Sunday, September 12, 2010

Nine Years

Nine years ago yesterday Islamic terrorists struck and destroyed the Twin Towers in New York City with two commercial airliners. Another plane struck the Pentagon and fourth one, United Flight 93, was forced down by heroic passengers as it was also headed for Washington D.C.

I came across the following excerpt the other day:
For many who work in the financial markets, the story of Cantor Fitzgerald has become a symbol of the tragedy that overcame the civilised world nine year's ago...........

'If they set out to bomb American capitalism - to hit at the heart of the American economy - the terrorists could not have done better than to kill off Cantor Fitzgerald. The international brokerage firm was responsible for transacting 200 billion dollars of securities a day, or 50 trillion dollars a year - more then than the American and New York Stock Exchanges and Nasdaq combined......

Its brokers and traders were, for the most part, young and extremely successful, an abundance of alpha males and females working high in the sky, a hundred floors above Wall Street. Many of them met when they were single and then passed all the milestones together. They went to each other's weddings, the christenings of their children. They rented summer houses together. They hired siblings and friends. Nepotism wasn't frowned on - it was encouraged. Brothers hired brothers and brothers-in-law, and second cousins. Friends hired friends......

At 8.46am on September 11th, American Airlines Flight 11, bound for Los Angeles from Boston's Logan Airport, tore through the clear Manhattan sky and struck the north side of Tower One of the World Trade Center. The twenty thousand gallons of fuel the Boeing 767 was carrying for the cross-country flight ignited on impact, causing fires that burned at more than two thousand degrees......

The plane...hit at the 93rd floor....Cantor Fitzgerald operated out of the 101st through 105th floors. Of the firm's 1,000 New York employees, 658 were lost.......In the coming days the number of dead and missing will be staggering. Of the wives, thirty-eight were pregnant, fourteen of them for the first time. Forty-six of the lost were engaged to be married; there were at least two weddings planned for the following weekend. Worst of all, these were young people with young families, some with three and four children. Nine hundred and fifty-five sons and daughters lost a father or a mother'.

Excerpts from 'On Top Of The World - The Remarkable Story of Howard Lutnick, Cantor Fitzgerald and The Twin Towers Attack' by Tom Barbash. Via Here is the City News

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Freakish win -- does it break the Yanks' slumber?

The Yanks have been sonambulating since the injury to Andy Pettitte on July 18. After running off a 7-3 stretch against the Angels, Royals and Indians, the Yanks had stunk against three division rivals and another division leader, all of whom were supra-.500 -- the Rays, Jays, RedSax and Rangers. A 4-7 record in 11 games marked by inconsistent pitching, terrible hitting (compare James Shields 7.1 IP, 11 K, no runs v. Yanks to his next start, when he allowed 6 homers to the Jays), failures on simple plays (see 10th inning v. Rangers -- infield hit by Michael Young), and bad managing (playing Teixeira as DH against Tampa in a low-scoring defensive game -- his replacement's failures led to all three Rays' runs in the 3-0 loss). So the Yanks needed to suck less last night to avoid an abominable stretch of 4-8 against three principal rivals and the 2011 dark horse playoff challenger (the Jays, who have a very good pitching rotation).

And it shouldn't have happened. The Yanks faced Cliff Lee, their bete noire who had beaten them twice in the '09 World Series, pitched a complete game victory at the Stadium earlier in the year, and should have been a Yankee but for some Mariner duplicity in early July. Lee had pitched at least 8 innings in each start for the Rangers. The Rangers knocked Javy Vazquez around for 6 runs (with no help from his defense) and took a 6-1 lead into the sixth inning. Jeter's lead off triple, and a rare wild pitch from Lee to score him, seemed harmless after Lee whiffed the side to keep a 6-2 lead. Nine outs remained, Lee on the hill, and the Yanks were about to slide to 4-8 in their 12-game stretch against real teams.

They rallied: Cano double, Kearns single, Berkman double, Gardner single and the Yanks were down 6-4 in the 7th when Lee was pulled with one out. Marcus Thames homered in the 8th, now it's 6-5. Berkman walked, Gardner singled, a wild pitch and the Yanks had second and third with none out in the 9th and the Rangers brought the infield in. A chop-and-drop single, strikeout, and clean single and the Yanks had a 7-6 lead. Rivera entered, he threw 8 pitches, four strikes -- each of which was put in play: lead-off triple, short liner to right that couldn't score the runner, bouncer to the box with infield in, and grounder to third. Ball game. And the Yanks' rally had me remembering a similar freak win.

In 1999, the Yanks had an 8.5 game lead over the RedSax in mid-August and entered their final regular season set with the Sawx -- a three-game series at home -- up 6.5. The Sux swept the Yanks and the Yanks hit road to Toronto and Cleveland (which finished with 97 wins) reeling. After losing game one in Toronto while the Indians blasted the Sawx, the Yanks trailed the Jays 6-1 in the top of the 8th, and the RedSax had won. The lead would be down to 2.5. With one out and Ricky Ledee on first, pinch-hitter Chili Davis hit a slow grounder to second. Jays' secondbaseman Homer Bush fielded the ball. Bush saw Ledee coming and was rattled, instead of throwing to the shortstop at second for the force and then to first to get the S L O W Davis, he tried to tag Ledee, who stopped dead in his tracks. Bush tried to get Ledee, gave up, and just threw to first. Ledee made it to second with two outs. A walk, RBI single, error, and grand slam later, the score was 6-6. Another grand slam in the 9th, and the Yanks won 10-6. They won the remaining game against Toronto, took three of four in Cleveland from the Indians and reestablished themselves as the top team in the League. An 11-1 run through the postseason made them World Series champs for the 25th time.

The Yanks' win last night was perhaps more improbable. First, they beat a division-leader, not a team out of the pennant race. Second, the Yanks struck out 17 times! And had 12 hits. The team was 12-for-38 batting. That means when the Yanks didn't whiff, they were 12-21, a .571 average. Third, the Yanks struck out 10 times after the fifth inning -- of the last 12 outs they made, 10 were whiffs and the other two came on a double play so they struck out at an incredible rate while they rallied to win. The Yanks had nine hits after the fifth. So they were 9-for-10 on balls in play -- an astounding number (the general average is slightly over .300; the Yanks were .900) -- and made all three outs on strikeouts in the 6th, 7th and 9th innings. And there's more: Marcus Thames, the Yankee hero last night with three hits and two RBI, hit his homer on a 1-2 pitch, and his game-winning single on an 0-2 pitch. For his career, Thames' averages with a 1-2 count is .126 and with an 0-2 count is .192. The odds of the Yanks' win last night entering the 6th inning against Lee with a 6-1 deficit were astronomical. But they won.

Now let's see what they do with that.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Boss: resurgence, failure, scandal, renaissance

Based upon the various obituaries of George M. Steinbrenner III, and my recent reading of William Manchester's brilliant Winston Spencer Churchill, The Last Lion: Alone, The Monk's failings in life stem from having a father who is not an incorrigible ass.

Steinbrenner entered [athletics, shipping, sports team ownership] in various vain attempts to placate and obtain approval from his demanding father, Henry Steinbrenner. The Boss's old man was still impossible to satisfy, even though by the late 1960s George had already bought out his old man and the rest of the family's interest in the family owned shipping business and had acquired the American Shipbuilding Company. By 1972, he was more than just rich, he was a leading industrialist based in Ohio and was looking to purchase a sports franchise. First, he started by trying to buy the local burlap-sack franchise, the Cleveland Indians. That endeavor failed. So he turned his attention to the New York Yankees.

The Yankees were the fallen star of American sports. From 1936-1964, the Yankees won 22 AL pennants in 29 years and 16 World Series -- a three-decade run of success unparalleled in North American sports. In the eight seasons since being purchased by CBS in 1965, the Yanks had not come close to the playoffs: six finishes at least 20 games behind the pennant or division winner, only once within 10 games of first place. Steinbrenner vowed to make the Yankees winners again. And he did.

The major points of The Boss's life as The Boss are well-known: his infamous declaration that he'd be a hands-off owner; how he squeezed out his limited partners; the free agent acquisitions; the revolving door managerial policy; the grooming code; the temper; the bad deals; and his renaissance as the kindly and beloved Boss after his reinstatement in 1993 and the Yankees' resurgence to prominence and, ultimately, dynasty.

But the facts are dangerous materials to work with when crafting a legacy. Without Steinbrenner's wallet and brashness, the Yankee rebirth in the 1970s would not have happened. But general manager Gabe Paul's deals are what rebuilt the team: obtaining Chambliss, Tidrow, Piniella to team with Munson and Nettles by the end of 1974; trading Bobby Murcer for Bobby Bonds, who turned into Figueroa (55-30 from 1976-78) and Rivers and Doc Medich for Ellis and Randolph. Swapping some magic beans for Bucky Dent. Without those transactions, the 1976-78 AL championship pennants would hang in Baltimore, Boston or Kansas City.

But no Yankee fan of my generation can forget the 1980s, the only decade since the Babe Ruth trade in which the Yankees did not win a World Series. It was a decade marked by stupid decisions (turning a top-of-the-rotation starter [Rightetti] into a closer) and stupid deals for retread pitchers (Rhoden, Reuschel, Dotson, Trout, Niekro, Niekro, John round 2) who could not lift the Yanks past their rivals. Willie McGee, Fred McGriff, Jay Buhner, Tim Belcher, Doug Drabek all played in the playoffs and two won World Series rings, while the Yanks were in their longest playoff drought since the Babe Ruth trade (and McGriff won a ring in 1995, the first reappearance of the Yanks in the playoffs since 1981). Even though the Yanks had the best aggregate record in the major leagues in the 80s, the only baseball champion in New York was the 1986 Mets. By the end of the decade, the Yanks were a sub-.500 team. In 1990, they were a joke.

There is no coincidence that the Yanks' return to glory was seeded during the suspension of Steinbrenner from 1990-92 for hiring Howie Spira to dig up dirt on Dave Winfield. In 1990, they drafted Posada and Pettitte, and inked a Panamanian string-bean, Mariano Rivera. In '92, they drafted some kid from Michigan who played shortstop, traded for Paul O'Neill and obtained Jimmy Key. And the development of Bernie Williams continued.

By the time Big Stein was back in command, the Yanks had the foundation for success. Some smart trades (Martinez and Nelson), and good signings (Wetteland) made up for the Boss's meddling (Kenny Rogers instead of Chuck Finley). With astute guidance (Torre) and an intelligent front office, the Yankees thrived. Only when the Boss's heavy hand began to weigh upon the decisionmaking of the team after the 2001 World Series loss did the Yanks falter again (Giambi, Sheffield, Weaver, letting Pettitte leave).

Ultimately, he was the biggest name in New York sports: loud, brash, determined, loyal, difficult, generous, stubborn. He made the Yankees great again, tore them apart, stood back and enjoyed, then meddled again. And he transformed a national team into a global brand. He was the future of media and sports ownership (YES), a brilliant businessman, and a winner, often in spite of himself.

George Michael Steinbrenner III, RIP.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Defending Goldman

Tuesday's spectacle in Congress with Senator Carl Levin's (D-Mi) committee grilling executives of Goldman, Sachs over their and the firm's activities in the mortgage markets was a perfect reminder of Churchill's view that "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for every other."

Some observations:

1. The senior executives defended themselves valiantly, the junior ones which were the four that appeared first, did less well, appearing more often than not, evasive. Now Monk should opine on this as this is his practice but certainly the entire group seemed a bit over overbriefed and instructed to be too careful by their attorneys. This was rather obvious when CFO David Viniar refused to opine on matters on which he was clearly an expert. I suppose the Goldman counsel have instructed that a battle with Congress cannot be won and therefore should not be fought and they'll try to win the case in court or settle without guilt. And I suppose a modest victory was that none of the Goldman employees or ex-employees gave the committee or Carl Levin the damning soundbite they so desperately wanted.

2. Without intimate familiarity with the details this case seems flimsy as you have sophisticated investors, an independent agency, ACA and there was give and take as to what securities should be included or excluded in the package. In any case the 3-2 decision by the commissioners suggest heavily that this charge was strongly politically motivated and came at a most fortuitous time coinciding with the financial regulation bill.

3. As having been involved intimately in the markets, barring the occurrence of actual fraud, the allegations and insinuations of Levin's committee is pure political pandering - and that goes for both sides of the aisle.

- "Betting against your clients": As Blankfein argued but to little avail since most senators and Americans have little idea what a market-maker is, if the client buys from Goldman, Goldman is necessarily short or less long in the case that they actually have the inventory. He's also absolutely right that the clients have no right to know what Goldman's overall position is or that it is relevant at all. Now Goldman employs some of the smartest folks in the room but who aren't always right. They famously called a super-spike in crude oil to $200 a barrel. It got to $147 before crashing to $32.

- "Goldman knew the market was going down and still continued to sell this crap." This is just arrant stupidity- with the benefit of hindsight Goldman was right. I am not sure why no one thought to use the following example: In 1999 and early 2000 a lot of real smart folks thought the NASDAQ was stupidly overvalued at 4,000 and that it was ready for a fall. They were entirely right. Many of them also bet that way and were carried out feet first as the NASDAQ hit 5,000 before crumbling below 2000. For those of us in the money business, you must not only have the direction right BUT YOUR TIMING HAS TO BE CORRECT. Do we propose then that everyone who sold NASDAQ stocks (check a favorite of the time called CMGI) or led an IPO when they were uncertain of the future of the market was guilty?

- What makes a market, any market, is a difference of opinion and/or the market position of the participants. Why would a seller sell any product at a given price?
a. he thinks it will go lower before it goes higher
b. he can replace the item he sold more cheaply
c. he is naturally long inventory which decays (someone who sells eggs, or options)
The buyer has the converse view. So with sophisticated investors who invest in these products not only can the view be different on direction but it can often be in timing.

Anyone who is the business of selling any financial product needs to be rooting hard for Goldman to prevail- otherwise anything that you sell that drops in value will open you to charges of fraud. And if the SEC prevails one shudders to think how many other lawsuits will hit the docket (or are already on the way).

4. Many of those emails cited were unfortunate in their use of language. But if you are a Goldman or any bank employee and you think a market is going down and there are willing buyers your fiduciary duty to the firm and your shareholders is to sell. In this regard they are not investment advisers and have no duty to the other side of the transaction.

Monday, April 05, 2010

The Monk's big a-- theory of basketball success

Nineteen years ago, The Monk formulated his big a-- theory of college basketball. The theory is basically, if a skinny forward/center matches up with a heavy forward/center of equal or near-equal basketball ability (shooting, post moves, ability to create a shot), take the beef over the string bean.

The Monk formulated his theory while watching the Burge twins in the 1991 national title game have their hats handed to them by the shorter but wider frontcourt players on Tennessee. The Burges were a media sensation in Virginia because they were 6-5 and one was a legitimately good player (Heather) while the other was a decent rebounder who could use her height to advantage (Heidi). With their height, shot blocking and rebounding, Virginia now had inside players who caused matchup trouble for opponents in addition to the great Dawn Staley and her backcourt partner Tammi Reiss. The Tennessee women beat the Burges to a pulp and dominated inside to key the UT 70-67 win.

That theory works in men's college basketball too -- Len Elmore always says he hated playing against the bulky forwards who pushed into his chest to get their shots. Elmore was a beanpole power forward for Maryland in the '70s, a top shot blocker, and one of the best players in the country. More proof: watch the 2003 NCAA title game as Hakim Warrick gets pummeled by Nick Collison and Jeff Graves; watch the 2009 battles between Pitt and UConn as 6-foot-7 DeJuan Blair beats on 7-foot-2 Hasheem Thabeet. The theory does not work in the NBA because defenses are not allowed to collapse on the ball as much as in college so the skinny guy has room to maneuver in the post.

The theory proved out last night once again as Tina Charles completely outclassed 6-foot-8 twig Britney Griner in UConn's win over Baylor. Charles scored 21 points, hit 9 of 17 shots, pulled 13 rebounds and showed why she and forward Maya Moore (14-26, 34 points, 12 reb), her teammate, are sharing player of the year awards. Griner (5-13, 13 points, 6 rebounds) had no answer.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Wishful predicting? It's baseball season.

Last year, before the baseball season started, Buster Olney picked the Rays and Sawx to go to the playoffs and the Yanks to sit in 3rd in the AL East again. This pick came after the Yanks signed Sabathia, Burnett and Teixeira. The pick was stupid.

This year, Olney picks the Rockies over the Yanks because he says Tulowitzki will shine in the Series. That's called "projecting."

Similarly, the Great Tom Verducci thinks the Twins will win the AL and SI's official magazine pick is for the Rays to beat the Yanks in the ALCS. This is also called projecting.

Ultimately, the fact is that there are two big favorites in baseball -- the Yanks and the Phils. In the NL, only the Rocks have a chance of beating the Phils in the playoffs. In the AL, the Yanks' path is tougher because the Angels and RedSux are possible opponents. Seriously, do you think that:

(1) St. Louis has overcome its lack of offense and improved by overpaying for Brad Penny after losing Piniero to free agency;

(2) the full season upgrade of Halliday over 1/2-season of Lee won't add to the Phils' win totals and stabilize the team;

(3) the impact of Halliday (whose excellent work habits are well-known) on the Phils' pitching staff will be minimal to nonexistent;


(5) J.A. Happ will fall off;

(6) the Rockies will have a bullpen that can withstand the Phillies or a rotation that can go head-to-head with a fully healthy one-two of Halliday and Hamels;

(7) the Brewers, Dodgers, and Giants will have enough pitching/starting pitching/hitting to challenge the top title contenders;

(8) the Braves will grow up instantly?

The Phils should win the NL because they have both an AL quality lineup and a top-end set of starting pitchers. If Lidge uncouples from his suck-infuser-machine, they'll have a top bullpen too.

Best of the rest: Rocks, Cards, Braves, Giants (WC), Brewhahas, Fishies, Reds.

In the AL, the Mariners were the talk of the off-season because they signed Cliff Lee and Chone Figgins and upgraded their already very good defense. They want to prevent runs and win with Lee, Felix Hernandez and a deep bullpen. Won't work. In 2008, the Yankees allowed 29 fewer runs than they did in 2009 and less than they had in any year since 2003 and finished with fewer than 90 wins for the first time in eight years. It's the AL, you need to be able to score.

And the teams to make the AL playoffs in 2010 should be nearly identical to the 2009 entrants, with the WhiteSax overtaking the Twins if Peavy can stay healthy -- that's not an "omigawsh, the Twins lost Joe Nathan and the sky is falling" reaction, it's a belief that Danks-Floyd-Buerhle-Peavy is as good a four-man crew as any in the league. The Angels will be harder pressed to win, but their manager is better than the Rangers' manager and that counts for a few games in a close race. The RedSax will lose some pop, but have good pitching and a better defense (Cameron, Beltre). The Yanks won 103 games with only three pitchers competent enough to start in the postseason, and they added innings-eater Javy Vazquez (an ace on most other staffs) and got younger and defensively better in the outfield (Granderson replacing Damon) and catcher (Cervelli to replace Jose Molina and catch 45 games, which means a better defensive catcher than Posada playing more often).

I'm still skeptical about the Rays. Last year they lost 8 of 10 to the Yanks in the middle of the season when the Rays had a chance to make a run at (a) reversing a bad start and (b) challenging for the wild card. Their top pitchers (Garza, Shields, Niemann) were all healthy and pitched full seasons. Zobrist and Bartlett had career years to help offset Upton's season of crap, and they won just 84. Can they compete? Sure. Can they compete for the next six months at the level of the Yankees and RedSawx if all three teams stay reasonably healthy? Unlikely.

AL's playoff challengers: Yanks, Sawx, Angels, Chisox, Twins, Rays, Rangers. Everyone else -- it's a year to grow on.

Political blogging -- where's ours?

There have been few political posts of note here recently for various reasons.

First, Wongdoer has taken to earning every cent I pay him instead of happily being underpaid.

Second, my time to blog is limited because I have to go as full bore as possible at work to get my hours. My home time consists of chasing Monkling 1.0 around, eating dinner, some bonding with Monkling 2.0, sleep. I've been told that the woman who feeds Monkling 2.0 all the time is my wife, but I only have a vague recollection of who she is.

Third, the political situation is depressing. Obama is just as bad, if not worse, than I expected in nearly all phases of his policies (DAD -- I EFFING TOLD YOU SO). This week's Weekly Standard has covered the field on this issue, and the best summary is probably here and this post from Walter Russell Mead provides excellent details about the disaster that is Obama foreign policy. Obama's foreign policy has been a disaster from day one: insulting and belittling the Brits, supporting Chavista clones in Honduras over the country's constitutional mandates, and treating Israel like an unruly cur. And we have, at minimum, nearly three more years of this to suffer. EGADS.

NCAA Tourney notes

Some quick Tournament notes as we go to the Final Four.

First, as bad as the Big East did this year, with Syracuse, Villanova, Pitt, Georgetown, Notre Dame and Marquette all underperforming their seedings by a combined nine rounds, this is just the second time since the 1985 Tournament that the Big East has had a team in the Final Four in consecutive years (2003-2004, SU and UConn won the national title).

Despite both its prominence and its proliferation of top 4 seedings since 1985, the Big East has only had 11 Final Four teams and no team from the Big East has reached consecutive Final Fours in the last 25 years. In the last 25 years, Duke has reached 11 Final Fours, North Carolina has made nine, Kansas and Michigan State have reached six.

Second, Duke's drought of five straight non-Final Four seasons was the longest since the start of Coach K's coaching stint at Duke. As I noted earlier, Duke has lost to a lower seed in each of the last five Tournaments, including a couple of real flops. In 2006, Florida had not reached a Final Four in six years, had lost to a lower seed in five consecutive Tourneys (with far worse choke jobs than Duke) and rolled to a title. That title cleared the choker label off of the Gators and a similar finish by Duke would curb Coach K's critics who say he hasn't recruited the talent level he needs to win a title (I've said that myself).

Third, I'm not cheering for the Big East entrant. I don't like Huggins, and never have. He's a class A SOB and I agree with Rick Reilly's reasoning. I'm actually cheering for a Michigan State-Duke final because the best coaches should be matching wits next Monday.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Calculating an impact

The teacher whose minor miracle was documented in the movie Stand and Deliver died yesterday.

Jaime Escalante came to the US as an emigre from Bolivia, worked at the Burroughs Corporation and later became a math teacher in the LA schools. He famously taught calculus in barrio hellhole Garfield High School and inspired his students to overcome their disadvantages through hard work, discipline, and education. His success engendered disdain and jealousy, he clashed with administrators and had no support from the teachers union, and after his departure the Garfield program eventually collapsed due to lack of institutional support.

At its peak, however, Escalante's determination and hard work helped hundreds of students whose prospects for success would have been minimal without him.

Jaime Escalante, 1930-2010, RIP.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Keep this handy - Obama promises broken

This is a brilliant web resource by National Review's Jim Geraghty: the complete list of Obama statement expiration dates.

Every declaration Obama makes on a political issue has an expiration date -- the date that he violates his claimed principle. Here's a small selection, the 18 promises Obama broke within the first 100 days of his presidency.

1. "As President I will recognize the Armenian Genocide."

2. "I will make sure that we renegotiate [NAFTA]."

3. Opposed a Colombian Free Trade Agreement because advocates ignore that "labor leaders have been targeted for assassination on a fairly consistent basis."

4. "Now, what I’ve done throughout this campaign is to propose a net spending cut."

5. "If we see money being misspent, we're going to put a stop to it, and we will call it out and we will publicize it."

6. "Yesterday, Jim, the head of Caterpillar, said that if Congress passes our plan, this company will be able to rehire some of the folks who were just laid off."

7. "I want to go line by line through every item in the Federal budget and eliminate programs that don't work, and make sure that those that do work work better and cheaper."

8. "[My plan] will not help speculators who took risky bets on a rising market and bought homes not to live in but to sell."

9. "Instead of allowing lobbyists to slip big corporate tax breaks into bills during the dead of night, we will make sure every single tax break and earmark is available to every American online."

10. "We can no longer accept a process that doles out earmarks based on a member of Congress's seniority, rather than the merit of the project."

11. "If your family earns less than $250,000 a year, you will not see your taxes increased a single dime. I repeat: not one single dime."

12. "Barack Obama and Joe Biden believe the United States has to be frank with the Chinese about such failings and will press them to respect human rights."

13. "We must take out Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants if we have them in our sights."

14. "Lobbyists won’t work in my White House!"

15. "The real gamble in this election is playing the same Washington game with the same Washington players and expecting a different result."

16. "I'll make oil companies like Exxon pay a tax on their windfall profits, and we'll use the money to help families pay for their skyrocketing energy costs and other bills."

17. "Obama will not sign any non-emergency bill without giving the American public an opportunity to review and comment on the White House website for five days." Obama is 1-for-11 on this promise so far.

18. A special one on the 100th day, "the first thing I'd do as President is sign the Freedom of Choice Act. That's the first thing I'd do."

NCAA Tournament -- 2010 is an aberrant year

Checking the data reveals one conclusion -- the 2010 Tournament is nearly as much of an outlier as the 2006 Tourney.

As I noted, in five of the previous six Tournaments, all four Final Four teams were ranked in the Top 25 in both offensive and defensive efficiency under Ken Pomeroy's formula that accounts for field goal accuracy, turnovers, rebounding, etc. and results in a mathematical formulation of points per 100 possessions. Of the six previous years that Pomeroy charted (2004-09), only the 2006 Final Four had teams from outside the top 25 in offensive efficiency. But three of those teams were top 5 defensive teams and underdog party crasher George Mason was #18 on defense.

This year, two entrants were on The Monk's list of possible Final Four teams based on the top 25 rule -- West Virginia and Duke. The other half of the teams shouldn't be here: Butler is 46th in offensive efficiency (but #6 on defense) and Michigan State is 33rd in defensive efficiency (and a mildly pedestrian #25 on offense). MSU's presence is explained by its opponents -- both Northern Iowa and Tennessee are offensively deficient (#61 and 65) and Maryland's defense is substandard (#50). Butler's presence is just shocking -- even with the #6 defense, it had to beat the #8 and #13 offenses (Syracuse, K-State), both SU and K-State were top 20 defenses (#18, 19), and ultimately basketball is an OFFENSIVE game.

One more comment on the men's Tournament: CBS has to be peeved that Butler beat Syracuse and the West Virginia Inbreds beat Kentucky. This is a ratings disaster. Although sports geeks and the journalist set at ESPN and SI love the underdog/return to Final Four after 51 years nonsense, the fact is that top programs (UNC, Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, UCLA) drive ratings in college sports, just like iconic teams drive ratings in the NBA and MLB (Yanks, Redsax, Lakers, Celtics). Kentucky means basketball royalty and 55 cutaways to Ashley Judd in the stands bouncing around. Syracuse means the New York market and the East Coast from DC northward for Big East school fans to root for or against the Orange. West Virginia won't drive those eyes to the TV sets.

And three comments on the women's tournament: (1) The fact that Baylor is in the Final Four is a complete disgrace. Brittney Griner should have been suspended for the year for coldcocking an opponent who she sucker punched in the Bears' penultimate regular season game. No Griner, and Baylor has no chance of getting past the second round. Instead, coach Kim Mulkey-Robinson sat Griner for a no-purpose season finale and the first round of the Big 12 tourney (which Baylor could have won with three players).

(2) Connecticut's romp through the tournament is terrible for the game this year. No matter how much ESPN has tried to pump ratings for women's hoops by showcasing the indomitable Huskies, the team's complete destruction of every opponent is just terrible television. Each of UConn's three opponents has been held under 40 points and has scored 14 points or less in one of the two 20-minute periods.

(3) This year's tournament has demonstrated why women's basketball has such a hard time gaining viewership. The notion that women players display better fundamentals than the men because they don't jump as high or run as fast is belied by reality.

First, there have been SEVEN games in which the loser scored 30-39 points for the game. That's pre-shot clock level stuff. Ten other teams failed to get out of the 40s. In the men's tournament, only three teams scored less than 50 in any game to date. And remember, the hoop is functionally larger in the women's game -- the ball is smaller so there's more room for error in shot accuracy.

Second, the shooting is cover-your-eyes AWFUL. Georgia (12-59) and Georgetown (12-70) had sixth-grade boys' shooting nights, and they're each top 20 teams! In one game, LSU shot 32% from the floor and won by 21! Last night Duke, a top 10 team, hit 23% of its field goal attempts in a 51-48 loss, Baylor hit 34% in winning that game; Stanford and Xavier both hit less than 40% from the field. Each of these teams are top 15, Stanford is the second-best team in the country.

Third, the complete bonk factor. Right now, this tournament is encapsulated by one sequence -- the failure by Xavier's Dee Dee Jernigan. She had TWO wide open uncontested layup attempts in the last 20 seconds of the game and missed BOTH. Yuck.

Monday, March 29, 2010

NCAA Tournament Weekend 2 review -- Monk picks suck

The Monk had his worst Tournament since 2006. Next year, I will suck less. Promise.

That said, I did give Wongdoer one good piece of advice: ride Duke. With its stupidly weak draw and its tremendous efficiency stats, Duke had to be favored to win its bracket. Given the lack of interest in Duke from sports bettors thanks to its recent failures (losing to lower seeds and underperforming its seeding in each of last five years), the reward from betting Duke to play in the national title game outweighed the risk of not betting Kansas.

Let's see what The Monk got wrong, and the few things I actually got right.

(1) Rematches: I said the Xavier-Pitt rematch would have the opposite result from last year. BINGO. I also said the same for Kansas-Michigan State. That prediction could have been good, or not, if they had actually played, but KU honked in round two -- the first #1 seed to lose before the Sweet 16 since 2004. I also said that the possible Duke-Villanova rematch from last year's Sweet 16 wouldn't happen because Villanova wouldn't survive the first weekend. GOOD. And Villanova wouldn't survive because it'd lose to Richmond. WRONG.

(2) Signature games: I blew the two hinge games I predicted. I said that Wisco-Kentucky would decide the East -- if Wiscaaaaansin won, WVU would win the region; if UK won, it would beat WVU in the regional final. WRONG. Wisco was walloped by Cornell so the Wisco-UK game didn't occur. And WRONG again -- UK sucked against WVU and now the corrupt, grumpy, players-never-graduate Bob Huggins is going to the Final Four instead of the corrupt, sunny, players-barely-matriculate John Calipari.

I also said the West would come down to Syracuse-KState. WRONG. It came down to the question of whether one team could beat both Syracuse and KState. And Butler did it. KState's loss was, if possible, worse than Syracuse's because KState won the turnover battle (+7 vs. SU losing -11), caused a Butler team that can hold onto the ball to nearly double its turnover average, and lost. SU threw away the game, KSU got beat.

Some more observations:

(3) Tom Izzo is the best NCAA Tournament coach working today. Since Michigan State's first appearance under Izzo in 1998, Michigan State has made 6 Final Four appearances in 14 years, won the 2000 national title and is 35-11 in NCAA Tournament games. Izzo's teams have lost in their region to a lower seeded team TWICE in 13 Tournaments (both times in the first round) and have underperformed their seeding only those two times. Sparty has outperformed its seeding in 2003, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 and three of those years were Final Four appearances. Izzo is also 6-1 in the Final Eight, the loss was to Texas in 2003 and the Spartans were completely outmanned and out-talented but lost by just 9 (only Coach K is better since the seeded tournament began: 11-1).

The most impressive aspect of Izzo's teams is their ability to play at all speeds. In 2000, they won the single ugliest Final Four game since the 1960s -- the 53-41 brickfest against Wisconsin; in their next game they ran Florida out of the gym 89-76. Last year, they outpunched Louisville in the regional final (64-52) and then outran UConn (and how many teams can ever do that?) in the Final Four, 82-73. In 2005, they outjumped and outran a pretty capable Duke team that won the #1 seed in the South. Izzo's teams are not quite as good as they were in 1999-2001 when he had the "Flint"stones of Mateen Cleaves, Mo Peterson, et al., and that may be largely because the Big Ten has been down in recent years AND the style of the conference is generally thuggish. But Sparty always plays good defense, rebounds extremely well and executes. Izzo's bete noire, however, remains North Carolina -- the Spartans are 3-10 all-time against UNC, including 0-6 in the Tournament. Three of those six Tournament losses were under Izzo (2005, 2007, 2009) and three were in the Final Four (1957, 2005, 2009).

(4) Here are all the No. 5 seeds that have won the NCAA Tournament: .

(5) I'm disillusioned that I again agree with Bill Simmons who said this:

Wes Johnson's "disappearance" during the Butler upset. If you studied the play-by-play sheet only, you'd say to yourself, "Wow, Johnson went MIA! No shots in the last six minutes? What a choke job!" Not exactly. He was playing for a coach who made a career out of burying his No. 1 scoring option in big games (note: Syracuse fans are nodding grimly right now), and with skittish guards who lost their minds down the stretch (Andy Rautins and Scoop Jardine combined for eight shots and three turnovers in the final six minutes). As I tweeted after the game, it was like Boeheim told his team at the five-minute mark, "Guys, I want you to go out there and take the most rushed, horrible shots you possibly can." Johnson couldn't have done anything except clothesline Rautins and Jardine to get the ball. Which, actually, might not have been a bad idea.

And as I go through some of the team's close losses in the NCAAs, I think he's right. After all, SU lost to Vermont in 2005 and Warrick barely touched the ball. SU nearly blew it against KU in '03 with Anthony a minimal factor down the stretch. SU lost to Missouri in '94 and Wallace was a nonfactor (and WALLACE was SU's best player throughout his career, regardless of Moten's presence -- when Moten left, Wallace took his Moten-less team to the Final Four). And Coleman and Owens often got lost late in games in the '89 and '90 seasons. Sometimes SU just got beat (Wallace had 29 against Kentucky in '96, Kentucky had four NBA first-rounders). But if SU's best player is a forward, the team needs to run its plays for him at the end of the game instead of relying on secondary players. Boeheim did this against Georgetown in February by running a play for Kris Joseph that iced the game when K-Jo had a good matchup. But Wes needed more touches against the Bulldogs.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Requiem for a 30-win team

I've lived and died with Syracuse basketball since I was 11 and last night's bonk is one of the tougher losses to handle.

In the early 80s, Syracuse was in the shadow of Georgetown and St. John's, even after landing Pearl Washington, the most noted recruit Boeheim had landed to that point. By 1985, St. John's had made the Final Four, Villanova had won its miracle title, and Georgetown was the top team in the conference with three Final Fours and a title. SU did itself no favors in the first post-Ewing era season by choking its second round NCAA game to Navy 97-85 at the Carrier Dome -- it couldn't defend David Robinson and couldn't rattle the Navy guards even though SU had whipped the seamen by 22 earlier in the year. So SU was now a choker and, despite the run to the Final in '87 and the heartbreaking loss to Indiana, that label stuck as SU, with a hobbled Sherman Douglas bonked to Rhode Island in round two in '88.

But SU could recruit thanks to the huge Carrier Dome crowds and its run-and-gun style with fast break lobs flying in from all angles. In the 80s, Boeheim pulled in Stevie Thompson from California, Rony Seikaly from Lebanon, Derrick Coleman from Michigan, David Johnson from Louisiana, and the biggest prize, Billy Owens. The Coleman/Douglas teams made a Final Four and a Final Eight and the first post-Douglas team made a Sweet 16 only to lose to a riotously hot-shooting Minnesota (75% in second half).

Two incidents knocked Syracuse from a perennial national power and top 10 team with top recruits to a top 25 team that had to do more with less. First, the 1990-91 season. Without Coleman, Owens dominated the Big East (23 ppg, 11+ rpg) and carried the Orangemen to a 25-4 record. It was one of Boeheim's best coaching jobs and it ended in disaster -- allowing a 23-5 run by Villanova to beat SU 70-68 in the first round of the Big East tourney and then losing as a #2 seed to 15th-seeded Richmond, which loss is still one of the most famous honks in NCAA Tourney history.

Second, the Conrad McRae recruitment. Boosters tied to SU, NOT BOEHEIM, violated NCAA rules and the hint of probation scared off Donyell Marshall and Jalen Rose. SU's fall from grace (probation in '92-93) and the Richmond debacle took a toll: from 1992 until Carmelo Anthony signed his letter of intent, SU had one McDonald's All-American. That one, John Wallace, led the team on its improbable 1996 run to the national title game -- a Tournament performance that revived Boeheim's reputation as a coach, which (after the 91-92 team won 22 with smoke, mirrors, Johnson and Moten, and the '92-'93 team played hard and well despite probation) shouldn't have needed reviving.

That Tournament run also cemented The Zone. The '96 team's lack of quickness in the backcourt made it a poor man-to-man defensive team, so Boeheim used the 2-3 zone almost exclusively instead of mixing defenses as he had previously done. The Zone was a story in the Tournament. And The Zone became the SU staple thereafter.

Since the probation and 1996 renaissance, SU is a program that now levels out as a top Big East contender on a fairly regular basis (1998, 2000, 2003, 2010 -- won at least a share of regular season title; 2005, 2006 Big East tourney champs and runner-up in '98, '09), a frequent Sweet 16 team (1998, 2000, 2003, 2004, 2009, 2010), a frequent top 25 team (based on seedings in NCAA Tourney: 1998, 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2009, 2010) and an occasional national power. But it's not North Carolina or Kentucky or Michigan State (Tom Izzo is really the best NCAA Tourney coach right now, considering relative team quality compared to results) where a Final Eight run is possible each year and a Final Four entry is just around the corner.

For that reason, yesterday's loss sucks. For the first time since '05, SU had legitimate expectations of a deep Tourney run. For the first time since '03, it had a very favorable bracket slot. And it had the players (Johnson, Rautins, Joseph) to do damage.

SU was far superior to Butler in skill and ability. But SU played awful on offense -- bad shots, mindless turnovers, sloppy passing. Give credit where due: Butler marked Johnson and Rautins closely, forced Jackson, Joseph and Triche/Jardine to beat it (they all failed), hedged hard on SU's top-of-key side-to-side offense to cut off driving lanes, played off the high-post passer to clog the lane, fought over the top of SU's ball screens out top to limit open shots for Rautins off ball reversals, and played a man-to-man defense reminiscent of the 1990s Knicks (which had to please Pat Riley, who was on hand probably to watch Wes Johnson). But SU adjusted: it moved Jackson out of the low block to the high post in the second half, it screened better for Rautins, it fought through Butler's picks against the top of The Zone, and it rebounded.

What killed SU was its turnovers. The Butler defense is designed like the Virginia defense The Monk watched in '89-'90 -- press the ballhandler, force the opponent out of its offensive set, make the opponent use clock, force bad shots. But Butler is NOT a turnover producer like Duke's overplay man-to-man. SU rushed its offense, made terrible passes, played sloppy with the ball, and coughed up 18 turnovers (Butler had 7). Thus, Butler took a 10-point halftime lead; thus, Butler never had to play from far behind. And when SU slowed the game down after taking a 54-50 lead, it helped Butler by defusing some SU momentum. After Butler regained the lead, SU devolved into the sloppy, rushed offense that started the game with one point in the first 6.5 minutes. In other words, like Kansas last weekend, the Orange panicked. K-State won't -- watch KSU beat Butler by 10-15.


With Joseph, Jardine/Triche, Jackson coming back, the addition of McDonald's All-American Fab de Melo (who would be just the sixth to matriculate since probation -- Wallace, Anthony, Devendorf, Greene, Flynn), and hopefully improvement from Jones, Southerland and an outside shot for Joseph, SU will have talent in '10-'11. Here's hoping those who bleed Orange like me won't have a long wait for another good Tournament run.

But this ending will still suck . . . for quite a while.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Sweet 16 Preview -- a second chance for sageness

First off: Congratulations to Jim Boeheim. For the first time, Boeheim has been named the winner of the Henry Iba Award by the United States Basketball Writers Association. It's Boeheim's first such award. The award has a distinguished list of winners (Wooden has 7) and an interesting list of non-winners (Krzyzewski, Calhoun, Donovan, Denny Crum, Pitino).

Iba was the legendary coach at Oklahoma A&M/Oklahoma State who won two national titles, coached two gold medal winners (1964, 1968 teams), mentored Bob Knight (not the temper), coached the 1972 Olympic team that was cheated out of a gold medal, and was named an assistant by Knight on the 1984 Olympic champions.

As for the rest of the Tournament, some observations.

(1) Don't bet Northern Iowa, St. Mary's, Washington or Cornell to win again. Cinderella can make it to the Sweet 16, but she rarely makes it to the Final Eight or beyond. When seeds outside the top 7 reach the Final Eight, it's usually major conference schools either on a good run, or with a diminished bracket. Only five teams seeded 9 or higher have made the Final Eight since 2000 (Temple in '01; Missouri, Kent St. in '02; George Mason in '06 and Davidson in '08). Northern Iowa has the diminished bracket (No. 5 Michigan State next), but St. Mary's, Washington and Cornell all play the teams that should be opposite them based on seeding

(2) Suddenly Syracuse is a favorite (with Kentucky) after being a half afterthought -- just ask Stewart Mandel and Luke Winn of SI. Mandel picked BYU to win the West; Winn picked K-State. Both said SU was hurting because of Onuaku's injury and its consecutive end-of-season losses. Now they're turning orange after the first weekend. Similarly, Kentucky was too young and inexperienced (what, like the '03 Syracuse team that won the Tournament?) to win just 10 days ago, now Calipari's one-and-done brigade is ready to cruise through to Indianapolis after resounding wins over a directional school and a weak Wake?

I'll admit that last weekend the Orange put together two beatdowns that showed why they received a #1 seed, but I have no real read on what that means for the Tourney as a whole. UNC turned the Tourney into an exhibition last year and blasted everyone, but UConn was just as impressive in the first two rounds before slowing down a bit in the regionals and then getting whacked by Michigan State. KU blew out its opponents in the first two rounds of 2008, but was the underdog of the Final Four after barely scraping by Davidson in the regional final. Thirteen minutes into its national semifinal, KU had a 40-12 lead on UNC, which had romped its way through the East that year too.

And I have no history with this. Until 1987, Syracuse hadn't won two games in any of its NCAA appearances under Boeheim -- he had a 7-8 NCAA record until SU's run to the final that year (Boeheim's now 44-26). Since then, SU has made 10 Sweet 16s but has not pasted consecutive opponents like it has this year -- not even in '94 or '96 when SU only had to beat a 13 and a 12 to make the second weekend because the #5 seed opposite it got bounced, and not even with the Douglas/Coleman/Thompson teams of the late 80s that could drub anyone on a given night. The national title team in '03? Won its opener by 11 and had to come back from 17 down to win in the second round. In '03, the Carmelo team won 14 games in the Big East, including the Big East tourney; it won 3 of them by 10+ points -- they didn't routinely dominate, they found ways to win.

Ultimately, the first two rounds should be a warm-up for the #1 seed because those teams are presumably just that good. That's why only about 14 #1 seeds have lost before the Sweet 16 since the tournament expanded to six rounds in 1985. (This site says #1 seeds have 18 combined losses to #8 and #9 seeds and four of those occurred before the expansion to six rounds for all teams). Contrast that with #3 seeds, who have 15 losses in the FIRST round or with #2 seeds, who have 19 losses to #10 seeds -- more losses than #1 seeds have to #8 and #9 seeds combined. Basically, a #1 seed is a pass to the Sweet 16, and then the real games begin.

No, I still cannot explain KU's failure.

(3) Speaking of real games, I'm sticking with my Final Four and admitting that I just plain honked with the KU pick. Me and 50% of the country. That is, I'm not revising other predictions: Kentucky, Dook and the SU/KSU winner.

And in a way, I should've known better than to pick KU. Very few overall #1 teams win the Tourney -- since seeding began in 1980 the top overall seeds that won are 1982 North Carolina, 1990 UNLV, 1992 Duke, 1994 Arkansas(?), 1995 UCLA, 2001 Duke. That's possibly six in 31 tournaments. And yes, sometimes the top overall seed isn't actually better than a different #1 seed that wins the whole thing (1984: Georgetown [won]/UNC [pre-Tourney #1]; 1996: Kentucky/UMass; 2000: Michigan State/Duke; 2002: Maryland/Duke; 2005: UNC/Illinois; 2007: Florida/Ohio State; 2009: UNC/Louisville), but the top seed of the Tournament always has won its conference tournament and lots of #1 seeds bonk in their conference tourneys before winning the top prize ('93 UNC, '94 Pigsooeys, '96 Kentucky, '02 Maryland, '05 UNC, '09 UNC).

(4) I'm also sticking with UConn to win the women's title. That team has allowed 75 points in two games, and scored at least 90 in each win. Yipes. It's called a no-brainer.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Quick personal bits and milestones

In reverse chronological order:

(1) MonkSis had surgery today -- partial vivisection of some sort. MonkBroinlaw says all is well and she's resting in ICU before going to her hospital room. MonkNiece probably apoplectic with worry, even though MonkSis is nearly 80% as tough as Monkette (seriously, any tougher, and MonkBroinlaw would cower with fear -- that Monkette of mine is a butt-kicker). Here's hoping she recovers as comfortably, swiftly and completely as possible.

(2) Wongdoer is 40. That happened yesterday and his hair instantly turned gray and his a*s fell off. Actually, in some ways he and I are in as (relatively) good condition now as we were 5 and 10 years ago because he ran (trotted? cantered?) the NYC marathon last year and I take crossfit type classes and walk 1-1.5 miles with a midget on my head every day it's not rainy or frigid. It's our poor wives who feel beaten down and tired because each just gestated a small human until recently.

(3) PaMonk is 80. That happened a week ago. Given that he predates the wheel, discovery of fire and gunpowder (he used to have to hunt mammoths with small spears -- just imagine!), he's in pretty decent shape. He still walks just about every day, endeavors to hit some small pockmarked white ball into small holes from hundreds of yards away with ill-shaped tools designed by liquored-up Scotsmen, and remembers the name of his smartest son (that would be the one who blogs). Thankfully, the old man's only a bit daft (psst: he voted for Obama), but absent a fast mental decline that would cause him to befoul his ballot in 2012, he can attempt to rectify that screw-up.

So: Get Well Soon, MonkSis.

And a belated Happy Birthday to Wongdoer and PaMonk.

Monday, March 22, 2010

All you need to know about ObamaCare . . .

. . . and its political meaning.

Fact 1 = 59%+ of the American people oppose the bill that passed the House yesterday and the Senate in December.

Fact 2 = Every Republican and 34 Democrats in Congress voted against it.

Our Congress is supposed to be a representative body where both major parties work together to craft legislation, not a Parliament where party discipline must hold over all bills and the ruling party wins every part of its legislative agenda.

Thus, the horror of the bill is best summed up by the great James Taranto of the WSJ:

Normally, politicians sell their programs to the public before enacting them into law. Representative democracy is premised on the consent of the governed, not the idea that it's better to ask for forgiveness than permission.

NCAA Tournament: Weekend 1 review

The Monk had some big hits this weekend, so I can toot my own horn a bit.

First, I had Kansas bonking against Northern Iowa. Just look for the post, it's cached somewhere.

WHAT? I picked KU to win the whole thing? What was I (and just about every "expert") thinking? Just because KU was the best team in the country all year? And the fact that no #1 seed had failed to make the Sweet 16 since 2004? And the fact that KU's second round opponent lost to a putrid DePaul (1-17 in the Big East) team should have been no factor at all, right? Pure idiocy.

But I did get some calls correct. I had Villanova choking in the second round, wrong opponent, but right round of exit. I had Cornell beating Temple and Xavier beating Pitt. I had Butler, Baylor and Michigan State in the Sweet 16.

Then again, I had Tennessee losing in the first round, and both Marquette and Richmond in the Sweet 16 and picked only 10 of the teams that will play next weekend. But I told you Villanova would bonk. Yes, you, Jay Bilas, Dickie V and Digger.

More notes:

(1) The most impressive teams over the first weekend have been Kentucky, Syracuse, Cornell, Duke and K-State. Kentucky waxed an ACC team in round two, Duke and K-State controlled decent second-round opponents. But the surprise was Cornell routing Wisconsin by 18. SU coach Jim Boeheim said in November that Cornell was an NCAA Tourney team. That statement came after SU whipped Cornell 88-73 in a game decided on an SU run just after halftime. Boeheim looked prophetic after Kansas needed some heroics by Sherron Collins to barely beat Cornell 71-66 at Allen Field House, where KU hasn't lost to a non-conference opponent in years. Nice to see an Ivy League school making a real run in the Tourney (first Sweet 16 for an Ivy since 1979 -- the Penn Final Four team that lost to Magic Johnson's Michigan State).

I still say Kentucky should be a Final Four team. I don't see WVU beating the Wildcats, and no matter how many people go to Syracuse (East Regional site) from Ithaca (45 minutes away), Cornell shouldn't be able to pull off a third shocker.

I told PaMonk on Saturday that Syracuse couldn't complain about being seeded "behind" Duke if it lost to Gonzaga because the Dookies whupped the Zags by 35. Sure enough, thanks to foul trouble and non-existent post play, Syracuse played four on five on the offensive end for most of its 41-13 run that spanned halftime (15-4 to close out the first half, 26-9 to start the second). The Orange crushed the Zags by 22, scored the second-most points Gonzaga allowed all year, and basically took its collective foot off the gas with 11 minutes left and a 76-44 lead (SU began running down the clock instead of playing aggressive offense). This is the Syracuse team that rolled Cal, UNC and Florida when they were top 12 teams early in the year, and which stomped Georgetown by 17 after spotting the Hoyas a 14-point lead. Not even the Sherman Douglas SU teams, which could blow an opponent to shreds in a matter of minutes, ever rolled in its first two Tourney games like this year's team did. Wes Johnson's hand, which bothered him all February after he hurt it against Providence, is fine now and that means SU has its best player at nearly 100%.

(2) For all the talk of the suck job by the Big (L)east in the Tourney, there's been little discussion of the Big 12's bonkathon. Primarily this is because Villanova and Georgetown were top 10-15 teams all season and were swatted away by double-digit seeds in the Tourney, and they deserve the criticism -- Georgetown crushed Duke and 'Nova, beat SU, Butler, Washington, Pitt and Temple and was blown out by a 14-loss 14-seed; 'Nova's best player, Scottie Reynolds, did his Shammond Williams impression in the Tourney (Williams had consecutive AWFUL games in the '97 and '98 Final Four for top-ranked UNC). But the Big 12 lost its standard-bearer (KU), saw A&M fall to undermanned Purdue, and had both Texas and Ok. State fail to less talented teams in round one.

(3) The top conference in the Tourney right now is the Big T(elev)en. As The Monk noted, Big T(elev)en teams with talent can more easily beat equally matched ACC or Big East teams because they can actually run with those teams while their foes cannot play the brutal rugbyesque Big Ten style game that Ohio State or Michigan State plays from January to mid- March. The Big Ten has three Sweet 16 teams, the ACC has one, the Big 12 has two, the Big East has two and the sorry SEC has two. Then again, if the seeds hold on Thursday and Friday, the Big East, Big Ten and Big 12 will have two Final Eight teams each.

(4) Ohio State should be a Final Four team. It faces giant-killer/giant-choker Tennessee before playing either Northern Iowa or an enfeebled Michigan State (no Kalin Lucas). That's the impact of the KU loss -- virtually guaranteeing a Final Four spot to the Big Ten.

For Syracuse and K-State, the KU loss is a large opportunity. KU was the 800-pound gorilla of college basketball all year, had the talent and balance to riddle the SU zone, and whacked KState three times. Before they can play each other, KSU gets no picnic Thursday by playing Xavier and SU has to scratch past always-tough Butler. For SU, if it gets to the Final Four, it would likely have to beat a Big Ten team in the national semifinals. SU is 0-6 against Big Ten teams in the Tournament -- all those games were with Boeheim as coach.

Friday, March 19, 2010

NCAA Tourney day one: the Big Least

Boy does that Big East stink. Or at least the four reps who played yesterday sure do, right?


Georgetown's loss to Ohio was simply horrible. Not only did the #14 seed beat the #3 seed, the #14 DOMINATED the #3 seed. A 97-83 win is pretty outrageous. On the rare occasions a #3 goes down in the first round, like 2006 (Iowa) and 2005 (Kansas), it should be a low-scoring close game, not a shootout rout. There is something seriously wrong in Georgetown's locker room. Wright, Monroe, Freeman and Clark are top-end talent. Add DaJuan Summers from the 08-09 team that flopped to a 16-15 record from a preseason top 10 spot, and there are unanswered questions about coaches and players on that team.

Marquette's loss is defensible: a 6 seed loss to an 11 seed isn't horrible like, say, a 3/14 loss, and Washington has been a season-long underachiever before hitting a good run in the last month. The Huskies are a major conference team (sort of, considering the 2009-10 Pac-10), beat Cal (preseason top 15 team) twice and had that conference's best interconference win (over Texas A&M). Marquette has been a team greater than the sum of its parts all year and that's a credit to coach Buzz Williams. A two-point loss is no real shame.

Notre Dame's loss is far worse even though it's another 6/11 matchup. Old Dominion is not a major conference team and ND played worse than Marquette did. Notre Dame earned its NCAA bid with big wins in February and March (Pitt twice, at Marquette, at Georgetown) and didn't show that form yesterday.

The worst performance by a Big East team yesterday should have been Villanova -- needing OVERTIME and (according to Yahoo! Sports blogger The Dagger) bad officiating against its opponent to beat the #15 seed Robert Morris. In its first game this year, Robert Morris played Syracuse -- SU won 100-60. Think that's opening game jitters? In the middle of conference season, Robert Morris lost by 24 to Pitt. But Villanova escaped infamy.

Overall, a fine first day if you like exciting tourney games. Vandy choked on its high seed again by losing to Murray State on a fine buzzer beater, Texas completed its season-long collapse by honking an 8-point lead in OT, Florida showed some character after receiving a questionable bid by playing in a 2OT loss to BYU, and the Kansans did what they're supposed to do to low seeded teams.

But that reek you smell? That's the Big East right now.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Upon Further Review: NCAA Tourney preview part 2

I don't agree with everything they set out, but I tend to agree with the brackets by SI's Seth Davis and Tim Layden. George Dohrmann and Andy Staples need new meds.

That said, let's look at some trends and some actual analysis. First, here's some analysis I wrote last year, which is still good (and updated based on the '09 Tourney):

So here are some keys to consider.

(1) More than one team from the same conference will make the Final Four. This is a 72% bet -- 18 times since the field expanded to 64 teams (25 years), there have been two (or more) teams from the same conference in the Final Four. Only five times in those 18 years have two teams from the same conference played in the national semifinals: 1985, 1987, 1989, 2000, 2001. On four of those occasions, the better seeded team won. Double entries for a conference in the Final Four occurred every year from 1999-2006 and happened again last year, as the two Big East teams were churned into mud by the two finalists. In the 13 years that the two teams from the same conference made the Final Four and didn't play in the national semis, only ONCE has there been an intra-conference national title game -- 1988, when Danny and the Miracles upset Oklahoma. By contrast, on five occasions, the national champion had to beat the double entries: 1990, UNLV beat Ga. Tech and Duke; 1992, Duke beat IU and Michigan; 2003, Syracuse beat Texas and Kansas; 2004, UConn beat Duke and Ga. Tech; 2005, UNC beat Mich. State and Illinois.

So who will have two Final Four teams this year? Either the Big East or the Big 12. It all depends on the Kentucky/Wisco game in the Sweet 16 and the potential KState/Syracuse game in the Elite Eight. You heard it here first.

(2) Don't be stupid. Only three teams seeded lower than a 2 have won the Tournament since 1990 - Arizona ('97), Syracuse ('03) and Florida ('06). And I had SU winning its regional that year (in my head, not on paper because I never do that). So go with the major trends -- top schools win NCAA titles. The selection committee may screw up seedings in the middle, but rarely does so at the top (*cough*1996 Purdue*cough*).

(3) Don't ignore efficiency statistics -- teams in the top 25 in offensive and defensive efficiency (basically, points per possession) win the tournament. See previous post from Monday. The Monk will also follow the ASM stats ESPN uses -- adjusted scoring margin, which measures a team's performance relative to the average performance of its opponents. Thus, Syracuse's offensive quotient of 13.2 means it averages scoring 13.2 more ppg than its opponents allow, and its defensive quotient of 4.9 means it limits its opponents to nearly 5 points below their average.

Now some additional notes:

(a) Since it won its national title in 2001, Duke has NOT defeated a team seeded higher than #5 in the NCAAs. In the eight Tournaments from 2002-2009, Duke has been a 1, 3, 1, 1, 1, 6, 2, and 2 seed. In the last eight Tournaments, Duke's elimination has come against a lower seeded team SEVEN times (exception: '03, when second-seed KU beat 3-seed Duke). A couple of the losses have been pure choke jobs where Duke should have won ('02 loss to Indiana, '04 loss to UConn), but most just occurred because Duke got beat by a team that could run, jump and defend better than it even though the opponent had a lower seed ('05 Mich. State, '06 LSU, '08 WVa, '09 'Nova).

Its preferred lineup has consistently been one power forward who can play facing the basket, not just a post player, surrounded by three wing players, and a point guard. Often, the power forward wasn't that powerful (Ferry, McRoberts, Randolph, Newton, Singler). The combination of speed, skill, Coach K's coaching and the fear factor of other ACC teams has allowed Duke to continue its conference success even as it falters in the NCAA.

Here are the reasons to pick Duke to go to the Final Four. First, Duke doesn't lose Final Eight games (Coach K's record = 10-1), if the Dookies get beat, it happens in the Sweet 16. That means it needs a challenge from the #4 and #5 seeds. The #4 is Purdue -- the WORST of the #4 seeds and a team too much like Duke to beat Duke. The #5 is Texas A&M and it can beat the Blue Devils (but likely won't) but is an even money bet to lose to any team in its quarter of the bracket -- Utah St., Siena, or Purdue.

Second, Duke has used an actual post player of some moderate ability this year -- Brian Zoubek. He has provided Duke with the rebounding and low post presence most Duke teams have lacked in recent years.

Third, Duke is highly competent on defense -- these Dookies can actually rebound, a skill set that has been lacking in Durham for about five years.

That said, Duke is still highly beatable -- it has only THREE players who score more than merely six points per game -- but with the best coach in the country, a gaggle of Parade All-Americans in its uniform and an easy draw, I wouldn't bet against the Dookies.

(b) 2009 was the third straight year that all four #1 seeds survived to the Final Eight. That also happened in 2003 and 2001. But don't bet the straight #1 seed line for the Final Four in the future. In 2001, '03, '07 and '09, only 7 of the 16 #1-seeds won their regional final and those #1 seeds are just 5-9 against teams seeded #3 or #2. Add in2008's all #1 Final Four, and the #1 seeds are 11-9 in those seasons, but 8-9 against teams seeded #3 or #2 (in '01, Mich. State beat a #11; in '03, Texas beat a #7; in '08 KU beat a #10).

The question for this season is whether the four #1 seeds are clearly better than the field, as was the case in 2008, or if there are legitimate challengers. The Monk thinks that the answer is yes -- both Kansas and Duke are clearly better than the field, SU and UK have legitimate challengers. The KState-BYU matchup in round two will likely determine half the West regional final; UK will have to beat Wisconsin (#3 in Kenpom rating) and WVU to win its region. That said, over the course of the season in college basketball, it seems clear that the four best teams were KU, UK, SU and Dook.

I think that the 8/9 winners to face Duke and Syracuse could be tougher matchups than the potential 4/5 seeds they would face in the Sweet 16.

(c) First major bonk: Villanova. In 2007, Georgetown (a #2 seed) won the Big East tourney, shocked UNC in the Final Eight and made the Final Four, losing to runner-up Ohio State. In 2008, it made the Big East tourney final, obtained a #2 seed, and honked in round two. That Georgetown team was missing something from the previous year's team. In 2009, Villanova rolled to the Final Four after whomping Duke and winning a stunner over Pitt and lost to UNC in the Final Four. This year, VU is an overseeded #2, has defensive problems, and is missing some toughness that the '09 team had. Villanova is in a weak region, but is a really weak team.

(d) Here's the Sweet 16:

Midwest = Kansas, Michigan State, Ohio State, Georgetown; with KU to beat OSU.

West = Syracuse, Butler, KState, Xavier; with the KSU/SU winner to lose to Kansas in the Final Four. Stat of the day: SU is 3-1 in regional finals under Boeheim, but 4-8 in the Sweet 16. This is the first time since the expansion to 64+ teams that SU has been a #1 seed. Also remember that NO team that lost in its conference tournament quarterfinals has ever won the NCAA.

East = Kentucky, Wisconsin, West Va., Marquette. One of two outcomes here -- Kentucky beats WVU in the regional final or WVU beats Wisco. I trend to the first. And I don't think that WVU can beat Kentucky -- lack of good point guard play, lack of shooting prowess, the UK advantage in the Huggy-Calipari matchup (Calipari can coach offense far better than Huggins). As good as WVU is, I think it is ripe for an upset, but the Selection Committee gave it a favorable half of the bracket (New Mexico as the #3).

South = Duke, TAMU, Baylor, Richmond. Whoever wins the 7/10 game will clip Villanova, I just feel it. And the A-10 likes nothing better than beating Big East teams in the Tourney, so Richmond will be well-motivated. Duke should be able to handle the two Texans even in Houston to advance. It won't handle Kentucky. That's where talent wins out.

My Final Game - Kansas over Kentucky.

Hmmm, seems like I think the 4 and 5 seeds should have been switched in nearly every region.

Monday, March 15, 2010

You heard it here first, The Monk's annual NCAA predictions

This is the easiest NCAA Tournament to pick that I've ever seen. One team will win all six of its games by at least 15 points, probably 25+. That team: Connecticut. Go out and bet it in all your brackets.

Except for the one problem you have: no one runs a women's hoops bracket. So yes, there will be a repeat champion in 2010 from 2009 -- as Geno Auriemma's women storm to another victory, undefeated season, and his seventh championship. And to think, he once was an assistant to Virginia's Deb Ryan . . .

Anyway, let me burnish my credentials once again. Last year wasn't my best, but I picked UNC to win the whole thing, told Seth Davis he was a fool for putting Wake in the Final Four (lost to a #13 seed by 15 in the first round), and pumped the analysis for determining Final Four teams. I also hit 5 of the eight Elite Eight teams. In '08, I picked 3 of the Final Four; in '07, I picked the whole Final Four; and in '04 and '05 I picked three of the Final Four. We don't discuss 2006.

These are the top Final Four contenders: Kansas, Kentucky, Syracuse, Kansas State, Ohio State, BYU, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Duke. Based on the Ken Pomeroy analysis, Duke is the best of the bunch because it is the most efficient offensive team in the country and #4 in defensive efficiency. Kansas is #2 and #5. In 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008, and 2009, all four Final Four teams were ranked in the top 25 in both offensive and defensive efficiency -- points per possession for versus points per possession against. Of those 20 teams, only last year's Villanova team didn't rank in the top 10 in one of those two categories. I'm discarding 2006 because it's a freak year, but national champ Florida had the same rankings as this year's Kansas team. By Pomeroy's rankings, the best bets to make the Final Four are Duke and Kansas, and the best choices in their respective regions are Wisconsin (East) and Syracuse (West) because Wisco has a defensive efficiency in the top 10, and its rankings (Offense #13, Defense #7) are higher than Kentucky's (18, 10) and Syracuse has a top 10 offense to complement its #20 defense.

Before picking a Final Four, we need to shape the brackets. I don't have a Final Four yet (I will later this week). This year, even though there are really only about five or six teams that can win the whole thing, there are a lot who can win 1-3 games and a number of potential rematches from last year that may have opposite results. Some scouting.


This is easy. It should be the Duke Invitational. If Coach K cannot get his team to the Final Four from this sorry bracket, the team is either completely talent deficient or stunningly inept. The #4 seed (Purdue) lost its best player and was THUMPED 69-42 by 13-loss Minnesota and scored 11 points in the first half of that debacle. Ultimately, basketball is about who can score more points, not who defends better, because it is impossible to have a shutout in a game between two college teams. Purdue can't score, Purdue can't win.

In the other half of the bracket, the #3 team (Baylor) is an overachiever. The #2 seed (Villanova) is overseeded, slumping, and defensively challenged (#62 in Kenpom ratings). The best chances for NOTduke to win are Louisville in a second-round upset after it dispatches Cal, or Texas A&M to win in the Sweet 16 before a near-home crowd in Houston. If Villanova and Duke rematch their Sweet 16 clash from 2009, I'd be shocked if the '10 Dookies take a 23-point beating from the Wildcats again.

Possible upsets: Richmond over Villanova, Siena over Purdue, Utah State winning the Aggie Bowl against Texas A&M because those 5-12 matchups are tossups (last year the #12 seeds won three of the four). Siena is a trendy pick because the Saints only lost to overall #1 seed Louisville by 7 in the second round last year, but beware lower seed trend picks. Siena was a #9 in '09; it's a #13 this year.


Kentucky has a tough #2 seed in its region and a tough #4. West Virginia is the Big East Tournament champ and beat every good team in the Big East except Syracuse. Wisconsin is the ACC champ . . . or could be -- it beat both ACC regular season co-champions, Duke and Maryland. Then again, Wisconsin lost to 14-loss Illinois twice. Big T(elev)en teams with good athletes often play above their seedings in the NCAA Tournament because their opponents are unaccustomed to the brutal physical play that Big T(elev)en teams use, but the midwestern barbarians can match up with their opponents' athleticism. This is The Monk's theory for how Wisconsin ('00), Indiana ('02), and Michigan State ('05, '09) won surprise Final Four spots in the past decade. But I'm not sure Wisco can run with the 5-star talent Calipari has at Kentucky.

The Monk thinks Kentucky's path to the Sweet 16 is the easiest of the #1 seeds because #8 Texas and #9 Wake both have talent without discipline or chemistry. A second round beating should be in order. The question is whether the Temple/Wisco winner can hold UK down.

The bottom of the bracket should be the West Virginia invitational. Clemson and Missouri could give WVU trouble because they play tough defense, but neither is particularly good on offense.

As for the early round games, don't be surprised if Washington drops Marquette. That should be the biggest possible upset.


This is supposedly the most difficult region because it has the second-best #2 seed (Big Ten champ Ohio State), an immensely talented #3 seed (Georgetown, which resided in the top 10 for much of the season), and both the ACC and Big T(elev)en regular season co-champs, Maryland and Michigan State. Supposedly, this is unfair to overall #1 seed KU. But KU only has to go through two of those teams to win the region, and shouldn't have trouble during the first weekend. Maryland is a team that has been carried primarily by Greivis Vazquez all year, and should not beat Michigan State. The Spartans are the quintessential Big T(elev)en chameleon -- they can pound a team into submission or run it off the court, just as they did last year against Louisville and UConn in consecutive games in the 2009 Tourney. But without Kalin Lucas at 100%, Sparty is very ordinary. Neither team has enough players to challenge KU. A Sweet 16 rematch of MSU-KU would reverse last season's MSU victory.

The bottom of that bracket will be decided by which Georgetown team shows up -- the one that shot 69% against Syracuse in the second half last Thursday and roasted Marquette by 23 and dumped Duke by 14 and hung 103 on Villanova, or the one that went to the Carrier Dome and got whacked by 17 after taking a 14-point lead, lost to So. Florida at home, and Rutgers. The Hoyas have a loaded lineup that could win the region, or at least get the honor of losing to Kansas in the Elite Eight. Meanwhile, Thad Motta's Ohio State team is another fake Big T(elev)en team -- too much athletic ability for that conference, much less Ivan Drago style. Ohio State can win this region -- it has the best player (Evan Turner) and that counts for a lot.

I think the first round games should essentially follow form based on seeding, with a possible bonk by Tennessee as the lone upset.


Dick Vitale said that even though Syracuse is getting shipped West and was seeded behind Duke for the Tournament (why? was it Duke's impressive 14-point beating from Georgetown, its narrow ACC Tourney wins over three teams that couldn't crack the top half of the Big East, or its shellacking of lost and addled North Carolina? The Monk does not recall a Duke win as good as SU's in Morgantown and DC), Coach Boeheim should not be displeased with the draw. Yes and no.

SU got the toughest #16 seed. Yeah, I know. But all three other possible #16 seeds and most of the #15 seeds are ranked lower than Vermont and don't have the very decent talent Vermont has. And SU also drew the toughest 8/9 matchup winner -- underseeded Gonzaga or Florida State (the best defensive team in the country). But if SU thinks it is better than Duke, it needs to beat both the #16 seed and either a Gonzaga team that Duke whomped by 35! or the offensively inept Seminoles (#119) who share the inept offense/stout defense profilesimilar to SU's first-round opponent in 2009, Stephen F. Austin.

The big question is whether Arinze Onuaku will be available to SU -- if his injury is like Ty Lawson's toe or Blake Griffin's concussion in 2009 or Austin Freeman's (treated) diabetes this year (e.g., all nonfactors), then SU is the best team in the region and can go to the Final Four despite bonking in the Big East quarterfinals. If AO is unable to play on Sunday (assuming SU doesn't become the first-ever #1 seed to bonk to a #16), SU could be the first #1 seed to lose in the second round since Kentucky and Stanford did in 2004. The best sign for the Orange: Big East Player of the Year Wes Johnson went 10-17 in the loss to Georgetown last week -- his first game with better than 50% shooting since he injured his hand on February 2.

The Sweet 16 opponent for Syracuse, if it survives the weekend, is difficult to predict. Any of Butler, UTEP, Vandy, Murray St. can win two games. None of them should be able to beat Syracuse if it gets that far (although Vandy's shooting could turn that game in its favor).

The K-State side of the bracket has a pile of unknowns: can Pitt regain its early January form? can Xavier continue its 2010 success (16-4) or will it revert to its early season struggles? Is BYU really the most egregiously underseeded team in the Tourney? BYU or KState should be the Final Eight representative from that side of the bracket. And again, a 2009 rematch should have a reverse result -- if Xavier plays Pitt, the Muskies should avenge their Sweet 16 defeat last year.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Belated Happy Birthday MaMonk

I'm a day late for a birthday I cannot forget, the one I share with my momma. (She can blame her husband, who infected half of the Metroplex with whatever he caught from that cheap Chinese buffet he ate at last week near my house and transmitted to my whole family for the lateness of the post.)

I was her 35th birthday present and, yes, it's far too late for mom to be vain about her age. All things considered, she's doing da*n well for being, chronologically, as good as diamonds.

She can still travel with PaMonk to the far-flung corners of the Earth; she can play with her grandchildREN that her son and daughter-in-law have made; she can live happily on NY's generous union pension in an apartment that will hopefully go condo soon; she's 11.5 years (knock knock) cancer-free; and she can do most of the things she likes to do. That's dang good at 75.

Happy Birthday MaMonk, I love you and hope you got over whatever the Old Man infected us with.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Happy Birthday Monk

Wishing my dear cantankerous friend a happy day on yet another anniversary of his debut and the score and eighth anniversary of our acquaintance.

Last year I wished you:

"Health, wealth, more time to write, a George RR Martin offering, and a Yankee championship for you this year."

You have maintained your health, become more wealthy with the addition Monkling 2.0 and our Yankees won that elusive championship. Three out of five makes a very good OBP.

This year I wish you and yours:
- good health
- wealth you can keep on the clutches of B.H. Obama
- more time to spend with your children
- a George RR Martin offering (can't get a yes unless you ask)
- 28!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Mazel Tov

Congratulations to Monk and Monkette on the happy and healthy debut of their second child.

"A son is a son until he takes a wife but a daughter is a daughter for life."
- attributed to the Irish

From the father of three little girls, I can attest that there is something wonderful in the relationship between fathers and daughters. May you experience that in the fullest measure in the years to come.

And the one piece of advice about daughters that I will pass from a man far wiser than myself, if there is only one thing that you do for your little girl - don't let her marry a loser. Everything else is probably details.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Another good Super Bowl

That's three good ones in a row: all-time best, top 5 and a top 12, respectively, Peter King's foolishness notwithstanding (he's one of the national football columnists who thinks SB 43 was better than SB 42 -- considering impact, quality of play and historical stakes, that's just dead wrong and his own employer doesn't buy it either). And it's the first Super Bowl I ever watched on partial replay -- because toddlers want dada to go carry them around the neighborhood for an evening walk, not watch a bunch of old buggers at halftime (and to be honest, from what I saw, I liked Roger Daltrey better in his excellent guest stint on CSI two or three years ago).

The Aints over the Colts isn't that much of an upset, but it shows just how important good coaching and momentum are in a one-game winner-take-all championship format. Here's the good and the bad from yesterday's game.

The Good:

Drew Brees was outstanding and deserved the MVP. And the Colts' RB Joseph Addai ran better than he had all season. But the two best plays of the game were pure coaching:

(1) The Saints knowing they could surprise the Colts with an onside kick because the right side of the frontline for the Colts' kick return team would retreat early to set up blocking on kickoffs. So the Saints topped an onside kick to their left to start the second half.

(2) Tracy Porter's game-sealing interception came from film study. He knew what routes the Colts liked to run on a big middle blitz with two receivers to Peyton's left on third down -- Manning would look to a slot receiver running a "stick route" -- squaring in at first-down yardage first. Porter saw Wayne as the slot receiver, stuck with Wayne, cut in front as the ball arrived and celebrated for the last 30 yards of his 74-yard TD return.

More good:

(3) Garrett Hartley, Saints -- first kicker in SB history to bang home three FGs over 40 yards.

(4) Sean Payton's aggressiveness -- the Saints pounded at the Colts for the whole second quarter and even bonking the 4th-and-goal at the one meant no harm because the Colts frittered away their next possession. Payton's game calling led the Saints to score 10 consecutive points on offense before Indy touched the ball -- half-ending FG drive and the TD drive after the on-side kick to open the second half. If Indy gets the second-half kick and scores a TD, the Saints would have been down 17-6.

(5) Saints timeliness -- how else can a team that's been outgained by more than 250 yards in its past two playoff games win both? Timely turnovers. The Saints are one of the WORST defensive teams to win a Super Bowl and they did it not just because of their offense, but because their high-risk high-reward defense paid out on its gambles. In a one-game series, a team just needs to make enough stops to win (ask the '06 Colts, the first SB champ that ranked DEAD LAST in rushing defense).

The Bad:

This shows serious failures by the Colts.

(1) The Drop. Here in the Dallas area, the fans of the local occasionally professional football team remember The Drop -- the third down pass that was in Patrick Crayton's hands, with nary a safety in sight in the divisional playoff game between the Giants and Cowpatties in 2007. Crayton dropped the ball and a 50+ yard gain (with his team up 17-14 and the Giants struggling on offense), the Cowdungs punted, R.W. McQuarters returned the punt to the Dallas 38 and the Giants scored a TD to turn the game around.

Yesterday, third and short, easy throw to Pierre Garcon by Manning -- right in Garcon's hands and 5 yards beyond the first-down marker with some additional room to roam. Garcon dropped the ball, the Saints then dinked, dunked and pounded for their longest drive of the game, which ended with a fourth-down failure inside the Indy 2. That mattered little because . . .

(2) The Dive. On 3rd-and-1 of their ensuing possession, the Colts ran twice for 9 yards and then tried an inside handoff against a stacked Saints line. No gain. Colts punt, Brees goes to work, Hartley bangs home a figgie and instead of Manning working his usual magic to close out a half with more points, the Saints are thisclose to the Colts at halftime.

(3) The Long Field Goal. On 4th-and-11 at the Nawlins 33, with a 17-16 lead in the fourth quarter, Jim Caldwell chose to have 42-year old kicker Matt Stovall try to nail a 50+ yard field goal. Outdoors. On grass. Here are the facts at that point: Stovall was 1/4 over 40 yards all year before his field goal on Indy's first drive; a miss meant Brees would start on the Nawlins 41 and the Colts had not stopped the Saints from getting into scoring range since the first quarter -- in their five drives since the second quarter started, the Saints had 3 FG, a TD and had pushed the ball to the Colts' 1 before getting thwarted on fourth down. Stovall missed, the Saints tossed their way to another touchdown and the Colts were nearly done.

(4) The same old thing. The Colts did almost nothing unexpected the whole game. They played slightly more man-to-man defense in the first quarter, but retreated into their cover 2 zones thereafter. They stuck with their tendencies on defense and offense to such a degree that the Saints were reading the Colts' playbook. In a Super Bowl, the teams need to prepare something extra -- a new play design, different blitzes (the Colts don't blitz much), different coverages, trending away from certain offensive tendencies. The Colts did none of this. The Saints mixed their coverage packages, changed their blitzes, pulled a nice trick play and ultimately outscored the Colts 31-7 after spotting the AFC champs a 10-0 lead.

(5) The flop factor. The largest deficit that a Super Bowl champion has overcome to win the Super Bowl is 10 points -- Washington in XXII and New Orleans last night. Both were first quarter deficits. Only Arizona has overcome a larger deficit to take a lead (from 20-7 down to 23-20 up); and only the Rams (17-3) and Titans (16-0) have even tied a game from two-plus touchdown deficits. This is a trait shared with the NCAA men's hoops final -- in a winner-take-all game, a large deficit is difficult to overcome (largest halftime deficit for an NCAA champ -- 10 points) because of momentum for the leader and emotional strain on the trailing team. Payton's on-side kick success and New Orleans' offensive success put the Colts into a position of a trailing team even though they actually led for much of the second half. The Colts became sloppy and disjointed on key plays, made a coaching and player mistake on consecutive drives, and lost.

So congrats to the Saints who are Aints no more. I'm just wondering what the Miami Dolphins fans are thinking now, four seasons after Nick Saban and the Dolphins rejected the chance to sign Drew Brees as a free agent and one day after he became an NFL champion in the 'Fins home stadium.