Sunday, March 30, 2008

Would Davidson Have Been an At Large?

Interesting sidelight into the Davidson run: although the Wildcats were 20-0 in the Southern Conference, they were merely #35 on the RPI (#20 on the Pomeroy). (Ken Pomeroy needs a shout-out -- he was all over Davidson's chances from the beginning, by the way, describing them as 'big-confernce-style basketball')

Davidson played just eight games outside of the SoCon, and were 2-6, albeit with losses to UNC (home), Duke (home), and UCLA (in Anaheim). Other, less-impressive out-of-conference losses included Western Michigan, Charlotte, and NC State.

More important, a loss in the SoCon Tournament to Wofford (#195) or Elon (#210) would have meant that the Wildcats (with a significantly worse RPI rating) would have been dying as Georgia won the SEC; they were by no means locks to go as an 'at-large' team.

But all's well that ends well, as far as the NCAA Selection Committee is concerned.

Kansas Limps Into the Final Four

Bill Self's Kansas Jayhawks advanced to the Final Four with a relatively unimpressive (at least among the four #1 seeds who are going to San Antonio) win over Davidson, 59-57.

Why unimpressive?

The refs effectively stopped calling fouls early in the second half, which was a huge boon to Kansas' athleticism. Several blocks on the baseline could have easily been called, and Curry was hit on a couple of shots, to no effect. (The only calls that were made were obvious fouls, especially reaches on the ball, like Andrew Lovedale's reach after a block with 2:47 left (for his fourth foul.))

Davidson was on the ropes (43-38) with about 12 minutes left, and only Bryant Barr's ability to take some pressure off of Stephen Curry by draining two threes in three trips.

But the real question Coach Self has to be asking himself is how he allowed his career -- and a loss to this Davidson team and another failure in the Elite Eight probably would have brought an end to the Self Show in Lawrence -- to be hanging in the balance on a relatively open Jason Richards three-pointer with 4 seconds left.

While Richards was 24-25 feet away from the the basket, it was an open look, and he had made at least one similar shot during the course of the tournament.

One more, and Davidson would be the new George Mason.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Value of FTs

Ken Pomeroy is usually an AP 'must-read', but sometimes his application of (Bill) Jamesian-numerical analysis of college basketball leads him to counter-intuitive conclusions that are also counter-factual.

Take his analysis of the value of FT% (in the context of Memphis' chances to win the national title):

For one thing, the ability to make free throws has very little correlation to winning close games. It needs to be noted that just three teams in the country have a better track record than Tennessee in close games this season. The Volunteers are 8-2 in one-possession games--games decided by three points of less at the end of regulation. Memphis hasn't been in many of those games this season, but has won all three they've come across. That's 11-2 for the two bricklayers combined in close game action.
Such analysis is of no solace to Bob Huggins and the West Virginia Mountaineers.

WVU lost tonight against Xavier, 79-75 in OT, a two-possession game that falls outside of KenPom's definition of a 'close' game (although in fairmess, Pomeroy expands the definition to four points later in his column.) Two trips to the foul line were key for WVU:

* Coming out of a timeout with 0:21 left in regulation, and down by 2 points, WVU ran a terrific disguised screen play to get the ball to their best player -- Joe Alexander -- on the low block. Alexander made the short jumper -- tying the score -- and was fouled. Although a terrific foul shooter (82.1%), Alexander missed the "and-1" and -- after a Xavier miss at the other end -- the game went to OT.

* Later in OT, after Alexander had fouled out, the Mountaineers were clinging to a 4-point lead. In the last 3 minutes of the game, WVU made three trips to the line with Wellington Smith (54.2%) going 0-for-2, and Joe Mazzulla (64.8%) going 2-4 in two trips. While the proximate cause of WVU's loss was the failure to cover Xavier's BJ Raymond on two-straight possessions (including a key one with 0:02 on the shot clock with 0:32 left), the missed free throws -- especially Smith's empty trip with 2:57 left -- were critical.

Pomeroy has a point -- coaches may put relatively poor foul shooters on the floor because their talents in other areas allow their FT% to be overcome elsewhere. But looking at "one-possession" final scores is not a fair test of free throw acumen.

First, relatively few games are truly 'last possession' games. Even games with a close score (i.e., within 3 points) can be decided earlier with a meaningless hoop at the buzzer allowing the score to be not-as-close as it appears to be.

Second, the real test for 'close' games should games that are tied or within one possession in the last five minutes in regulation, or (by definition) any overtime game. Alexander, Smith, and Mazzulla all missed critical free throws. Alexander's miss cost his team the opportunity to win in overtime (although the tie score may have had an influence on the type of shot that Xavier was willing to take in the last seconds). Smith's miss killed WVU's momentum (built in spite of Alexander going to the bench early in the OT). And Mazzulla's misses deflated a team that was clinging to a two-point lead (first trip, with 2:13 left) and all-but-killed the team with 0:17 left (74-78).

Finally, overall FT% is not the same as FT% in the last few minutes of closely-fought, tense game where both teams are playing at a high level -- and the refs are allowing the players to 'decide the game' by only calling indisputable fouls (which includes almost every NCAA Tournament game.)

Is FT% overrated? Perhaps. Can talented teams overcome poor foul shooting? Sure.

But can missed free throws kill a team? Absolutely. And what is harder to measure is the momentum-killing implications of an empty trip to the line at the end of a close game.

Earl Weaver famously said that momentum is "tomorrow's starting pitcher." While that may be true in baseball, a game of discrete (and discretely measurable) interactions, the game of basketball is more complex, and involves more group psychology.

Just ask the Georgetown Hoyas.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Harbinger of Success?

For the first time since 1999 (and only the second time ever), we have 2 teams seeded #12 or lower that have reached the Sweet Sixteen. Midwest #12 Villanova and West #12 Western Kentucky both face #1 seeds (Kansas and UCLA, respectively), which makes it likely that these seeds extend their all-time Sweet Sixteen record from 1-19 to 1-21 (only #12 Missouri in 2002 has won a Sweet Sixteen game).

Sidebar: I was at that 2002 West Regional Semifinal in San Jose when two Big XII teams (Missouri, Oklahoma) took out two Pac-10 teams (UCLA, Arizona) in their own backyard. But even in San Jose, those results were overshadowed by news that defending National Champ and AP #1 Duke had been upset by Indiana.

In addition to the onslaught of media attention that these types of teams receive, many coaches have used success in March as a springboard to "greener" pastures. For example, Bruce Pearl parlayed his success at Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2005 to land the job at Tennessee the following year, and he has taken the Vols towards the elite of college hoops in three short seasons.

But interestingly, the complete track record of these "miracle workers" is spotty to say the least. Sure Tubby Smith (Tulsa, 1994) went to Georgia then won a National Championship at Kentucky in his first year there, but he has since been summarily run out of Lexington and has ended up at Minnesota. Mike Jarvis (George Washington, 1993) got his chance at the big time at St John's and laid an egg, Steve Alford (SW Missouri St, 1999) went to Iowa for a few years and now is solidly mid-major at New Mexico, Kelvin Sampson (Oklahoma, 1999) can't seem to get off the phone, and Ben Braun (Eastern Michigan, 1991) literally just got fired today from Cal after a dozen middling seasons. And suffice to say that Quin Snyder didn't leverage his 2002 Missouri experience into long-standing success.

Perhaps the most interesting coaching move in this group is Mack McCarthy (Tennessee-Chattanooga, 1997), who took the Associate Head Coaching job at VCU the following year. Full disclosure: he did so knowing that Sonny Smith, his longtime mentor, would hand him the reins soon thereafter.

So the lesson for sudden hot coaching prospects like Darrin Horn at Western Kentucky is perhaps to follow the lead of Mark Few (Gonzaga, 2001) and stay at home. But if the Hoosiers come calling (sorry again, Kelvin), would he be able to say no?

Another "Mouse that Roared" - 1984 edition

A year after the classic Louisville-Houston NCAA semifinal game, Houston returned to the Final Four, and this time made it to Championship Night. There, however, they ran into a Georgetown Hoya machine.

Although led by Patrick Ewing, John Thompson had recruited upgrades at the forward position, led by the unmistakeable image of Michael Graham (above), as the original 'power' forward, and Dunbar High School's Reggie Williams.

Graham's time at Georgetown was limited (he apparently failed exams during the spring of 1984), and transfered shortly thereafter to UDC. But he cast a long shadow on the era of Hoya Paranoia, even in his brief time in uniform.

Williams, in contrast, went on to a stellar Hoya career (including leading 'Reggie-and-the-Miracles' his senior season), and a lengthy NBA career.

More Sniper Fire

CBS continued with the landing-in-Bosnia story yesterday, complete with a short clip from Hillary's 'explanation' of stopping to accept flowers from an 8-year-old girl. What is most striking, however, is the parallelism of her language from March 17th and yesterday:

March 17th speech: "We basically were told to run to our cars. Now, that is what happened."

Yesterday (via "I was also told that the greeting ceremony had been moved away from the tarmac, but that there was this 8-year-old girl and I said, well , 'I can't rush by her -- I have to at least greet her.' So I greeted her, I took her stuff, and I left. Now, that's my memory."

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

She DOES Call Herself a 'Fighter', After All...

ABC's Jake Tapper reports that an anonymous DNC staffer coined a new metaphor for the 'kitchen sink' strategy that the Clinton campaign is falling back on in order to try to deny Obama a nomination victory:

"Her securing the nomination is certainly possible - but it will require exercising the 'Tonya Harding option.'" the official said. "Is that really what we Democrats want?"
Harding, of course, conspired with her ex-husband to hire thugs who took down Nancy Kerrigan in the weeks leading up to the 1994 Winter Olympics; more recently she ended her professional boxing career with a 3-3 record.

Another "Mouse That Roared" - 1983 edition

Another name from the NCAA past (albeit slightly before Mouse McFadden) is Houston's Benny Anders, who was part of the great Phi Slamma Jamma teams of 1982-84.

As a player, Anders was overshadowed by all-time greats Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler; but he was the unmistakable character on a team filled with strong personalities (see: Larry Micheaux, Michael Young, and straight-man Reid Gettys, now an Houston attorney).

But Anders, who has virtually disappeared from organized basketball, still haunts the imaginations of those who saw him play.

Sniper Fire from the MSM

The Obama campaign has been trying to get observers in the MSM to unpack Hillary Clinton's 'experience' argument for the past few weeks -- ever since the aftermath of Texas/Ohio -- without much success. Greg Craig's memo was not really echoed, and even Sinbad's (the comedian) comments on the USO trip to Bosnia was pretty much ignored.

But when the MSM went back and reviewed its own video of the then-First Lady's trip to Bosnia in 1996, which she recounted in a speech last week, the proverbial 'worm' has turned. While the Clintons had a sketched out a path to the nomination (albeit risky), the press this week has been writing the it's-all-over-but-the-margin-of-victory stories.

After a bad week for Barack Obama and Rev. Wright, it's Hillary's turn to be roasted in the YouTube universe. And the Clintons' argument that she is getting a raw deal from the press can't stand up to the video.

As Richard Pryor once said, in a different context: “Who you gonna believe, baby — me, or your lyin’ eyes?”

This Year's Mouse

We are at the point of the NCAA Tournament when unexpected story lines start to garner mass media attention. With his 70 total points in the first two games, I am sure that #10 seed Davidson's Stephen Curry has a backlog of interview requests, and #7 seed West Virginia's star player Joe Alexander has an interesting profile in today's NYT. (By the way, Alexander makes Larry Bird look like a slacker).

In my mind, the first player and team to come from the nether regions of college basketball to tournament stardom was Ken "Mouse" McFadden and his Cleveland State Vikings in 1986. As a 14th seed, and believe it or not at-large invitee since their conference was not assured of an automatic bid, Mouse's Vikings upset Bob Knight's #3 seed Indiana Hoosiers in the first round and #6 seed St Joseph's Hawks in the second round before falling 71-70 to David Robinson and the Navy Midshipmen in the Sweet 16.

Mouse was a freshman recruit out of New York City, brought to Cleveland by Coach Kevin Mackey, who designed a frentic pressing style, dubbed the Run 'N Stun, to be able to compete with larger, more physical teams. It worked brillantly, but more importantly captured the fancy of basketball fans across the country, most of whom would have been hardpressed to locate Cleveland State if the city had not been in their name.

The fleeting nature of stardom (nobody gets residuals from their basketball game performances) is well illustrated by the Cleveland State story though, as the Vikings have not been back to the Big Dance since. Oh, and Mackey was arrested at a crack house four years later. But we have Curry and Alexander this year, the latest in the legacy of the House That Mouse Built.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Celtics Let-Down

When we last left the Celtics, they had gone through the Texas Triangle at 3-0, for a combined 6-0 against the three Texas teams for the year.

But a fourth quarter let-down against New Orleans on Saturday night was understandable; tonight's meltdown in the fourth quarter against the Philadelphia Iguodala's much less so.

After letting the Sixers stick around for 3 quarters, the Celtics stopped scoring in the fourth quarter (just 10 points in the first 11:40 of the last period), and Iguodala punished them with 10 straight points (3 dunks, 2 FTs and a jumper) and led the 76ers on a personal 10-0 run against the Cs.

There's undoubtedly a let-down after the Celtics have effectively clinched homecourt advantage, and Doc Rivers experimenting with the lineup is also a factor. But despite the good work that the Celtics have done over the past six months, there's an unease in Celtics Nation on the eve of Red Sox Opening Day (albeit 8,000 miles away in Japan).

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Whammy

Still lives. And Georgetown, as a result, does not.

There Are No Cinderellas...

Others have also noticed the resurgence of the Big East, and especially the 1985 Final Four; the end of the Georgetown-era of Big East dominance is featured prominently in the above ad for Nike's JumpMan23 label.

The rebirth of Georgetown's program, under the watchful eyes of FOAP John Thompson III, is a prominent part of the ad; can anyone remember a journalist ever reporting on a G-town practice during the Hoya Paranoia days? Let alone allowing Nike to film a clip -- no matter how brief.

The ad, coupled with this week's old-school-style-SI profile in this week's Sports Illustrated by (another) FOAP Alex Wolff, means that JTIII appears to be ready to burst into the national consciousness.

For four years -- which corresponded with the height of the Georgetown Era (Part I) -- what was good for the Hoyas was good for college basketball.

All that stands between a return to the glory days is a thin sharpshooter named Stephen Curry.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Beast of the East?

Earlier today, after #7 seed West Virginia knocked off #2 Duke in the 2nd round of the NCAA tournament, memories of Rollie Massimino, Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin, and Dick Gavitt began circulating through the various NCAA venues as the Big East Conference had won 8 of the 9 games that they had played in the 2008 tourney.

You see in 1985, the Big East absolutely dominated the event, with 18 total wins, 3 Final Four participants, and a Cinderella National Champion. No other league has ever gotten more than two teams in any given Final Four or accumulated more than 15 total wins in any year.

Sheer numbers have given an advantage to the latest versions of the league, as expansion has pushed the total league size to 16 and has increased the number of bids that the league gets each year (they only had 5 in 1985), but there have only been 3 Final Four appearances in the past 8 years.

Alas, later in the day Notre Dame, Marquette, and Pitt all lost their second round games dropping the league's record to 8-4 and making a dominant performance quite unlikely.

Yesterday in Tampa/St. Pete

As the late game wound down last night, announcers breathlessly reported that history was being made in the Tampa/St. Pete area, as all four games at the St. Pete Times Forum were won by the lower seed, including two overtime games (Western KY over Drake and San Diego over UConn).

While it was an exciting day of basketball for the fans, it also is the kind of day that could only happen in today's NCAA Tournament.

The pod system, started a few years ago, separates subregional sites from regional sites, and 'protects' favorites (the top seeds in each bracket). The highest seeds rarely travel more than an hour from campus, like UNC (playing in Raleigh, NC) and UCLA (playing in Anaheim, CA).

But protecting the top seeds means the middle-seeds -- the 4s and 5s -- are left with the vagaries of the travel schedule. Yesterday's 'favorites' in Tampa were UConn and Vanderbilt (4-seeds) and Drake and Clemson (5-seeds). All four schools had long trips to get to western Florida.

Of course, much credit must given to the 'underdogs' in each game; after all, Siena, Villanova, Western Kentucky, and San Diego had to travel as well. But it is well known that the 5/12 games are ripe for upsets, and the 4/13 games also often pit well-matched teams. The Tournament Selection Committee often seems to reward strong regular season performers with these seeds, even if the performance has dropped off by the end of the year (see: UConn and Vandy).

Finally, only with the pod system could we have so many upsets on a single day. Before the pods, every sub-regional site was headlined with either a 1- or 2-seed. So a day that included a #16 over a #1 (which has, of course, never happened) or a #15 over a #2 (which has happened only a handful of times) would be itself historic (and unlikely), let alone part of day where 3 other upsets were occurring at the same site.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Three Intriguing First Round Games (Friday Edition)

Three more games to keep an eye on today:

(#10) Davidson v. (#7) Gonzaga.
Before the bracket was announced, both Davidson and Gonzaga were trendy 'first-round-surprises.' As it turned out, that will be true, but only for one of the two teams. The beat goes on at Gonzaga -- another tough out-of-conference schedule, another West Coast Conference regular season championship, although the upset in the WCC tournament was a surprise. Davidson meanwhile makes its second straight NCAA appearance, with the dangerous Stephen Curry getting more help this year from backcourt running mate Jason Richards.

(#12) Western Kentucky v. (#5) Drake.
Drake has had a magical run this season, but limped home with a 3-3 end to the regular season (the Bulldogs did win the tough Missouri Valley Tourney, however). Former walk-on Adam Emmenecker leads "the Drake" to its first NCAA appearance since 1971, and the pressure is on to prove that this year was not a fluke. WKY played a brutal non-conference schedule, including close losses at Gonzaga and to Tenn at home.

(#13) San Diego v. (#4) UConn.
Both teams were over-shadowed by bigger name schools in their respective conferences (Georgetown, Notre Dame, and Louisville for UConn, and St. Mary's and (as always) Gonzaga for San Diego). But while San Diego closed with a bang, winning the WCC championship on its home floor, UConn ended a fine 24-8 season by losing three of its last six, including a desultory opening round loss to West Virginia in the Big East tourney.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Three Intriguing First Round Games (Thursday Ed.)

Here are three games to keep an eye on today:

(#3) Xavier v. (#14) UGA.
The Dogs, fresh off the remarkable win in the SEC Tourney, are the low-ranked 'BCS' conference ever (at least since the field of 64/5 was established in 1985.) They are hot and confident, and are considerable more 'athletic' than your typical 14-seed (cf. Boise State, Cornell, and Cal-State Fullerton). Xavier meanwhile, after a strong regular season, lost twice in the last two weeks to St. Joseph's (helping the Hawks earn a bid); while the X-men are balanced (6 players average in double figures), who will be the go-to guy in crunch time?

(#10) Arizona v. (#7) West Virginia.
Arizona is widely seen as the 'last team in' because of their 0-2 record against in-state rival Arizona State, and losing record (8-10) in the (admittedly strong) PAC-10. There's no doubt who WVU looks to at crunch-time: 6-8 F Joe Alexander, who led the Mountaineers in scoring and rebounding.

(#6) USC v. (#11) K-State.
Although OJ Mayo appeared on the college scene to much fan-fare and chagrin, his freshman season has been overshadowed by other freshman (including cross-town rival UCLA's Kevin Love.) While Mayo turned in 20.8 ppg, 3.8 apg, and 4.6 rpg, the Tournament is 'Go-Time." On the K-State side, freshman Michael Beasley (26.5 ppg/12.4 rpg) is one of the reasons that Mayo's season has been quiet. But doubts remain about the Wildcats' depth and coaching.

Bonus Level of Intrigue:
(#5) ND v. (#12) George Mason.
Question: Can the Patriots recapture the magic?

Rites of Spring

For many, the day that "Pitchers and Catchers Report" to various spring training locations. For others, today -- the opening day of the NCAA Mens Basketball Tournament -- serves that function.

The Tournament, which has become a national obsession complete with its own trademark ("March Madness(TM)"), has long along broken into the mainstream. But its unique rhythm -- starting at 12:00 noon on consecutive weekdays -- brings us back to an earlier time.

Like photos of businessmen standing outside of televisions stores to watch World Series inning-by-inning scores be posted by hand (formerly a fall tradition), a pedestrian walking downtown in any metro area today (and tomorrow) will observe clumps of office workers huddled outside of sports bars and bistros.

And here-to-fore co-workers who previously wouldn't know that MAAC from the MAC become instant experts on the intricacies of the Memphis Dribble-Drive-Motion Offense.

But as we know, a perfect bracket is out there. All you have to do is pick 63 games right.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Who's Afraid of Texas?

Not the Celtics, who beat the Spurs on Monday night, and stopped the Rockets' 22-game winning last night.

The Spurs win was particularly impressive, as the Celtics dug out from both a 20-point deficit in the first half (the Spurs opened the game on fire) to tie and briefly take the lead in the third, and then a 7-point deficit with 8:04 to play in the fourth quarter.

KG, who kept Tim Duncan in check (10 points), dodged a bullet when he turned the ball over on the inbounds play with 2 seconds left after a Spurs score. Robert Horry missed the open 3 that would have won the game, even though the Spurs had a time-out to spare.

Last night, the Celtics dominated defensively, especially in the third, where they outscored the Rockets 32-16.

Back-to-back wins (on consecutive nights) without G Ray Allen means that the Celtics are sending a message to the Western Conference.

They are in Dallas tomorrow night.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Just Wondering...

Has there every been a worse 5-day stock chart than Bear Stearns (above)?

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Big 5 is Back (!)

What a difference two weeks makes!

Back at the end of February, the Big 5's streak of consecutive NCAA appearances appeared to be in serious jeopardy, as LaSalle and UPenn had been declared dead, and Villanova, Temple, and St. Joe's were in serious trouble.

Instead, Temple won its way in by winning the A-10 tourney (and beating St. Joes in the final), and Villanova knocked off Syracuse in an 'elimination' game at the Big East tourney.

All were seeded in the bottom half of the bracket however, with two #12-seeds (Nova and Temple) and one #11 (St. Joe)

The Texas Triangle

With all the excitement over the unveiling of the NCAA Bracket last night, the Celtics' upcoming trip to Texas has been overlooked; the Cs play three play-off contenders in four nights: the San Antonio Spurs tonight, followed by a trip to Houston to face the red-hot Rockets (Tues), and then on to Dallas (Thurs), to face the revamped Mavs. (The Celtics also stop in New Orleans on Saturday night at the tail-end of the road trip.)

The Western Conference is, as Dan Rather might remark, as tight as a tick, with just 4 losses separating the top team (Houston at 46-20) from the #8 and final play-off team (currently Golden State, at 41-24; Denver is two losses back at 40-26).

The Cs would do well to split the trip (they won Saturday night in Milwaukee, 99-77), especially because guard Ray Allen remains day-to-day (he apparently will not play tonight against the Spurs). After being man-handled at home Friday night against the Utah Jazz (44-24, #4 in West), the Cs need to show that they can compete against the elite Western teams. The Jazz game was an especially long night for Rajon Rondo, who was torched for 32 points by Deron Williams.

While Boston will not get a lot of attention in a week that is dominated by the NCAA Opening Rounds, the fact that the NBA had the Celtics scheduled to make their single trip to Texas this week reminds us all how far the Cs have come since last summer.

Friday, March 14, 2008

More Greg Craig

Greg Craig sat down with National Journal today to further discuss his "Hillary-Clinton-is-overstating-her-foreign-policy-experience" memo (blogged previously here).

Craig covered much of the same ground in the NJ interview, although he is careful in his use of language:

Q: So let's just put this on a scale of one to 10 here. Are we talking exaggeration, or are we talking about something more serious, such as not being truthful?

Craig: Well, I think it's exaggeration. It's inflated résumé. It's in that category. I think she is misleading the American public on the nature of her experience.
But again, no one is seeming to pick up on the full Craig resume. The NJ interviewer describes him as follows:
He is a Washington attorney and a senior adviser to the Barack Obama campaign. And he was, back in the Bill Clinton administration, the assistant to the president and special counsel and at that time a senior foreign policy adviser to President Clinton's administration.
But here's what the New York Times wrote in 1998:
Mr. Craig knew President Clinton from his days at Yale, and was close enough to Hillary Rodham Clinton that she turned over space in her suite of offices to him when he agreed to join the defense team.
A criminal lawyer and onetime Hill staff member who was most recently a senior State Department official, Mr. Craig bargained hard for authority before he accepted the White House job, insisting that he would report directly to the President, White House officials said.

Thursday, March 13, 2008


"All of us learn to write in the second grade. Most of us go on to greater things." -Bob Knight

Strap in, ladies and gentlemen. For the next 3 1/2 weeks, we will be exposed to General Bob Knight's analysis and commentary on ESPN's college basketball coverage. The bigwigs in Bristol are lauding their big catch, but early returns indicate that they may get more than they bargained for.

First off, Bob Knight as a member of the media is akin to Idi Amin joining Amnesty International or at the very least Coach K donning Carolina Blue. His rants against the Fourth Estate are legendary, and given his lack of respect for FCC regulations, it is a good thing ESPN is a cable network.

In his debut last night during Big East tournament coverage, there was palpable unease on the set from Rece Davis and Digger Phelps. When Digger playfully diagrammed a zone defense for Coach Knight, whose teams were famous for only playing man-to-man defense, the nervous laughter seems out of place on the usually cool, smooth and hip ESPN set.

Clearly Knight will bring honesty and an encyclopedia's worth of basketball knowledge to the programming. But what if he also brings this.....

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A Subprime Primer

Others have linked to it as well, but it's still good.

THAT Greg Craig?!?!

A new Obama-campaign memo has been getting a lot of attention this morning, with a step-by-step refutation of Hillary Clinton's assertion that she has been in key foreign policy decisions, such as Northern Ireland, Rwanda, and Bosnia.

The Northern Ireland summary from the memo closes with this:
Brian Feeney, an Irish author and former politician, sums it up: “The road to peace was carefully documented, and she wasn’t on it.”
The memo is written by Greg Craig, who is described as a Obama foreign policy advisor, and the "former director, Policy Planning Office, U.S. State Department" during the Clinton Administration. And Craig did serve in that capacity.

But Greg Craig also has some other connections to the Clintons. He is a partner at Williams & Connolly, where his bio includes this tid-bit:
In September 1998, President Clinton appointed Mr. Craig to be Assistant to the President and Special Counsel in the White House where Mr. Craig served as quarterback of the President’s team that was assembled to defend against impeachment. Mr. Craig was also a member of the President’s trial team in the United States Senate and presented the President’s defense with respect to Count One during that trial.
Finally, in a stranger coincidence, Craig, Hillary, and Bill Clinton were contemporaries at Yale Law School in the fall of 1971, when he sublet his apartment in New Haven to Hillary Rodham and Bill Clinton for $75 per month.

Geraldine Ferraro, Meet Isiah Thomas

Actually, Geraldine Ferraro probably has met Isiah Thomas somewhere in the comings-and-goings of New York City.

Ferraro, a former congresswoman from Queens, currently practices with a New York City law firm; Isiah is of course, a former Hall-of-Fame basketball player with the Pistons, and is the current coach and GM of the Knicks.

Ferraro recently told told the Daily Breeze of Torrance, CA:
If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman (of any color) he would not be in this position.
Meanwhile, back in 1987, Isiah (albeit after a tough playoff loss to the Celtics), was famously quoted as saying:
If [Larry] Bird was black, he'd be just another good guy.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Big Win in Beantown

The C's clinched (for all intents and purposes) home court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs with an impressive 90-78 win over Detroit, putting them 5 games up on the Pistons (in the loss column) with 23 games left.

Bill Russell's favorite modern player -- Kevin Garnett -- was a man among boys, especially in the first half when he made 8-of-12, and pistol-whipped both Rasheed Wallace and Amir Johnson.

But despite a slow start, the Pistons had a chance with a tie game early in the fourth quarter (69-69); but bad shot-selection by Detroit, together with foul trouble for Wallace, proved the death-knell.

New signee Sam Cassell did not dress for the game, although the Pistons did not seem to be too worried about his acquisition by the Cs:
"Defending pick-and-rolls is not Sam's forte" said Pistons coach Flip Saunders.

Rajon Rondo's effort, including a ferocious dunk on Jason Maxiell, meant that the competition for the 'crunch time' PG position is a long way from over.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Code: Red

Hillary's 'red telephone' ad clearly moved voters, and helped change the tone of the race.

It also reinforced the message that she was delivering on the stump, in some cases fairly explicitly: Obama's not qualified to be commander-in-chief.
'I think you'll be able to imagine many things Senator McCain will be able to say,' she said. 'He’s never been the president, but he will put forth his lifetime of experience. I will put forth my lifetime of experience. Senator Obama will put forth a speech he made in 2002.'
Meanwhile, Jack Nicholson 'endorsed' Hillary over the weekend with a montage of scenes from his films over the years, and which included a short clip from "A Few Good Men," but not this one:

The Big Winner

The undisputed winner last night was John McCain.

McCain wrapped up the nomination last night. He will receive the formal endorsement of the President this morning at the White House.

Meanwhile, the Democratic race will now go on for at least six more weeks. And the possibility that the single most unifying figure for the GOP -- Hillary Clinton -- may be his fall opponent has significantly increased.

And yet the speech McCain gave was a pivot to the...right.

McCain gave his conservative audience red-meat, from his discussion of the two-front war, to his promise to lower taxes, to this remarkable paragraph about the health care cost crisis:
I will leave it to my opponent to propose returning to the failed, big government mandates of the sixties and seventies to address problems such as the lack of health care insurance for some Americans. [Note: emphasis as delivered, see 9:13 of clip] I will campaign to make health care more accessible to more Americans with reforms that will bring down costs in the health care industry down without ruining the quality of the world's best medical care.
But with at least six more weeks -- and a Democratic race that will likely get uglier -- McCain may have time to repair his image with moderates and independents.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Landslide Lyndon and Landslide Hillary?

As we await results from both the primary and caucus in Texas, one can't help but think of Robert Caro's massive 3-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson, serialized (in part) in the New Yorker, was centered around the seminal election of the young LBJ's career: a statewide race.

Like Hillary, LBJ had staked his political career on the Senate race. He gave up his seat in Congress, and had told friends, according to Caro, that he would leave politics forever if he lost to the popular former two-term Governor. (LBJ actually did lose to Coke Stevenson once, in the first primary with three candidates, held on July 24, 1948; but this was the run-off, between just the two men.)

LBJ had actually run previously, in 1941, and lost by a total of 1,311 votes to Pappy O'Daniel, despite leading by more than 5,000 votes with 96% of the vote counted. The last 4% didn't go LBJ's way.

Like Hillary's strength in the current race, LBJ put his faith in the "Valley" -- counties like Webb, Zapata, Brooks, and the rest. Many of these counties were under the control of party bosses, who could -- in Caro's delicate phrasing -- "control" the primary process. In Duval County, the votes came in on Election Day (Saturday, August 28, 1948) with LBJ out-polling Stevenson 4,195 to 38. 99.1%

The race was close and hotly-contested statewide, but the former Governor clung to a small lead. Stevenson's statewide margin as reported at 1:30am on Saturday night/Sunday morning, was 854 votes.

But Duval County was not done. The day after the election (Sunday, August 29, 1948), an additional ballot box was found, surprisingly enough in the very precinct where Duval boss George Parr voted. The box was opened, and added 110 votes to the LBJ column, against just 1 for Stevenson.

The various precincts checked their results, and Stevenson's aides (who had incredibly cancelled scheduled primaries in some Stevenson-friendly counties because of over-confidence (according to Caro)). By the following Friday, six days after the election, Stevenson's lead had been whittled to a mere 157 votes.

But in checking and re-checking the ballots, Duval County found an error. Precinct 13, which had previously reported 765 votes for LBJ, found an error. In Caro's words:
The figure for Johnson, which was reported as 765 on Election Night, was now 965 -- because since Election Night, according to testimony given later, someone had added a loop to the "7" to make it into a "9". Johnson had 200 more votes.
The legend of "Landslide Lyndon" -- winning a 1,000,000 person primary by a mere 87 votes was born.

A few weeks ago, Hillary compared herself to LBJ. We may find another reason to compare them tonight.

Or maybe in a few days.

Fuzzy Math in Texas?

At 9:48pm ET, CNN is reporting the following results in Texas:

Obama: 579,152
Clinton: 506,197

Total votes: 1,085,349

Yet, only 6% of precincts have reported results.

By that math, more than 18 million Texas Democrats would be voting in today's election.

The total population of Texas is 23 million.


Update: The consensus is that the early numbers reflected "early voting." Late deciders broke overwhelmingly to Clinton (61-38%).

It's Time for the Feats of Strength

As we await results from Ohio and Texas, the mood among the "Gang of 500" is that the Clinton Machine has found its footing. She has held an "Airing of the Grievances" against the press, and now it's time for her to win the feats of strengths (a.k.a. the Texas Primary (not the Texas Caucus) and Ohio Primary.)

If Clinton can win both states, preferably impressively, the new MSM line has it, she can turn this race around and restore order in the universe.

The reality is that Hillary will wake up tomorrow either (i) facing calls for her to get out of the race (in the worse case, if the polls turn against her), or (ii) facing a virtually insurmountable deficit of 125-150 pledged delegates. Assuming that ratio holds, Hillary will end the primary contests with about 1,552 pledged delegates to Obama's 1,702.(*)

Her only realistic chance to the nomination is to swing close to 500 of the 795 super delegates (or 59.4%) to her side.

How can she do it? Not by competing in every state.

Like in 1960, the remainder of this primary battle (if it goes past tonight) will be fought on 'battleground' states where the Clintons will perform, as the saying goes, additional 'Feats of Strength.'

(In the 1960 primaries, Kennedy was not challenged in every state, but rather a select few, like Wisconsin and West Virginia. By winning those specific battles, JFK was able to convince the other appointed (i.e., super) delegates that he would be the strongest national candidate. In the years since 1960, the Democratic nomination has approached a marathon of states, culminating in 1992 when Bill Clinton bled Paul Tsongas dry over the spring primaries. In 2000 and 2004, the party effectively short-circuited the lengthy primary process by declaring the winner of the Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire Primary, effectively, the nominee.)

The balance of this calendar this month is Wyoming (caucuses on March 8th) and Mississippi (primary on March 11th), with nothing thereafter until April 22nd (Pennsylvania).

With such a sparse calendar, and with Obama having historical advantages in caucuses and primaries in the South, Hillary will likely 'shut down' if she survives tonight, picking Pennsylvania as her next battleground.

Happy Festivus.

(*)- Delegate estimates calculated as follows:
(1) 4,049 total delegates minus 795 superdelegates = 3,254 pledged delegates.
(2) Splitting the balance of the 3,254 pledged delegates (based on proportional apportionment) such that Obama maintains his 150 delegate lead would result in 1702 pledged delegates for Obama, and 1,552 pledged delegates for Hillary.
(3) In order to get to 2,025, Hillary would need 473 of the 795 supers, or 59.4%.

Monday, March 3, 2008


Although a win tomorrow by Obama in both Ohio and Texas will make the point moot (and don't think for a minute that the Clintons won't try to fight on if they win one of the two states, and lose the other narrowly), Geraldine Ferraro's op-ed last week about the role of super-delegates is worth revisiting.

Ferraro served on the Hunt Commission, which in 1982 revised the manner in which the Democratic Party chose its nominees. Last week in the NY Times, she wrote that "[T]he superdelegates were created to lead, not to follow," after many of them "walked away" from the party's nominee (President Jimmy Carter) in 1980.

In 1984, these superdelegates stuck with former Vice President Walter Mondale when he was in trouble, having lost 16 of 26 primaries or caucuses to Senator Gary Hart. But the core group of 700 or so superdelegates stuck with Mondale (many had committed before the primary season even began), and as Hart later said, "I got almost none of them, because [Mondale] was considered inevitable."

But whatever happened in the general election in 1984?

If you listen to Ferraro, it was a deus ex machina that caused the general election defeat:
We lost in 1984, big time. But that loss had nothing to do with Democratic Party infighting.
But while the loss may have not have had anything to do with 'infighting', the record reflects that Mondale lost 49 of 50 states (he also won the District of Columbia, along with his home state of Minnesota.)

The superdelegates helped Mondale on his way to a record matched only by George McGovern in 1972, who won just Massachusetts and DC.

Perhaps the 1984 voters, like those in 2008, had a better sense of who could challenge Ronald Reagan in the fall. After all, it's hard to argue that Gary Hart would have fared worse.

A New Era at Harvard?

While the NY Times is still reeling from the 'should-have-published / shouldn't-have-published' story about Senator John McCain's close, um, ties, to lobbyists on behalf of Paxon Communications, another controversial bombshell was printed this weekend, but in the sports section.

Less than a year after being named the Harvard basketball coach, the Times story details a series of aggressive recruiting tactics that appear destined to upgrade the talent level in Cambridge.

The Ivy League holds itself to a higher standard than the NCAA for athletic recruiting; its "Academic Index" or AI, has been the standard by which athletes have been measured for years.
For example, a student with a 3.1 grade-point average and just over 1,560 out of a possible 2,400 on the SAT would register roughly a 171 on the Academic Index, the minimum score allowed by the Ivy League for athletes.
(For more on AI and Ivy League recruiting generally, see The Game of Life: College Sports and Educational Values, by (former Princeton president) Bill Bowen and James L. Shulman, or Playing the Game: Inside Athletic Recruiting in the Ivy League, by Chris Lincoln.)

Harvard, for years has had standards at the high end of the scale, even with the Ivy League, as detailed in the Times article. In short, the previous assistant coaches were working from the expectation that the team -- as a whole -- had to average 202, and that kids below about 195 were, basically inadmissible. The Times indicates that the average for Harvard going forward will be significantly lower, and that at least one potential recruit has not yet met the minimum threshold (171) to allow admittance at all.

But somewhat like the McCain story -- where the implication of an inappropriate romantic relationship overshadowed the more substantive John-McCain-can- be-influenced-by-lobbyists angle -- the more explosive element of the Harvard article is the citing of two specific (potential) NCAA recruiting violations.

First, one of Harvard's assistants (possibly before he officially accepted his position in Cambridge) played basketball last summer with two of the kids that Harvard ended up recruiting, and in one instance drove approximately 200 miles to play.

Second, Harvard coach Amaker himself 'bumped' (to use the recruiting parlance) one recruits' parents in a grocery store approximately 280 miles away from Cambridge. (The recruit ended up committing to Penn, which is undoubtedly how the story became public.)

While Amaker and his staff may be making great efforts to upgrade the level of talent that will be play in Cambridge in the next four years, it is far from clear that Amaker can harness such talent into a winning team. Just ask fans from Seton Hall or Michigan.

But ironically, the rap (at least according to the Times' own story when he was hired) on Tommy Amaker at Michigan was that he was "too principled to run a major college program."