Saturday, March 03, 2012

03/03 (LeBron, Bounties, Peyton, CBB) Quickie

Process > Result.

As 2,200 folks gather at MIT yesterday and today for the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, I think most would agree with that. I think most fans -- regardless of analytical orientation -- would agree with that, for the most part: That the result matters -- OF COURSE -- but how you got there matters more. A fluky result doesn't mean as much as a solid process most likely to yield the result you want over and over and over.

When LeBron -- brilliant throughout the 4th quarter last night -- passes up the final would-be game-winning shot to get a teammate a better shot and that teammate misses the shot, it was the right thing to do, if the wrong result.

Would LeBron have made the shot? Maybe, in a one-time situation. But maybe not. But, inarguably, not at the same rate an open teammate would. His process was absolutely right; the result means that he will take more criticism for shying from the game-ending moment (even if his 4th quarter heroics the previous 11 minutes and 50 seconds had put the Heat in a position to win the game at all).

Should LeBron have taken the shot? Would critics rather have LeBron take the shot and miss -- to show he has the fortitude to take the shot at all, even if isn't as good of a shot? -- than pass to a teammate for a higher percentage chance of making the shot and winning the game?

I suspect that what minimal credit LeBron would get for taking the shot would be drowned out if he missed -- "LeBron can't finish!" "Michael Jordan made the smarter play!" "CHOKER!"

LeBron did the right thing. (PS: I'd differentiate last night's decision from the one he made in the All-Star Game last Sunday night, where there were no stakes and he probably should have just thrown up the shot, even if his basketball IQ insists the smarter play is to find the open teammate).

And as his brilliant season continues -- it is the best season if his career, and if you're not watching him, you're missing an all-time great player at the height of his abilities -- I find myself beginning to root for him to succeed, if only to reward process over result. The result will come eventually. LeBron is just too damn good for it not to.


*Saints/Bounty scandal: As the anecdotes pile up, I can absolutely see Roger Goodell banning Gregg Williams from the league. Not a one-year suspension -- an outright ban.

A few reasons:

(1) This is a particularly nasty scandal, because it is so easy for casual or non-fans to grasp and be horrified about it (particularly as stories come out involving intentions to hurt some of the league's biggest stars, like Kurt Warner, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning). Banning someone for life would send the most powerful signal possible.

(2) It is in the league's best interests to pin this on an individual bad actor, rather than a franchise or organization (although make no mistake: the league is going to crush the Saints for this -- the fines are incidental; the lost draft picks could be severe. And if the Saints want to get in front of this, they should fire GM Mickey Loomis, who directly defied an order from owner Tom Benson and allowed the bounties to continue. I don't want to be so proscriptive -- let me be predictive: I think they WILL fire Loomis). It is also easier than trying to punish individual players.

I suspect that the Rams will fire Williams before the league can punish him, and that even if he gets "only" a one-year ban, he will never work in the NFL again. Based on his statement last night, I don't think he understands his new reality. If he wanted to get in front of it, he would quit the Rams and voluntarily ban himself from the league for a year, dedicating his time and energy to traveling around the country talking to youth teams about what a mistake he made. I suspect he won't go this route and the league will hammer him.

*Peyton Manning caught on video at a passing workout at Duke: If Manning's team leaked this, it is a brilliant move, because the grainy YouTube footage sure makes it look like he can still wing the ball -- and that's with a full six months until the season starts. I still wouldn't sign him if I was a team -- there is a big difference between light throwing workouts and getting drilled by Ray Lewis.

*MLB Playoffs format changes: As a big fan of MLB's Wild Card system, I think this new system will work out fine. This initial season will be a clusterf--- because of the compressed schedule to wedge everything in, including the initial one-game Wild Card Wild Card game rolling into the LDS round, which lets the team with the worse record host the first two games of the best-of-5 series. But setting that aside, I think the new one-game playoff round will be enormously popular, and the accompanying chase for those new playoff spots will increase fan interest in September. Will we eventually see a third-place division-finisher win the World Series? Absolutely -- no one but stodgy baseball purists will care. (For reference, see how no one questioned the legitimacy of the Giants winning the Super Bowl, despite having the worst regular-season of any champ in NFL history.) Will we see some 89-win team knock off a 96-win team in a one-game playoff? Absolutely -- again, the response is... "So?" People like playoffs. People like do-or-die playoff games. This is going to be a huge success.

*College Hoops Saturday: Duke-UNC gets all the attention, but I've always thought that while it is a great rivalry, the games themselves are meaningless in the bigger picture. So UNC lost to Duke a few weeks ago -- what were the consequences? That UNC dropped from the 1-seed line to the 2-seed line? Meh. ACC regular-season title implications? Meh. If your aspiration ends at some regional honorarium, that's fine. Last time I checked, UNC and Duke fans enjoyed beating each other a lot, but not as much as they enjoyed winning a national championship (or even just making a Final Four -- a reminder that college hoops is the only sport where being a semifinalist is given as much distinction as winning a championship.) And so it continues tonight: If Duke wins... OK, they lock up a 1-seed. So? If UNC wins, they avenge the loss to Duke, sure, but... anything else? They're still no worse than a 2-seed, win or lose.

Want real stakes today? Northwestern is playing at Iowa with its first-ever NCAA Tournament bid hanging in the balance. If NU loses, they are finished -- bubble burst. If they win, they might very well have played themselves into their first-ever NCAA Tourney. (Other folks think that NU also has to win a first-round Big Ten Tournament game next week, but winning today is an absolute prerequisite.) Meanwhile, Championship Week heats up with small-conference championship games with automatic NCAA invites on the line -- one of the great moments of the sports year.

-- D.S.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Welcome Lucy Shanoff!

Announcing the birth of the delightful Lucy Tabitha Shanoff on March 1 at 4:08 p.m., weighing in at 7 lbs 11 oz and 20 inches.

She rounds out the Shanoff starting five just in time for March Madness. Mrs. Quickie is doing great -- she was a champ throughout the day.

For those of you who had "L" in the name pool (for "Linsanity") or "T" in the name pool (for "Tebow"), it appears you may claim partial credit.

Lucy shares a birthday, among others, with Justin Bieber, Chris Webber and Harry Caray. And D'backs pitcher Trevor Cahill, who might have to be a late-round fantasy pick-up for me, just because of that.

Today's recommendation: If you like the analytical side of sports, follow the hashtag #ssac to keep up with what's going on at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, which is massive this year -- 2200 attendees (up from 1500 in '11 and 1000 in '10). Sorry to miss it, but it's a great event.

-- D.S.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

02/29 (Leap Day) Quickie

Mrs. Quickie and I have had a running joke that we were sure Baby Girl Quickie would be born on Leap Day, not March 1, as planned.

If Leap Day should be considered a bonus day to do something special or different or nothing (relax), it feels appropriate it is an extra day before my family foursome becomes a quintet to appreciate where we've been before surge into where we're going -- life with a newborn is a little easier when you've had kids, just because you've seen it before; then again, it's harder because you're splitting your energy multiple ways. Either way, I think you can be as ready as you can try to be and yet you're still never really ready. You just have to -- forgive the groaner -- leap.

Being a dad is not new. Being a dad to a girl is very new -- after nearly six years with boys, I'm curious to see how this works out. I always had an appreciation for strong, self-sufficient, brilliant women (I married one), and I can't wait to try to raise one. I love that there are so many great role models out there in sports and media -- not enough, of course, but so many to point to.

A quick FAQ: Yes, we have a name picked out. No, it's not "Tebow" or "Linsanity" or "Shurna" (although "Shurna Shanoff" has an interesting ring to it and "TBA Girl's Name Tebow Shanoff" is tremendous). Yes, there are already at least a half-dozen Florida Gators onesies in the drawer, some new some hand-me-downs from her older brothers. And, yes, it is beyond exciting, now that we're inside of 24 hours until go time. I had forgotten how awesome (yet nerve-wracking) this feeling was.

If there is no update Thursday morning, it's because we're in the labor and delivery room hanging out, waiting for go time. When it happens, I'll try to post a pic here (or certainly via @danshanoff on Twitter).

Meanwhile, Quickish has been a little glitchy overnight -- we're working on it. Maybe it's the Leap Day version of Y2K.

-- D.S.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

02/28 (Daytona) Quickish

Ironically, NASCAR had a best-case scenario last night: Die-hard racing fans were watching the Daytona 500 anyway.

And -- because of the totally insane fire-on-the-track thing -- plenty of casual (or non-) fans were watching, too. Or following the instant social-media star Brad Keselowski on Twitter, where he posted a photo from his car on the fiery track. Or, this morning, entirely curious about this MASSIVE FIRE ON THE TRACK FEATURING JET FUEL AND TIDE DETERGENT that everyone is talking about this morning.

"Just when you think you've seen it all..." moments are the best in sports. Frankly, THAT is why we watch.

Is it too bad that it took an extreme novelty for the Daytona 500 to gain mainstream traction? For as much as NASCAR wants Daytona to be something everyone watches as a matter of course, not really. It's better than the alternative where folks didn't care.


*NFL Draft: The Rams are ready to deal that No. 2 pick, now that Robert Griffin III has turned into the most sought-after No. 2 pick in recent memory, coveted by enough teams that the Rams should bring in a franchise-changing haul (while giving the team trading for RG3 a shot at a player who could become one of the NFL's Top 5 talents inside of a season or two... and if that sounds like hyperbole, two words: Cam Newton, who is already one of the NFL's Top 5 talents.)

*MLB: Jason Varitek to retire today, which might distract fans from Boston's ludicrous ban on beer in the clubhouse. What a dumb idea. The team didn't choke away the 2011 season because of beer in the clubhouse, and if you can't trust a bunch of professionals not to abuse beer in their clubhouse, you have bigger problems.

*College hoops last night: Good win for Georgetown against Notre Dame. After the flame-outs of the past few seasons, the Hoyas scare the hell out of me with bracket-picking. Are they a totally new team from the chokers of recent Marches? Or are they the same-old same-old? (I'll split the difference: Better than the first-round flame-out but I probably don't have the wherewithal to take them to the Sweet 16.) Meanwhile, Kansas rolls on.

*NBA: Kings staying in Sacramento. What a win for Kings fans, who deserve it. Sorry, Sonics fans: I never thought it was fair that you'd get a new team by stealing one from another city of die-hards, and I can't believe you'd want one that way. Now, the Kings are years away -- if ever -- from being a playoff team, but it beats not having a team at all.

*Pop Culture: Normally, on Dancing With the Stars, my default is that NFL players are the prohibitive favorite to win. But in the case of the new season and Donald Driver, I just don't think he has the overall popularity of a Jerry Rice or Emmitt Smith to get him to the finals. The other big athlete name is Martina Navratilova, and I could see her going far. (Honestly, I don't pay much attention to DWTS, aside from curiosity over the athletes named to each new season and if any of them make it to the finals.)

-- D.S.

Monday, February 27, 2012

02/27 (Oscars Hangover) Quickie's Chris Sprow put the right sports-themed coda on last night's Oscars: "Moneyball is the Moneyball of films."

"Moneyball" didn't win any Oscars -- that was predictable enough -- but in this case, it truly was a feat just to be nominated at such a high level across the board (Best Pic, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay), and it goes down as one of the most acclaimed sports movies (and arguably the most Oscar-acclaimed baseball movie) of all time. Not a bad legacy.

Meanwhile, down in Orlando, the NBA All-Stars were turning a rout into a close finish -- fascinating if only for the way LeBron (who had shot the East back into the game from a gazillion down) deferred on the final possessions, with no less than Kobe taunting him to take the final shot.

It's not a bad proxy for LeBron's career: Brilliant numbers and stretches of sheer domination, but ultimately falling short after some form of shying from the very biggest moment. I have always bought the notion that for all his personal bluster, LeBron was a "beta," not an "alpha" -- the greatest second-fiddle in NBA history: Scottie Pippen 2.0, rather than Michael Jordan 2.0.

Or maybe he is an alpha, still figuring out how to be an alpha. You get the sense that he made a mental calculation that it would have been worse for him had he taken the final shot and missed (particularly if he was hounded into a miss by Kobe, the ultimate competitor) rather than deferred on the final shot entirely. And, as usual, his personal intuition was wrong.

It seems odd to compare LeBron James to George Costanza, but you get the sense that LeBron would do well to pattern himself after "Opposite George," who flipped every instinct "Regular George" would have, to tremendous effect. If "Regular LeBron" is worried about public perception if he misses, "Opposite LeBron" says "Who cares what people think?"

There is a hesitation to read too much into last night's finish -- it was, after all, an exhibition game. But it is of a pattern, and I think it is symbolically consistent with LeBron's career. Aside from America's aversion to "beta" personalities, would it be so bad if he embraced being a running mate? (Dwyane Wade sure has no problem being the Alpha.)


*NFL Draft: RG3 Mania! I'm not a Redskins fan, but I would mortgage this draft and the top of next year's draft to get Robert Griffin III, who seems every bit the superstar franchise pro QB he seemed to be in college. I find it baffling that the Browns might be waffling about trading up for him (given their pole position of assets to make a deal happen). Selfishly, living in DC, I'd like to see the Redskins get him not because I'm a Skins fan, but because as a fan of football and athletic brilliance, I'd love to watch him up close.

*Daytona postponed until today... or tomorrow? Probably for the best they didn't run Daytona opposite the Oscars and NBA All-Star Game. And who doesn't love a workday, midday huge sports event? Reminds me of the first Thursday of the NCAA Tournament.

*MLB: Nats lock up Ryan Zimmerman. He is the face of the franchise, Stephen Strasburg or Bryce Harper notwithstanding. The Nationals have thrown open their window of contention to begin this year, and it won't close until the end of the decade -- not coincidentally when the Zimmerman extension is set to close. He will be the rock of the roster -- the veteran who brings the young talent along and the future Hall of Famer who links the franchise's bright future to its mediocre start. (Again, I'm biased now living in DC, but it's a great time to be here and climbing fully on board the Nats bandwagon. I'll say it now: Anything less than a World Series title by 2020 will be a failure.)

*CBB: Wisconsin edges Ohio State, and it's possible the Buckeyes have fallen from a 1-seed lock through a 2-seed lock and into 3-seed territory. It will depend how they finish the Big Ten Tournament -- if they win the tourney, they're no worse than a 2 (maybe even climbing back to be the fourth 1-seed -- frankly, I'd rather be geographically closer to home playing as a 2-seed than shunted out West to play as a 1.) Wisconsin reminds you that you pick them to pull up short of the Sweet 16 (at least) in the NCAA Tournament at your peril.

Give Quickish a look to catch up on some of the best Oscar analysis by sports folks, the best reads from the weekend, your daily dose of Linsanity and everything else that emerges today.

-- D.S.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sunday 02/26 (Last Four In) Quickie

That NBA All-Star Dunk Contest was the worst I've ever seen, saved only by the hilarious reactions on Twitter.

Luckily, I spent most of it with picture-in-picture activated to watch Northwestern in a must-win at Penn State -- Northwestern hasn't had this meaningful (meaning: NCAA Tournament-impacting) of a game in the 20+ years I've been a fan.

Thanks to an iffy call at the end (the kind of call other programs get but I can't remember NU ever getting), Northwestern eked out the win to maintain its place inside the Bubble -- almost universally regarded by bracket pundits as one of the "Last Four In."

I've been saying this for a year -- but even more over the last month: I think Northwestern is going to make the field. I think they are going to be placed in that "First Four" play-in bracket that happens in Dayton the Tuesday before the tournament "really" starts.

They are going to make the field because they have never been in the NCAA Tournament before, and I think the Selection Committee will give that some value. All things being relatively equal among the "Last Four In"/"First Four Out" group of around 12-16 teams, I think the Selection Committee wants to see Northwestern in the field.

(And, if I may extend the conspiracy theory, I think that there is no better story the Selection Committee could put into the First Four round -- a round that started last year and is still looking for traction, despite being where VCU started its Final Four run -- than slotting Northwestern there against either a traditional power or a gutsy at-large team. Frankly, my nightmare is that NU goes into the First Four against... VCU.)

And so I spent last night gaming out the scenarios for Northwestern's final two regular season games:

*If NU loses to Ohio State in Evanston, but wins at Iowa, they are in.

*If NU beats Ohio State, they are in, no matter what happens at Iowa.

*If NU loses to Ohio State and loses at Iowa, they MUST win their 1st-round Big Ten game -- and even then, it'll be a reach for the Selection Committee to put them in.

I found myself firing up Expedia after midnight, pricing flights from DC to Dayton. Mind you, Mrs. Quickie and I are having our third kid two weeks earlier. (I'll only be gone for 24 hours!)

I found myself going to Google Maps to figure out just how far the drive was (not quite 8 hours, roughly the same time door-to-door as if I flew with one layover stop).

I found myself for the first time in the final days of February allowing for the idea that Northwestern might (just might) be going Dancing.

I know that the more likely scenario is "Whatever Is Most Heartbreaking" -- in this case, losing to Ohio State, losing at Iowa, then losing in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament.

But for today, "Last Four In" is the most magical phrase I can think of.

-- D.S.