Tuesday, March 31, 2009

No. -- er rather -- No 18

Bad news out of Waltham this afternoon: Kevin Garnett is being "shut down" for the rest of the regular season.

While shutting down Manny became an integral, and annual, part of the Red Sox stretch drive, it's a different story in basketball. Teams should be peaking at this time of year, as the Spurs have made into an art form (e.g., in 2006-7, they started 24-11, but closed 16-3 before losing their last three (meaningless) games, and won the NBA Championship.)

The Celts were blessed with a relatively injury-free 2007-08, and the Big Three (Paul Pierce (then 30), Garnett (31), Ray Allen (32)) played 80, 71, and 73 games, respectively. And each logged close to 1,000 minutes in the playoffs.

But at those ages -- ancient in NBA-years -- and load-levels, injuries are part of the game. While Pierce and Allen have played 75 and 74 games respectively, Garnett will have missed a quarter of season; he has also been playing limited minutes for the past few weeks, so his 'game' totals are somewhat inflated.

And that assumes he returns full strength when the Playoffs start.

The Cs got by the Cavaliers last year thanks to hot-shooting and home (court) cooking. This year, the road to the NBA Finals goes through the Quicken Loan Arena.

It's beginning to feel like 1964 all over again.

Mapping the Brain

While Honda is working on mapping and interpreting 'brain waves' from outside the scalp, the Allen Institute is taking a more 'inside' approach.

As highlighted in next month's Wired Magazine, Paul Allen has sponsored a $55M, 9-year project that is expected to take until 2012: mapping the DNA sequences throughout the human brain.

Modelled on the Human Genome Project (which itself took 13 years, and was completed in 2003), the Allen Brain Atlas has developed its own robots to efficiently test and classify the 20,000 genes that comprise the average human brain.

The Allen Institute has already completed one related project: mapping the DNA of a mouse brain, located here. (Mouse brains are -- perhaps somewhat disappointingly -- are not dissimilar to human brains.)

Completion of the brain DNA sequencing may open up many possibilities to address mental illnesses and disorders, which often contain a significant genetic component. Indeed, high-profile conditions like autism and Alzheimer's (and perhaps related conditions like Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE)) may become more treatable once the genetic codes are unlocked.

More evidence that technological advancement continues even as the world's finances remain unsettled.

Update: Shuttin' Detroit Down

John Rich's "Shuttin' Detroit Down" remained stuck at #13 in this week's (April 4, 2009 release date) Billboard Country charts.

The data (obviously) was complied before the news yesterday that both Chrysler and GM face likely structured -- albeit-government-backed -- bankruptcy.

"These aren't the droids you're looking for..."

Pretty interesting video from Honda Motors this morning (accompanying story found here) showing a man controlling an Asimo robot -- with just his thoughts! (Jump to 2:32 of the video)

The helmet-like device measures electrical currents and/or blood flow on the scalp based on brain activity; it then transmits that information to the robot. Note that the company did not allow a "live" demonstration of the technology because of concerns about distractions or other difficulties in 'reading' the subject's thoughts.

While the demonstration above is rudimentary, the implications have far-ranging impact. And not just for Stars Wars fans.

It's also more evidence of the importance that Japan is placing on robotics as the key to its technological future, from introduction of fashion model-robots, robo-nurses to other household uses.

Monday, March 30, 2009

A Newsy Weekend in Durham

A lot of news involving Duke basketball over the weekend, not all of it positive:

* On Thursday night, the current team was exposed by a tougher, more physical Villanova group that is now headed to the Final Four. Coach K's season, which began with a bang in Beijing, went with another quiet exit in the Sweet Sixteen; it is has now been five seasons since Duke advanced beyond the Second Round.

* Former Duke basketball player Rick Wagoner also had a difficult weekend: apparently further government funding for GM was conditioned on his resignation, which occurred last night.

* But the future may be brighter for Duke: last night it was also reported that Seth Curry -- the younger brother of Stephen -- has transferred to Duke from Liberty University, having met with Coach K yesterday. The younger Curry led all freshman in scoring with a 20.3 ppg average; he will have to wait until 2010-11 to be eligible to play.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Don't I Know You From Somewhere, Part II?

Doesn't this shot of Brett Hull from 1991 remind you of a recently retired pitcher?


Don't I Know You From Somewhere?

Is there a school in the country that has a higher-profile coaching staff than San Diego State University?

The baseball coach is Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn.

The basketball coach is Steve Fisher, who as the original "Michigan Man", won an NCAA title in 1989.

Football coach Brady Hoke (himself a former Michigan staffer) replaced Chuck Long, who is member of the College Football Hall of Fame, and a former Sports Illustrated cover-boy.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

In Time, Perhaps. In Time

Curt Schilling's (seeming) retirement from baseball has been all over the sports pages, together with assessments of whether (or perhaps when) he will become Hall of Famer.

Schilling, in Boston, is considered a virtual shoo-in. And he may well be, although it will be on the strength of three memorable World Series appearances (1993 with the Phillies, 2001 with the Diamondbacks, and the bloody sock in 2004).

But at the end of the day, Schilling's career will be defined in large extent by numbers: 216 career wins, 3.46 ERA, 1.137 WHIP and more importantly: 11-2, 2.23 ERA in 19 post-season starts.

But it's hard to see Schilling going before Bert Blyleven (287 career wins, 3.31 ERA, 1.198 WHIP). Blyleven also went 5-1, 2.47 ERA in 8 postseason appearances.)

It's also hard to see Schill climbing over Jack Morris (254 wins, 3.90 ERA, 1.296 WHIP). Morris' 7-4, 3.80 ERA in 13 post-season games includes one of the all-time great pitching performances.

Even Luis Tiant, who no one thinks is likely to get in any time soon, has a argument with Schill: 229 W, 3.29 ERA, 1.199 WHIP/ 3-0, 2.86 ERA in 4 post-season starts.

Blyleven had been making progress in recent years, jumping from 47.7% in 2007 to 61.9% in 2008, but he plateaued with 62.7% this year. (Jim Rice, a similar border-line HoFer, jumped from 59.5% in 2005 to 63.5% in 2007 to getting over the 75% threshold two years later.)

Morris has a ways to go: his recent number have been 37.1% (2007), 42.9% (2008), and 44% (2009).

Schilling should be rooting hard for both men (Tiant is no longer on the ballot).

Re-Shuffling the Minor Tourneys

Richmond and Oregon State both won last night in the CBI, and remain on a collision course -- but thanks to the haphazard nature of small tourneys, that confrontation will be put off for one more round.

The CBI, which is 'broadcast' on the low-distribution HDNet, apparently reshuffled its brackets yesterday, to lighten the travel load for the four remaining schools.

Oregon State will play (at home) against Pac-10 rival Stanford for the fourth time this year. Richmond will host UTEP.

Both games are on Thursday night, with the finals to take place early next week in a best 2-of-3 format.

Meanwhile, in the NIT, a confrontation of two of the best guards in the country was won by St. Mary's over Davidson. Stephen Curry had 26; Patty Mills, 23, with 10 assists.

Next interesting NIT matchup: Notre Dame hosting Kentucky, in a game that neither coach wants to lose. At all.

Friday, March 20, 2009

It's Not Exactly "Happy Days Are Here Again"

John Rich (one half of Big & Rich) has put out a song that may become (if it hasn't already) the anthem of the "Great Crash."

"Shuttin' Detroit Down" is currently #13 on the Billboard country list, and is up from last week.

Cause in the real world they'rre shutting Detroit down
While the boss man takes his bonus pay and jets out of town/
And DC’s bailing out the bankers as the farmers auction ground,
Yeah while they’re living it up on Wall Street in that New York City town,
Here in the real world there shuttin’ Detroit down.
They’re shuttin’ Detroit down.

To the extent that Rich has captured the mood in the middle part of the body politic, it's not a good sign for whatever the next steps in the bailout are going to be.

Minor Tourney Updates

Richmond and Oregon State remain on a collision course in the CBI. Both play at home on Monday.

Meanwhile, Northwestern's season ended in Tulsa, the Wildcats running out of time. The Hurricanes remain in the hunt to defend their CBI title.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Unbeatable Records

South Carolina Coach Darrin Horn finished his first season as head coach of the Gamecocks with a home loss to Davidson.

Previously, Horn had been head coach at Western Kentucky, where he also played on a Hilltopper team that reached the Sweet 16 in 1993.

While Horn was a good, but not great, player (coaches tend to be), he does hold one curious record that almost surely will never be broken: he is the only player in WKU history to score the team's first points in each of his four seasons.

As a practical matter, this record can only date to 1972, when freshman eligibility was allowed for basketball. But as a practical matter, it is a record that could be broken in the rarest of circumstances: a medical redshirt player who starts -- and starts the scoring -- in five straight seasons.

In the meantime, Horn seems to have the mark all to himself.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Ice Gets Thinner

It's clear -- even in advance of AIG CEO Edward Liddy's testimony before Congress today -- that the politics of the AIG Bonus Scandal are simple: bonuses for an insolvent but-for-the-government entity are making the American taxpayer, and his elected representatives, crazy.

And that doesn't even take into account that at least some of the so-called "retention" bonuses went to former AIG employees, at least according to NY AG Andrew Cuomo.

But what's really dangerous is the toxicity that is now spreading in the body politic.

Last fall, when the crisis erupted after the Lehman, Congress and the Bush White House were able to pass the TARP on a bi-partisan basis and stem -- at least for a moment -- the market meltdown.

But if another credit crisis -- say, relating to credit card debt -- or other shock to the system took place today, it's hard to see Congress authorizing any more money to 'save Wall Street.'

So if we are through the worst of the financial crisis, we can edge back from the thin ice towards shore.

But if we are not, and we need another stimulus or, worse (from a political standpoint), stronger medicine for the banking system, it could be "Look-out below!"

Photo credit: Haninge, Sweden

Jumping the Shark with Stephen Curry

A year ago, Stephen Curry was an after-thought to most the casual fans of the NCAAs. Davidson was a #10-seed (facing perennial crowd-favorite Gonzaga) and seemingly destined for a second-round exit (at best) against mighty Georgetown.

Two weeks later, Davidson was stopped only by eventual champ Kansas (in a game that, quietly, may have been the most important in Bill Self's career), and Curry was a national star. Many projected NBA drafts (Curry is currenly a junior) have him taken in the first round.

But while Curry is a great player -- and story -- he is not infallible.

And yesterday, in a first-round NIT game against South Carolina, analysis of Curry (by Hubert Davis) may have jumped the shark.

Normally, when a player puts together a second half that includes 6 turnovers, albeit in the course of scoring 32 overall, he is accused -- as Eric Devendorf was in the Big East tourney -- of "keeping both teams in the game."

But not to Davis. Instead, each turnover, it seemed, was the fault of a Davidson's player not moving to where Curry expected him to. Even the balls thrown straight out of bounds.

While it may be true, as Davis claims, that NBA players will be able to corral those errant passes, it's also true that NBA points guards who log 7 turnovers in 35 minutes won't be playing in "The League" for very long.

No matter what Hubert Davis says.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Other Post-Season Hoops

Although the main March Madness draw is the NCAA tourney, a few notes for the lesser brackets:

* In the NIT, Northwestern makes its fourth all-time appearance in post-season play tomorrow night at Tulsa. This should be a good game, as the teams are evenly matched, but the Cats will have to overcome a home crowd at the Reynolds Center.

* A year ago, Tulsa won the inaugural CBI (College Basketball Invitational) with a 2-1 series win over Bradley. This year's CBI field includes both Oregon State and Richmond. For OSU (13-17), it's the first trip to the post-season since 2004-05; for Richmond (18-15), the CBI is bit of a consolation prize after the NIT (seemingly) passed.

* OSU and Richmond will meet if both win two games in the CBI.

* No word on whether a TV at 1600 Pennsylvania will be tuned to HDNet for the OSU/Houston opening round game. 10:00pm ET start will mean a late night for interested observers.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Death of the Newspaper, Part 867

Here's another tradition that is rapidly disappearing in a post-newspaper world: the annual race to the newsstand on the Monday-after-Selection-Sunday to pick a copy of USA Today.

More years it was the only issue of the paper that one ever purchased (as opposed to the free issues left outside the door of your hotel room.)

The Monday issue traditionally has a pull-out that is devoted specifically to the 65 teams in the Tourney, with snapshot summaries and analysis. If you didn't get a copy by noon-time, many newsstands would be sold-out.

But in a internet world, all that match-up information is on-line.

And as of 10:30 this morning, hard copies of USA Today were still available.

Friday, March 13, 2009

6 OTs !

All-time classic game played last night in a match-up of two original Big East schools: Syracuse and UConn. 40 minutes of regulation and 30 minutes of overtime later, the Orange moved on with a 127-117 win.

A few thoughts:

* While six OTs was one shy of the NCAA record of seven, it has been a long time since two such contrasting, yet evenly-match power teams where involved in an epic game. The Cuse's offense runs through guards 6'0" (maybe) Jonny Flynn and 6'4" Eric Devendorf. UConn is built around 7'3" Hasheem Thabeet.

* Either team could win the National Championship, assuming they can recover from the emotion of last night.

* Orange junior guard Andy Rautins, is a tremendous passer. It seems hard to believe that he averages just 3 assists per game.

* The winner of the game (Syracuse, as it turns out) got a break with West Virginia winning over Pitt. Both WVU and Cuse will play their third game in three days tonight; if Pitt had advanced, the extra bye day may have played a bigger role.

* UConn associate head coach George Blaney earned his salary last night: after every whistle, he was subjected to a rhetorical monologue from UConn head coach Jim Calhoun.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Mouse That Roared (pt 2)

The bubble tightened a little bit for a number of BCS teams with Cleveland State's win over Butler in the Horizon League final.

Cleveland State heads back to the NCAA for the first time since 1986. You may remember that team. Bob Knight sure does.

And so does John Feinstein.

Monday, March 9, 2009

"In the National Interest"

Warren Buffett appeared on CNBC this morning, and used strong words to describe the economic challenges facing the nation: "we really are [in] an economic war."

He had strong words for both parties' conduct so far:

I think that the Republicans have an obligation to regard this as an economic war and to realize you need one leader and, in general, support of that. But I think that the--I think that the Democrats--and I voted for Obama and I strongly support him, and I think he's the right guy--but I think they should not use this--when they're calling for unity on a question this important, they should not use it to roll the Republicans all. I think--I think a lot of things should be--job one is to win the war, job--the economic war, job two is to win the economic war, and job three. And you can't expect people to unite behind you if you're trying to jam a whole bunch of things down their throat...

I would absolutely say for the--for the interim, till we get this one solved, I would not be pushing a lot of things that are--you know are contentious, and I also--I also would do no finger-pointing whatsoever. I would--you know, I would not say, you know, `George'--`the previous administration got us into this.' Forget it. I mean, you know, the Navy made a mistake at Pearl Harbor and had too many ships there. But the idea that we'd spend our time after that, you know, pointing fingers at the Navy, we needed the Navy. So I would--I would--I would--no finger-pointing, no vengeance, none of that stuff. Just look forward.
Buffett is not a politician.

But one doesn't have to be a political animal to know that Cong. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) is clearly thinking about putting the country first:
We will lose on legislation. But we will win the message war every day, and every week, until November 2010. Our goal is to bring down approval numbers for [Speaker Nancy] Pelosi and for House Democrats. That will take repetition. This is a marathon, not a sprint

The Sound of Bubble(s) Popping

(And no, it's not another depressing economic post -- unless you are an Arizona fan.)

Casual fans of the NCAA tournament may be confused next Monday morning, when millions of Americans participate in a true annual-rite-of-spring: when the NCAA brackets are announced, heartthrob Davidson is likely to be on the outside looking in.

Davidson ran away with the Southern Conference's regular season, finishing 18-2 (26-7 overall), and winning the Southern Division by 3 games. But in the Tournament semifinals last night, the Wildcats were upset by the College of Charleston (26-7, 15-5), and the CofC Cougars will play Chattanoga tonight for an automatic NCAA bid.

Ranked #70 on the Pomeroy computer, and with only a single win over likely-NCAA teams (over WVU on neutral floor; losses to Duke, Purdue, and Oklahoma, albeit all on the road, plus Butler (loss at home)), Davidson seems unlikely to earn a second-life thanks to the NCAA Committee.

Moreover, since spraining his ankle in mid-February, All-American guard Stephen Curry has been operating with somewhat reduced effectiveness -- his scoring is down slightly since the injury (27.1 ppg vs. 28.9 before the injury) and his accuracy has been down slightly as well (48-109 (44.0%) FG in last six games, vs. 244-532 (45.8%) prior.)

But Davidson is undoubtedly the type of "mid-major" team that casual -- and potential "Cold Case" -- viewers love to root for. Davidson is on-the-bubble, which means it's getting warm in the room for BCS middlers like Michigan, Providence, and Arizona.

And finally, tonight's "Championship Week" also features Siena vs. Niagra, in a match-up of the two best in the Metro Atlantic. While Siena attempted to schedule itself into an at-large bid, it was only able to beat two NCAA-bound teams (Cornell and Northern Iowa), with losses to Pitt, Kansas, Tenn); tonight is likely a play-in game for the two evenly-matched teams (#68 and #69 on the Pomeroy computer).

Finally, about Cornell: while this year marks the first time since 1958-59 (Dartmouth) that a non-Princeton/Penn team has repeated, Big Red fans should still act as though "they have been there before."

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Unemployment's "Only" at XX%

In response to the current crisis, conversations drawing parallels to the Great Depression (or, as it may soon be known, World Depression I) usually end with this one: "How bad can things be? Unemployment's not 24 percent like it was then."

But it took some time for unemployment to reach those levels.

Indeed, at the end of 1930, more than a year after the 'start' of the Great Depression -- commonly believed to be October, 1929 -- unemployment stood at just 8.7%. Today, the rate stands at 7.6%.

It was not until 1932, two-and-one-half years after the "Crash", and after a second banking panic (in the spring of 1931) that the unemployment rate reached 23.6%, peaking at just over 24% in 1933.

Which is not to say that we are currently headed for 24% unemployment, or even anything like it. The aggressive steps that the Administration is taking seem likely to reverse the downward drift.

But it's way to early to say that we know where the bottom is for the unemployment rate in this down-cycle.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Smoot-Hawley, Redux?

It is conventional wisdom that our current crisis -- even if it blossoms into World Depression II (Michael Kinsley's phrase) -- won't be as bad as the Great Depression.

After all, policy-makers have many more tools at their disposal, and we won't make the same mistakes (worrying about balancing the budget, restricting unemployment relief, and passing the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act.)

The last of these -- Smoot-Hawley -- is seen as a symbolic, and prolonging, but not causing the Depression. While tariffs had long played a role in US economic development, Smoot-Hawley (ultimately passed in 1930) had the misfortune of being debated on the front pages of New York newspapers while the 1929 Crash was occurring. As one observer at the time said, the Act "'intensified nationalism all over the world.'"

But the continued threat of terrorism -- fueled by theocratic leaders that wish to 'return to an earlier age' -- may have some of the same effects as Smoot-Hawley. This morning's attack in Pakistan on a visiting cricket team from Sri Lanka will undoubtedly have a chilling effect on cultural exchanges in that part of Asia. (The Sri Lankans were actually replacing an Indian team that cancelled after last year's Mumbai attacks.)

Does "sports tourism" have a material effect on international economic activity? Of course not. But the symbolic effect of 'closing off' parts of the global economy may have some psychological effect that, like Smoot-Hawley, make take years to overcome.

And that doesn't even begin to account for the potential global ramifications of the first failed state with nuclear weapons.