Saturday, March 03, 2007

Saturday 03/03 A.M. Quickie:
Clements, Salukis, Shaq, Matsuzaka, More!

UPDATE: Via TheBigLead, here are my official seeds, 1-4 (16 teams in all). Yes, I'm serious about So. Ill. as a 1-seed. I created the seeds very early Friday morning. Based on today's results, I want to make a few changes:

I'm not sure I'm ready to drop UCLA from a 1-seed, but they certainly aren't the top 1-seed anymore. (More importantly, when you watch a loss like that one -- even at a tough place like Washington -- it changes your bracket-picking perception of a team.)

Meanwhile, I'm nearly ready to vault Kansas into a 1-seed, though I'll wait until the Big 12 Tournament is over. I think Georgetown should be a 2-seed, short of an early loss in the Big East Tourney. Wisconsin stays a 2 after beating Michigan St. I need to devalue Virginia after they lost to West Virginia. Vandy ended any shot they had of cracking a 4-seed by getting thumped at Arkansas.

Very quickly this morning on the top storylines:

NFL: Free Agency Mania! CB Nate Clements signed the largest contract for a defensive player ever. (Funny: I didn't see "Urlacher" on the back of his jersey.) 8 year, $80 million (with $22M guaranteed). If nothing else, don't call the 49ers shy about upgrading.

(They also came close to signing Pro Bowl LB Adalius Thomas, who ended up going with the Pats. Given that the Pats usually don't do much spending in free agency, either they went against their usual blueprint to grab Thomas, or swayed him with the promise of a better chance at a Super Bowl ring than he'd get in San Francisco.)

Last NFL FA biggie: OG Eric Steinbach signed a 7Y/$49.5M deal with the Browns. Given Cleveland's history with high-profile offensive-line free-agent signings, you can expect Steinbach's season-ending injury any day now.

Is Jake Plummer retiring rather than being traded to the Bucs?

College Hoops: Southern Illinois wins 12th straight, heading into the brutal Mo Valley Conference Tournament semifinals tomorrow. They are No. 5 in the RPI right now, zeroing in on a lock as a 2-seed. Some (me) even have them slotted as a 1-seed.

(No, I'm not kidding: If they streak to a Mo Valley Tournament title, considering the quality of opponents they'll see in the semis and finals, I think they absolutely deserve a 1-seed. They won't get it, but they should.

See yesterday's A.M. Quickie post for a full preview of the weekend in college hoops. I'm settling in for an afternoon of conference-tournament title games. Bid THIS, bitch!

NBA: Shaq is coming on strong. Season-high 31 poins AND a season-high 15 rebounds leads the Heat over the Pistons. I thought the Heat were supposed to be d-u-n and the Pistons were supposed to have smooth sailing to the Eastern Conference title.

Meanwhile, the Sixers beat the Grizzlies in a battle of bottom-feeders, proving that Philly has no idea how to tank a season, while Memphis is expert at it. I hope they enjoy the Greg Oden Era (but will it be in Memphis or elsewhere?)

MLB Spring: The biggest headline? Matsuzaka makes his debut, and it was a solid one: 25 pitches (19 for strikes), 2 innings and zero runs allowed. I stand by the prediction I made the day he signed with the Red Sox: Matsuzaka is going to be the AL Cy Young winner.

Re-design: USA Today's Sports Section (online) has been a daily staple of my research and reading for years. They just re-launched as part of a larger redesign. Worth your time to check it out, because there's a lot of cool new features in there.

Any other big storylines today? Throw them out there (and discuss) in the comments. DON'T FORGET TO SIGN UP FOR THE "DAILY QUICKIE READERS" GROUP OF THE ESPN.COM TOURNAMENT CHALLENGE!

-- D.S.

Friday, March 02, 2007

NCAA Tournament Challenge: Sign Up!

Last year, the 10,000-plus "Daily Quickie Readers" group of's Tournament Challenge was the single-largest NCAA Tournament bracket office pool in the country. Rallying that many people was the column's greatest moment. I don't expect 10,000 entries this year, but it would be cool to get as many of the old gang back together for this year's edition. Use this link to sign up, and spread the word: The epic "Daily Quickie Readers" group is back. (BTW: You get up to 5 entries, so there's no excuse not to Join in!)

Friday 03/02 A.M. Quickie:
Obsessed With College Hoops

March 2 Hoops-in-Brief: UCLA is DEFINITELY No. 1... I'm back sitting shotgun on Georgia Tech's bandwagon... Who saw UVA coming? Anyone?... Nevada plays its way out of a Top 4 seed... First conference-tourney title games tomorrow ("Big Ohio Atlantic South Sun Valley!")... Top leagues wrap up regular season (Florida better bring it at home vs. UK)...

My top 1-seed? UCLA, which affirmed the spot by beating No. 13 Washington State AT Wazzu to win the Pac-10 regular-season title. Wazzu plays that brutal-D/deliberate-O style that gives favored teams fits in the NCAA Tournament; perhaps drawing on last year's NCAA run, UCLA proved it can win playing that style, in addition to having the guns to score when they need to. And to win AT Pullman? Impressive.

I have said before that I don't think it matters if a contender is a 1-seed, 2-seed or even further down (just ask all of the 1-seeds from the 2006 Tournament about their AWESOME experience at the Final Four... wait.)

But that doesn't mean that the intrigue over the four 1-seeds isn't there. UCLA is a lock, as I just said. Ohio State is a lock, short of losing in their first game of the Big Ten Tournament. After that? Go figure:

Wisco? Eh. They're not even the best in their own conference, and without Brian Butch, they're no 1-seed. Kansas? There's no guarantee they'll even win this weekend's regular-season finale, let alone the Big 12 Tournament. UNC? I'd still give them a 1, but losing last night to a team squarely on the Bubble doesn't help their resume. Florida? Sigh.

The unprecedented parity I forecast at the start of the season and have tracked since is in full effect. Good luck with those brackets, friends.

Georgia Tech: We're Back On! Three and a half months ago, I surveyed the field of college hoops teams and made a few Final Four picks: Florida (obvs), Georgetown (reasonable), Wisconsin (up until the Butch injury, totally legit)...

And Georgia Tech. (Why? I liked Tech's young talent and overall size, even in an ACC that was stacking up as deep, if not loaded with juggernauts.)

For the next three months, I cursed that pick as the Wreck played EXACTLY like a young team should: Inconsistently. But last night was at least a measure of validation: A huge – HUGE – win over UNC.

If Georgia Tech can beat a presumptive 1-seed like the Tar Heels, then they certainly have the ability – if not the consistency – to win four straight in the NCAA Tournament and fulfill my longshot pick.

At the very least, I think this win nudges them to the "in" side of the Bubble, despite an RPI in the 40s (and the fact that that would give the ACC a whopping 7 bids). Too little, too late? Not in college basketball. (Here's a reasonable argument why they're still outside looking in.)

Meanwhile, speaking of ACC, did anyone – ANYONE – have Virginia winning the conference's regular season title? I have been working on a Top 16 teams NCAA seeding chart, and the Hoos win last night – coupled with a loss by Nevada – inspired me to give UVA Nevada's 4-seed spot.

I know that Nevada lost (1) on the road (2) in OT (3) by a basket (4) to a Utah State team ranked in the Top 60 of KenPom's RPI ranking, but if the Wolfpack wants to be taken seriously as a Top 4 seed, they needed to win that game – along with the rest in their season.

College Hoops This Weekend: Smaller Conference Tournaments continue. I will watch ANY conference-tournament championship game. I don't care. Big South, Atlantic Sun, Ohio Valley on Saturday? I don't even know who's playing in them: Sign me up. And reward my attention with either an upset or a dramatic finish!

For the rest, there are two key dynamics among the conferences holding their regular-season finales: Bubble teams trying to get in, and Tournament "locks" trying to jockey for favorable seedings and regional placements.

NYT's Pete Thamel blogs March Madness: The New York Times has done a really good job with event- or season-specific sports blogs. March Madness could be their best yet, because the lead writer behind it – Pete Thamel – is, by far, the best college sports reporter in the country. Here's the link to the NYT's "The Bracket" blog.

The best of the bunch is Texas at Kansas (although they could very well meet again in the Big 12 Tournament). Alright: I just want another chance to watch Kevin Durant. You've got somewhere between 3-10 chances left, depending on how far UT goes in the Big 12 and NCAA Tourneys.

Sunday: Kentucky at Florida. And the Gators better freaking show some life and right the ship before the SEC Tournament. And Duke at UNC, where yet another Duke loss would simply make the rest of us laugh at their inevitable placement as a dreaded 5-seed.

NBA: Mavs win 14th straight. I did a local-radio interview yesterday and was asked about the Mavs' chances to win the NBA title. They're playing better than anyone else right now, but I just can't get behind them. I have no analytical reason for that, and they SHOULD earn my favor, because I have a weakness for teams being "motivated" after a previous season's crushing loss. (See Texas A&M, Georgetown in college hoops.)

MLB Steroid Watch: MLB wants more info about Gary Matthews Jr. from the Albany DA. Sure, his name came up, but isn't it obvious that a lot of other names will, too? Why target Matthews individually and not seek to get info on ANY/EVERY MLB player who might be involved?

MLB Deals: Michael Young gets a 5Y/$80M deal. It's the second-largest in Rangers history. Given how well the largest deal worked out, I see nothing but good things ahead here!

More MLB Deals: The Giants locked up promising sophomore SP Matt Cain to a 4-year deal worth $9 million. He led NL rookies with 13 wins and 179 Ks last year. That Giants rotation should be solid this year.

NFL Cuts: The Vikings cut Fred Smoot. It's the end of an era – a Double-Sided era, if you will.

More NFL Cuts: Cowboys bounce Drew Bledsoe, a lame experiment from the get-go, driven by Bill Parcells' overrated personnel management skills. Steelers cut Joey Porter (but what about the dogs?!). Saints cut Joe Horn (legacy secure with his "Celly-bration").

NFL Trades: Lions DB Dre Bly to the Broncos for RB Tatum "If you draft me for your fantasy team, I will ruin you. Yes, Dan, I'm talking to you" Bell and a Broncos OT (and if it's a Denver OT, it MUST be an upgrade to whatever the Lions have up there).

NFL Deals: Fred Taylor signs a 3-year extension with the Jaguars. Inevitable annual injury presumably built in to the terms.

NBA: Blazers Prez and GM Steve Patterson resigns. He's the type of executive who makes me think that I could run an NBA team fairly competently (or at least more competently than he does). TrueHoop's Henry Abbott is a Blazers fan; he'll have the best analysis.

Bud Selig's new MLB-wide drug-test policy: I think it would be only fair if the mainstream media covered the positive drug tests of MLB league and team employees who failed their drug tests in the same breathless way they cover MLB athletes who fail drug tests.

Jared Zabransky on the cover of EA's College Football 2K8 is the most inspired choice on any EA cover ever. Fans can only hope that that means the motif of this year's game is expanded ability to run trick plays, Boise-style.

Kudos to Yahoo's Dan Wetzel for using Shaun Livingston's season (or career) ending knee injury to remind everyone that the NBA's age limit is preposterous.

Gilbert Arenas Watch: I enjoyed Klosterman's take on Gilbert in the new edition of the New York Times' sports magazine, Play (which, for my money, is the best sports magazine out there, including SI and ESPN the Mag), out this weekend and featuring none other than Deadspin's Leitch as a contributor.

Nice way to end a week that started with Gilbert showing me – me! – some love on his blog. (I also finally got a long-awaited custom order from the NBA Store: A Wizards jersey T-shirt with the number 0 on the back, with "Agent" where "Arenas" would be. Whee: Happy birthday to me.)

In case you missed it: The Top 20 Most Influential Sports Bloggers, ranked by two dudes who should know better than to do that.

On a related note, if you live in NYC, mark your calendars for next Wednesday night, for the March edition of the always-excellent Varsity Letters Reading Series, whose theme this month is (ahem) "Online Writers Offline." Among the readers: Me. Yes, I will be there, ready to make a fool out of myself.

The other readers include No. 1-ranked Will Leitch of Deadspin; No. 3-ranked Henry Abbott of TrueHoop/ESPN (and I'm sayin' HE'S buyin'!); No. 6-ranked Matt Ufford of WithLeather and Kissing Suzy Kolber; my neighbor Jason Fry and Greg Prince of Fear and Faith in Flushing (one of the best team-specific blogs you'll read, and if you're a Mets fan, an absolute Must-Read); and Jon Bois, Nick Dallamora and Brandon Stroud of The Dugout (who probably should have made my Top 20, if only for their consistent brilliance).

All the logistical details are here.

-- D.S.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The Top 20 Most Influential Sports Bloggers

Prepare yourself for some mind-caving navel-gazing, because Jamie Mottram and I have created a Bizarro version of Sports Business Journal's 20 most influential online sports media execs.

Since jumping from mainstream media into the sports-blog universe (six months ago today!), I have spent an unhealthy amount of time immersed in it. A few months ago, I was inspired to create a ranking of the most influential sports bloggers – totally subjective, but certainly based on what I was seeing, reading and hearing.

Then I discovered that Jamie was putting together a ranking of his own, and we decided that rather than compete with each other, we would collaborate on a Top 20 of the Most Influential Sports Bloggers, simultaneously posting the list on both of our blogs.

Our criteria? A combination of visibility, traffic, Technorati, our individual experiences as consumers -- and the same mysterious b.s. that holds every Top 20 list together.

1. Will Leitch, Deadspin: Simply put, he has more influence on mainstream sports coverage than anyone in mainstream sports media.

2. Tyler Bleszinski, SB Nation and A's Nation: President of the top sports blogging network, which should be bought for millions any day now.

3. Henry Abbott, TrueHoop: Acquired and hired by ESPN, providing inspiration for bloggers everywhere.

4. Dan Steinberg, D.C. Sports Bog: Redefining how traditional media can cover sports through blogging.

5. MJD*, The Mighty MJD and Deadspin: Pound-for-pound the most talented writer among sports bloggers. The next Bill Simmons?

6. Matt Ufford, With Leather and Kissing Suzy Kolber: From Deadspin commenter to KSK founding father to With Leather editor in just six months, being foul-mouthed and funny sure goes a long way.

7. Brother L, The Big Lead: Carves out an influential niche with sports-media gossip and must-read journo interviews that make (or break) careers.

8. Mark Cuban, Blog Maverick: Direct-to-fans communication model changed sports-media dynamics, and you never know what the hell he's going to say.

9. Orson Swindle, Every Day Should Be Saturday: National influence transcends college football's hyper-local focus.

10. Eric McErlain, Off Wing Opinion and NBC Sports: Long-time NHL blogger's efforts are getting his people in the press box.

11. Brooks, Sports by Brooks: T&A strategy and tireless snark yields massive traffic from the West Coast.

12. J.E. Skeets*, The Basketball Jones: Anchors the finest sports podcast going and uncovers endless amounts of top-grade YouTube video.

13. David Pinto, Baseball Musings: Leveraged "Baseball Tonight Online" gig into current status as a full-time, A-list MLB blogger.

14. Jason Gurney, Low Post, Strike Two and Fair Catch: Has created the Technorati of basketball, baseball and football.

15. Gilbert Arenas, Blog: Setting a new standard for athlete accessibility.

16. Bethlehem Shoals* et al, Free Darko: Primary purveyor of either the NPR or the Pitchfork of the NBA, depending on who you're talking to.

17. "Darvin Ham" et al, Wizznutzz: Raises the bar on otherworldly creativity while also dabbling in fabulous fashion.

18. Brian Cook*, M Go Blog: His college football BlogPoll brings dozens of top bloggers together and should be part of the BCS formula.

19. Ken Tremendous, Junior and Dak, Fire Joe Morgan: Pioneered essential format of scathing sports media criticism.

20. Bob Kellett, WorldCupBlog and The Offside: Amazing traffic every four years (11 million page views in June '06) and now a popular daily presence.

* - Full disclosure: Also writes for AOL Fanhouse, which is the group blog Jamie oversees.

It's worth pointing out: The depth of quality in sports blogging is phenomenal. The leap that has been made even in the last 18 months – or even the last year – has effectively allowed sports blogs, as a whole, to become as much of a fundamental part of fan consumption as ESPN or their local newspaper coverage. (And of all sports-media outlets, blogs have, by far, the most exciting growth prospects. Consider how many names on this list didn't even EXIST 6-to-18 months ago.)

Have there been omissions here? Are we blinded by our biases? Most definitely -- and we apologize if you or your favorite blog(s) aren't listed here. It's just two guys' opinion. One thing you'll notice is that most of the names below cover sports "nationally," rather than at the team-specific level. There are some wildly talented team-specific bloggers out there. And there are certainly other extremely good "national" bloggers out there. But, like any overreaching "list" ranking, it's a stake in the ground and a START to the discussion, more than anything else.

The only definitive analysis is that there is so much talent pushing up through the pipeline that a year from now, we both expect that there will be dramatic shifts on this list. What really separates sports blogs from traditional sports media is that it's far closer to a meritocracy: The best stuff – the fastest take, the freshest angle, the most prolific posts – tends to create its own influence.

-- D.S. and Jamie Mottram

UPDATE: Glaring Omissions.
OK, so as readers (and bloggers) have responded as we expected, with the natural reaction being, "How could you not list X?!" So we're going to maintain a running list of "Glaring Omissions." We're not admitting that we screwed up, but we acknowledge that this isn't an exact science and that the blogosphere is a big effing place. Watch this space for updates.

Aaron Gleeman (
Big Daddy Drew (Kissing Suzy Kolber)
GC (Can't Stop the Bleeding)
The Wiz (The Wizard of Odds)
Ladies... (Ladies-Dot-Dot-Dot)

Thursday 03/01 A.M. Quickie:
It's March! It's March! It's March!

March 1. That means March is here. Which means that we've entered March Madness. Which means that even the casual college basketball fan begins to pay a little more attention to the regular-season finale games and the conference tournaments (small, "Mid" and big), all in the hopes of gleaning that extra bit of insight that will help you pick an office-pool bracket that much smarter (or luckier) than the rest of us.

The debates over 1-seeds vs. 2-seeds is boring to me. First of all, being a 1 is no guarantee of making the Final Four, let alone winning the title. The most amazing part of last year wasn't George Mason's Cinderella run (and, no, it wasn't Florida's title run); no, I believe it ushered in a new era of parity and unpredictability.

So, for the time being, who's a 1-seed (or a 2-, 3- or 4-seed) is totally irrelevant. (5-seed? Maybe. But only because it's the "dreaded" seeding spot.)

The relevant question is: Who's in and who's out? Who's on the bubble and who's a lock? Which teams need strong conference-tourney showings? And, in the Comments, I'd love to get your picks for the biggest Bubblers – the teams we should be watching over the next 10 days.

(And not those teams that are going to eke their way in, only to lose in the first round in embarrassing, "What-was-all-the-fuss-about" fashion. Otherwise known, annually, as "The Big Ten's 5th and 6th bids. No: The best Bubblers are the ones who might actually have the stuff to win a game or two.)

It's worth a hat tip to college hoops editor Andy Glockner, who, with the change of month, has upgraded his "Drive to 65" Bubble Watch to daily. (Shanoff Trivia: Who knew that very early in my career, I was the college basketball editor at, complete with creating the very first edition of a "Bubble Watch?" I'm hard-pressed to remember a stretch of time that I worked harder, longer or more ludicrously than March 1997.*)

Do I sound immersed enough? Good. It's March. Finally.

PS: The Bracket Project is one of my new favorite Web sites. Now THAT is a service!

More storylines we'll be talking about today:

Texas tops Texas A&M in 2OT, behind Durant's 30 and 16 (in what was likely his final home game). The loss may have cost the Aggies any shot they had of being a No. 1 seed (if they, say, won the Big 12 Tournament) and may have boosted Texas beyond contention for the dreaded No. 5 seed.

I am convinced that the Selection committee will reveal a bracket that has Texas and Ohio State on a collision course to meet. (At least, they'd be smart to have that.) Are UT's freshmen just naive enough for a deep Tourney run?

(Meanwhile, I don't mean to overlook A&M's Acie Law. Sure, he's a first-team All-American, but what does it say that in this Year of Durant, he can present a legitimate alternative for Big 12 Player of the Year? I'm not saying Durant won't win it, but just that there's a fair debate. And that says a lot about Law. Wow: Texas A&M is going to just tilt so many pool sheets.)

Maryland wins at Duke, sweeps Duke: Tell me again how Duke was ranked No. 14 and Maryland was UNRANKED? (KenPom has the Terps now ranked at No. 11 in his RPI.) This Maryland team is scary in its unpredictability. Add them to my "How Far Do THEY Go?" List of Mystery.

It's been a sick year for freshmen, and not just Durant: Did anyone else catch highlights of Villanova's Scottie Reynolds, who had 40 in Nova's win over UConn? (Or how about Maryland freshman PG "General" Greivis Vasquez, with 13 points, 12 assists and 9 rebounds?)

Three words: Stephane. Lasme. Rules.

Lovie Smith gets his deal: It took the Bears a little while, but I hope Lovie thinks it was worth it. 4 years, $5.5 million a year? Seems reasonable for a Super Bowl coach, even if history suggests the Bears won't make the Super Bowl again during these next four years.

Ravens cut Jamal Lewis: Remember when he was THE running back?

NFL Free Agency starts: Rumors, innuendo, salary cap. Whee!

Randy Moss to Green Bay for Aaron Rodgers? I don't know why the Raiders would do this, except that Rodgers is better than any QB that Oakland could either (a) draft or (b) get in free agency, to pair with taking WR Calvin Johnson with the No. 1 overall pick. (Tip-off: PFT)

Mark Cuban isn't going to buy the Cubs. Too bad.

Roids Scandal: Well what did you EXPECT that Gary Mathews Jr would say? "You got me! I'm all about the steroids!"

Bonds gets death threats: Unsurprising, unfortunately. Maybe the blog Leave The Man Alone can take this up as a signature effort.

Responses to Murray Chass: I felt more than a little outrage at Chass' anti-stats column from Tuesday in the New York Times. (What kind of self-respecting baseball columnist doesn't even have a smidgen of curiosity about statistics?) Baseball Prospectus' talented Nate Silver has a thoughtful response, which is more than Chass deserves. That's why there's Fire Joe Morgan. And here's Seth Mnookin on Chass, too.

NBA Last Night: Did the Suns really lose to the Sixers? Philly must really not want Oden or Durant... The Wizards are sinking (and so is Arenas); what the hell is it about my college and pro teams right now?... AI (34 points) and Melo (23) flash why the West should fear the Nuggets in the playoffs if the pair get it together.

NBA Injury Watch: This is touchy for me, because Wade and Livingston were my fantasy NBA backcourt (sigh) and I've gone, in one week, from contender to obliterated, but here's an interesting theory from Brooks.

Cedric Maxwell apologized for his sexist remarks against ref Violet Palmer. He then expressed surprise at the "firestorm" he created. Seriously: What did he expect to have happen?

Arena League season kicks off tonight, most notably with its new partnership/ownership with ESPN. I remain convinced that this move is what takes AFL from "growth sport" (and you're foolish if you mock it, if you look at the fan and revenue growth) to the top of the "niche" sport pile, just behind NASCAR and NBA.

For those coming in late, I argue that the NBA has become a "niche" sport, just like NASCAR. That's not an insult by any stretch. Both are HUGE niche sports, but niche sports all the same. There are only three truly "national" sports: NFL, Baseball and College Football (with college hoops enjoying a halo effect from CFB). Among niche sports, there is the NBA and NASCAR on one tier; then PGA, tennis and now Arena League; then NHL. AFL is going to zip past NHL (if it hasn't already).

I might break out a discussion of Arena League later in its own post. I'd be curious for your take on it.

Speaking of NASCAR, I don't know what "Car of Tomorrow" means, but it sure sounds pretty cool. Drivers are iffy on it, as you'd expect them to be. Of course, NASCAR teams also apparently cheat more pervasively than any other sport, including the NFL, so there you go.

Finally, I'm late on this, but I missed the Colbert Report on Tuesday night, but caught the replay last night. And not only did he name-check the Toronto Raptors, he put them on his "On Notice!" list. But then he took it a step further! And he put them on his "Dead to Me!" list. For NBA fans, this is a bit ironic, given that the Raptors are the breakthrough success of the year.

-- D.S.

* - Then there was 1999, when I created and wrote the "Dance at a Glance" column for You might notice that it's quite Quickie-ish, particularly if you peek through the archive on the lower right. It was a critical moment in my development of a "short-form-content" philosophy that would later manifest itself most purely in the Quickie.)

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Read This Book: Sam Walker's "Fantasyland"

"Fantasyland" by Sam Walker: I said this when the book came out last spring. I said this for my 2006 year-end Sports Book of the Year awards. I'll say it again: This was the best sports book of the last year -- and among my Top 3 favorite sports books of all time. And, as of yesterday, it's finally out in paperback, which means it's now cheap for you -- and the end of any excuse you may have had for not reading it. Here's the Amazon link. And here's the link to Sam's site for the book and also to an old interview he did with Deadspin about it. (Plus: In addition to being a great writer, he's an even better guy. Bastard.) -- D.S.

UPDATE: Mark Cuban is about to buy the Chicago Cubs? I've been on record for a long time that he's the best owner in sports. This would be incredible, both for the Cubs and for baseball. This might even get me to re-assess my long-dormant Cubs fandom. Wow.

Wednesday 02/28 A.M. Quickie:
Summitt, Steroids, Santo and More

There are perhaps no more chilling pair of words ever written than these:

Summitt. Upskirt.

(Well, perhaps "Gators. Stink.")

I credit Pat Summitt for making her way out on the court at the first TV timeout, dressed as a Vols cheerleader (complete with... miniskirt). She led the cheers. She sang the song. It obviously helped the mood that Tennessee was beating the stink out of Florida.

But I'm sure you will all agree that it was a classic "There are some things you can't un-see" moment.

Deadspin's Will Leitch has the first-paragraph take on it I wish I wrote:

"Whether she was channeling Bruce Pearl or Minnie Pearl, Pat Summitt's antics before the Tennessee men's game on Tuesday was the least offensive aspect of the evening, as it turns out. When one considers that Dick Vitale was there, and that Peyton Manning was in the crowd singing, viewers should consider themselves lucky that the cameras focused mainly on Summitt."

Meanwhile, you all know I'm a huge Gators fan. And, yes, finally: I'm worried.

I'd like to see how they perform on the neutral courts of the SEC and NCAA Tournaments, rather than in the hostile environment of Tennessee (or LSU... or Vandy), but some things worry me that transcend location: Like their awful defense. Or their terrible decision-making on offense.

I remain convinced that there isn't a better starting 5 in college basketball (and probably not a team with a better 6th man either), but if they don't get their heads screwed on right, they won't repeat as a Final Four team, let alone as champ. (But I'm not bailing: I'm still picking them to repeat.)

The other big stories of the day:

This steroid bust in Orlando is huge – and only going to get bigger. Who else figured there had to be a reason for Gary Matthews Jr's increased production? And boxers? Please. I'm just waiting for more names – and you KNOW all those folks who were busted are just dying to name names to save themselves.

Ron Santo denied... again. I'm in Chicago right now, and it's a big deal here. But maybe it's time he just withdrew and gave up. Maybe start his own "Sorta Hall of Fame." (Actually, that would be hilarious... and a huge success!)

Conference Championship Week: This is as close as the sport comes to my dream of an everyone-in-the-pool tournament. Even the worst team in a conference can make the Big Dance. I love that. And I have no sympathy for regular-season conference champs who poop the bed when it really matters and miss out on an NCAA Tournament bid.

More College Hoops: Is Michigan REALLY an NCAA Tournament team? I don't know much, but I know that if they are, I'm penciling in whoever they play as advancing out of that particular bracket matchup.

Pitt is worth adding to the "I have no idea how they'll do in the Tournament" list.

Thad Matta's YouTube Moment: You know a story is at the end of its life cycle when it finally makes the TV Sports column of USA Today. Credit sports bloggers (like MJD at Deadspin and Fanhouse) for being all over this first, on Sunday night, before it bubbled into mainstream media (ATH, PTI) and finally, three days later, to newspaper coverage.

Cards like Clemens? That's just fantastic. Which team WOULDN'T want him? The difference is that Clemens has expressed no interest in playing for the Cards. What a non-story!

How much is Ryan Howard worth? If Ryan Howard was on the open market, how much would he command? $10 million a year? $15 million? More? Consider his mammoth marketing appeal as the TRUE "Face of Baseball" -- and the sport's reigning Slugger-King. The Phillies better understand that.

NBA: Typical Knicks – just when things were looking even remotely better, they fall apart. How does a team go from too many shoot-first point guards to too few?

Mavs win 13th straight: Much like a regular-season conference champ from a smaller college conference, this doesn't mean anything if the Mavs don't win the NBA title.

PGA: I love that Tiger Woods is simply creating his own event, using his own foundation's money. In my hometown of D.C. Over July 4 weekend, no less. Because Tiger is literally supporting it, I expect it will be a big deal.

NFL: I love how even Pac-Man Jones' own family says he's "out of control." When your family is talking shit about you, you've crossed a line.

Finally: This is totally crass, but I am anticipating it becoming one of the biggest online-sports sensations of the spring: The "Would You Do?" Tournament.

-- D.S.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Now *I* Can Die in Peace:
Gilbert Arenas Thanks Me

Check out Gilbert Arenas' newest blog entry, second item down. It's just a link (no name-check?), but it's enough. (Here's the post that inspired Agent Zero's enthusiasm.) Interestingly, he's also having a baby boy, so I'm hoping we can compare notes. Gil gets a special invite to join the Varsity Dad community. (Gil: Email me!)

Tuesday Update: Storming the Court,
Final Four Legitimacy and "NBATube"

With a morning flight to take, I was up at 4 this morning to poke around the Web and creat this morning's post. After having some time on the flight to think on today's hot topics a little more (thanks, JetBlue DirecTV), there are a few additional things on the table:

(1) The "Storm the Court" Debate: This really stemmed from Syracuse fans storming the court last night after beating Georgetown.

While I agree that there's a certain amount of self-respect involved in deciding whether to storm the court -- I mean, shouldn't Syracuse fans EXPECT to win at home, even over a hot team like Georgetown? -- I simply can't begrudge the enthusiasm of students to celebrate that way.

Maybe it's coming from Northwestern – where any big win (or any win) would have been cause for court-rushing – but as long as the students don't taunt or otherwise engage the opposing players, I think the ones who should cease and desist are the prudes, cranks and gripers.

(2) Kansas: Final Four legit or not? I've heard "This Year's Florida," and it's not a bad comparison: Young, big, well-rounded, hungry.

I get caught up by Bill Self's woeful Tournament record at Kansas. You could argue that Florida had a similarly shitty Tournament record the few seasons before last year's run.

You could also argue that last year's humiliation is precisely the motivation to make this year's run, particularly knowing this might be the best/last chance they'll have (presuming Wright, Arthur and Rush jump to the NBA).

Here's the certainty: Kansas will be the toughest bracket pick fans will have to make this year. (The Top 5 Toughest Bracket Picks: (1) Kansas, (2) Washington State, (3) Butler, (4) Texas A&M, (5) Air Force.

(The common factor among 2-5, along with teams like Wisconsin and Georgetown: Hard-nosed teams that play great defense and controlled offense that limits possessions – for BOTH teams. It can keep them in games with superior teams, but also leave inferior teams within shouting distance of an upset win.)

(3) NBA/YouTube Partnership: I don't know whether that clip from the post below of Team USA's layup line was the instant fruits of this new partnership between the NBA and YouTube, but I'm going to say that it will be the most important strategic move the NBA has made since the Draft Lottery to connect with fans. (The key: Being able to embed NBA video clips or URLs wherever fans want to see them – sites, blogs, emails, etc. Reach fans where they want to be reached or perish.)

-- D.S.

Tuesday 02/27 A.M. Quickie:
How to Go From "Bubble" to "In"

The fastest way to get off the bubble is to deliver a huge, high-profile, national-TV win in the last week of the season. By that standard, Syracuse is as good as in.

The Orange beat national (and my) bandwagon Georgetown, newly ranked No. 9 and previously winners of 11 straight. (It had to end at some point, I guess.)

It was a signature win for the 'Cuse, and precisely the kind of shellacking (where Green and Hibbert were totally shut down) where you (uh: I) have to re-think all of my previous assumptions about Georgetown's destiny as a Final Four team this season.

CBB Top 25: Let me make a prediction – at most, 1 team in the current Top 4 will make the Final Four. (Biggest question: How will the absence of forward Brian Butch – potentially for the entire NCAA Tournament – hurt Wisconsin's chances?)

Meanwhile: Memphis remains overrated at No. 6 (did pollsters learn nothing from last year's team?); the biggest discrepancy remains UNLV, ranked No. 12 in the RPI and No. 29 in the AP poll; and who among us would be bold enough to give Southern Illinois an NCAA Tournament 1-seed if the season ended today. What if I were to tell you the Salukis are ranked No. 4 in the current RPI? I say: Why not?

(Speaking of mid-majors: Winthrop is getting a lot of love from the mainstream media. Legit Sweet 16 darkhorse or over-hyped?)

CBB Game to Watch tonight: Florida at Tennessee. Can the Gators rebound from losing two of their last three, at one of the tougher road destinations in the SEC? (And what will Pat Summitt do to match Bruce Pearl's shirtless cheerleading for her women's team? The game is televised, so we'll find out.)

NBA: The symbol that the defending champ's reign is really over? The Heat lost to... the Knicks. Eddy Curry (28 pts, 11 reb) outplayed Shaq. Who would have guessed that, between the two teams, the one with more playoff potential in 2007 on February 27 would be... Isiah's gang.

Shaq: 25K Points, 10K Rebounds. Six other players have reached that plateau. Can you name them?

NBA Injury Watch 1: Maybe the Clippers SHOULD have traded Shaun Livingston. The oft-injured young PG dislocated his knee and is done for the season. (The picture will undoubtedly fly around the blog world... and it's pretty gruesome.)

NBA Injury Watch 2: If the Wizards can get Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison simultaneously healthy by the playoffs (and keep them that way), they could have a puncher's chance at winning the East.

Sonics owners the new Tim Hardaway?* One of the most rousing blog debates over the last 24 hours has been the one on Henry Abbott's TrueHoop after he linked to a story in the Stranger (from Seattle) about how the new owners of the Sonics have given lots of money to anti-gay-marriage causes. Check out the Comments section – and if you've got something intelligent to say about it, I'd recommend adding to the debate over there, rather than recreating the wheel over here (which you know could happen). Please keep in mind the Golden Rule of Blog Commenting: You aren't going to change anyone's mind, just like no one is going to change yours.

(* - Yes, it's an easy, cheap joke. But you can expect that anything that has to do with someone in sports associated negatively to gay people will be a "new Tim Hardaway" moment.)

YouTube Video of the Day: Bootleg of Team USA in layup lines in Korea. Like Arenas' post-practice 3-point contest, one of those things you hear myths about but never get a chance to see. (via NBA Fanhouse, and hat tip to JE Skeets for pointing out the way the Korean fans mock Kirk Hinrich for not being able to dunk.)

NFL: Anyone want to trade for Willis McGahee? He's on the block. (Speaking of available, Joey Harrington is about to be, too.)

Rulon Gardner, Day 2: Crazy, eh?

Federer: "Best Ever" Debate. New fodder: He broke Jimmy Connors' 30-y.o. record by maintaining his No. 1 ranking for 161 straight weeks.

Baseball Hall of Fame Vets' Ballot: Marvin Miller deserves to be in.

Bronx Zoo Watch: What "personal issue" do you think Johnny Damon needed two days off for? Just curious, of course.

Israel Baseball League is a go: This lends itself to many jokes, so let's try to avoid making too many of them blatantaly anti-Semitic. Jokes about the dearth of Jewish MLB players is fair game. But please note that I own the special collector's edition set (plus update set!) of Jewish MLB players baseball cards.

Finally: Speaking of baseball cards, would you pay $2.35 million for a 1909 Honus Wagner, perhaps the most valuable baseball card on Earth? You might not, but someone did. So here's the question: Is there a particular sports trading card (baseball or otherwise) that is/was particularly special to you?

-- D.S.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Monday 02/26 A.M. Quickie:
Who's REALLY No. 1 in College Hoops?

Asking for your help with a small content experiment today: I'd love to provide more links to other blogs' posts. Here's what I'm looking for: Your suggestions for blog posts that are (a) directly related to today's biggest news stories or (b) simply entertaining or interesting. Please be sure to include the name of any blog that might have alerted you to the post. Credit where credit is due. Send to my email at the right. Thanks for your help.

Who's Number 1 in college hoops? Not "Number 1" number 1 – the question on everyone's mind is which four teams will earn No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Touranment: The Big Ten champ? UNC? Florida? UCLA? Someone else, maybe a streaking Georgetown?

I love the next two weeks of debate leading up to Selection Sunday as much as anyone, but here is where college football's system and college basketball's system diverge:

However flawed the BCS system may be, the question of "Who's Number 1?" (and, perhaps even more, "Who's Number 2?") is the essence of the season. In college hoops, who is Number One now – and certainly on Selection Sunday – is completely meaningless. Just ask any of last year's No. 1 seeds.

As opposed to being concerned with poll position and, ultimately, seedings, I would be much more focused on how teams are playing – how teams are winning. What their strengths and weaknesses are.

Or how they'll look in various possible NCAA Tournament matchups, so you can spot the upsets or the alchemy of talents that might illuminate which team will be number one when it exclusively matters: At the end.

Sure, Ohio State beat Wisconsin yesterday, but it was in Columbus and I'm still not convinced that Wisconsin isn't the better team. So I guess that's why the created the conference tournament. That anticipated rubber match in the Big Ten title game will be great.

(Reader Matt reminds me that the NCAA seedings are finalized before the B10 title game is finished. But again: Seedings are irrelevant, except for the dreaded 5-seed. But that doesn't mean we can't use the game to make final evaluations about OSU or Wisco's FF-worthiness.)

The much bigger news was UNC losing at Maryland, which has all but secured its once-unlikely NCAA Tournament ticket. Meanwhile, you have to question whether UNC is a lock as a No. 1 seed anymore (certainly no more of a lock than, say, Florida). As with the Gators, the Heels need a conference-tournament title to lock up a No. 1 seed. Otherwise? Well, a 2-seed isn't that crazy when you lose to an unranked team.

(Update: As Commenters are pointing out, Maryland was hardly unranked where it matters: The RPI, where they were 17th. I admit to my own laziness in going with the AP poll, which is useless. Give me the RPI or Pomeroy's rankings anyday. UNC remains a lock of a No. 1 seed, and -- yes -- it looks like Florida is a 2, unless they streak their way to an SEC tourney title.)

But again: The most important question is what does UNC's loss at Maryland say about their larger NCAA Tournament chances? Was it Maryland's particular style or personnel that foiled the Heels? Was it the road conditions? Was it UNC looking ahead? And do any of those factors bode well – or poorly – for UNC's Tournament chances?)

Your SEC MVP? Derrick Byars. Vandy continues surprising run by beating Kentucky.

Women's CBB: Congrats to Duke on becoming the first women's team ever to go unbeaten in the ACC. (Of course, it doesn't mean anything if they go out and lose to, say, Maryland in the national-title game.)

NBA: Is Amare the Comeback Player of the Year in the NBA? I have 43 reasons (a season-high) to argue he is, but the real proof will come when the Suns win the NBA Finals behind Amare, the Finals MVP.

Meanwhile, Chris Webber is making a late-career surge for respectability. He's been a sparkplug for the Pistons since the trade, and his role yesterday was critical to Detroit's win. With Wade's injury, the Pistons have to be the favorite to win the East. Wow: Could Webber win that elusive ring? Is he the Rasheed Wallace from 2004, the (swiped, damaged) piece that gets the Pistons to a title?

Dwight Howard's "Kiss the Rim" Dunk is officially the dunk of the year. Yes, even better than his Slap-Sticker-On-The-Backboard dunk from the All-Star Dunk Contest. Certainly better than anything done by Gerald Green. Here is your People's Dunk Champ: Dwight Howard.

NFL Combine 40 "Talk":
Wisco OT Joe Thomas: 4.93
Okla RB Adrian Peterson: 4.38
GA Tech WR Calvin Johnson: 4.35
Drew Stanton > Brady Quinn
(All stats/gossip via ProFootballTalk.)

Watch the Name: Amobi Okoye, the 19-year-old Louisville DT who could be the surprise riser of the draft. PFT was "Talking" him up over the weekend, and I opened my New York Times this morning to a very positive profile. The academic story is wild: Played for L'ville as a true freshman at 16 (16!) and even graduated early. Oh, and he's 6-foot-2, 300 pounds -- and still growing.

Another Name to Watch: Toby Korrodi. Could he be this generation's Johnny Unitas? Only if Unitas would have scored a 12 on the Wonderlic. (Link and Tip: The Feed.)

NFL '07 Schedule: Will it be Cards-Steelers in Arizona in the league's Sunday night season-opener?

MLB: Who had "handful of days" in the "Carl Pavano Injury Pool?" And who had "early" in the "Manny Reports to Camp Pool?"

UPDATE (5 p.m.): Anything that mocks Curt Schilling is OK by me. Here's the link (via Sports By Brooks)

OSCARS: Congrats to Scorsese. Long overdue. And congrats to Forest Whitaker, who might be the greatest actor of our generation. (Beyond "Last King of Scotland," for his work on "The Shield.") Funniest moment: Ferrell, Black and Reilly serenading about the lost cause of comedians at the Oscars. Worst moment: Anything with the full-body shadow hand-puppets. Meanwhile, the Red Carpet show on E! is one of the few times all year I get to update my "List of 5" (celebrities I could hook up with, without punishment from my wife). When I nominated Reese Witherspoon, my wife -- a huge Reese fan -- said OK, as long as you invite her over for dinner afterward so we can hang out. Done and done!

-- D.S.

UPDATE: Got a great dispatch from Free Darko's Bethlehem Shoals about Amare. Wanted to share it:

Once he learns the game, it's over with.—Stephon Marbury.

"Back in December of 2002, when Marbury mattered and Garnett still had hope, the Suns and T-Wolves played a game of basketball. Amare exploded for 38, by far his career high, and Stephon took advantage of a chance to belittle KG. This has gone down in history as Marbury at his most desperate, but it was also the first time we saw what a remotely consistent, stable Amare Stoudemire could do.

Last night against the Hawks was another one of those days. I'm still not convinced he's back to his full athletic capacity; even his legend won't accomodate that kind of superhuman recovery. It's high time, though, that we recognize Amare's a basketball player, not some poster-generating armament paid by the kilohert. In the past, it was hard to see this, but the current Stoudemire practically screams personal growth and development.

And in that sense, maybe Marbury wasn't so wrong or desperate after all. He was just a little too proud."

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Sunday 02/25 A.M. Quickie:
All College Hoops, All the Time

Saturdays in late February are about evaluations for pending bracket picks:

Florida: WTF? (No: I mean "W?! T?! F?!?!") I didn't see a game against underachieving LSU – even in Baton Rouge – as a trap game, especially without Glen Davis. Turns out that LSU is better without Big Baby. BUT: The Gators are still a 1-seed (says something about the field this year) and they will affirm it with an SEC Tournament title. But am I as confident about their chances as a repeat as I was 14 days ago (or even 7 days ago)? No.

Georgetown beats Pitt: It's very arguable that the Hoyas are playing like one of the Top 4 teams in the country right now. My "tournament darkhorse" pick of three months ago is suddenly the hot team to back.

Big 12 is interesting: Texas A&M beats Baylor by 10, Kansas thumps Iowa State by 37, Texas beats Oklahoma (Durant: 32), Texas Tech beats Okla St, Kansas State hits 20 wins: Wow, the Big 12 Tournament will be fierce among the teams at the top (but watch out for the challenges from the teams on the bubble).

Virginia beats Georgia Tech: Maybe when I said that "GA Tech" was my true darkhorse preseason pick to make the Final Four, I meant to say... um... "Virginia?" (No, but GA Tech ain't gonna make the field, let alone the FF.)

Air Force loses to TCU (11-15) by 5: And that would officially (and finally) end any interest I had in backing AFA as this year's George Mason.

Sunday's Best:

Wisconsin at Ohio State. I remain convinced that the loser of this game still gets a 1-seed by winning the Big Ten Tournament, but it's one of those "file away for bracket-picking" games.

UNC at Maryland: The Terps have been playing a lot better recently, and it's a legit test for UNC to play on the road at College Park. I'll be curious to see how the Heels respond to it.

RIP Damien Nash, Broncos RB.

-- D.S.