Monday, July 21, 2008

Better than the Summer League

The Olympic basketball field is now set with Greece, Croatia, and Germany taking the final wildcard slots. Wikipedia lists the rosters for the 12 men’s teams. Courtesy these wikipedia files, I’ve gleamed the following:

Spain’s roster includes 4 current NBA players, Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol, Rudy Fernandez, and Jose Calderon. Spain’s roster also includes 3 former NBA players Raul Lopez, Jorge Garbajosa, and Juan Carlos Navarro.

Argentina’s team also contains 4 current NBA players, Manu Ginobili, Andres Nocioni, Fabricio Oberto, and Luis Scola, and former NBA player Carlos Delfino.

Russia’s roster includes Andrei Kirilenko.

Lithuania’s roster includes Darius Songaila and Linas Kleiza.

China’s roster includes Yao Ming, Yi Jianlian, and former NBA player Wang ZhiZhi. Yao’s health remains a question heading into the games, but the bigger question mark for China is guard-play. (At least that’s what I’ve read elsewhere on the web, sorry that I can’t remember the link.)

Germany’s roster includes Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Kaman.

Australia’s roster includes Andrew Bogut.

Croatia’s roster includes Roko Ukic who did not play in the NBA during the 2007-2008 season, but who has signed a contract to be the back-up point guard for the Toronto Raptors during the 2008-2009 season.

Other tournament teams (such as Greece and Croatia) are also expected to be very dangerous even without NBA players.

The tournament opens August 10th including a great game between two of the favored teams in Group A, Argentina and Lithuania. The US opens against China in Group B.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Cursed Cities

In an effort to fill up programming, ESPN has come up with a “Titletown” segment on SportsCenter. (This would be a follow-up to the groundbreaking feature, “What is the greatest highlight of all time?”) Look, maybe these segments are well-produced, maybe they are entertaining for local fans, maybe they’ll settle some long-standing argument, but my immediate reaction to these segments is to change the channel.

Of course, we have to assume these types of segments will continue since ESPN always has a void of programming at certain times of the year. What features will we see in the future?

Vote for the greatest SportsCenter catchphrase of all time.
Vote for the player with the greatest mustache of all time.
Vote for what ESPN should have done with its NHL commentators after ESPN stopped carrying NHL games.

And inevitably all the “Vote for the Best” contests will be flipped to “Vote for the Worst” contests. And the logical conclusion is that instead of “Titletown”, in three summers people will be asked to choose the most “Cursed” sports city. So what is the most cursed sports town in America? Let’s look at the contenders:

Side Notes
1) I’m only counting NBA, MLB, and NFL titles. (Sorry to fans of the NHL, Arena Football League, Major League Soccer, WNBA, ect.)

2) I’m grouping all the LA teams, all the New York/New Jersey teams, all the SF/Oakland teams, all the Wisconsin teams, Memphis and Nashville, Tampa Bay and Orlando, and all the teams in the North Carolina triangle into various conglomerations. Obviously, this may not fully represent how some set of fans are scorned, but that’s life. I have to make some simplifications. So if you live in LA and have chosen to be a Clippers fan instead of a Lakers fan, well that’s your own fault.

3) I’m only going to count NFL titles since the first Super Bowl.

4) If a team left your city permanently, you vacate the joy of winning that title. I.e., Seattle can now claim that they’ve never had a world champion in a pro sport. Why does this make sense? Of course it doesn’t, but it makes my life easier. Also, I figure the pain of losing the team outweighs any past joy.

5) But if a team only leaves for a few years (See Cleveland Browns, Charlotte Bobcats, Oakland Raiders), I give the city credit for suffering in those intervening years.

So who are the most “Cursed” fans of all time?

Well, of the 92 franchises in the three pro sports, 40 have never won a world championship in their current city. In fact, 10 cities have never won a world championship. These are:

Two Pro Teams
San Diego
New Orleans
NC Triangle (aka Charlotte)

One Pro Team
Salt Lake City
Oklahoma City

This list is a little misleading, because it includes a lot of cities that have only had teams for a short time. (Oklahoma City is about to have a team for the first time.) A better metric might be the average number of years without a title for each team in a city:

1) Cleveland: The Cavs, Browns, and Indians have each spent over 3 decades without winning a title.
2) Buffalo: They’ve had an NFL team since the early days, and yet they have never won a Super Bowl with 4 straight painful defeats in the 90’s.
3) San Diego: Whether it is because of poor hitting (Padres) or Norv Turner (Chargers), the San Diego teams always have an excuse.
4) Chicago: The Cubs 100 year drought raises the average for the city. The other three teams have had plenty of success.
5) Philadelphia: The Eagles, Phillies, and 76ers have had plenty of good teams in the last 25 years, but no titles.
6) Atlanta: When expansion teams win titles, the Hawks and Falcons must curse. In basically 4 decades, they’ve done nothing. Thank goodness for the Braves title in the 90s or this city would really be cursed.
7) Seattle: With the Sonics leaving, the city is faced with the reality that the Mariners and Seahawks have failed for three decades.
8) Portland: Hey does everyone remember when Portland won the title in 1977?
9) Kansas City: At least the Royals and Chiefs have each won a world championship. Too bad they were 22 and 38 years ago.
10) Cincinnati narrowly edges the Wisconsin teams for the final spot in my top 10.

Of course, this average may not be an adequate reflection of suffering. Yes, Cubs fans haven’t seen a pennant in 100 years, but at least college graduates in Chicago were able to enjoy the Bulls run when they were young. And they could have chosen to enjoy the White Sox World Series title too. The real question is when has a city last won a world championship title of any kind? (Now I’m going to exclude cities with only one pro team and cities that have never won a title of any kind.)

1) Cleveland hasn’t won a title since the Indians won in 1948. The end. Case closed. Imagine if you were born in 1949. Imagine you’ve purchased season tickets to the Cavs, Browns, and Indians since the 70s. You probably hate everyone.

2) Philadelphia hasn’t won a title since the 76ers won in 1983. You could be graduating from graduate school and have never seen a title in your lifetime.

3) Kansas City hasn’t won a title since the Royals won in 1985. You could be graduating from college and have never seen a title in your lifetime.

4) Cincinnati hasn’t won a title since the Reds won in 1990. You could be graduating from high school and have never seen a title in your lifetime.

5) Minnesota hasn’t won a title since the Twins won in 1991. And unlike Kansas City and Cincinnati, Minnesota has had a pro team in all three major sports for that whole time.

Of course, if you grew up in Cleveland and Cincinnati, there’s a good chance you started rooting for the Ohio St. Buckeyes and have celebrated a BCS football title as recently as 2003. Similarly, a substantial number of people who live in Kansas City are Jayhawks fans and just saw their team win the Final Four. How would this list look if we exclude teams that have recent college titles for local teams?

1) Philadelphia hasn’t won a title since Villanova won in 1985. And Temple got dropped from the Big East in football.

2) Minnesota hasn’t won a title since the Twins won in 1991.

3) Seattle hasn’t won a title since the University of Washington won in 1992.

4) Toronto hasn’t won a title since the Blue Jays won in 1993. (I’m not sure if I should count a Canadian team because there aren’t any NCAA college teams for comparison, but I’ll list them for now.)

5) The San Francisco / Oakland area hasn’t won a title since the 49ers won in 1995.

Of course if you want to try to split the area into the SF side of the bay and the Oakland side, the Oakland side hasn’t won a title since the A’s won in 1989. I don’t quite buy that though because the Raiders moved to LA in the 80’s. Thus I’m guessing if you grew up on the Oakland side of the bay in the 1990’s, there’s a substantial chance you became a fan of Jerry Rice and the 49ers during this time period, and you would have been cheering for the 49ers in 1995. But, if you grew up a Raider fan, always hated the 49ers, then I guess you can move yourself up to second on this list.

Of course, this really leads to the obvious conclusion that any fan may have suffered even more than a city may suggest. Let’s say you hate baseball and live in Atlanta. Or let’s say you hate the White Sox, love the Cubs, hate the NBA and NFL, and have a strange rooting interest in Northwestern basketball. Well, then you’ve suffered a lot. The moral of the story is that a lot of fans are cursed.

And as for the people in Boston (recent titles for all 3 teams), St. Louis (Rams and Cardinals titles), and San Antonio residents who are University of Texas alumni, excuse me if the rest of us change the channel during your obnoxious “Titletown” segment.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Minnesota Twin wins Home Run Contest (In Other News, Elvis spotted visiting Mount Rushmore)

There's an unwritten rule that whenever I say the blog is on vacation I come up with 12 things to post. In any event, I had to comment on last night's home run derby.

The only people who watch the home run derby are either
1) young and foolish
2) trying to signal that they have no opportunity cost to their time

And despite the fact that I often fall into category 2, I did not watch. (Instead my wife and I took a walk down to the national mall and later worked on a jigsaw puzzle.)

But I woke up this morning and heard that Minnesota Twin Justin Morneau won the contest, the first Twin in history to win the contest. So I flipped on SportsCenter to see what happened.
Classic. Morneau won, but Josh Hamilton hit 28 home runs in a round and so Morneau's 5-3 "victory" in the finals was a disappointment to the crowd. Morneau even cheered for Hamilton when he was batting and Morneau's victory speech included him saying, "I'm not the real winner here." Insert Canadian accent here: Those darn Canadians are always stealing the glory, eh.

So the first Twins "victory" in the home run derby is a bit by default. But that's not the end of the story. Check out these quotes from the StarTribune story by Joe Christensen.

"Proof that the Twins first baseman is still largely unknown came when the man representing the event's sponsor called him 'Jason' during the trophy presentation."

"Morneau wasn't even invited to participate in the derby until Sunday -- after Ichiro Suzuki declined an invitation. Suzuki's past 36 hits have all been singles."

Wow, after Ichiro Suzuki. I think that says it all.

Monday, July 14, 2008

10 More Team Games!

About this time last year I did a feature on College Football schedules. I wrote this:

“The joy (or pain) of college football is the lack of overlap among football schedules, meaning that one can justify numerous different rankings of the teams. If you like to debate which team is the best, this is ideal and highly amusing. If you like to see things settled on the field, well you are probably disappointed.”

This year, battles between the BCS leagues are up slightly which could give us minimally more clarity when sorting out the BCS teams.

Teams with Zero BCS Non-Conference Opponents
6 This Year (Texas Tech, Arizona, Indiana, Minnesota, Wisconsin, LSU)
8 Last Year (Texas Tech, Arizona, Indiana, Minnesota, Kansas, Texas, Baylor, and Arkansas)

Non-Conference Games between BCS/Notre Dame
53 This Year (106 team games)
48 Last Year (96 team games)

With the exception of the Big 10, the BCS leagues have all added more BCS opponents this year:

Non-Conference Games against BCS/Notre Dame
Average - Conf
2.00 Big East
1.92 ACC
1.40 Pac10
1.25 SEC
1.25 Big 12
1.18 Big 10

By playing an average of two BCS opponents, Big East teams can give us more clarity about the quality of BCS teams. But it should be noted that the Big East plays a shorter schedule and the Pac 10 plays a longer schedule:

Total Games against BCS/Notre Dame
10.40 Pac10
10.00 Notre Dame
9.92 ACC
9.25 Big 12
9.25 SEC
9.18 Big 10
9.00 Big East

Amazingly, all 12 of USC’s games this year are against BCS competition!

An interesting question is whether or not teams were hurt or benefited from their low-risk schedules last year.

By virtue of having only one loss on the season, Kansas was able to jump ahead of a Missouri team that had beaten them a week earlier and Kansas earned a berth in the Orange Bowl. You have to believe that if Kansas had a 2nd loss to a team like Purdue that Kansas would not have been playing in a BCS game. Thus it seems like Kansas may have made the right decision about its schedule.

On the other hand, if Kansas had earned a non-conference win against a team from a BCS conference, they might have been able to argue that they deserved to play in the national title game. After all, Kansas was one of only two BCS teams to end the regular season with 1 loss. But, instead of being in the national title discussion, TV commentators mocked Kansas for their weak schedule and poll voters resoundingly said that they did not deserve to be in the title game discussion by placing them 8th in the final regular season poll.

With the end of the season loss to Missouri, Kansas probably wasn’t going to play in the national title game anyhow, but at minimum they would have been in the discussion. This would have also made the Kansas win in the Orange Bowl all the more intriguing as some people may have even thought about throwing them a first place vote in the final AP poll. (OK, I can’t even make that argument after the way LSU crushed Virginia Tech and Kansas only beat them by a field goal, but at least people would have watched the game.)

In the end, given Kansas’s history at the bottom of the conference, I can excuse their weak schedule last year. And since they ended up with a narrow Orange Bowl win, I think you have to believe things worked out about perfectly for the team.

Texas finished with 3 losses and 19th in the BCS standings, their worst performance in recent memory. An additional loss could have easily knocked them out of the Top 25 so I guess they made the right decision with last year’s schedule. Still after watching them pile up points in the Holiday Bowl, it is hard to believe that this team couldn’t have used another chance to prove themselves against a legitimate opponent.

After Baylor went winless in the Big 12, I can’t argue with the non-conference schedule.

Yes, they’ll always have that 50-48 win against #1 LSU, but Arkansas was clearly overrated last year. It just took us awhile to notice because Darren McFadden was such a fun player to watch and because we didn’t look at the jerseys on the other side of the field early in the season. Consider this, on November 1st of last year, Arkansas was 5-3 with victories against Troy, North Texas, Chattanooga, Florida International, and Ole Miss (who would go winless in the SEC.) Arkansas finally got knocked out of the Top 25 for good after the bowl game loss, but they probably would have been knocked out sooner if they would have played any decent non-conference opponents.

Repeat Offenders

I cheered when Indiana finally earned a bowl bid. But at 3-5 in the Big 10, wasn’t it a little less than satisfying? A win against a non-conference BCS opponent could have made the Hoosier’s remarkable season all the more legitimate. Of course, a 6-6 Hoosier’s team with a limited football fanbase could have been crunched out of the final bowl picture if things had broken differently, so they probably made the right decision.

Minnesota won only one game last year, in overtime at home against a non-BCS opponent. Look, when a team loses that many games, it is hard to argue with a weak schedule. But if you are going to lose anyway, you could avoid some embarrassment by not playing Florida Atlantic. Schedule Baylor! Schedule Ole Miss! Then you can at least pretend you lost to a legitimate team. Oh who am I kidding?

Texas Tech
Even with another loss, Texas Tech would have stayed in the top 5 in the Big 12 and they would have still earned a strong bowl bid. Piling up great passing numbers against cupcakes was a great way to get this program on the map, but if this program is going to take the next step, they may eventually need a better NCSOS. That said, I hope they maintain the series with SMU now that June Jones is head coach. First team to 100 points wins?

Arizona was 5-6 going into the final game of the regular season and still had an outside shot at a bowl berth. But they lost to Arizona St, ended up 5-7, and the lack of BCS opponents didn’t make a bit of difference. Of course, Arizona did lose to two MWC teams, BYU and New Mexico. As a result, the schedule has gotten even weaker this year. Welcome Idaho, goodbye BYU!

Bottom Line
My biggest fear was not realized last year as no BCS team qualified for a bowl with a 2-6 conference record AND zero non-conference BCS wins. But it could still happen this year. I’m looking at you Indiana.

Billy Packer is Out

Clark Kellogg is taking over many of Billy Packer's color commentator duties for CBS. I expect to see much rejoicing in the blog community.

In other smaller news, Julian Vaughn will be eligible for Georgetown this fall after transferring from Florida St. (He was apparently granted immediately eligibility because the transfer occured for personal reasons.) Vaughn provides some much needed depth for the Hoyas in the frontcourt and may cause me to upgrade my expectations for the season. (But Georgetown is still one injury away from looking like last year's Syracuse team.)

While eagerly awaiting August 28th (the start of the college football season), this blog remains on vacation.