, I can only guess that Greivis Vasquez go back to the white sneakers with yellow laces look he sported earlier this season.
8. GW (10-3)
Not many coaches have the courage to schedule such a brutal Boston road trip with stops at Harvard and Holy Cross, but Karl Hobbs has never been one to duck the tough opponents. At 5'8'', he doesn't have to. (Ouch, two cheap shots in one pithy comment!)

9. Virginia (7-4)
Cavaliers defeated UAB despite 27 points and 11 rebounds from Elijah Millsap, whose game fortunately resembles neither the Prophet Elijah's nor Ronnie Millsap's.
10. Loyola (8-5)
Greyhounds win at Indiana was the biggest upset the Hoosier State has seen since Jimmy Chitwood's teammates refused to run the picket fence against Muncie Central (/Simmonsed).